I moved back home to Michigan after going to college in Boston. I somewhat accidentally fell into a job managing a coworking community in Detroit. I was familiar with coworking but didn’t intimately understand why I could instantly find dozens of articles praising the power of the collaborative environment. I enjoyed what I was doing – it was exciting to interact with entrepreneurs and change-makers in Detroit on a daily basis. It was especially exciting to be challenged by them, directly and indirectly, to make their work space a place they could grow, learn and improve their skills. However, when I accepted the job, I did not expect to feel part of the community, I did not expect to make friends with the coworking members, and I certainly did not expect that I would learn myriad bits of wisdom from them. Much to my surprise and delight, all three of my expectations were confounded.
Working as a community manager undoubtedly integrates you into the community. You attend the events you plan, you come along for the happy hours you schedule, you relish in glory when the coffee blend you select is extra delicious. Most importantly, you are frustrated when the WiFi stutters, and you yell at the printer with the members when it breaks. Ultimately, you end up relying on the work space as much as anyone else – it is also the place you do everything you need to do.
However, the most rewarding aspect of coworking is the people I’ve gotten to meet. In Detroit, there were a group of 3 guys working on launching a 3D printing software. They (tried) to teach me about 3D printing, but mostly taught me how important it is to always ask for what you want. There was also a member who was so upset by the earthquake in Nepal, he dropped everything he was doing to lend a hand. He literally flew to Nepal and started re-building homes with the locals. He reminded me of the power in empathy. There was a woman running a financial firm had also written a book about Detroit. She taught me to never assume to fully understand someone – people so often surprise you. There was an eyewear salesman who enthusiastically greeted me whenever he came in, and let me try on his latest sunglass collections. He made me smile, and he made me want to pass along the joy he spread. Now, in Memphis – I get to expand this network of amazing, weird, and interesting people even more. I’ve met a woman from Minnesota who writes, with whom I can laugh at the Southern “snow storms.” I’ve met a woman who is a ferocious advocate for criminal justice reform, who is as funny as she is hardworking. I’ve met a man who decided after working 20 years, he didn’t love his career and jumped ship to start a creative services business. I have short and long conversations with the members, and enjoy getting to know them. I am learning from them – about Memphis, about what is important to them, about the various lanes of the professional world they work in.
All of these short exchanges, these jokes at the coffee pot, sharing personal frustrations and professional successes add up. They add up to the most strange and often straight up crazy workplace I’ve ever experienced. But most importantly, they give me the coolest and most inspiring cluster of work friends a young professional could ask for.