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Searching for Remarkable Communities

October 24th, 2011

My very first job out of college was as a Community Development Coordinator for the residence life program of a large university. My job was to take a dorm full of relative strangers and help them build a community for themselves.

It was challenging and it was FUN! And I’ve been building communities throughout my career ever since. Volunteer communities, organizational communities, sales team communities – all kinds of communities. It isn’t an external “strategy”, it’s just part of who I am and how I operate in the world.

I’m starting look more and more at how it is communities function – mainly because I believe that the more disassociated and confusing and scary our world becomes, the more we CRAVE a community to belong to.

But what is it, exactly, that makes a community remarkable enough that we want to belong to it? And by that I mean, what quality is it that draws us in AND compels to keep coming back?

I have my own ideas about that, but I am extremely interested in your ideas. So, if you feel so inclined, in the comments section below I would love to hear about:

1) A community (online or offline, local or global) that you belong to that you think is remarkable.

2) THE single quality that makes it feel remarkable to you.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with!!!

I Will Never Be Pollyanna Positive

October 20th, 2011

From time to time I get chastised by so-called social media superstars for the fact that I am, at times, grumpy, moody, direct, and simply “not positive”.

“Turn that frown upside down!” People only want to hear positive encouragement on social media.” “To be a leader, you need to stop with all the negativity.”

I call bullshit.

I will never, ever be Pollyanna Positive and I don’t believe that’s all people are craving. Here’s the story of why.

I spent the first thirty years of my life quelling thoughts and feelings that were considered “inappropriate”. I pursued appearing to be the “right, acceptable” person in hopes that it would make my life go the way I wanted it to go.  I pretended none of the other stuff existed.

And, to be fair, it worked for a little while. I was a successful student, considered a leader, made Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board. Went on to successful jobs in the business world where I was touted as an Up and Comer most of the time.

But while all this was going on in the public eye, some dark nasty was happening behind closed doors. I battled depression and anxiety, my personal life imploded, and I was truly deeply miserable. It was more awful than I can put into words, so I’m not going to try.

During my desperate attempt to crawl out the deep, dark hole I’d dug for myself , A discovery was laid before in something I can only describe as miraculous. A wise wise person looked me in the eye and said “Human beings were given a complex range of emotions unlike any other creature on earth. And if we don’t use them, exercise them, give them fresh air and sunshine, they start eating at us like cancer.  And creating diseases just as deadly.”

This wise person went on to say that if I did not find a way to express my full range of human-ness, I would very like die. And not metaphorically.

A wake up call if there ever was one.

So I’ve spent the last 16 odd years learning how to live full self-expressed. Does it come with a price? Sure it does. Sometimes I say or do the wrong thing. Sometimes I make a mess I have to clean up. Sometimes I could keep my thoughts a bit more private. Sometimes I over-indulge in my negative emotions and wind up with a hangover. Sometimes people I really really like get angry. Sometimes people I really really like walk away.

But when I weigh this price against squelching who I am to the point of being a shard of a person, I’ll gladly pay whatever is asked.

And here’s the thing: in this obnoxiously loud online world where everyone is basically trying to say “Hey! Look at me and all my awesomeness!!”, I think people crave permission to exhale. To just be. To express whatever it is they need to express – positive, negative, whatever.

This is the gateway to living fully self-expressed. Which is what I want for you with every fiber of my being.

So I wave my magic wand and say “Permission granted! Go be the fully self-expressed human that you are!”

And if you are in search of Pollyanna Positive, she doesn’t live here. 🙂

Four Kinds of Communities

October 18th, 2011

So if you’ve been keeping up, you know that I’ve become quite fascinated with communities of late. What makes them tick, why do we join them, why do we leave them, what qualities define an outstanding one – all of those questions are part of my quest to learn more.

Today I want to share with you some of my early insights about the kinds of communities that are out there. I’ve realized that different kinds of communities have different life-spans AND different life expectancies. As long as we know this when we join a community, we’re in good shape. Problems occur when we think we are in one kind of community and suddenly discover that we are in another kind entirely.

So without further adieu, here is my first attempt to describe communities in this way. (This is BETA, not carved in stone, okay?!)

Four Kinds of Communities

The “Pop Up” Community

The Pop Up community is one that springs to life seemingly overnight and out of nowhere.

Lifespan: The Pop Up Community has a very short, but intense life span.

Examples: I’m thinking of communities like those that form at an event like SXSW or Blogworld. Or those that spring up online around a specific cause or event.  A short, shared experience is the glue that holds the Pop Up Community together.

The Pop Up Community is like a match. It burst to life in a bright, hot flame. Connections and relationships happen almost instantly and emails, dms, messages and texts fly as fast as they can be typed. Sometimes the Pop Up Community evolves into another kind of community and sometimes it dies a natural death at the conclusion of the event from which it sprang.

The Temporary Community

A close relative of the Pop Up Community, the temporary community is one that is intentionally designed to temporary from the very beginning.

Lifespan: Can vary anywhere from a few days to several months – maybe even a year. Everyone knows that it’s not designed to be permanent. It has a predictable beginning and a predictable end.

The idea is that a group or community comes together, works along aside each other for a set amount of time and when the project or “thing” they are working on concludes, the community disbands.

Examples: I’m thinking of communities like the one that forms around my month-long blog series. I know and the community members know that the community that forms will last exactly one month. That’s not to say that some people will bond and stay around Escaping Mediocrity longer – some will. But that is a bonus, not an expectation.

Another example of a temporary community is a group or committee who designs, plans and executes a specific something like an event. (The group that made TEDxRedMountain happen springs to mind.)

Another example is a formal mastermind or community coaching program. Everyone knows when it starts. Everyone knows who is in it. Everyone knows when it will officially end.

The Transient Community

The Transient Community is a little tougher to describe because it’s one where members of the community come and go. In fact, I’m debating whether it has a place in this particular list of community descriptions based on life span.

But a Transient Community is distinctly different from the other three, so for now, it’s here.

Lifespan: Varies Wildly

Examples: Sometimes the community structure is fixed, like membership organizations, but the actual people IN the community changes.  Sometimes the community structure is as fluid as the people who are in it – such as informal masterminds or support networks.

The most important thing I can say about a Transient Community is that you’ve got to know when you are in one. If you expect a transient community to anything other than what it is, you’ll be disappointed.

The Anchor Community

Which brings be to the idea of the Anchor Community. These are the communities most of us long for.

Lifespan: The Anchor Community has structure, a long life span (perhaps even indefinite) and we know who the members are. Certainly new people may join from time to time and of course there will be some people who leave. However, there is a certain amount of solid predictability and familiarity built into the community’s fabric.

Examples: I’m thinking of communities like churches, synagogues and other house of faith. I’m thinking of the community of friends you’ve known since college who know all about you and love you anyway. I’m thinking about the group of colleagues who formally or informally meet and communicate to support and challenge each other – and have for years.

More Thoughts

As you can tell from the above descriptions, one kind of community can evolve or devolve into another kind of community. A community could be a hybrid of several different kinds of communities.

As you can probably also tell, I’m still fleshing out the descriptions of these four communities – this idea is still very much in BETA. To that end, I would LOVE your thoughts and feedback on this whole idea.

Have I left out a kind of community that can be defined by lifespan? Can you think of more examples of communities that fit into the above for descriptions? Do I need to add more/different descriptors?

As always, I anxiously await your wisdom. 🙂

Mark Silver & I Talk about the Future of Coaching Programs

October 17th, 2011

I love talking to Mark Silver (@MarkHeartofBiz). He’s another person in my world who is SO much smarter than I am – and I just love the way he thinks.

He and I have been chatting via DM about the evolution of coaching – particularly the evolution of coaching programs.

Back in the dark ages there were only one-on-one sessions with coaches. Then coaching discovered some interesting models in the internet marketing world and the multi-week, large group coaching class developed. Then came the year-long mastermind or mentorship. Then came the six-figure year-long mastermind or mentorship program.

This evolution has given rise to a ton of confusion and a gazillion questions!

-Is a year-long mastermind program the best way to move my business forward?

-Can a shorter coaching program deliver the same kind of high-impact results as a long-term program?

– Is a large class led by a coach the best option for me considering where I am in my business?

– I can’t afford any of the really expensive options out there. What are my best options?

– What can I expect to happen for me in a year-long vs. a short-term coaching program?

And TONS more.

Mark and I decided it would be really fun to have a conversation about all of this and about which way the coaching pendulum is swinging right now.

And then we thought it would be even MORE fun if we invited YOU to join in that conversation! So, this coming Wednesday, October 19th at 2:30 EST/11:30 PST, we invite you to join

Mark & Sarah Talk about the Future of Coaching Programs (and how it impacts YOU)

Pop your name and email addy in the boxes below and we’ll zip out the call in info, along with a link to ask us your most pressing question about this topic.

The Familiar Comfort of Confusion

October 11th, 2011

One of the themes that came up over and over again at my Creating Irresistible Presence event was how comforting it is to feel confused.


How can confusion be comforting?

Because it is familiar. Because it keeps us from committing. Because it absolves us of responsibility.

Some pretty nice payoffs if you ask me.

Being trapped in confusion is like a dog chasing its tail. Lots of energy is spent going round and round, feeling really busy, but making no forward commitment whatsoever. Commitment means risk. And if we humans are anything, we are risk averse.

See, here’s the thing. The topics I talk about a lot are clarity, confidence and courage. People say they want them. And then they sit and wait. And wait. And wait.

Or they run around taking a ton of courses, reading a ton of books, talking to a ton of people. All in the hopes of  clarity, confidence and courage suddenly appearing and instantly changing everything.

It doesn’t work that way. In fact, it works in the opposite direction.

We move in the world as if we are clear, as if we are confident, as if we are courageous. Then and only then do these qualities come to us.

So how do we move in the world in this way?  The answer is simple. (I didn’t say easy. I said simple.)

We make a decision. We challenge our confusion. We ask:

“What would I say if I did know?”

“How would I act if I were confident?”

“What would I do if I were courageous?”

And we do those things. We PRACTICE being those things. We strengthen those muscles by working them, just like we strengthen our physical muscles by working them. And, as we all know, going to the gym requires a decision. 🙂

Another way to challenge our confusion is by using something author Julia Cameron calls “Filling the Form”. The idea here is that when we are pondering the answers to questions, we aren’t allowed to leave anything blank. We have to put SOMETHING in the form. Once we have something there, we can work with it. Do we like that or not? Do we want to go closer to it or further away? What if we refined it like this?

Get the idea?

Leaving questions unanswered simply allows us to claim “confusion” as our reason for staying exactly where we are.

So today I challenge you to leave the comfort of confusion behind. Move forward. Decide. Today. Right now.

And then tell me all about it in the comments because I cannot WAIT to hear!!

(If you want to talk more about this confusion thing, I held a livestream chat about it earlier this week. You can catch the recording here :


Crabs In a Bucket

October 7th, 2011


I’m so delighted about all the visitors coming to this post from Paulo Coelho’s blog and I want to say a special “WELCOME!” to you all.

My name is Sarah Robinson (@SarahRobinson) and I am a seasoned small business and entrepreneurship strategist (built companies, sold companies, consult for companies, etc.). Here at Escaping Mediocrity I talk about the challenges and rewards of working – and living – according to our own drumbeat, rather than the beat of someone else’s drum.

At the moment, I am particularly fascinated with the idea of community – especially community in the world of business .

If this idea interests you, too, I would love to keep you in the loop. I’ll be looking for people to interview and stories to feature shortly. So just pop your name and email addy in the boxes below and you’ll get the occasional email from me. I don’t spam and I won’t put on my newsletter list, either. 🙂

And now…..the full text of Crabs in a Bucket. 🙂

When I was a little girl, I lived very close (and hour and fifteen minutes) to the Florida panhandle beaches. Which meant we spent a TON of time there.

Early evening was one of my favorite times to walk the beach with my mom and my older brothers. We were all clean and fed and slightly sun weary but still desperate to be outside. So, we would grab flashlights, dip nets and a bucket and search the ocean’s edge for crabs.

We would catch a bucket full in an evening and drag them back home where my mom or my grandmother would cook them up into something delicious. (Yes, I was traumatized by the crabs being put into boiling water, but that story is for another day.)

The problem was that as we made that long walk home carrying crabs, there were always one or two who figured out how to climb up to the edge of the bucket in an attempt to escape. Every now and then we would have to tap the edge of the bucket to knock them back down.

Because I was too little to carry the bucket very far, I got the job of watching for potential escapees. And I noticed something..well…odd.

More often than not, as a crab would begin to inch its way higher to the edge of the bucket, the other crabs would latch on to him and pull him back down. I watched this scenario play out again and again, year after year.

Fast forward to this morning. As I was drinking my coffee and perusing my twitter stream, and up pops this gem from @paul0coelho (He wrote The Alchemist, one of my all time favorite books): “Only mediocrity is safe. Get ready to be attacked, and be the best.”

Maybe it was the early hour. Maybe it was my post-event mushy brain. I don’t know. But the minute I read Paul’s tweet, I thought of those crabs in a bucket. So I sent him this tweet: “I’m thinking of crabs in a bucket. They always try to pull down the one who’s figured out how to escape.”

Paul liked my analogy so much that he retweeted it and I’ve spent my morning connecting with people all over the world who liked it, too. It resonated deeply for a lot of people.

I did a quick google search and discovered that “Crab Mentality” is actually an official phrase that roughly means “if I can’t have it, neither can you.” And it is talked about. A lot.

So now I’m thinking about the Escaping Mediocrity journey with this lens. There will always be people who will subtly or not so subtly try to keep us from escaping. Why? Because our escape threatens their mediocre existence. Pulling us down, sabotaging our efforts, picking apart our brilliant ideas – all of that keeps them feeling safe. And living undisturbed mediocre lives.

So what if we added a new piece to the crab mentality picture? Imagine a crab, or a group of crabs on the other side of the bucket building a ladder to aid your escape. They managed to crawl out of the bucket in spite of all the energetic attempts to pull them backwards. Because they’ve tasted freedom and they know your struggle, they are putting energy into aiding and abetting your escape.

I believe that for those of us determined to get out of the bucket, such a group exists. It may take some time to find them, but they are there, ready throw a safety rope over the edge and pull us out.

Start listening for them. Start looking for them. They are there. Reach just a little further and they’ll meet you at the edge of the bucket.

What Do People Want From a Community?

September 21st, 2011

Earlier today, I posted this question on Twitter and Facebook:

What initially attracts you to a community – online or off? What keeps you there? 

I asked it because I’m hearing a TON of buzz around “building a community around your business” but I’m not sure those who are buzzing have a clue what it is people are actually looking for.

So, I’ve pulled together some of the responses below to begin a conversation about how to build a community from the inside out. That is, building what it is people really want.


Diane Yuhas
dyuhas62 Diane Yuhas
@SarahRobinson Acceptance. A group that asks me to be an equal in terms of sharing expertise, not just someone to be ministered to.
Lisa Young
lisarobbinyoung Lisa Young
@SarahRobinson commonalities, smart people, the capacity for me to learn, grow and connect in said community.
Ted Kusio
DigitalWheelie Ted Kusio
@sarahrobinson A warm, open attitude toward all attendees; new, challenging ideas; thick layers of innovation and creativity…
Dana Reeves
DanaReeves Dana Reeves
@sarahrobinson it’s a fit if i make real connections w/ others in the comm – not just surface level, but the underpinnings of relationships.
Business Partners
BusinessPartnrs Business Partners
@SarahRobinson consistency in interaction. mutually mentally stimulating interaction.
Beatriz Alemar
balemar Beatriz Alemar
@SarahRobinson Feeling safe to voice my opinions and being heard are two things I look for in a community. An environment of “I get you”
Beat Schindler an invite. a welcome – from (some) community members. best 2gether.
Julie Vician Sincere friendliness. There’s nothing worse than joining and feeling like you just crashed a party you weren’t invited to.

I would love to continue this conversation in the comments below. 🙂 What attracts you to a community – online or off? What makes you stay there?

Am I Worth It?

September 19th, 2011
(I sent this out to my email subscribers yesterday. The
response was so overwhelming, I though I would post
it here. Not subscribed? Fix that here:
Am I Worth It?

I just woke up from a stellar nap and the small turks are all
still asleep. Which makes this the perfect time for me to
think and write.:-)

Two questions are showing up that I would like to share with you.

1) What’s the cost of staying right where I am?

When I get bogged down and can’t seem to get moving
forward on what I want, I feel horrible – lost, drained,
unfocused and grumpy. 

Why would I willingly choose such a miserable place?
Two reasons:

a) I’m getting some sort of payoff by staying right where
I am. It may be safety, or being right, or any number
of other things. But there is ALWAYS a payoff if
I choose to stay someplace I don’t like.

b) I don’t want to admit I need help getting out of
the bog. I like my self-sufficient persona, thank you
very much. I want to solve my own problem. 
The problem is, the more I try to get of out the bog
alone, the more I sink into the quick sand. Bad

To turn around either of these scenarios, I’ve got to be
willing to 1) admit I don’t have all the answers and 
2) pay for help from people who know more than I do. 

And pondering how to do that brings me to my
second question:

2) Am I worth investing in?

By that I mean am I , Sarah, and the business ideas
I want to bring to fruition, worth sinking my own
cold hard cash into?

Of course the knee-jerk reaction is “Of course!”.

But when I look at the conversations I have with 
myself, that isn’t exactly true.

“I can’t afford the help I need.”

“That person who holds the expertise I need wants me to 
pay him what?  There’s no way I can afford that.”

“I’ll just figure out a way to use the free stuff that’s out there.”

All of these thoughts add up to the same thing: 
I don’t believe I am worth sinking cold hard cash into.

Not a pretty thing to admit, but there it is.

Mercifully, I am fixing that. I’ve chosen to invest in
myself in a very big way. It’s the only way to get 
where I want to go. And you know what?

It feels great! Not only the work that I am doing,
but the fact that I am declaring to myself and to others,
“Yes! I am absolutely worth investing in!”, is changing
how I move in the world.

I feel bigger, bolder, stronger and even more
purposeful. And I am working my heart out
to make sure I get every single penny’s worth
of value from my investment. 

So, if you are feeling bogged down, stuck,
confused, and dis-heartened, I hope you’ll visit
with these two questions:

1) What’s the cost of staying right where I am?
2) Am I worth investing in?

And, if it feels like the right thing to do, I
hope you will thoughtfully consider joining
me for my live event in just two weeks.

There, you will have a team of expert help
to get you out of the bog ( me, Bob Burg,
Les Mckeown, Elizabeth Marshall, Janet
Goldstein and Jen Louden – just to name
a few).

You can read more about it and reserve
your seat here:


P.S. For the record, I want you to know that 
deeply believe you are worth investing in. And
I believe you will find the right support to invest
in so that you can stand boldly in the world. 🙂

I Will Never Arrive (thank god!)

September 14th, 2011

Girl on hiking trip

I used to think that if I worked hard enough and excavated enough, I would arrive at a final destination. A place where I would always know what I was doing and always know what I was interested in learning about and talking about – both in business and in life.

Oh the foolishness of such thoughts.

Now that I am (much) older and (not-so-much) wiser, I finally understand that I will never arrive at such a place. Well, unless I’m dead I suppose.

I will always be shifting and changing. Responding to the environment and the community that is around me. I will be impacted by what I see and what I read. My experiences will always be re-shaping me into someone different. Like a stream constantly shifts and changes a rock.

That’s not to say I don’t have anchor points. Those places, those values, those vital parts of me that I know I can count on. Without them, I would just be a pinball in a pinball machine, dependent on bumpers and flippers to determine which way I should go.

I’m actually very glad that I will never arrive. Knowing and accepting that is both comforting and relaxing. Instead of saying “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”, I can sit back and enjoy the view. I can notice the details that are flashing past me. I can take in the moments that are fleeting at best.

Thank God. 🙂

Social Media Overload

August 22nd, 2011

It makes my head hurt.

Twitter. Facebook. Google Plus. Klout Plus. Empire Avenue. Posterous. And the list goes on and on and on.

We’re told we need to be all these places. But my questions are 1) How do I do all that and RUN my business? and 2) WHY do I have to be all those places?

I’ve tried. Really. I’m a Twitter junkie. Everyone knows that. And I’m dabbling around on Facebook, which I’m starting to get the hang of (I know, late-bloomer.). And I started on Google Plus when it first came out. And a ton of the cool kids say it is THE place to be. But I just don’t get it.

And it seems I’m not the only one feeling pulled in too many directions. Last week, Hugh McLeod (@gapingvoid) announced that he’s giving up social media all together so he can focus on his blog. I’m betting we’re going to see more of this and the overwhelm of social media begins to take its toll.

As entrepreneurs, we only have so much bandwidth and much of what’s available MUST go into the actual running of our businesses. Otherwise, we lose ourselves in tweeting, liking, plusing, etc. – which is awesome – don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t pay the bills.

So how do we make good choices about where to put our time in the world of social media?

For me, I pay attention to where my audience hangs out. And by audience, I mean the people who read and comment on my blog and the people who are my clients. Not my peers, not my friends (though playing with them on social media is WAY fun). But the people I want to do business with.

This isn’t fool-proof and I’m still working out what this is actually going to look like in my daily online interactions. But at least it’s a start. 🙂

Because social media overwhelm and burnout is a mounting problem, I’m super excited to be part of a proposed SXSWi panel to talk more about it.You can take a look at what we’ll be discussing and vote for our panel here:

What about you? Do you feel burned out on social media? What are your biggest challenges around managing it? What are your best solutions for managing it?

As always, I’m intensely curious about you and your thoughts. :-0