Building Community: The Power of Intentionality

In this episode of Elements of Community Podcast, we dive deep into the power of intentionality when it comes to building a strong and thriving community with our guest, Kayla Ferguson. Join us as we explore the strategies and techniques that can help you create meaningful connections and foster a sense of belonging within your community. 

From setting clear goals to actively engaging with your members, we’ll discuss the key elements that contribute to a successful community-building journey. Whether you’re a community manager, a business owner, or simply someone passionate about bringing people together, this episode is packed with valuable insights and practical tips. 

Tune in and discover how intentionality can transform your community into a vibrant and supportive space.


[00:00:00] Welcome to Elements of Community, a podcast about discovering and exploring the elements of community.

and each week we talk with a community leader about what makes their community thrive and bring value to both the leaders and the members. Join me as we unpack the magic of the elements of community.

Lucas Root: Kayla, thank you so much for joining, I'm really excited. You and I have been, and this is actually true, you and I have been dancing back and forth with each other for three years.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah. Even four, maybe something like that.

Lucas Root: Yeah.

We've gotten together at least once a year to have an hour or two hour long chat and talk about the world and talk about, how we [00:01:00] see ourselves showing up and I've loved every minute of it. Ever since I launched the podcast, I've seen you being a guest but our story has been evolving so much that it's always been a not quite right now story until now. And here we are now.

Kayla Ferguson: Good things takes time, you know.

Lucas Root: They really do. You actually inspire me. One of the ways that you inspire me is that you approach the world with such an open heart about making sure that, as you show up, you're always trying to build the world that you want to live in.

It's not just about survival, and it's amazing. We're a thousand miles apart but it's amazing to be able to watch every single time you put a post up on LinkedIn, or you send an email or you respond back to me, and I'm seeing you continuing to show up and build the world you want to live in and that's who I want to be, and that's how I want to be remembered. So I just want you to know that's how I see you.

Kayla Ferguson: Oh, well, thank you so much. This is such a great start to this conversation.

Lucas Root: Yeah, you're [00:02:00] amazing and I appreciate you. I've appreciated you every single time I've seen you for the past four years. Would you like to tell our audience a little bit about you?

Kayla Ferguson: Yes, let's see. I'll start with my professional endeavors because that's primarily I think where this conversation will go. I work in the nonprofit sector. I have for the last five or so years, a little over five years since 2018. And I work at a foundation called The Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson's.

And so we really focus on resources for people, how they can live well today. Knowing now there is no cure, hopefully at some point there will be, and I'll be out of a job, which would be a great problem to have. But we really focus on what do people need to live well today? We focus on exercise certainly Medical Protocols.

We're not medical professionals, but we work with pharmaceutical companies to get money out to get information out there. And then another huge part of my role and of the foundation is community building and community engagement. I myself am on the community engagement team. I have done a couple of roles on that team, including [00:03:00] overseeing some of our grant funding initiatives that focus on local community building efforts.

Most recently, I've started overseeing a nationwide exercise program for people to get their exercise and connect with people. So working on our community engagement team, we have so many different ways in which we try to get people connected to resources and things that they need. So there's been a lot of conversation over the last five years about what does community look like and how do we create it, especially during such a time like COVID when so many people face so much isolation.

It didn't take us long to realize how, especially when you work with the chronic disease population. It was actually very troubling to watch how quickly their disease progressed when they were isolated from things that mattered to them, be it friends, family, exercise, that sort of thing.

And so it became almost even more important. If it wasn't important enough before it became even more important to say, how do we build community in a seemingly more and more polarized world in a more digital world in all the different types of worlds that we're experiencing. How do we [00:04:00] build community to help people live well today?

And so that was a long spiel about what we do at the foundation and kind of my role and the ever evolving learning that comes from it. And I would say we're still learning and always will be. So it's fun.

Lucas Root: Yeah. It's amazing that you noticed that even Parkinson's, which you wouldn't think about it as related to human connection, but even Parkinson's is progressing when there's lack of connection.

Kayla Ferguson: Yes, absolutely. We saw it firsthand and we had a lot of anecdotal evidence from people just about how once they got removed from their support groups or their exercise group. How quickly things started to deteriorate and we saw it enough that it couldn't be, you can't ignore it. That's just only one segment of society. Like I think at our core, we're intended to be in community with people. In some ways it only makes sense that being isolated would exacerbate existing issues and existing problems. I'm pretty sure there's some journal article out there that says loneliness is equivalent, like being chronically lonely [00:05:00] is equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

It actually has like serious detrimental impacts on your health. So when you look at it that way, all of a sudden, human connection is not just a nice thing to have. It's actually an extremely necessary prescription for health. So we look at that as the holistic component of care for people in the Parkinson's space and beyond, of course, yeah.

Lucas Root: It's basic nutrition.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, exactly. I'm excited about the time in life when we're going to actually start seeing that need for community as prescribed, just like we currently prescribe a lot of pharmaceuticals and prescribe X, Y, Z things to people. I think human connection, it needs to be a prescription, in a sense like, go just be out in the world with people at which it's easier said than done. Feeling like you're out in the world with people who don't understand you can have the opposite effect. It's a nuanced conversation, but generally being in community with people we feel connected to, I think is one of the most important elements of long term health and I will always believe that.

Lucas Root: Yeah, a hundred [00:06:00] percent. I love it. How do you build community in your own life?

Kayla Ferguson: In my own life, I'm fortunate in the sense that I'm an extreme extrovert. So in some ways, I'm not someone who's had to necessarily work hard at getting out into the world. Because, I love going and doing things with people and having a bunch of hobbies. My community has been in lockstep with my interests, I love to run and so I have a group of friends from a running group.

I've recently started taking some Latin dance lessons because I just love music and dancing. So then there's a group of people that you connect with through dancing. I love travel, I have a travel community of people scuba diving. That's a fun one because, those aren't people that I see often.

Here I have one of a friend who lives in Barcelona, another who lives in Thailand. So our community is very spread and the time we get together is very minimal. But when we get together over that shared interest, you can instantly connect with people. So I build community in my life through shared interests with people.

And I always encourage everyone to go do that, find a hobby and it's [00:07:00] certainly an easy way to just start forging relationships over a genuine shared connection. And I always tell my friends too, who are on the dating apps, I'm like, get off the dating apps and go to a run club. I promise you it works if you stick with it.

Lucas Root: It really does. I used to give the exact same advice to my friends when I was in my early 20s. People aren't asking me dating advice these days, so I don't give it anymore. But I'm in my 20s and my buddy would be like, so how do we get a girl? What do we do? I'd be like, you just do the things that you love to do. If you love reading, go to the library you will get a girl there, trust me. If you love to run, if you love to play soccer, go play soccer. This is how, wait, but you don't pick up girls at the bar? I mean, sure, maybe. But we not where you're getting your girlfriend.

Kayla Ferguson: Totally. I tell people too, I was actually amazed one time when I was talking to a couple of friends in a time period, and all of them said something like, there's no way to meet people besides online these days.

And I laughed and then it also it made me concerned, when you think about community and how important it is for people. I was like, I hope that's not generally how people think that [00:08:00] you can only find people online, and I'm going to circle back to that thought in just a second. Also, when you meet people and build community through things that you already enjoy, there's no lost time because whether you meet someone or whether you don't, you're still doing something that you would do anyways.

You're not wasting time, you're not wasting money. Maybe if you find someone who resonates with you, it's the cherry on top. I still engage in online forums, I like to see what my friends across the world are doing on Facebook.

I'm not anti digital places. But to me, if that's where community is being built, I do think that can become problematic. This is I was going to circle back to not to totally take us on a different topic.

I was on a work trip and talking with some people and we were reminiscing about COVID and just so many of the things that happened during that time and some of the conversations you saw happen happening online at that time.

And I remember saying, I discovered during COVID that I can only dislike people when they're far away from me. Like when they're online and I'm so [00:09:00] disconnected from them and I can hide behind a keyboard or they're anonymous to me, it's very easy for me to dislike them and say, what's wrong with them?

How could they think that? How are they believing that, in whatever context it is. But then when you are actually face to face with people, because I, for my job, sometimes I will travel to areas that have a lot of different political and philosophical beliefs than where I live here in the city of Denver.

Lucas Root: Wait, can you come to San Francisco?

Kayla Ferguson: I will sometime. When I do, I'll tell you.

Lucas Root: Because we have all the political and philosophical beliefs here.

Kayla Ferguson: All of everything, yes. You're melting pot up there in every possible way, which is actually why I love San Francisco. But some of these places that I've gone to for work are places that if I just see them online, I would probably not really get along with them very well.

But then when I'm sitting over the dinner table with the individuals who are living in that community. We have nothing but delightful conversations and it made me realize, I can only dislike people from a distance. I think that's such an important part of that in person community building is you just get such a sense of, that's a whole [00:10:00] person over there with a whole life that has defined the way they are.

Just like I am a person with a whole life that is defined the way I am. And ultimately, we're all here doing the same thing. We're trying to have friends, we're trying to maybe travel a little bit, stay healthy for as long as we can, all of our fundamental goals are the same regardless. But that's why I stay away from building, all of my community online because it's just so easy to get myopic in terms of how you understand people in the digital space.

So I'm a big fan of the in person community building and think we have a bit of a repair to do in that regard in our worlds, thanks to the last four years.

Lucas Root: I have a very good friend Dr. Chris Lee, who says, it's the most annoying thing he says, and I love it. He says, okay, but how?

Kayla Ferguson: But how do you build that in person community? Yeah,

Lucas Root: Because everything that we've been doing for more or less our entire adult life has been funneling us more and more into this little thing right here and if anything, COVID accelerated that [00:11:00] 10x, right?

We're in the 10x world and COVID made it 10x more important for us to be stuck inside this box.

Kayla Ferguson: Right. How do we get people? That's a great question because, I work for a national foundation that has people spread across the globe. So even if I wanted to go meet someone at a co working space, since I mostly work remotely some people I can't because they are in Chicago.

Like the only way I can connect with them is through this box. So in some ways we are restricted. If we're talking, not necessarily about going to work and being in an office, but creating like genuine gatherings to start bringing people together, there's a book that I'm sure anyone who cares about community and gathering has probably heard of Priya Parker and her Art of Gathering book.

Yeah, she should be on your podcast for sure.

Lucas Root: I will reach out to her. She is in my dissertation.

Kayla Ferguson: There you go, yeah. So she needs to come talk and I'm not going to do any justice to just how well she frames building community and just the ways in which to do it.

But I think what really resonates [00:12:00] with me about her work and the way she talks about community is creating like a shared context for everyone to get together. And that can be on a huge scale, look at Taylor Swift, which that was a shared context amongst millions of people who attended her concert.

And it was very clear what that context was. Taylor Swift is, you should get her on your podcast too. Just kidding, that would be amazing.

Lucas Root: And I will.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah. So there's shared context amongst millions in that sense, but you can have a shared context amongst three friends who are maybe a better example is like, recently it was the one year anniversary of my grandfather passing away and I got together with six of my family members just to talk about the last year and that whole experience of losing someone and then the year of grief that follows.

And so there was nothing necessarily super special it wasn't requiring huge amounts of our time to prepare. But we all came to the gathering knowing what we were there for. It sounds so simple, but if you actually think about it, how many times do you show up someplace with very little context for actually what you're supposed to be [00:13:00] doing there or what you're supposed to be contributing? I think the gatherings that people resonate with and remember and actually take something away from is because there's actually been guardrails put on that gathering to say, this is what we're here for, this is who's invited and why, and this is like intentionality that we're trying to create here.

And it's not trying to be exclusive, but it's being intentional. I think, intentionality is like a critical part of how we create community because if you show up to a gathering and there's nothing intentional and you leave feeling like, that was cool, I'm not sure what I got out of it, you're pretty unlikely to probably re-engage in that gathering at another time.

And community is also built out of consistency. And so if you're not consistently returning someplace, you're probably not going to be building community at all. So I think it actually really stems from creating intentionality around why are we getting together? Why and what is there a unique experience we want to create for people?

Do we just want to go drink wine for a friend's birthday or do we really want to tell this person, here's what you [00:14:00] did for me in the last year and why I'm giving this evening to you for your birthday, because you just provide this much value to my, you can do it anyway, but I am so much more often gravitating towards gatherings that create like some sort of intention, simple or complex.

I think simple is actually better. Because then you can leave feeling like, you showed up and contributed and received in a way that was communally understood, if that makes sense. I feel like that sounds like really obtuse but I'll have to figure out how to refine this language, but that's like my first thoughts on that.

Lucas Root: I too am a runner and a while ago, I read an article. I think it was the Atlantic.

Kayla Ferguson: Okay.

Lucas Root: By a guy who said, he was in his 40s and he was out of shape and he was like, all right, I need to start running. But he's an engineer and he said, I haven't been running and there's a reason I haven't been running because, every single time I drive by the corner and I see those idiots in shorts standing there running on the corner waiting for the light to change. He's like, I'm never going to be that idiot.

Kayla Ferguson: Right. Yeah, I'm not going to jog when the light's [00:15:00] red.

Lucas Root: So, running doesn't seem fun to me because every experience I've had of it is not fun. So let me take a step back. I'm going to run. That's the end goal. But how do I arrive at running in a way that's fun for me?

Well, what's fun? Games are fun and games have rules.

Kayla Ferguson: Exactly. If there's no rule, there's no game. Then it's just a free for all. It's chaos.

Lucas Root: What you just described Kayla was exactly the same thing like, we need to have guardrails, your words, we need to have guardrails, we need to have bumpers on the bowling alley to make this game into something that's fun, or to make this activity into something that's fun, so that I can show up again tomorrow, and again tomorrow.

And I don't feel like that idiot on the corner that's doing something that I don't want to ever do.

Again, I'm a runner, so I've been that idiot on the corner. But when I read this, my god, this guy, this is amazing. I need to start thinking about ways to implement rules into my life that takes something from a free for all, from me showing up saying, okay, I'm here now what? And turn it into something that has guardrails so that it can be fun for me.

Kayla Ferguson: Totally, [00:16:00] guardrails also help people self select. Because I know for me, if you look at meetup and then you look at all the Facebook events and Facebook groups. Sometimes you're like, oh my god. There's actually so many places for me to go. How do I pick which one and how do I know that i'm not going to be wasting two months of my time?

Lucas Root: There are 174 events happening in your area in this evening. I'm like, I don't even want to look at that list.

Kayla Ferguson: Exactly, it's intimidating. If you get brave and do look at the list. If the events that have guardrails that say, this is what we're doing and you'll like this event, if you are X, Y, Z, it helps people self select and then they can show up knowing what they're bringing to this event.

And I think sometimes like networking events fail is because that's still guardrails, I guess, networking. But how many times have you walked into a networking event and you're just like, who got invited? What is everyone's goals here? How do I even start talking to people?

Is this like, we're networking because all of us are looking for new jobs or we're networking friendly. There's so many different forms of networking as well and then you leave having hit in the corner talking to [00:17:00] one person that you know, and you haven't really networked at all.

That happens so often because again, there's no guardrails and you can't say, that is the event for me, or it's not the event for me. If people, if they consistently experience showing up and not getting anything out of an event are probably going to stop going. That is like totally the opposite of building community, which is what we're trying to do.

I've heard people say, no, that's exclusive or that we want anyone to come. I'm like, I don't think you do. I really don't think you actually want anyone to come because then how do you create content or how do you create a schedule around anyone? That's too much. You can't be everything to everybody like as a person or as an event.

Lucas Root: Are you serving food?

I can get all the homeless people you can fill in this room.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah.

Lucas Root: If you're eating food, like if you really want anybody we can do that.

Kayla Ferguson: We can do that, we can fill this room with a thousand people this fast, but yeah, exactly. That's what are you going for and so I think as a person who puts on events sometimes that's such an important part of, it's not just how many but it's who [00:18:00] are the people that are there and how are they contributing to the vision of the event and the community that's ultimately trying to be built. Because I think, it's rare that an event or something happens,

without an intention of long term connection. That doesn't mean it's always going to happen, but very rarely do I show up to an event where it's like, talk to these people for two hours and then I hope you never talk to them again. Like that's not how events go. Most events want people to, if they feel drawn to someone, to stay connected.

And you have such a better likelihood of that happening if you put intention into who's showing up in that space.

Lucas Root: I'm tempted to throw an event where the outcome is, I hope you never talk to them again.

Kayla Ferguson: I will fly San Francisco and attend and just see how it goes.

Lucas Root: Somebody ought to, now that you put it out there.

Kayla Ferguson: It would be the first of its kind and who knows, it'd actually be a fun event to throw because no matter what, it would be successful. Either you're successful in getting people to never talk to each other again, and in that case you threw as horrible of an event as you were trying to throw, or it's so [00:19:00] bad it's good type of thing, and then everyone's talking to each other for the rest of time, in which you still win.

So honestly, your success is a hundred percent with this type of an event.

Lucas Root: Yep. I actually am, now I'm saying it now I'm going to have a hard time not.

Kayla Ferguson: Not doing it. Okay, tell me what is planned for it. I'll fly out to San Francisco to attend this.

Lucas Root: No, you can't come. I want to talk to you again.

Kayla Ferguson: Okay. You're right. Then you'll just have to tell me how it goes.

Lucas Root: Now we can in a different event, like right before or right after, and you can come for that.

Kayla Ferguson: Okay, cool deal. I like that compromise.

Lucas Root: Yeah, awesome. So guardrails, we were talking about this before and not for profits interesting. Because most people think of not for profit as a community, but it's not really.

Not for profit, as we were talking about, is actually three separate communities, and they don't mix. There's the donor community, there's the staff, and then there are the people that are being served by the not for profit. They're entirely separate and in order for it to work, you have to wrangle them together, herding cats very [00:20:00] literally to get them to agree and participate in the story arc of resources coming from the donors and arriving in the hands of after transformation, coming from the donors, transforming and arriving in the hands of the people being served. Kayla, how do you make this work?

Kayla Ferguson: This is a question faced by every single nonprofit and a continual challenge and opportunity.

Like I'm not going to call it only a challenge. It definitely is an opportunity and I do see some like kind of change happening in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector of like really focusing on breaking down some of those walls between, I'm a donor with money and this is the cause that you serve.

Maybe a little bit more disconnected from it than I'd like to admit that I am. I do see those walls starting to be broken down. Goes back to a previous thing I said, I can only dislike people from a distance. I only find myself really irritated with people when I'm not sitting close to them and getting to know them as a person.

Lucas Root: No, it's ironic. You don't know this, but my previous episode [00:21:00] actually also talks about exactly that thing.

Kayla Ferguson: Oh, really? Okay, you got some like collective energy happening on this podcast and I love that. Oh, because I actually listen to your most recent episode, so I wasn't even like riffing off of that, but I'm glad it connects. That's cool.

Lucas Root: Yeah, it really does. Like there's this mask of humanity that you wear and it's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a thing. There's like degrees of that mask and so what I've noticed is that people in a car, have more progressive version of that mask.

And when they show up in that car, they show up as a person. I don't know, been hiding like this part of me over here. And most of the time I'm public. I'm not this part of me, I'm this part of me. But when I'm in a car, I get to be this part of me. Social media is actually in another step further even than the car.

So now, it's this part of me way over here, like I have to move in the camera so you can see this part of me.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, like the lack of consequence at that distance and at that scale is I think why we see some of the stuff we see online, cause there really is no consequence. You can [00:22:00] say something and walk away and not much happens and so I really appreciate that collective understanding that we're starting to have that you can only dislike people from a distance. And also you can really start to under on the flip side of that coin, you really start to understand people close up. So, I would say I'm only one nonprofit and other nonprofits can speak for themselves, but I would say, these three entities, the funders and the donors, and then the communities that we're serving.

And then us as staff people in my role specifically, we're like really figuring out how we serve as a liaison to put the lived experience of the community in front of the funders, because everyone's money who's giving to a cause they do care, like they do care about the cause and they do want a difference to be made.

Sometimes their expectation about how that difference gets made is a little bit just uninformed because they're not sitting in RC as staff people or they're not sitting necessarily over here in this community. Maybe they haven't been a part of this person's particular socioeconomic [00:23:00] status or whatever it might be.

And so for us, we found donors do want to see a bang for their buck for lack of a better word. Nonprofits in some ways are not different than the for profit sector in that regard. So that is sometimes where that disconnect comes in, where we're giving this money and we want this to happen.

And when you start having that happen, it's really easy for the guardrails that we already talked about to go away. Where it's okay, now we're just trying to be everything to everybody, you have mission creep that comes in. So we do a lot of like continually trying to put those guardrails back on of, yes, thank you for your support.

This is what we do and this is why we know we're good at it. And we're going to stick here because where we know we can be effective and also when we say, put an event together with this funders money and bring in people from the community with the lived experience and get them together as opposed to like funder over here, community member over here, that are just the equivalent of some social media person that know each other exists, but don't have that like connection.

Then when they start talking to each other, it's like, oh, wow, look. I am having an impact and maybe we didn't [00:24:00] get 500 people at this event, but the 250 who are here were the most perfect ones and this is the impact we're actually trying to have. Oftentimes like an Excel spreadsheet, isn't going to tell you about all of that impact.

You need that in person interaction to see and feel for yourself. That's the interesting thing about philanthropy is there is a lot of numbers and there is a lot of data and there are a lot of ways to measure impact. There's so much qualitative and anecdotal experiences that are wrapped up in serving people that you can't capture on a spreadsheet.

So when you start people in the same room with guardrails at defined by us as staff people who know our funders goals in the community we're trying to serve, then you can start to slowly, maybe create a little bit more cohesion amongst all those different groups of people. But it's not necessarily easy, there's a lot of emotion and there's a lot of passion and there's a lot of opinions involved in all of this, so there's a lot of relationship management.

There's a lot of [00:25:00] active listening. There's a lot that goes on, but that's like the approach we've taken as a foundation that has worked more often than not, I think.

Lucas Root: Nice. Thank you. So your premise really is, make it a game you're not saying it that way, but put the rules in place so that it can be fun and shorten the distance.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, exactly. Shorten the distance and I love how you said that. Shorten the distance is exactly that same concept of, you can only dislike people from a distance, and you can also only know people as close as you are able to get to them.

Lucas Root: I come on, eh?

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, make it a game and shorten the distance, and then if we all just do that then voila, everyone has community.

We just solved the problem, look at us.

Lucas Root: What's next?

Kayla Ferguson: Next I know we solve this one. Okay, how about climate change. Okay, just kidding.

Lucas Root: World hunger? I'm ready.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, exactly.

Lucas Root: This is coming up right now for me so it's got to be coming up in the context of this conversation. I think that there's a missing why, and it's not the why of why do we care about Parkinson's, but rather there's a different why.

A lot of people are sitting at home and they're like, you're trying to [00:26:00] tell me to build community because it's good for my life, right? That's the why, it's good for me. But I'm really enjoying my video game or I'm really enjoying my Netflix and chill. I'm really enjoying this book that I'm reading here on my couch at home, safe, comfortable.

I think part of the why that people are missing is and this is a really tough one. It's tough to sell because it's gonna matter at some point. That's a really hard thing to sell, but look, it's gonna matter at some point. If I don't have you, and I mean this directly, you, Kayla, if I don't have you, if I don't have the Parkinson's community, being built then I'm reasonably certain that when somebody I know gets Parkinson's, they're not going to have the resources that they need to be able to solve the problems that they're going to have.

Kayla Ferguson: Right.

Lucas Root: And I care about that person.

Kayla Ferguson: Right.

Lucas Root: And I care about them having their problems solved. I care about them having good information in their hands. Which means, the why here that's coming up it's gotta be there. The why here is build [00:27:00] communities so that you have the resources that you need when you need them.

But also, this is core humanity for us. Build community so that the people that are in your community that need the resources that you provide. So that they can ask, because playing a video game or watching Netflix. isn't actually fulfilling, it's just distracting.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, exactly. It's just a dissociative strategy.

The why is because you're going to need it someday at some point then who doesn't want to feel like they've been provided an opportunity for other people to have the resources that they need. It's like the Friends episode where Phoebe's there's no such thing as a good deed because everyone feels good doing nice things and it's okay, but what's wrong with feeling good about doing something nice.

And so the why is yeah, because you're going to need it someday. Which is a hard sell because no one really wants to think about that.

Lucas Root: But the other part of it was, it's because somebody needs you now. So take a step back from Parkinson's and let's talk about the run club that you're in.

When you first started [00:28:00] joining, how often did you ask for advice about what shoes to wear, what socks to wear whether or not you should care about having wicking shirts?

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, that actually makes me think I was reading this book, my family wanted to read this book, Attitude of Gratitude book, and then we talk about it sometimes on Zoom, because my parents are cool, our family book club. But one of the sayings at the top of this little story was, the meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away.

The process said that and the thing is, if the purpose of life is to give away your gift, you can't give away your gift to no one. You gotta have people to give it away to. You might be developing that gift by asking for resources from other people, but once you find yours, then yeah, you can't give your gift away just sitting at home watching Netflix.

Can't do it. It doesn't work that way, you got to have a community. So there we go, full circle.

Lucas Root: And you might now have a literally encyclopedic knowledge of the movies available on Netflix and somebody might want that.

Kayla Ferguson: Totally, whatever random information you have in your mind is actually going to become valuable to people.

Lucas Root: [00:29:00] So again, before we dive back into Parkinson's, I grew up in Northern Vermont. I had an amazing life. We also didn't watch a lot of movies, because why would you? I grew up in northern Vermont.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, you had so many things to go do.

Lucas Root: When I went to college, one of the first things that my roommates and the community that I built at college, one of the first things that they took on as a project with me was to teach me about modern movies.

So for you listening or watching Netflix movies and have an encyclopedic knowledge of the available streaming movies out there, trust me when I say this, there's somebody that will appreciate that in you tremendously. I've been that person.

Kayla Ferguson: Absolutely, I love that. So if you have encyclopedic knowledge of movies, go talk to Lucas.

Lucas Root: Yeah, I'm not so far behind anymore but I was, and I can tell you for sure, that person is out there.

Kayla Ferguson: Exactly, I think it just goes back to, but you can't go give someone the knowledge or whatever that you have. If you're not in a community of people, you just can't do it.

Lucas Root: Distance first.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah. So that's the [00:30:00] why that's another why. Who doesn't want to feel like they came here and contributed something, whatever that something is. We contribute in community. So there we have it.

Lucas Root: So back to the onion.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah. So the other how that I'm curious about is that, we create those small initial to start community and then some of our other initiatives is then how do you move that community out into the greater community?

Because I think oftentimes, what people experience when they experience loneliness, even if they have maybe people who are experiencing a similar life thing to them is not. Feeling seen or accepted by kind of the greater group around them, it's easy to go to a support group and say, Oh, I'm seen here, but what about when I go to the grocery store?

What about when I go to the bank? And I have XYZ thing that I'm experiencing and people look at me weird. I've had people tell me everyone thought I was on drugs, people thought I was drunk. Really, it was just maybe an off period with medication or something. So what that i'm interested in but haven't necessarily figured out yet is, you can create this community of [00:31:00] people that support each other which is critical and it's great that exists. But then how do you start peeling that onion?

And move that community out to here and really develop big cities and community spaces where everyone, even if I don't know your first name or I don't know what college your kids go to, we have the sense that we're in a community together and we support each other.

I was thinking about this when I was driving the other day like when I cross a crosswalk, I do trust that a car is not going to run over me. So there is still that kind of like basic trust that's critical to community.

But I think that's just trying to survive and hoping people don't kill us isn't the same as feeling like genuinely connected and like, you have people that you can give your gifts to. So I think that's the next level of how is once we have these groups of people that have formed their communities.

No expectation that they all are together all the time because that's overwhelming and that gets rid of the guardrails. But how do you create this ethos where this community can expand out to this greater public that maybe doesn't [00:32:00] understand what this community is going through, but they have some empathy and some tolerance for it. How do you create that onion or that ripple of community?

One's kind of that like core group has been established. Does that make sense? That's one thing I'm really interested in from like a healthy thriving community standpoint that just is generally healthy for all of us, to feel safe and to feel like you belong, regardless of what you're going through in life.

Lucas Root: Yeah, I like it. So, how many staff members are there?

Kayla Ferguson: We have 30, I believe.

Lucas Root: If the average staff member has 200 personal contacts. People for whom if they dial their phone, they'll answer it. If you called me and I say, hi, Kayla. So you got 30 people. Each of them has 200.

Let's assume some crossover. So let's say there's 5,000 first level connections. Now, if every one of those 5,000 has 200 personal connections, what are we at?

Kayla Ferguson: Then we're starting to grow exponentially, not quite exponentially, but yeah, we grow 5,000 times. Then we're at 10,000, [00:33:00] right?

Lucas Root: We're at a million.

Kayla Ferguson: A million! Okay, yeah, see, exponential. I was right the first time. I shouldn't have tried to do mental math, even though it's just zeros and zeros.

Lucas Root: Okay. So just your staff, and we haven't even started talking about the donors, and we haven't started talking about the people you're serving, just your staff, have arm's length reach to about a million people?

Kayla Ferguson: That is a global community and so maybe that takes us back to another why. If then we as a staff of 30 have a million person reach, then why is there still such an experience from so many people of feeling so disconnected?

Lucas Root: Yes.

Kayla Ferguson: Why? and I don't know the answer. Because we're just one foundation, and then how many of them are there? There's thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of foundations that could have that same reach. So then, why then do we still have so many people experiencing such unnecessary hardship in life?

Lucas Root: I have some theories.

Kayla Ferguson: Tell me.

Lucas Root: My biggest theory around this is, and this will be fun. First time I've shared this particular version of this theory [00:34:00] online. There's two different types of people.

I'm going to create some polarity. This is a good one though. There's the people who know how to tell the story of their life only using elements of the story that they already understand. The second group is people who can tell the story of their life using elements that they do not understand.

These vastly different approaches of telling the story of our life, and let's be honest, when we live our lives, we live it as a story inside our head. We wake up in the morning, we have a story about what our day is going to be like, and we go try to play that character of our story, that's the whole Joseph Campbell thing, is that life is a story.

Kayla Ferguson: Right.

Lucas Root: And so if you can only tell the story of your life using elements that you understand, what that means is that you need to understand the elements that are going to make your life feel fulfilling. You absolutely need to. It is a basic necessity for people who can only tell the story of their life using elements that they understand.

So you need to be educated on what those things are. If you want to get married, you [00:35:00] can't tell the story of your life getting married unless you understand it first. So you need to be educated. Now that's easy, we have lots of marriages going on. Your uncle gets married or something, you go to a wedding, you're like, Oh, this is cool.

I want to go through this. Now you understand it a little bit and you can start telling that story. The people who don't have to use elements that they understand, we call them entrepreneurs.

Kayla Ferguson: Totally, that's so perfectly said.

Lucas Root: So that's my working definition of what an entrepreneur is.

An entrepreneur, it's not somebody that starts businesses. Maybe that's an entrepreneur, maybe it's not. But an entrepreneur is a person who can tell the story of their life using elements that they don't understand.

That's about 3 percent of the population. Now, if people don't understand community, a lot of people are trying to have community, we know we need it, but community is such a buzzword right now that people just don't understand it. It has 75,000 meanings and we're not clear on how.

And for the most part, we're not even really clear on what. You and I, we just talked about a two layer onion that has a million people. [00:36:00] Most people can't count to a million.

We don't have an understanding of what a million means. Even a million dollars is relatively unimaginable.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, totally.

Lucas Root: Until you have it and even the people that have it, probably you spend it all because you don't understand it. Like maybe the limit problem is, I don't understand a million dollars, so I'm going to go spend it all because this, I don't understand.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, there's definitely something to that, but continue.

Lucas Root: In order for people to build the story of their lives with community. They need to understand it first, and breaking away from a Netflix movie is hard to do, because that's fun to watch and so they're not taking the time to learn about it. That's my theory.

They can't tell the story of their life, because they don't understand community, and it's not exciting enough to learn.

We need to start a viral campaign somehow that teaches people about community enough so that they can start telling the story of it in their life.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, because then since 97% of people operate that way, then they start [00:37:00] building it. So I'm all for starting a viral campaign. Let's do it. What we were saying before is I'm not trying to trick or manipulate cause that's the antithesis of community.

But turning it into a game, it can maybe bypass a few of those excuses or whatever you get in your brain that you're like, Oh, this thing I was doing this evening on my TV was better. Turning it into a game can theoretically potentially bypass some of those immediate like hurdles that people would have.

It also, if you turn it into a game, you can bypass some of those hurdles and then you put them in a space where they have the guardrails and can have a really enjoyable experience, then all of a sudden. Now they've understood it a little bit.

And so even if there's still like a working understanding, it's a foot out the door or it's a toe in the pool or whatever metaphor you want to use. So I still think actually what you just said still circles back to our original house of turn it into a game, make it fun, bypass the default conditioning.

And then make it memorable. Put the guardrails [00:38:00] and make it memorable. To me, gives you a much greater chance of success of just saying, hey, you should do it because it's good for you. There's a lot of things we should do because it's good for us. And do we do them? No, we got to trick our minds sometimes, right?

And so the games and the guardrails, I think are some of the critical pieces of that how. In addition to a viral campaign that just gets people really jazzed.

Lucas Root: If knowledge was the only limiter, everybody would have six pack abs and we'd all be millionaires.

Kayla Ferguson: Exactly, I trick myself all the time with stuff.

I can't think of an exact example. Because I'm sitting here talking about it, but I got all sorts of little ways. I know I'm not going to want to do this thing. So let me trick myself ahead of time to make myself do it. You have to find those ways to do it. In every sense, all of us have that.

Lucas Root: That's funny. I have a friend, this is not a joke. I have a friend who makes chocolate fondue so that she can dip her broccoli and chocolate fondue, it's actually true.

Kayla Ferguson: She's getting her broccoli. Again, it's not in the spirit of manipulation, but if we can figure out how to authentically [00:39:00] bypass some of that conditioning.

To get people in community spaces that are intentional, then you can start to build some sustainability and it's like anything. It's never going to happen overnight. You can't snap your fingers and say, look, now everyone has the most genuine community they've ever been looking for. Just like it took us a long time to do this podcast, good things take time. Just consistency in offering intentional authentic places for people where they go and they're like, Oh, I actually felt safe there all of a sudden, it's not a dangerous thing to think about leaving my TV.

It's just one step and then the next, and then the next, and then the next. So I think this is a part of the how, and I'm not going to take credit, Priya Parker put these ideas in my head, so thanks Priya.

Lucas Root: She is legit genius. I'm working on a hashtag for our viral campaign.

Kayla Ferguson: Okay, tell me.

Lucas Root: #GuardrailsChocolateFondue&Broccoli

Kayla Ferguson: Yes! I mean, who doesn't want that? Chocolate fondue and broccoli will definitely get people, and guardrails. I would be intrigued if I saw that. I'd be like, what does that mean? Okay, I like it. This is a [00:40:00] great first draft. We can workshop it.

Lucas Root: It's not done yet.

Kayla Ferguson: But it's a great start. I think that's fun to think about that how and to me it's inspiring. Those houses are inspiring. It's not, feeling like you're trudging up a mountain, begging people to do something. It's like, Oh, this is fun. This is a fun, how do we get people in a shared space?

And it's just like everything, it's not rocket science. Like, all I have to do is think about when do I genuinely want to show up someplace? Give you one, two or three things that probably will make me genuinely want to show up someplace. When I'm reverse engineering that and creating a space, just do those things, right? There we go.

Kayla Ferguson: So yeah, what's the saying? It's, always maybe simple but not easy, just like a lot of things in life.

Lucas Root: Simple but not easy. That's a good guardrail.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, I like all the turns within the guardrails that this conversation took.

Lucas Root: Yeah, okay. I like to wrap up with three questions.

The first is for anyone who's been inspired by you, what's the one best way for them to find you?

Kayla Ferguson: Probably on LinkedIn. I would say my LinkedIn profiles where I'm the most active these days. So I can send you a link, [00:41:00] that's where I'm like talking to people right now.

Lucas Root: Love it. That's where I told you.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah, exactly.

Lucas Root: Four years, that's amazing. Good for us.

Kayla Ferguson: I know, especially during the pandemic and everything.

Lucas Root: Second question. What's the one question you wish I had asked you, but I have not?

Kayla Ferguson: Ooh, that's a great question. Let me think for just a second.

Lucas Root: I stole that one from Tim Ferriss, by the way.

Kayla Ferguson: Oh, Tim, what a guy. You can ask this to your next podcast guest. I just came up with this, so I wasn't sitting here burning, wishing you would ask this question. But now that you asked it, what if we figured out the how and every person on the planet had the community that they needed? Because every community looks different for every person. What would our world look like? How would it shift? How would we all be living? I think that's a fun thing to think about.

Lucas Root: Fun.

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah. Now that I've asked it, I'm going to think about it myself because I don't have an answer.

Lucas Root: Yeah, you've kicked off the thought process for me for the weekend. Like that, that will keep me consumed.

Kayla Ferguson: Oh, good. Well, share any super insights. I'd love to hear them.

Lucas Root: Hell yeah. [00:42:00]

Kayla Ferguson: Yeah.

Lucas Root: And then finally, is there anything that you'd like to close out with?

Kayla Ferguson: Well, just I think I'm so glad that you're hosting these sorts of conversations like you mentioned, community has in some ways become a buzzword. I've seen a lot of corporations capitalize on this idea of community.

Like a lot of buzzwords, I think a lot of spaces, it'll fade. But I think places where a genuine conversation about community is happening is critical to the future health of our society. It can't go away, and people who are genuinely engaging in the conversation understand how critical it is to the next step that we're taking, as a collective species.

All of us, regardless of where we're at in our personal, spiritual, whatever journey. So I just really appreciate you hosting these conversations and figuring out some fun things and then asking even bigger questions, and I think it's really fun and this is how we move humanity forward.

So thanks for hosting what you're hosting

Lucas Root: It truly is my pleasure. Thank you. Kayla.

Kayla Ferguson: Oh, thank you. Okay, I will talk to you soon.

Lucas Root: Yes.

Narrator: Thanks for joining us this week on Elements of [00:43:00] Community.

Make sure to visit our website,, where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or via rss, so you'll never miss a show. While you're at it, if you found value in this show, we'd appreciate a rating on iTunes, or if you'd simply tell a friend about the show, that would help us out too.

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