What Makes People Stay?
Today, I attended the Downtown Lakeland Partnership’s General Meeting at Trinity Presbyterian Church. Tim Rice, the Pastor, spoke on the topic of building a rich sense of community. He suggested that one of the challenges we face in society today is “rootlessness.” There is no strong sense of belonging, or establishment of roots/connection to a particular place. He challenged us, as members of the business community to focus on this idea when considering how to strengthen the city, how to attract (and keep) young professionals, skilled professionals, passionate artists, and other talented people to live (and stay) in Lakeland. As a result of his discussion and the questions he asked throughout his presentation, I walked away wondering, “What makes people stay?”
Tim talked about his personal decision to stay in Lakeland – to make the community and his church stronger. This community, he said, is his ministry. He has made a promise to remain in Lakeland for the rest of his life, his words were, “I am here until I die.” I thought of the impact of those words. The strength behind them. To make a decision that, no matter what happens; no matter what offers come from Birmingham, or anywhere else, this is where he wants to be.
Lakeland might be his calling. But what about the rest of us? And what about those who aren’t sure where they want to be? What will make people want to stay in Lakeland? But my questions didn’t stop there.
What makes people want to “hang out” and commiserate?
I wondered, after he finished speaking, what makes people stay anywhere? Not just to remain in a community, but what makes them attend and then stay at events, or gatherings? I believe this smaller question might lead us to the answer to the bigger question. If we can understand what makes people want to be a part of different clubs or organizations, why they attend certain events, or want to reach out to help others, or simply continue talking about important issues, even if it seems like it might not make a difference, I think we might be able to better understand why people feel compelled to “establish roots” in a particular place.
I believe, in the inner core of my being, that people want to feel connected. They want to know that they matter, that they will be missed when they are gone. Seth Godin calls this the Linchpin. A Linchpin, by definition, is a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other part from sliding off the axle upon which it is riding. When I meet new people, I make every effort to receive them warmly, to focus on what they are saying, to ask them questions and give them an opportunity to talk about the things that matter the most to them. Sometimes, this sparks fascinating conversations. When the person’s face begins to light up and their gestures become animated, I know that they are passionate about the topic they are discussing. When we find something on which we connect, and we are both engaged, and animated, that is where true connection begins.
I know when people are interested in what I have to say. I can tell by the questions they ask, by the way that they listen, by the focus of their eyes. When there is true connection, people want to stay. It’s my observation that it happens all the time, but many of us dismiss it because we might not have time, or we might not now what to do when we find that true connection on a topic. Should we e-mail them? Call them? Request to connect on LinkedIn? Ask to schedule a meeting to continue the conversation? Or, do we let it go, allow it to disappear as a fleeting moment, an undocumented connection, because we didn’t know how to build on that opportunity.
What experiences have you had that you didn’t want to end. Have there been times that you wanted to carry on the connections you made and looked forward to the next opportunity to connect again? What is the impact of building a community of people who stick around? I think we have to start looking at the basics, before we can climb the mountain. Are we a connected, warm, inviting community? Or, do you think there are places that are, and places that are not connected, warm and inviting? I would love to hear your thoughts about this.
I am curious. What makes you stay?