Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Community Experience! Your hosts — Tony Bacigalupo and Jillian Benbow — are community pros with over 24 years of experience between them. They're also part of the team behind SPI Pro, our paid community for like-minded entrepreneurs. As both professionals and students of community in their own right, this podcast is designed to explore all things community. From growing a community from scratch to addressing churn and burnout, this show features deep dives, interviews with people on the cutting edge of community building, roundtables, and more. Make sure to hit subscribe and leave a review on your favorite podcast platform.
For episode 001 Tony and Jillian are hanging out with a different Jillian, Jillian Richardson, a woman on a quest to cure the world of its loneliness epidemic. Through her popular newsletter, the Joy List, and her book, Unlonely Planet, Jillian is doing truly remarkable work.
We invited her onto the show to try to understand why community is such a hot topic right now. How can you integrate community into what you're building and keep it authentic?
Whether you hope to find a new community of your own or want to build a more impactful community yourself, there's something here for you.
Jillian Richardson speaks and hosts workshops about the art of connection. She is a coach, facilitator, and bestselling author of Unlonely Planet. She's also the founder of The Joy List, a weekly newsletter of community-centered events in NYC.
In This Episode
- Not-fun statistics on epidemic-level loneliness in America
- Jillian's own experience with community and what she learned at a digital detox camp for adults
- Why facillitated connection can be super powerful
- How Jillian's role shifted from facillitator to teacher during the pandemic
- Key recommendations for folks hoping to facillitate communities of their own
- Jillian's advice for anyone re-learning how to approach connection and friendship as an adult
- Why a “cohort model” for online community can be extremely powerful
The CX 001: Ending the Loneliness Epidemic with Jillian Richardson
Jillian Richardson: It's interesting to me when I think about, in health class growing up, how often we heard teachers say the importance of exercise and how dangerous smoking and drinking can be to your health. And yet, at least in my school, no emphasis was placed on the importance of healthy relationships and intimacy and how to feel connected to other people.
Tony Bacigalupo: That's Jillian Richardson, founder of the Joy List and author of Unlonely Planet. Today, we will be talking about the loneliness epidemic, and in particular the importance of teaching people how to make friends, how to supercharge your events so they foster real, meaningful connection, and the tools to build a sustainable community through newsletters and cohorts.
Tony: You’re listening to the Community Experience. We’re here to help you find the most effective and sustainable ways to build community. I’m Tony Bacigalupo and I’m here with Jillian Benbow.
Jillian Benbow: Hey hey! We are part of SPI Media or as we like to call ourselves, Team SPI. I am the Senior Community Experience Manager and I run SPI Pro. SPI Pro is our private community of like minded entrepreneurs, you apply to get it, it’s a very safe space, it is a paid community. I’m running the day to day programming there, helping pros connect with each other, having a lot of fun.
Tony: As for me, I am the Community Program Manager at Team SPI and that means I’m in charge of bootcamps and online summits amongst other things. A lot of kind of what we see in SPI Pro we see in a much more concentrated form in bootcamps where we have people, small groups of people really working, laser focused on one particular aspect of their business that’s very important to their growth alongside a small group of other people doing the same over a 4 - 8 week period. We’re both just so grateful to have the opportunity to work with so many amazing entrepreneurs and to be able to explore the world of community both by building it and learning through interviewing people on the Community Experience podcast. So we’re excited to have you along for the journey with us.
Jillian B.: In this podcast, we’ve brought together a collection of remarkable people to share their most valuable insights regarding community-building and beyond.
Tony: In this episode you’ll hear our discussion with another Jillian, Jillian Richardson, a community builder based in Brooklyn who’s on a mission to cure the world of the loneliness epidemic. Her newsletter, the Joy List, has expanded from a local curated list of events to a global platform for virtual programming and workshops. She also wrote a book called Unlonely Planet, which details her experience finding new kinds of communities and what she learned along the way.
I asked Jillian to join us because, well she’s a remarkable community builder and organizer herself, but she’s also a student of community, and she and I have both been doing extensive research into the root causes driving this massive movement towards community and belonging and all these things that we’re seeing within business and outside business. Why is this such a hot topic right now, why is community so important? And most importantly, how can you integrate community into what you’re building in a way that’s authentic and sustainable? So we’ll be getting into that and a lot more.
Jillian B.: In today’s episode, you’re going to learn ideas on how to find a community that is impactful to you, as well as how to build more impactful community yourself. So without further adieu, let’s get into the interview.
Tony: Jillian, so great to have you on the program. I'm so excited to introduce everyone listening to all of the amazingness you have to share. I've been a big fan for so long. Thank you for joining us.
Jillian R.: Thank you for having me, and it's so good to see your face after an eternity of quarantine.
Tony: So true. It's been a journey. Actually, it's funny to think about because when we last saw each other in person, it was March of 2020, we were flying to San Francisco for thing we can't talk about still, NDA. We had been working together pretty hardcore for the six months previous, and then we all went into lockdown mode. You spent some time in other parts of the country and you've come back to New York. So there's a lot of journey to share.
Jillian R.: Yeah, we have a lot of content.
Tony: So I want to start, I think, with the context that brought you and I together, which is what drives us, which is this need that we have discovered in our own personal lives that we also realized resonates with so many people around the world around belonging, loneliness, finding our people, finding community, both in person and online. That's been such a huge part of our journey, part of our identity really, is finding that and then creating it and helping other people find that and foster that sense of belonging for themselves.
But when you and I started working on some projects together, this question came up which is, what is going on? We hear this language, the loneliness epidemic, and all of the other mental health and emotional wellness crises that maybe are linked to it. So just from a big picture level, I know you've studied this, I know you've looked at a lot of the research, you've read the academic papers, you've talked to those people. Tell us from a big picture perspective, what's going on? What is this? How many people are lonely in the world? And what's the effect of that?
Jillian R.: So it's bad. These are not fun statistics, they're bummer statistics. So to give some context for America, 75 percent of Americans who are adults say that they are not satisfied with their friendships. At the same time, the average American says that they have one close friend. So you have one close friend and most people are not satisfied with that one close friend, so starting there, that is bad. Then when you see the impact that loneliness has on your physical health, they say that, you've probably heard the statistic, that loneliness impacts your health just as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. And the one that's less cited is it also impacts early mortality just as much as excessive drinking. It's interesting to me when I think about, in health class growing up, how often we heard teachers say the importance of exercise and how dangerous smoking and drinking can be to your health. And yet, at least in my school, no emphasis was placed on the importance of healthy relationships and intimacy and how to feel connected to other people.
And so to me it's not really that much of a surprise that so many people are lacking in close relationships when I truly believe it's a skill that we haven't actually been taught. It's impacting people on a health level, and people feel a lot of shame that they don't know how to connect with other people. I noticed there's this narrative a lot of people have about themselves like I should know how to connect with other people, I should be able to make friends. Not realizing that most other people around them feel exactly the same way.
Tony: So it's a big problem, we've identified that. I know you've got even more statistics that are even more alarming to back that up. But the scope of this is big, when you put those numbers and you think about. We're talking about many, many millions of people and the health implications extremely serious, bad on the body, bad on the mind, leading maybe to other bad things. We've got a lot of toxicity online, we've got a lot of people who are engaging in that way, maybe the fact that there's a lot of loneliness going on feeds into that. One of the feeding factors into that, from what I'm hearing, is this education side, that people don't know how to interact and connect in the right way. Is that what I'm hearing?
Jillian R.: Totally right.
Tony: And then what else do you think is feeding into this problem? I know there are a lot of different factors floating out there.
Jillian R.: Well, this is the thing I mentioned at the start of my book, is how many young people are disaffiliating from organized religion and for very good reasons. There are very good reasons why people would not trust the church for example. If they identify as LGBTQ, there's huge reasons why you wouldn't feel safe in that community because you're literally told that you're bad. Yet organized religion has so many wonderful benefits in terms of feeling connected to a higher purpose, feeling connected to spirit, having a place where you can go every week to be in community, to help others, to be helped if you need assistance, to be in intergenerational relationships. It's funny because I feel like literally, from what I've seen, every generation thinks this, that our religious landscape is drastically changing and more people than ever identify as a non or someone who is not part of any religion, and we haven't figured out the right way to meet the needs that a traditional church service would fill.
Tony: And that's this actually this even meta macro trend, gosh, I don't know if I like that I just used that phrase. There's this factor that it's not just religion, we also have this sense of a decreasing sense of citizenship and civic participation, we've seen that alone, that just people are less civically active, we see that in terms of corporate identity, that there was a greater sense that maybe in the second half of the 20th century that who you worked for, the company you worked for, there was a reciprocal relationship there, your identity was tied to your employer. We're now it's much, much more transactional, much more temporary.
So it seems like there's just this disintermediation of people just don't have a larger thing that they feel like they belong to. And any one of those things might have been able to scratch that itch, but they're all on the decline. So now we've got a lot of people that are just floating out there in ether. But at the same time there's a trend, now people are trying to experiment with these things and there are new communities or existing communities that are adapting to these needs. This is where you started to discover some of these communities. So can you tell me a little bit about what you've seen happening maybe in response to this need?
Jillian R.: Yeah. So I talk about loneliness because of my own experience of feeling like I don't have a sense of home in my own skin or in community and relationally with other people, like within myself, within New York City, and just between people. I felt no sense of belonging in any of those places. I had a summer after I graduated from college where I just said, "I'm going to go to a bunch of stuff alone. Something has to be better than what I experienced in college, there needs to be a different way, let me just meet new people." And looking back, I'm like, "Wow. I was really brave." I went to festivals by myself, I went to retreats on my own, I went to all these big, weird experimental events in New York City. And while I found that a lot of things that are not my vibe, places that I don't want to go and return to, I eventually did find communities where they represented this alternate universe that I wanted to live in.
And the quintessential example that I always give is Camp Grounded, which is a digital detox summer camp for adults. They created all of these agreements to literally shift what reality is. And what I mean by that is they had agreements like you don't use your real name you use a silly fake name, you don't talk about how old you are, you don't talk about what your job is, there is no technology, there is no substances. And they even had norms like if you messed up in front of a group, like if you're supposed to lead a cheer and you forget the words, everyone goes, "Yay, you're awesome." It's like this reprogramming of so many things that we just assume are normal in our day-to-day lives. And those exist in a smaller scale in events like sober dance parties in New York City. You don't have to be drunk off your butt to go crazy and dance and have fun. I started my newsletter to let people know that those spaces exist literally every day of the week in New York City.
Jillian B.: I have two questions for you. So first, can you tell us your name at camp or is that top secret?
Jillian R.: It is not top secret. My name was Lady.
Jillian B.: Lady?
Jillian R.: Lady. Literally the only... People had all these deep reasons why they chose their name and I just literally thought it was funny for someone to say, "Hey lady." That was it.
Jillian B.: Hey lady.
Jillian R.: That was it. That was it.
Jillian B.: I want to go to this just to come up... Already in my head thinking of like, I must have the perfect name is stressing me out because that would be my top thing.
Jillian R.: They even had people to help you choose a name. If you arrived and you were all stressed out about a name, they were people who would play characters and be very self serious and ask you questions, but then just fully pull a name out of a hat for you.
Jillian B.: It's like a murder mystery dinner party but at camp and it sounds amazing. But it sounds beautiful, I love what you were saying about just challenging those norms to do things. Like no, you don't have to be drunk if you're dancing or all of these things that it's so ingrained in our society. But you mentioned your newsletter and I feel like we just need to really quickly talk about that. Because I was looking at your site and it's really cool, it's called the Joy List.
Jillian R.: Yes.
Jillian B.: Do you want to just give us a little insight on, you mentioned it's a compilation of all these cool events in New York City, do you want to elaborate on that a little so people can learn more about it?
Jillian R.: Yeah, sure.
Jillian B.: Lady.
Jillian R.: So talking about having a sense of self, I've been publishing this newsletter every week, not missing a week since November, 2016. So this has really helped me establish a sense of self. Because the newsletter it starts with a little anecdote of something I learned that week or a lesson I learned about connection. So having that project forced me to make meaning out of literally every week, like, "Oh, okay, what's the lesson this week?" And that shaped how I see the world. Then it is a event every day of the week, Monday through Sunday that has facilitated connection.
The reason why I emphasize facilitated connection is because, like I said, so many people, they don't know how to deeply connect with other people. And even if they do, there's this fear of like, "I don't want to be weird by asking someone a question literally other than who are you and how are you feeling and what do you do." Those are the normal questions to ask. I love events that are facilitated because again, they're saying, "If you're walking into this space, you're agreeing to our norms." And this facilitator is going to guide you through an experience of some sort. I think that those spaces they are these little microcosms of what the future could look like.
Tony: Well, and it's having gone to some of the events that Jillian has facilitated herself, which I know she's drawn inspiration from the events she's been to, but then she's added so much of her own originality and creativity to it, is there's so much that's hard about maybe most of the gatherings that are out there that there are a lot of people that maybe have tried to go out, tried to make friends, tried to go to events. And you go into a space and you're in a room full of people. And if you're a super-duper extrovert that doesn't mind going up and talking to strangers, that's great. But that's not necessarily most people, that's a lot of people who don't necessarily do well with that. Even if he could do well, it's still very difficult for you to just be totally open-ended. And going to a Joy List social event, I'm given the opportunity to turn to the person to my left, introduce myself. We have a very specific prompt for something to discuss a specific amount of time. There's some structure to it and there's this notion of I'm being educated around how to listen, that when another person's talking I'm going to just pay attention. And then when I'm talking, they're going to give me their full attention. Then I'm now connecting to this person and now there's an end. So we're not going to be stuck with each other grabbing each other's ears off, I need to go talk to the person to my right now.
And just that element of facilitated connection between people can really take an event from I just went and I sat in the back and I scrolled my phone and then left to, "You know what? I met somebody. And maybe I'm not going to be best friends with them forever, but at least I talked to a human who acknowledged my existence and it was a pleasant experience." Of course, we know just from joy list social experiences, oftentimes I do end up making real connections and real friends, a that's amazing.
What I think is so amazing about what you've highlighted in your newsletter is that there are places you can go that are going to be different. And in New York City pre-pandemic, there might be 500 things I could do on a typical night, but 498 of them aren't going to give me what I need. And if you could give me that curation, that's going to make a huge difference. I hope that it inspires other people as well.
Jillian R.: Me too, thank you.
Tony: That wasn't a question that was just me reflecting on why I love what you're up to. So in terms of where things are going, and I think actually we have to acknowledge where we're at in time as of when we're talking about this, when we're recording this, we're in this phase where we're still dealing with the pandemic, but we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and there's going to be this reemergence. You and I haven't really properly deeply caught up about how this experience has been for you this past year, but I'm sure that you have a lot to say about it. From your own perspective, but then from the perspective of other people and where they're at, maybe can you just tell us a little bit about what you've learned or how your perspective has changed on this world in the past year?
Jillian R.: Oh, well, in terms of my personal identity, I was forced to shift I think much more quickly than I would have otherwise into the role of teacher. Because usually I'm curator, I curate events and I host this friend-making event where we essentially just give people prompts and let them do their thing, and that wasn't an option during the pandemic. So I got to do something I probably would have done maybe five or six years down the line otherwise, which is start to teach, like how do you connect with people? How do you resolve conflict? How do you date with intention and mindfulness? These skills that like we talked about. Folks feel shame that they don't know how to do these things or at the very best they just want to improve.
What I've seen from talking to other people who are facilitators is it seems like there's this fear of moving too quickly, moving back into the world and pretending like nothing has changed when we've all changed as people, some very deeply and some more in subtly in the past year. And for me, what I am craving is slower feeling social spaces and spaces that go deeper than these very high energy, talking to lots of people, an event every night of the week, and slowing it down. What I'm also craving is cohort based experiences, like being with a group of maybe 10 people for many weeks or many months. And those have been my favorite experiences during the pandemic, have been virtual cohorts where we're learning skills or just sharing and being vulnerable together. I think those feel like the next evolution of my work going from these quick introductions to community to deeper dives.
Tony: Well, I think that is going to make a lot of sense as well as we think about not just the fact that people need education prior to the pandemic, but now this reacclimation to feeling safe being in a social environment and feeling comfortable and remembering how to do it. I'm picturing a 50 person joyless social is going to be human presence overload for a lot of people.
Jillian R.: Oh my god.
Tony: So we might need to do some warming up to this. I feel like there's going to be the need for that, and that's probably going to mean having some safety, having some smaller circles, and having some sense of shared commitment. Because we're not just acclimating to what's going on, we're also having to do a lot of processing. There's grieving to be done and there's moving on to be done that's going to probably require some vulnerability. So what do you think that means in terms of what people, I don't know, what people should be looking for or what people should be looking to create?
Jillian R.: There's an author named Parker Palmer who... I think it's either a book or a little pamphlet called Circles of Trust. You probably know, is it a book?
Tony: I don't know that particular one. I love Parker Palmer but I don't know that particular piece. But I'm certainly going to be looking it up.
Jillian R.: So I'm in a year-long group and we're now committing to each other for a second year, that's based off of Circles of Trust. I think what folks should be looking up would maybe be terms like group therapy, women's group, men's group, cohort based learning, those might be some Google terms to look up because there is fear of other people right now just straight up. Of course there's been a deadly disease out there for over a year. It makes so much sense that we wouldn't feel comfortable just jumping back into a big sweaty dance party, that doesn't feel wise. So finding ways to ease in and also even having a therapist. Group therapy I have a hunch will become more popular this upcoming year because that might be the type of holding that people need. Because there's so much unprocessed gunk from this past year.
Jillian B.: I strongly believe that group peer support is just going to take off. It was already bubbling before the pandemic, but I think people are realizing that it's so high impact post-pandemic, which is great, I'm all for it.
Jillian R.: It's so incredible. The free ones as well like the group I've been in for over a year, it's totally free, peer run, incredible. I'm in a separate group that's about developing your spiritual center and we've been meeting for maybe four months now. It's totally free and then it's going to transition into peer led support. This is where it's at, this is where I think the values of community are actually really there versus a one-off event. Because you have to be with people even when you don't necessarily want to show up, which I think is a really cool value and a muscle to develop.
Tony: I feel like it's such an opportunity. It's a challenge, but it's a huge opportunity now that there's this massive well of need for people to reconnect, for people to get this education, to find their circles. In my mind, there's a lot of folks who can help with that. Maybe not just people who are explicitly in the community world like we are, but people who are just in their own world. One of the best ways for people to connect to each other is around a shared interest, something you nerd out on, some niche. So I'm thinking from the perspective of the listener that maybe I'm running a community, I want to do a better job of it. Maybe community's not a component of what I do but it could become a part of it.
So what I'm wondering is if I'm thinking about doing community right, doing community better, and really embracing this, what's the best way for me to approach that from a high level? You mentioned earlier some of the great things from Camp Grounded that there was the sense of shared agreements, that there's some commitment, there's some ritual, and this is a growing thing, that there's an industry growing for incorporating rituals into organizations and-
Jillian R.: Shout outs rituals.
Tony: Shout outs to Ezra Jane Bookman our collaborator for back one from ritualist. But what would you recommend for somebody who's listening in who wants to dip their toe in this and do it right?
Jillian R.: I think one would be to ask your community what they want support with. Like what are you looking for help with, accountability? It's so funny to me, I feel like all these accountability groups are really just masks for something way deeper, but masterminds or accountability are socially acceptable not like, "Oh, I just really would like deeper male friendships please, but sign me up for a mastermind instead." Ask people what kind of support they want and then find a style of peer based learning or a cohort group that you could try out.
What I've seen in the group that I'm in right now, they did it for free for a group of people and now that group is running on its own and they're going to slowly teach other people how to run this program so more and more people can run it. I think that feels like truly community-based way to grow something. Like, Oh, okay, if someone in your community really likes this mastermind group, for example, then probably other people are going to want it. As your community grows, those small groups can grow. Instead of some stupid Zoom happy hour or whatever people are into.
Jillian B.: We totally never do that.
Tony: You do so much better job Jill, nothing is ever just a Zoom happy hour with Jill.
Jillian B.: We have some fun on our Zooms. You have to because you're on Zoom all the time now.
Jillian R.: Yeah.
Tony: I feel like there's always a deeper thing that's resonant between you and the folks that you work with or the folks that you serve that you can tap into. There's some craft or there's some aspiration or some way that people want to improve. I'm just trying to think of random examples like if you run a lumber company and you say, "How would I ever build a community just selling wood?" And you say, "Well, the people I sell it to build stuff, they probably have tons of best practices they'd love to share, and they probably would be very proud to show off what they've built." So there's always a point of connection. I'm just pulling these random examples, but looking for that thing, what's the thing that these people really want to talk about?
Jillian R.: I think a mastermind, I don't know if mastermind is the right word, but doing okay, part of this call it's like a hot seat. Someone gets to ask the group their woodworking question and then someone gets to feature one of their projects and then someone gets to feature their business.
Jillian B.: The sky is the limit.
Jillian R.: That's a model that would work literally forever.
Jillian B.: Yeah, I'm in. Where do I sign up? That's woodwork guys.
Jillian R.: —you consulting for a lumber company.
Tony: Jillian, so before we wrap up, you have so much to offer, so many resources, just give me the rundown. I know you've got a bunch of different links to point people to, you've got a book, you've got a newsletter, you've got your own website.
Jillian R.: I got so many things.
Jillian B.: You're a speaker.
Tony: Hit me with the URLs. Yeah, fire away.
Jillian R.: So one, my book it's called Unlonely Planet, you can find it by Googling Unlonely Planet. I have my coaching, so if you go to the Joy List website,
Jillian B.: You do it all.
Jillian R.: I do it all. I'm an Enneagram seven, I'm a classic, I just want to do everything.
Jillian B.: All the things.
Jillian R.: Mm-hmm. I get bored otherwise.
Tony: And on socials, where do we find you on the socials?
Jillian R.: On social. So I'm always embarrassed by my handle, but I'm @ThatJillian, with a J.
Jillian B.: I love it.
Tony: She's that Jillian.
Jillian R.: I'm @ThatJillian on Twitter, on Instagram; ThatJillian.com is my website. All the stuff.
Jillian B.: I dig it because I am not that Jillian, apparently.
Jillian R.:I'm that one, I got it.
Jillian B.: Look at the clarification here.
Jillian R.: I got it in like 2015.
Tony: Jillian, one last thing. What are you just so excited for up ahead? I feel like we have a lot to be looking forward to right now.
Jillian R.: I am excited to have this extra sense of sacredness added to gathering. I think people like us we get it already, we know how important these moments are. And yet I think there's just going to be a cultural shift in understanding how valuable coming together is because we had a year of time out.
Tony: Somebody asked in a round table, what's the first thing you want to do after you're fully vaxed whatever? And I said, among many other things, obviously hosting dinner parties and all these other things, I said, "I'm looking forward to just walking into a bar and going up to the bar and ordering a beer." And everyone else on the call was just like, "Oh yes." That appreciation for the things that we just completely took for granted before, there's going to be a lot of that, which is good.
Jillian R.: Oh yeah.
Jillian B.: It's such a good question. It's like how do you pick?
Jillian R.: So much gratitude for everything?
Jillian B.: Jillian, what would your first thing be? That Jillian.
Jillian R.: Oh man. I think going to an outdoor concert with a group of friends and just scream singing with a bunch of people. Or a Broadway show and just weeping the whole way through, either one.
Tony: Love it.
Jillian B.: It sounds good. I'm not sure I could actually pick, but I think just day drinking in general sounds great. As the weather is getting better, the idea of sitting at a patio bar, still safe, bring your dog, I want to do that right now, but I'll wait. It's actually snowing so I won't. But I think it's funny just how much we appreciate. If you forgot in the pre-pandemic, now just the importance of physically even just touching another human, and I don't mean in a weird way. But like giving someone a hug it's special now, especially if it's someone that's not living in your space, it's so much more meaningful.
Jillian B.: I wanted to circle back just to talk about, at the beginning we were talking about just loneliness and how it's a skill that is not taught in school. That really resonated with me as someone who moved every two years. I had to learn how to keep making friends and to start over and to be the new kid, that was just part of my life. So now I find it actually pretty easy to connect with people because I was forced into that. But I realize not everyone has that same experience, and so I'm wondering, that Jillian, if you have advice for the adults who do struggle, now that we're out of school, out of college and you just have your work life and maybe your family and the friends that you have? But if you're looking for those deeper connections with people and you want to connect, if you had three tips to give people for when they get to go back outside and talk to other humans. What would you recommend people do to get to those authentic connections?
Jillian R.: I think one of the biggest mistakes that people can make is just keeping their friends from when they grew up in college without questioning those relationships at all.
Jillian B.: Yeah, same.
Jillian R.: I think that's when folks can feel stagnant or disconnected. Because people grow out of relationships and it doesn't even mean that someone spurned you or hurt you in any way, could just mean like, oh, now I care about sobriety and dance and community and you don't have these interests anymore and we just can't connect in the same way. And instead of me feeling like I'm broken in bed, I can meet people who also like these things. And that requires me being vulnerable and going to an event alone and feeling like the kid who has nowhere to sit at lunch. It's so fascinating to me, do you have another tip, to think about friendship like dating.
It's very socially acceptable to go on many dates in order to find a partner, that's just normal. If you were like, "Oh, obviously the first person I go on a date with this person will be my husband." That's not logical. And yet I think making friends feels even more vulnerable. So if someone's like, "Oh God, I went to an event and I felt weird and I didn't make a friend." I've noticed people are almost more likely to just not try it again because that hurts so much. So to remember it's going to be awkward, it's going to be messy, you're going to go to stuff where you don't like people and they're not your vibe. And be brave enough to keep going because our friends shape our entire world, our friends shape what events we go to, they shape how much we think is possible for ourselves, they shape how confident we can be. There's nothing more powerful than incredible friends who make you think you can be a better human.
Tony: Killer, love it, love it. T Jillian, thank you so much for your time. It has been an absolute pleasure, I'm glad we got to chat.
Jillian R.: You are so welcome.
Jillian B.: Okay. All right. And that was Jillian Richardson talking about loneliness and community and all those great things. Tony, what did you think?
Tony: Well, first of all, I love her example. She's somebody who's building her businesses around community entirely. And so following her journey, seeing how she's built off a newsletter, which we're going to talk about and how she's turned that into cohort driven community groups and all of that, I think it's just, it's a really valuable journey for, uh, for us to follow him, to think about how we can map that to our own experiences.
Jillian B.: I also just love her. I mean, for lack of a better word, bravery, courage, to kind of audit and assess things in her life, uh, that maybe most of us just go with the flow with, you know, um, reassessing old friendships and realizing the events and things she'd been attending maybe weren't really serving her best interest and, and really being brave in the sense of like going out and seeking those things and trying new things, knowing that many would fail, you know, and just going to several events.
Tony: And then to recognize when she found something that worked, Hey, something here is different. Can I find more of this? And can I create more of this? And I think that taps into a larger need that's out there. You know, if you're noticing that something's not working for you with the way that things currently are, then that's probably true for other people too. And when you start hearing people say me too, that's when you know, you're onto something. And she was that she, she has that bravery to recognize that and then kind of lean into that and share that with other people.
Jillian B.: Absolutely. It really, it reminded me when I, um, my daughter is now 12, believe it or not. Uh, when she was a baby—being a mom is lonely. Um, and if you don't already have friends that are also having kids and I did not, and I remember going to a few different, like new mom get togethers and just leaving every one, like what is there must be something wrong with me. Cause I am not into any of these people I meet or, you know, and just, if they just, it just never clicked. And it felt so forced.
Jillian B.: It was this whole extra layer of friend finding. And so when Jillian was talking about going to events and trying things and meeting people, you know, kind of like dating, it really resonated with me thinking about that time in my life where I just show up at these things and everybody there I'd be like, well, certainly it's me. That's weird because everyone here seems to get along swimmingly. And I think they're all crazy. So there's something wrong with me.
Tony: First, when I heard you say there must be something wrong with me. It just, I just felt something kind of right in my chest, both kind of sympathetically because it was just, it felt sad, but empathetically as well that I identify and I feel like no, no, I don't think it is you. I think it's a bigger issue. And it's a big part of why I'm excited about this podcast. I mean, I don't know, maybe you and I are the, the, the, the odd ones, but I feel like we, what we're seeing is that people are responding when somebody does something that's different and better.
Jillian B.: I completely agree. And I think that brings us to one of the key takeaways that, uh, from the interview with Jillian is that as adults, we need to relearn how to make friends and that's okay. You know, once you leave the school environment, making friends whether you've moved to a new place or had a big life event, like having a child or, you know, um, there's, there's a skill set involved with, with making new friends. What are your thoughts on there's adults needing to relearn how to make friends and how we all should work on that skill set?
Tony: And that leads to the other takeaway for me, one of the other takeaways for me, which is adding an element of facilitated connection and why it's so important and so powerful and so valuable. So looking as an organizer, is this just going to be an event where I broadcast and everybody consumes it, and then if people network before and after fine, or is this an event where I want people to come away with a deeper connection or a more meaningful experience, then how am I going to facilitate that?
Jillian B.: That's such a key point for, especially for event organizers. I like your point, Tony, about making it clear to people, Hey, I'm going to lead these activities. Here's what it looks like and framing it in such a way that it's, there's not a lot of pressure. It's like, Hey, you're going to meet a stranger and I'm going to give you a prompt to talk about for a few minutes and then it's over. And so just giving people those guardrails, I think takes a lot of the social pressure off the people participating. And then they're probably more likely to come again because they know I'm basically coming into a place where I feel safe.
Tony: It also, I'm realizing, is powerful for the organizer as well, that they don't have the burden of providing everything to everybody in the room. And they still are seen as a leader and viewed in that way, but they're not viewed as the person who is providing the answers for everybody there. And so you get to kind of, as an organizer, be in a position where you're still in charge and you're still creating this space and this experience, but you're facilitating as opposed to providing.
Jillian B.: That's, that's such a huge point too, because you think about the, you know, the one-to-many model and the, whoever that one is that community organizer or event organizer, it's very easy to burn out because everybody wants to talk to you. we like to do a lot of icebreaker, networking type events, where we do just what you were saying, Tony, we, we put people, um, you know, if it's Zoom or other platforms in like a, a breakout room in a one-on-one or a, a very small group, give them like, here's your, here's the amount time you have.
And I think in online business, in particular, being able to talk to someone who gets, what you're doing on that level is just so powerful.
Tony: It sounds like if I'm distilling what you just said, create a time constraint, give people a prompt, have the prompt be provocative, the appropriate amount of provocative, something that kind of invites people to open up without, without demanding that people be super vulnerable because not everybody's necessarily ready for that right away.
Jillian B.: Well, that brings us into our, our next key takeaway, which is really, um, exploring the cohort model. And this is something Tony and I are pretty interested in, passionate about. We've implemented it into SPI Pro, but I think it's a, it's an interesting thing to explore if you're any sort of community organizer and that's the, you know, really, it's kind of a more slow growth model, which I think kind of pushes against this like hustle culture and like rapid growth, kind of the, the tech industry has put us all in this mindset of like, you know, fast scaling.
Jillian B.: And then with the expectation that there's going to be this facilitated relationship growth over time. Um, this it's, it's a slow growth, it's a slow roll. I personally believe very strongly that this is kind of the future of community. This is the next evolution. Tony, what did you think about just Jillian's experience with playing with cohort models and what that might mean to the community landscape in general? Yeah.
Tony: Creating a cohort creates very specific time boundaries. It creates shared expectations; it's a lot less open-ended for you as an organizer, you have a much clearer sense of what you're there to deliver for your community, um, which also can help with reducing burnout. And also, I will say for Jillian specifically, she found that that model worked well for her. Maybe we can parlay this into the final takeaway,
Which is you can start simple, start simple with a newsletter, something as simple as a newsletter is something that you can use to build a community. She built a community, just a newsletter, uh, to start. And then over the course of that, and I witnessed this, she tried different ways of making that newsletter, a sustainable business that worked for her.
Jillian B.: I think is it's just a really great reminder to anybody out there considering starting a community, or, you know, just have this, this little star in your eye of something you, you would want to build, whether it's for a business or a passion or whatnot, just the idea that you can take something small. And if you put enough persistence, if you are consistent with it, um, it can grow into something.
Tony: I love what you're saying, which is, you know, if you find that something's not working for you, listen to that, that's useful and, you know, try not to blame yourself for it. You're probably not the only one you might, there might be lots of people who feel the same way that you do. And lean into that.
Tony: All right. So we're going to wrap it up. We had such an inspiring experience talking with Jillian, and I hope that you were also inspired, instigated to maybe do something a little differently, do something new. We'd love to hear what it is that you took away from this conversation. And we'd love to have a conversation with you. And so you can find us on Twitter @TeamSPI and leave comments, let us know what you think. And we'd love to hear what you're up to in your world.
Jillian B.: Have a wonderful day, everybody, and we will see you on the next one. Bye.
Special thanks to Jillian Richardson, aka That Jillian, aka Lady, for joining us on today's episode. You can find Jillian on Twitter and Instagram at: @ThatJillian. Subscribe to the Joy List at
Tony: This has been the Community Experience. For more information on this episode including links and show notes, head to SmartPassiveIncome.com and click on "listen."
Jillian B.: Your hosts are me, Jillian Benbow, and Tony Bacigalupo. The Community Experience is a production of SPI Media.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland, our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound design by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian B.: See you next time.
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