making connections, building your kula over two plates + blocking the barnacles

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When it comes to people I have a very simple rule: if I can’t share a meal with you I don’t want to know you. Regardless of age, industry or income, food has the magical capacity to bind us, allowing for real, meaningful connections even if we don’t realize it. What we reveal about ourselves when faced with a table, napkins, flatware and plates goes beyond words — it’s something kinetic, visceral. We are our truest selves when exercising the most primal of acts: nourishment. We eat to sustain; we eat to comfort an ache and complete something within us that’s missing.

Whenever I meet someone I rarely go for coffee because it’s cheap and quick, and I’ll never truly know the kind of person you are until you’ve held a fork in your hands, until I see the shape of your face shift after you’ve taken your first bite. Do you fall deliriously in love with what’s on your plate? Are you present to appreciate the color and texture and taste of what you choose to put into their house? We have this one body, our home, and are you the kind who cares about how you’ve outfitted it {have you given care to the selection of fabric and wattage of the bulbs}, or do you just purchase exquisite finery to only discard it to the floor? Do you eat without tasting? Do you swallow without savoring? Do you spend your meals only for the sole purpose of getting a contact or lead, or do you genuinely ache for that spark, that hiss and spit of flame that happens when you’ve talked about the things that matter. The things you carry.

Over the course of a meal, I learn many things about a person. How attentive they are to the wait staff, if they reach to refill your glass before theirs, and if there is a pregnant pause after that first bite, because regardless of what’s being said, can I just tell you how good this is?

So many bloggers and experts and networkers will talk to you about acquiring fancy business cards and working a room. They’ll talk to you about follow-ups and how to work the rolodex, and while I appreciate the methodical nature of this hustle, it’s not my bag. While a large part of being a freelancer boils down to hustle, I focus more on cultivating what in yoga folks call a “kula” or community. I build the village around my house brick by brick. I mix the cement, I lay the foundation and I choose which bricks go where. I focus on how much I need and how I will build a village that will sustain me, that will lift me up, inspire me, and catch me when I fall.

I don’t own cards. Large groups of people give me vertigo. I tend to forget people’s names, and the idea of asking for favors outright feels unseemly. Instead, I meet people individually, and get to know them as people, and in that process projects, connections, favors are organic and thoughtful. I seek out my kindred spirits and collect them, and as I selflessly help them with no expectation of a return favor, I find that in the end my relationships keep me going, even when the darkness obscures everything in view. And these relationships are built on trust, mutual respect, reciprocity, creativity — not on a shared Google doc. Do we marry on the first date? Then how do we expect to unload ourselves, our platonic hearts, after one meeting? In a culture consumed with personal velocity, we don’t want hear that things take time, that we have to put in the work. We want the now, the immediate, the can you connect me with…

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Have you ever asked yourself: do I know the people I know? Do I know what wakes them up in the morning and how they take their coffee? Did I make the effort to know this person for who they are rather than what they can give? Have we thought about what we can give?

I spent the day with two markedly different, yet equally brilliant, women. We talked about mentorships, our respective affections, and spent our time simply to suss one another out. Perhaps auditioning ourselves for the role of village member. We spoke about the mistakes people make: not making their intentions clear at the first meeting {someone once rolled up to a lunch with their resume in the guise of loving my blog, while another ambushed me with mentorship questions even before the menus hit the table}, or assigning us homework after. Our lives are so hectic that the idea of leaving a first encounter with an epic task list and a request to comb through your contact list is exhausting, and I tend to cut the barnacles before they’ve formed their spindly attachment. I remember a meeting with a woman who I really admired. She’s creative, smart, ebullient and had an enviable online presence. When I met her I was bummed that she had already defined our relationship as mentor/mentee, simply because of the fact of our decade age difference, and all the while I just wanted to be her friend. Mentorship is organic, not forced, and while I know we need to be strategic about our careers, our lives, I can’t help but want to pull back, to pause, and continue to build my house, my village, keeping out the folks who take rather than nourish and give. Folks who ignore the food on their plate. Folks who want to meet for a quick coffee. Folks who just don’t have time.

But isn’t time the one thing we should preserve? Shouldn’t we swathe our clocks in blankets and hold them close to our quick-beating hearts? If we value this time and we have so little of it, why not spend it meeting people who inspire you to go back and build that house rather than heading home and collapsing on the pavement?

Perhaps this is a long-winded way of saying I had a great day with great women and I expect nothing other than the excitement of getting to know them more.

Breakfast @ Egg | Late lunch at The Fat Radish

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16 thoughts on “making connections, building your kula over two plates + blocking the barnacles

  1. Beautiful beyond words. This post is so lovely I don’t even no where to start, so I won’t. But know that you’ve touched a chord and had me nodding “yes, exactly!” the entire way through. Bravo :)

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  2. Such gorgeous pictures, and of course, the words were even better! I really like the way you frame it- in the end, you’re getting more meaningful connections with people because you aren’t focusing on networking, you’re focused on meeting people.
    As a true coffee lover though, I still like coffee dates! I can see where those can have a little value, maybe just as an introduction? And then a real dinner date? haha

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    1. Hahaha. I do have an occasional coffee date, but I always end up wanting to get a meal instead. I think if you have some really good rhythm in an email exchange, I’d make the investment. That’s me though, and I’m an odd ball. :)

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  3. Felicia, your blog posts are such gems. You’re always reminding me of these important things that I would never take the time to think about otherwise. Pocketing this away to remember, particularly during business school. Thank you!!

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  4. Oh goodness, I have read this 3 times today. It is about valuing deep connection over strategic encounters. I am awkward at the latter, but treasure those moments when connection happens and good things go from there.

    Another great piece for me to remember as I build community and networks in this new place. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks, lady! I always think if something feels wrong to you, don’t do it. And while I always get nervous around that first encounter, I keep reminding myself that it’s just one person and I can only be me. If they don’t dig it, cool, then keep moving. And vice versa. :)

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  5. This is so lovely. And the comment about the woman who’d already decided your relationship would be mentor/mentee struck me. How odd, to decide a relationship before you’ve explored it to see where it goes (and grows) naturally. One of the things I love about twitter is that is kind of strips us of certain parts of our identity, like age and looks (a little avatar can only reveal so much) and it lets us connect from a more meaningful place of shared interests, values, and outlooks. I’ve been lucky enough to finally meet with people from Twitter IRL for a meal, and it always feels so natural. And I agree that a quick coffee is never enough. Better to ooh and ahh over a menu, decide what you’ll order and what foods you’ll share, and dare to get dessert and extra cups of tea until the kitchen’s about to close.

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    1. Natalia – I know we chatted a bit over Twitter about this, but I couldn’t agree more regarding your comment on age. For me, the web has been this amazing equalizer, and I’ve had more amazing reciprocating relationships with people who are quite younger than me.

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