February 18, 2015

Strange. Familiar. Pt 2.

A home away from home

"There’s another art of being at home in the unknown…"

- Rebecca Solnit, Field Guide to Getting Lost

In my previous post, I reflected on using local creative retreats to make my familiar Chicago home feel new and exciting. But one the more familiar challenges of Experience Institute is creating a sense of home in new places.

As an avid couch surfer and former corporate road warrior, I’m no stranger to cultivating creature comforts while away from home. However, it’s the social comfort that is more difficult to achieve. I’m a person who loves to host and cook for those I care aboutwhether sharing a cup of tea at home, hosting a dinner party, or bringing baked goods to the office. When I’m away, I find it challenging to recreate the sense of home that’s defined by the hearth.

I love to gather people (exhibit A, B, and C), and knew that hosting was an important way that I create a sense of home. While in San Francisco this December, I asked myself:

How might I set the table for new friends to break bread? What conditions will bring together strangers to share insights and ambitions?

In partnership with my friend Patrick, who had gotten in a similar habit of creating community byhosting meals abroad, I planned an intimate dinner party. In less than a week, my invite had been clicked on nearly 200 times and I had a dozen friends interested in impact, entrepreneurship, and learning to share a meal around a table that felt like home.

The beautiful thing was, nearly 80% of these folks were strangers to me. However, because it had been shared through networks of friends and groups like StartingBloc and GOODI knew that with a little framing, we’d leave as friends. In addition to setting the table with delicious Vietnamese and Thai foodI set the table with the following provocations:

  • LEARNING - What are you geeking out about these days?
  • LEAPING - What risk are you on the precipice of? What leap, project, or big idea has been on your mind? What is stopping you from taking it? (...and how can communities like this help!)
  • COMMUNITY - What have been your favorite gathering experiences? How can we create the contexts for meaningful connection over dinner?

This time, instead of meeting at a crowded restaurant, I used Breather. It was one of the best decisions I made. Breather is a platform that allows you to rent beautiful rooms on the go for meetings, gathering, or simple peace and quiet. The setting gave me a chance to cultivate a sense of hospitality. Instead of a prescribed table and stifling time constraints, the space allowed people to mingle freely and share a couch or table. The white board allowed me to sketchnote our introductions and helped others share ideas. It was a welcome departure from a crowded restaurant or the artificial tinge of a networking event. It felt like home.

For me, setting the table and gathering new friends is how I feel most at home in new places. Though it often can take a bit of bravery to invite the world to dinner, this simple and gracious act that makes me feel a bit more connected in our fast-moving world.

**Kudos to Patrick Ip for letting me crash at his home in the Bay and sharing this dinner with the Baller/Kula dinner network.

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