Issue #15: Building the Future of Belonging

"The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge." — Thomas Berger

Last week, I attended Minda Harts’ Secure the Seat virtual writers’ retreat during my mini-sabbatical. Despite appearances that would suggest I’m a writer, I don’t feel like one. I know rationally that I write this newsletter and I’ve co-authored the first draft of a novel with my boyfriend. I signed up for the retreat skeptical that the identity of “writer” fit for me. I like to talk through ideas and generally lack the patience to wall myself in a tiny studio churning out pages of text. I didn’t feel like I belonged to the cool imaginary literary clubs that authors frequented.

I’m glad that I was proven wrong, after hearing about the experiences of authors ideating, researching, writing and editing their first book. One of the biggest takeaways? There’s no singular way to be an author other than to realize that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Some nonfiction book ideas came out of academic research, some came out of self-guided secondary research combined with interviews, and some were a combination of both sparked by lived experience. Some of the published bestselling authors still had day jobs that were not always related to the subject of their books. Of the two fiction writers, one had written stories since childhood and the other had only published her debut novel a few years prior after writing a few collections of poetry.

My other major takeaway is that I want this self-directed learning to become a book. On the first day of the retreat, we had a writing prompt that consisted of three questions:

  1. Who is my intended audience? Who else could benefit besides your intended audience?

  2. What are three problems that this book addresses?

  3. What are three solutions that mirror those problems?

Here’s my initial draft:

This book is for millennials and Gen Z who feel like they don't belong at home, at work, and in their communities. This is also for the employers who they work for and the entrepreneurs looking to build businesses for millennial and Gen Z customers. This book will explore the margins, fringes, and emergent to see how belonging is being redefined and renegotiated over the next decade as the traditional understanding, places and institutions fall apart.

Isolation continues to accelerate in millennials and Gen Z as they report declining real and meaningful relationships with people who really understand and connect with them. These generations have turned away from consumerism and the rush to acquire physical possessions as minimalist culture and climate action dominate cultural narratives amid a backdrop of declining economic and social mobility. Lastly, evaporating community institutions like libraries, houses of worship, public squares, and social clubs in an era of declining trust means they don't see any institution is seen as both competent and ethical.

In this book, readers will dive into the principles of technology development that build and reinforce real and meaningful relationships missing IRL. As ties to place become less and less common with gentrification, climate disruption, conflict and violence, the search for belonging to place will shift to articulating trust building signifiers, literacies and approaches that enable millennials and Gen Z to make safe spaces wherever and whenever needed and desired. Lastly, readers will see how cultural expression and norms are challenged and directed toward emerging systems for making meaning within new communities and networks.

What are your thoughts? What questions do you have? What would you change?

As a next step to building this de facto book summary, I want to do interviews with people at the vanguard of challenging traditional notions of belonging and pioneering new approaches and definitions of belonging.

What are your recommendations for people to interview?

I’ve broken down belonging into smaller components to better characterize belonging.

Identity and Relationships

  • Identity and social affiliation

  • Kinship and family

  • Friendship

  • Emotional attachment

  • Interpersonal interactions and connections

Culture and Narrative

  • History

  • Ritual and practices

  • Language, stories and narrative

Place and Environment

  • Safety and security

  • Built environment and possessions

Communities and Networks

  • Political and ethical systems

  • Social norms

  • Exclusion