I remember the butterflies in my stomach driving the moving truck up to our apartment, how sure I felt of this new adventure. So then why, despite moving to Denver with my partner and best friend, did JJ and I find ourselves swallowed in loneliness? How could we love Colorado so much and still question if we made the wrong decision by moving to Denver?
I’ve said many times over the last two years that moving out here was more challenging than quitting my job and traveling the world, which baffled me at first. The amount of doubt and anxiety I experienced the first six months after moving were incredibly confusing.
Then I remembered: what I loved most about living in Indianapolis was my community; a community that took six years to build, and one that I continue to cherish and lean on from afar. This community taught me what it means to feel a sense of belonging. It is full of people I can share, laugh and cry with; people who have challenged me and whom I have learned from; people who love me and celebrate with me.
I was suddenly hyper-aware of my lack of community in Denver, and the fact that all of my needs weren’t being met in this new city. I felt an immense desire to find my people, so I spent the next six months very intentionally establishing a new community. Two years later, I can still remember what that loneliness felt like, but is now replaced by an overwhelming amount of joy I feel about my newfound community here in Colorado.
Here are my pieces of advice on how to intentionally build community in a new city.
Moving gives you the opportunity to take a step back and really explore the things you love to do. For the first time in many years, my schedule was totally open because I didn’t have a group of people or even a full-time job (I was freelancing at the time) to keep me busy.
In some ways, this terrified me because I was thrown out of my comfort zone. And then it became empowering to decide exactly how I was going to fill my time. By intentionally seeking out the things you really love to do, you will naturally meet people who feel equally as passionate about these topics.
I found this in yoga. I had a very specific goal to deepen my yoga practice once I moved to Denver, so I sought out every “30 days for $30” package I could find. After a few months I found Big Power Yoga, and it became my second home. The yoga was amazing, but the people hooked me. I was met with nothing but love, encouragement and accountability from the teachers and yogis at BIG, and it will forever be a huge part of my life and happiness in Denver.
Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” Three things that can be incredibly scary in practice, but can result in deep connection with other people. When you start to build a new community, get curious about being vulnerable. Say “hello” to someone in a cafe. Start a conversation with the person next to you in yoga class. Show up to an event alone if you need to do so. Share what you’re up to and what you care about in life. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and feel the emotions that come up. Share that you’re experiencing feelings of loneliness, doubt and anxiety because, chances are, you aren’t the only one feeling that way.
Over time, you may feel a shift from discomfort to comfort. From loneliness to belonging. Brené also says that, “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity.” For me, vulnerability has been key to creating a community of people who love, accept and support me.
Making friends and building a community in a new city is like dating. You meet a lot of people fairly quickly, and it’s common to go on coffee, happy hour, and dinner dates with each new person you meet. I was quickly sucked into a world of eating, drinking and spending money my first few months in Denver. Personally, these things aren’t aligned with my values on how I like to spend my time and money.
Calling upon my first and fourth pieces of advice, it took me a while to stop saying yes to absolutely everything, and instead commit to the things I loved doing, while seeking balance. This required me to start speaking my truth. So instead of going to dinner, I suggested picnics in the park. Instead of getting drinks, I asked if a new friend wanted to go to yoga and get coffee afterwards.
This step requires you to be vulnerable, which isn’t always the easy route. But it does nearly guarantee that you will make more authentic connections from the beginning, while staying in alignment with your values.
I used to be the queen of saying “yes.” Once I started being intentional about building community, I went from an open schedule to feeling pretty overwhelmed. If you know me personally, you know that saying “no” and setting boundaries is a constant practice for me. However, I value self-care just as highly as community. And so, I am committed to setting healthy boundaries in order to be the fullest version of myself when stepping into new communities and meeting new people.
Some of my secrets to saying no include:
One of my favorite communities in Denver is Writeshop Wednesday. This is a writer’s group I started with a few friends about a year and a half ago. We meet every Wednesday morning, I offer a prompt, we write for 40 minutes then jump into an amazing discussion about what came up for everyone about the topic. It continues to grow via word of mouth each week; and I hear from the group over and over again that they value the consistency of the workshop most. Having something to look forward to each week not only adds structure and meaning to your schedule, but opportunity for deeper connection.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to build intentional community is through this level of consistency. If you meet someone you really jive with or find a group of people you want to stay connected to, be consistent with them. Show up and put in the work to maintain those relationships. True community building requires effort, and the payoff is beautiful.
Ultimately, community building is all about being present. You can meet a lot of people, but — unless you’re present with them — they aren’t going to become strong pillars in your life. This means sitting with someone and truly listening to what they are sharing. Make eye contact, show kindness and lead with love in each of your interactions.
There are people in my community that I only see once a month, or just for that one hour at Writeshop each week…yet they are some of the strongest members of my community. When I do find time with them, I strive to be fully present because I know how amazing that feels when it is reciprocated.
Stay present, too, with those communities you left behind when you ventured for a new city. Remember how supportive they were when you decided to take the risk of moving, and continue to nurture those relationships from afar.
Two years after moving to Denver, I now have a thriving community of people who surround me professionally and personally. I am filled with gratitude for these people who love me, teach me, challenge me and support me in my journey. I am also grateful to myself, for putting in the time, effort and commitment to cultivating such an amazing group of humans in my life. I truly believe life’s moments are made much sweeter when shared, that collaboration is the key to our success as a humanity and that community can combat feelings of self-doubt, loneliness, anxiety and depression.
If you’re reading this from the Denver-area and have been seeking a new community, please reach out! Or if you’d like to share your experience in building community, I’d love to hear your story. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch on Instagram at @camryn_walton.