Community Is Essential to the Earned Life

By Marshall Goldsmith

toward creating an earned life, community lies at the heart of our fulfillment. What life is earned if you are alone? 

Community comprises all the people in your life. Even if you are compliant in what you do, accountable to yourself and others, follow up to ensure you’re doing what you set out to do and measure the results, you still need a community to nurture you. 

You may think of yourself as a wholly self-made rugged individualist who takes responsibility for choices made, never whines “It’s not fair!” and always rejects the role of victim or martyr. I’ve met admirable people who embody all these traits but one: None of them believes they are wholly self-made. They know that an earned life cannot be achieved in isolation. It only thrives within a community.

Not only do they appreciate that their choices and aspirations affect other people (it’s one of the first lessons in Humanity 101: “No man is an island,” and all that), but they never lose sight of the fact that a community is not all one-way streets. Everything is reciprocal in a community.

Marshall Goldsmith Meme

Much of the good that you do for others without expectation of payback—comforting them, following up with them, connecting them to someone, or simply being present and hearing them—comes back to you whether you seek it or not, because reciprocity is a defining feature of community. 

But in a community, this reciprocity is not merely the two- dimensional kind between two individuals. In the right kind of community it’s three-dimensional—as if everyone has a license to help and coach anyone else at any time. It’s not the transactional I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you -scratch-mine reciprocity of aggressive networking. It happens when someone says, “I need help.” And someone else, without making a “What’s-in-it-for-me?” calculation, hears the plea and responds, “I can help.” In healthy communities, “I can help” is the default response. If you were to chart the crisscrossing lines of communication and generous acts among members of a healthy community, it would look as wild and random as a Jackson Pollock drip painting or a map of our nervous system. 

I did not fully appreciate this phenomenon until I was nearing seventy and woke up one morning to discover that, by accident, I had created a community of my own—my 100 Coaches project— and that it was a force multiplier in helping people live an earned life. 

Marshall Goldsmith Meme
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