Can't we all just belong?
Author Radha Agrawal teaches us how to create community
When Radha Agrawal was turning 30, she says she felt "like I was sleepwalking through life."
She woke up and thought, "Who are my people? Where do I actually belong?"
She writes about her quest to find community in her new book, "Belong: Find Your People, Create Community and Live a More Connected Life" ($18.95, Workman Publishing).
She'll read from the book Friday at BookPeople. The women of the Boss Babes networking group will be with her, and in what will be more community-building workshop than book reading, the goal will be for participants to create some groups that will continue gathering.
That search to find a community turned into Daybreaker, an early-morning dance party that she co-founded, which has spread from New York to Tokyo and even Austin.
The concept is simple: Wake up, dance, connect with people. "It was totally a social experiment," she says. "It could have gone well; it could have totally bombed. What is the worst thing that could have happened that morning? That nobody showed up?"
She thinks of herself as a person who creates "disruptive innovation to break open social issues," like belonging or a woman's access to feminine hygiene products. Agrawal is also the co-founder of Thinx, "period-proof" underwear. "For thousands of years, women have been pushed to the bottom of the barrel for something as natural as our periods," she says.
In whatever she's doing, it's about being social entrepreneurs and having fun with it. Fun with dancing in the morning hours and building a community; fun with talking about periods and underwear. "We put some wit and fun into it," she says.
Agrawal, who is now 39 and expecting her first child in a month, says she thought of her parents as role models. They connected with people often.
Yet in her 20s, Agrawal was busy hanging out with people but not connecting in a meaningful way. She cites this statistic: One in four Americans say they have no friends to confide in. She thinks that the rise of social media has just exacerbated this problem of not feeling like you belong.
"Belonging has always been a very shameful topic," she says. People will say, "I'm an introvert," she says, before they will say that they don't belong.
Through Daybreaker and this book, she says she wants to normalize that we all feel this way. It's important to figure out how you want to belong and whom you want to belong with. It's about "thinking through who your core community is first," she says.
She connects this sense of not belonging to bullying, gun violence and terrorism. "Every single terrible thing is people who are struggling from a lack of belonging," she says.
Finding belonging is not an easy process. In the book, Agrawal takes readers through methods that can help shorten what took her five years from the moment she woke up lonely to the moment Daybreaker was formed.
With Daybreaker, Agrawal realizes it's not everyone's thing. They might check it off their bucket list and never come back. In fact, she says, it takes about 80 to 100 hours to participate in something to really feel that sense of belonging. "As human creatures, belonging takes time and patience and a level of presence," she says.
It took her two years to find her first best friend when she went on a quest to belong. "I kept showing up; I didn't get discouraged," she says.
What she's realized is that when you find people you want to belong with, it's about the energy they bring and you bring and not your résumés.
As much as the book is her story, it's also 20 exercises in a workbooklike format to help you figure out where you belong.
She takes you through plotting your history; being aware of what your Red Ego (the Negative Nelly) and the Green Ego (the Positive Polly) are saying to you; finding the intersection between your values, your abilities and your interests; and making a list of qualities you want in a friend, qualities you don't want and qualities you need to embody.
The book also offers a starter kit for planning a community-building event, because it's not something you can just throw together. She talks about creating rituals, setting up the room to invite conversation, learning how to listen and how to nurture your group once it begins.
Belonging, she says, "is not a spectator sport," she says. You have to be all in.
Radha Agrawal reads "Belong: Find Your People, Create Community and Live a More Connected Life"
($18.95, Workman Publishing)
7 p.m. Friday
BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.