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More In-Real Life Community + The First Step to Expertise

January 10, 2018


Interesting Thought: More In-Real-Life ("IRL") Community


Earlier this week, I tweeted (irony not lost on me), “I love Twitter. Really do. It’s a wonderful way to connect and share ideas. But it’s no replacement for the real thing. Digital community is good, real community is better.” Though I may not always practice what I preach, I firmly believe it’s true. The more in-real-life ("IRL") contact we have with others, the better. This tends to be true even for introverts, up to a point, anyways.
Now I’m not going to sit here and rail on Twitter and other social media platforms because I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game. Twitter is great for sharing and discussing ideas and making connections, many of which have the potential to be meaningful. As many of you know, Steve and I met on Twitter, and I’ve also met on Twitter many other collaborators and even people who turned out to be genuine mentors. But social media simply cannot replace the sense of rootedness and belonging that accompanies being part of an in-real-life community.
The problem is that the more we are all occupied by our digital devices, the less opportunity there is to cultivate and sustain physical community. I never pretend to have all—or really, any—of the answers (at least I hope not) and I certainly don’t here. This is something I struggle with on nearly a daily basis:


  • I know I feel best after spending in-real-life time with others during which everyone is fully present.

  • I find it can be hard to create these times; either because everyone is always so “busy,” or, if I’m being totally honest, I don’t want to “sacrifice” the time and effort it will take to organize, schedule, and commute to a meet-up spot.

  • It’s one thing to have a one-off meetup; it’s another to gather with the same friends on a regular basis. Good things compound and get better with consistency. And yet constant “busyness” seems to make establishing this kind of consistency challenging.

  • My friend Ed Batista has called smartphones "adult pacifiers." I admit to finding myself filling otherwise empty moments with my phone. I believe there are often better ways to fill these empty moments. 


Now that some of the issues are out on the table, here’s what I’m doing to try and work with them. If you’re also struggling with the degradation of in-real-life community, perhaps some of these ideas can help you too. (“Degradation” may sound harsh, but I don’t think it’s an overstatement.)


  • Instead of using Twitter (my social media of choice) throughout the day, I’m scheduling a few chunks of time—between 5 and 15 minutes—to use the app. This way, I won’t get sucked into the kind of mindless scrolling that sucks time and energy with little return on investment, but I will be able to check the feeds of the people who I think share good stuff, and I’ll also be able to share my work and respond to messages. Basically, I’m trying to create a system that gives me all the good of Twitter (there's plenty) and eliminates the bad.  

  • Given I’ll no longer be using Twitter to fill free space -- standing in line at a grocery store, for example -- I’m going to consciously use that time to make connections with real people! Whenever I instinctively reach for my phone, that will be my cue to try and strike up a conversation with someone else in line. If that is hopeless (perhaps because everyone else is on their phone), I’ll either sit with my own thoughts or use my phone to send a message to someone with the sole purpose of scheduling or confirming an in-real-life get together. And I'll always chat with the cashier, which I presume will make both of our days better.

  • The deeper and more longstanding community stuff is a bit trickier. I’ve shared how I feel with my closest friends and we’ve agreed to make more of an effort to spend regular time together. Rather than just hoping this will happen, we’re scheduling weekly get-togethers, whether it be a coffee or a co-working day with a friend who also works from home. I’m almost certain that there will be some weeks when I’m tempted to cancel these plans because they interrupt my productive flow, but for the first half of 2018 I’ve promised myself to ignore that urge. I’ll re-evaluate in July, but my guess is even if I’m a bit less productive, I’ll be far better off holistically, which in the long-term is the key to being productive. (Not to mention, I'm doubting more and more that "productivity" is an end with pursuing anyways.)

  • I’m also going to start volunteering regularly. This is a surefire way to forge more in-real-life community. And, for me personally, it’s also a way to connect with people and try to do some good beyond writing. While I do believe words matter, direct-action does too, and in a different manner.

  • Finally, I’m trying to organize a salon, or a group of people who meet regularly to discuss current events and ideas. This is a longshot because it requires coordinating multiple schedules and bringing together people who haven’t yet met, but it’s worth a shot.


I want to close by again acknowledging that digital connection isn’t bad, it’s just that it can't replace the real thing. So, in that spirit, if you’re also experiencing some of the same longing for more in-real-life community, please share the actions you’re taking to create it. Either write to or let me know on Twitter @Bstulberg. It’s not about eliminating digital connection -- after all, it's digital connection that's allowing me to share this line of thinking and get feedback on it. It is, however, about using digital connection mindfully and appropriately and being sure you’ve got enough of the real thing too.


Coaching Corner: The First Step to Expertise- Learn the Language


"How do I get into...?" This the question most frequently asked of me. Every week, I get inundated with e-mails starting out with this simple question. Sometimes the questioner finishes the question with coaching, other times it's about writing books or articles. The ending phrase, or what they are interested in, doesn’t really matter, nor does their age or experience. The answer is always the same: learn the language.


Every profession has a unique language, a set of words or phrases that describe the intricacies of what they do. Hearing how someone describes a workout, for example, can tell me whether they learned about running from coaches like Jack Daniels or Arthur Lydiard, or if their foundational knowledge comes from a university degree.


For instance, in running, the moment someone says “HIIT,” my mind shuts off. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the phrase (it means "High-Intensity Interval Training"), and I’m not trying to be rude. Instead, it’s a natural reflex developed over time. A signal that the person standing in front of me has only a basic grasp of endurance development. How can I discern this from one phrase? Endurance coaches don’t use HIIT in their vocabulary. They recognize the nuance of interval training; that there is a large difference in someone running 200-meter repeats in 30 seconds versus 32 seconds. In the beginner personal-trainer world, this nuance is lost, and they all get thrown into the HIIT category.


Language serves as a filter, as a way to quickly judge if someone actually knows what he or she is talking about, or if they know just enough to be dangerous. In other words, are they an expert or are they faking their way through it?


If we are honest with ourselves, we spend most of our time faking our way through it. I know just enough about the latest musicians, the top NFL teams, or the trending movies to have a conversation about them. I can have a chat about Drew Brees throwing touchdowns with the casual fan, but put me in a room with a group of college football coaches and I’d quickly be exposed. The phrases I’d used to describe routes and schemes would give me away before I had any chance to show any semblance of an understanding of the game. My language would be my tell.


Which brings me back to the original question and why language is important. If you want to know how you become X, Y, or Z, it starts with speaking the language of the experts in that field. If you show up to a job interview, a coffee meeting, or a pitch without having taken the time to understand your chosen endeavor at a somewhat deep level, experts will see right through you thanks to the words you choose to use. Most people show up with a broad and somewhat superficial understanding of a job or interest. Before you can impress the gatekeeper deciding if you get the job or the funding, you've got to pass the language test. And, equally important, in doing so you'll ensure you've got enough of a knowledge base to proceed.



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