Ian and I belong to a secret club.
It's called The Whistler Society. In 2009, a group of eight twenty-something idealists met in a Venice Beach office (a garage with Ikea lighting and desks we found on the street) every Monday night at 8:30pm. Our mutual friend Sean had just launched a non-profit organization called Falling Whistles (that's a longer story). So, he gathered a group of like-minded friends to formulate ideas to build a movement of supporters, and also inspire and support one another. In Sean’s original email invite, he wrote, “We live in historic times that call for us to come together and create in new ways. It's my hope that this is a place where we do just that and in the process, learn how to guide others in doing the same.” Each gathering began with a collective reading of our mantra that concluded with MLK's words: “This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists... The saving of our world will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”
Monday nights were the best part of my week. At the time, I was working for a soulless commercial talent agency, brokering big corporate endorsement deals for celebrities in the US and overseas. I hated it. But Monday nights were a glimpse into the way I wanted to spend my days; surrounded by original thinkers, talking about ideas and solving problems on big whiteboards. I'd drive at least an hour to get to the Westside, battling the freeway traffic from the Hollywood Hills to Venice. At the secret club meetings, we sat in a circle on the floor, ate cookies and sipped sake, read inspirational passages, shared design articles, debated political new stories, and talked about the systemic problems in Congo. This probably sounds like a big ol' hipster idealist cliche, and maybe we were embodying one, but these nights were so special to me. Each person that showed up was impressively well-spoken and thoughtful. We talked and listened. We motivated and challenged each other. We laughed. And we had only one rule: Every idea, no matter how tired or radical, must be allowed, if spoken with respect for one’s fellow man and woman.
It’s perfect that Ian and I first met in the context of this inspirational community. He and his friend Tyler drove even further than I did to get to those Monday night gatherings. They both lived in Newport Beach, 1.5 hours away from Venice. At just 24 years old, Ian was working as the Manager of Global Marketing for Quiksilver. Reporting to the president of the corporation, Ian had a huge amount of responsibility on his young shoulders. He looks back on that period as the worst year of his life. Despite a strong belief in his ability to succeed, he was under-prepared for the role and constantly stressed out. Monday nights were a refuge for him, too.
The Whistler Society proved to us that there were others a little bit lost and figuring out life, who also believed that business could be an engine for prosperity and social change. We found people like us! Like-minds. Members of our tribe. Seth Godin defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” The Whistler Society forum was intimate; we shared very personal disclosures along with our dreams and fears. We could talk about our wildest ideas, dance around the room, and felt comfortable to be ourselves in a safe space. Being a part of the Whistler Society cemented lifelong friendships.
A few months of these inspirational Whistler Society meetings roused me to quit my job. It was 2009 and the global community was trying to recover from a giant market crash. Leaving was scary (so, I guess this current moment isn't the first time I peered over the side of a cliff and jumped into the Sea of Uncertainty). Recently, Ian told me that my departure from my gig during our magic Whistler Society moment inspired Ian and Tyler to leave Quiksilver, in order to try and start their own creative agency. In their minds, “Lindsay had a ‘great’ job, and she left it in search of a career that aligned with her values and interests.” If I could give up a stable position in order to pursue something with a mission I believed in, so could they.
These days, Ian is the co-founder of a "community-minded, strategy-obsessed creative agency" called SEW Creative (that he started back in January 2010 with Tyler, and their friends James and Steve). The boutique agency builds dynamic on and offline campaigns that marry the values and aspirations of both the brand and community, to maximize impact for both the brand and the community. It’s working! Now, more than four years in, they’ve worked with a handful of big clients and they’re growing. Ian believes in the power of communication and knows that if you have a solid platform, you can influence people’s thoughts and emotions (positively or negatively). He is interested in designing experiences that communicate a positive message and produce a positive memory.
As you can imagine, I love spending time with Ian. On our East Village coffee date one cold and rainy spring morning, Ian articulated that he thinks we're all born along a potential spectrum of natural talent and self-esteem. How much those talents and our personal sense of worth are nurtured determines where we end up on that spectrum.
Quick Tangent: Whenever I hear “self-esteem,” I visualize my sweet mom, Chris, dressed up in a reporter costume, teaching my 3rd grade class a program called Project Self-Esteem (PSE). PSE was a real thing. Once a week for ten weeks, three parent volunteers came in to teach a 40-minute class to elementary school students. Topics included expressing feelings, goal-setting, communication skills, friendship, peers and conformity, and the difference between tattling and telling the truth. The part of PSE that I remember most clearly is the end of each class, when we'd sit in our tiny plastic chairs and shout out, in unison, "I am special!" Then we were all given little fuzzy balls with googly eyes and felt feet, called Smileys. That program was so important. Do you feel like you have a better insight into the adult me?
This is the point in our coffee when things got deep.
Ian is very cognizant that his self esteem could have easily landed on the meek end of the potential spectrum. He credits the support of his grandmother and high school water polo coach to getting him back on track as a teen, when he was making bad decisions. For Ian, having just two people that believed in his future and supported him through rocky times allowed him to believe in himself.
I've known Ian for five years now. We've stayed up late talking about our dreams, he's slept on my Brooklyn apartment floor for a week at a time, and we’ve caught up over the phone every couple months. But during our coffee date at Bluebird, I realized there were big pieces missing from my really knowing him. We both talked and listened. In this forum, instead of pontificating about the human spirit in terms of marketing potential, we just talked about our own self-realizations. Walls came down, and by the end of our coffee, I looked at Ian with new eyes - more connected and with more admiration even than before.
Two hours flew by, and Ian had a meeting to get to. As we wrapped up, he said, "Linds, I think this is such a great process for you. But you're also giving fifty people a gift, as well. Your vulnerability is empowering others to be open and share about themselves. Thank you." Just when I was starting to worry that this project might be too self-indulgent, Ian pointed out a side of the conversations that I hadn't considered. The halo effect of spending face time with people, actively listening and reminding him or her that their story matters, is more powerful than I realized.
Though I feel Ian and my friendship is now on a new level, I asked Tyler to describe Ian in a few sentences. Tyler said, that, “If I had to describe Ian in one word, it would be genuine. I think it’s his genuine curiosity that continues to place Ian in situations that challenge him and allow him to learn. His love for people allows him to listen and empathize with others. Ian has a genuine relatability and adaptability that, no matter the person or situation, can find a way to connect or enjoy the moment. It’s because of those things that he’s the kinda of guy you always want to be around. That homie is kinetic.” So much love.
Shout out to the Whistler Society.
1. Being vulnerable is awesome.
In her powerful and popular TED Talk Brene Brown says, “What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” Be willing to let go of who you think you should be in order to be who you are. Ian and I discussed how vulnerability not only benefits us as individuals, but also strengthens the tribe. Connection is a result of authenticity. Let yourself be known and love with your whole heart, even though there is no guarantee that you’ll be accepted. Brene Brown defines courage as a willingness “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” Have the courage to be imperfect! Believe that the authentic you is worthy of connection and belonging. You will live more whole-heartedly, and also be a more valuable contributor to your communities.
2. The more you give, the more you get.
Ian recently launched a people-focused blog called The Somewhere Project. He emailed me, asking if I'd participate, with a link to the mock-up website. Coincidentally, the email came just two days before I launched fifty coffees. The Somewhere Project has a very similar format and goal to shine a light on people in one’s community. Ian had even used the same blog template and a similar visual style. My post on Ian’s blog went up last week. Ian closes the interview by saying, "If there’s one thing to learn from Lindsay, it’s this: the more you give in life, the more you’ll get in return." During our coffee date, I was open and honest with Ian about my emotional state, my relationship, and my fears. Because I was open, Ian felt comfortable being open, too. Openness and vulnerability are contagious.
3. Size doesn't matter.
Be honest with yourself and others about saying no to relationships that aren't helping you progress. This might mean you have a smaller community, but it will be stronger and more committed to you.