“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
We’ve all seen this one before, right? It’s a popular meme that makes the rounds on the Internet from time to time, usually in the company of another popular term “community.” Community is a constantly touted ideal that promises to help you reach success or feel a sense of companionship or simply feel some level of support for whatever it is you’re going through. Whether it’s fitness: “I do Maxfit and I just love the community of other people who do the workouts with me,” or hobbies, “Did you know that the People Who Write Sumerian Love Sonnets Community now boasts a global membership of 7?” or even our health, “I’m a member of the Ruptured Toe Nail Survivors,” saying we’re a part of a community not only makes us feel better, but also validates us in some powerful ways. When we do things that others do, it reinforces this notion that we’re on the right track. If others are doing it, then there’s approval built in – we find strength in numbers, camaraderie in shared experience, and positive feedback from those within the community we’re a part of. Community – if the hype is to be believed – is the surest path to all the success and happiness we could ever hope to achieve.
Except it’s not.
I’ve been part of a number of communities over the years. And I’ve seen the difference between “real” communities and the ones that claim to be, but in fact are not. Let’s look at the reason why and then examine why community is often just another marketing ploy.
The biggest difference has to do with how you become a member of a particular community.
In the military, for example, elite special operations units are not open to everyone. There is an intense selection process that candidates must go through where they endure harsh training, serious adversity, and more as they attempt to prove their competency and ability to be part of the special operations community. Selection is a lengthy process where lesser candidates, for one reason or another, are weeded out until only the most suitable are left and selected to join whichever unit they aspire to be part of. Along the way, they have shed gallons of sweat, tears, and often blood to prove their worth. And when they join their particular unit, they are in the company of others who have gone through an almost identical baptismal process. In other words, the company they keep has undergone exactly what they went through. There’s an inherent understanding and bond created in Selection that all members of that particular community share.
I saw this same process when I was aspiring to earn my place in the advanced class at the Ninjutsu dojo I attend. The Friday night advanced training was only open to practitioners of a certain rank and in order to gain entrance, you had to undergo a severe test of endurance, mental fortitude, and physical techniques. In many ways, it was a virtual gauntlet. When you earned your place in the advanced class, you were in the company of others who had been tested in the same crucible. And there is nothing like shared misery to create a true bond.
Contrast this with how most people gain acceptance into a community these days. Let’s take the fitness world as a model. A current popular high intensity interval training (HIIT) fitness craze touts its “community” as one of the most appealing features. The marketing behind it espouses working out with likeminded individuals who help cheer you on to reach your goals and success. Well, I was part of that craze and saw firsthand why their notion of community is mostly a fallacy. The primary reason is that anyone can join it if you have the money to do so.
Buying your way into a community immediately discounts its efficacy at generating success. Primarily because if anyone can join the community, then you are not going to be surrounded by people who operate at the same level you do – they may not “want it” as badly as you do. Worse, your aspirations may cause some other members to resent you.
When I joined the new gym in town, it was wonderful…for a certain period of time. Then, when the novelty wore off and a certain caliber of people started attending, the standards fell into the realm of mediocrity. Workouts became less grueling because people complained that they were too hard (despite the fact that anyone could scale the workouts to suit their individual fitness levels). Exercise standards were revised to accommodate whiny members who couldn’t do basic movements. And a whole new group of toxic personalities started infecting the place. Gradually, anyone who aspired to be better was generally seen as a threat by the growing majority of people who were content with “good enough,” and cheating their way through a workout.
If you are intent on being successful (as opposed to just seeking support, fun, and/or some companionship), joining a community where anyone can be a member is not where you want to be. In fact, being part of such a place can work directly against your stated goals. There will undoubtedly be people there who are intimidated by your drive, or who subtly try to sabotage your success with side-eye comments like, “why would you do that? You’re crazy.” These are usually the people who complain about silly stuff and say dumb things like, “well this is as good as it’s going to get.”
Success is hard enough to achieve without being hated for your aspirations and individuality, envied for your successes to-date, or sabotaged by those who revel in watching your downfall. The notion of community is a dangerous one if you aren’t on your guard for the mediocre masses who inhabit communities that do not have gate keepers built into their model. While it’s a wonderful thing to be all-inclusive, that same model runs counter to being able to achieve all the success you aspire to.
The term “community” has also become a marketing tool (at least in certain fields) used to drive new recruits into the fold. And communities reinforce this notion of people needing a support system because it’s in their own best interests to do so; it furthers that community’s very existence. In effect, they need you more than you need them. As an established member or someone advanced within their ranks, the community can point to you as proof of its own efficacy at producing success.
Another inherent danger of community is rampant group-think. Any community will have a set of standards – vocalized, implied, written down, or not – that members are expected to follow. You may not have given it much thought, you may not even have noticed it much, but they are there. You’ll start to notice if you do anything that runs counter to the majority group-think. In this way, communities have the potential to become excessively cult-like, complete with idol worship, gossip, and a whole series of toxic aspects that can seriously damage your quest for greatness. Of course, members of the community will deny such things until they’re red in the face, but that’s only because they’re too close to see the truth.
And the truth is that a community without gate keepers can produce some measure of success. But it will eventually hinder your progress – especially if it’s populated by people who actually do not want the best for you but are instead wishing for your failure because that is a reinforcement of their own self-imposed limitations. “See? I told you it was crazy to do that.” In that case, a community that seemed so wonderful, ends up being a virtual prison. Worse, the toxicity will harm your body, mind, and spirit resulting in a failure to achieve your goals and a tendency to question yourself and your motivation – exactly the antithesis of success.
Unless your community has exacting standards and all members are of a similar mindset, your quest for success and excellence will falter. You’ll be better off on your own than you would be in the company of lesser individuals not as focused as yourself. Beware of “communities” that boast they’re the backbone of a movement or location. Outside of the military (and some others with exacting standards imposed prior to admission), the chances of you finding a true success-oriented community of like-minded alphas all on the same trajectory toward greatness are slim. More likely, you may find a few members of that caliber, but they will be greatly outnumbered by those members who have adopted mediocrity, rather than excellence, as the acceptable outcome of their endeavors.
And you are, most definitely, better off without them in your life.