Prologue: This is the first part of a series of posts about closing down our business, Workshop Chicago. I have a lot of hope right now, and I feel compelled to share what I consider a summary of the meta-narrative of the Workshop story. It's helping me process this season, and since so many of you are a part of the story, I thought you might be interested in reading my thoughts. Cheers.
Part I: Real-Life Human Interaction
It was about this time in 2013 that I was being escorted around Chicago by a commercial real estate broker, visiting rustic loft spaces in search of the brick-and-mortared room that would in just a matter of months become home to our co-working concept: Workshop Chicago.
But before we ever had a room to display our vintage industrial sundries, we had a movement, a feeling, and a community built around something I couldn't articulate then.
I know now that the connection was based on a desire for understanding and co-navigating life and work and modern adulthood, peppered with real-life human interaction and a measure of empathy. I guess it started when I grew tired of having the same conversation over and over in my head, so I decided to share it. And the conversation apparently resonated with people, which put some wind in my sails and helped shape what would become the most audacious endeavor of my life: starting a business to house a community with nothing but a few ideas and a lot of supporters.
The next phase launched under the guise of remote workers sharing workspace (a co-working business), because in all honesty, that was the best way I could envision gathering such a like-valued yet seemingly disparate group of humans in the same room on a regular basis. People (like me) in Chicago were starting to pay to for this service, so our conversation manifested as shared workspace with the hope of creating a sustainable company where we could all cooperatively get things done and explore our shared values.
We moved into a beautiful building along the Chicago River, off-the-beaten-path but seemingly in the right place. Then we co-worked in the same room, dozens and dozens of us over the first few years. It was a really nice season of connecting, sharing, and collaborating. Business may not have been booming, but the community was. I'm overwhelmed with gratitude and humility when I consider the quality and quantity of incredible people who found their way to 935 W. Chestnut St. back then. It's perfectly beautiful nostalgia for me.
I learned something really valuable in the first couple of years of this journey: people are not always drawn to perfection, to brilliance, to flawless structure or pristine design -- we're fascinated by those things, and sometimes pay them a lot of attention. But most of us look to engage in what is real, tangible, accessible, and representative. We search for a place, physical or philosophical, where we belong, where we're accepted and treated with kindness and dignity. And we're drawn to imperfect people who are willing to raise their hand first and say, "This is me. How about you?"
If you want to connect with humans, start there. Find and/or share what you represent. Be kind and thoughtful. And be ok not knowing all the answers or next steps. That's humanity, and that's where the people are -- just waking up every day and being...human.
I wonder sometimes if we had stopped there and were satisfied with being connected, or if we could have bottled up those days or recreated that season in a more sustainable model that the story would have been cleaner or that feeling would have lasted longer. Obviously that's not how it works, as anyone who's watched a remake of The Dukes of Hazzard or Arrested Development or even Gilmore Girls knows by now. You can't go back, and a do-over won't make it better.
But I realize now that it's unwise to declare when something is over prematurely, even when it really seems like it's over. Sometimes good ideas regenerate or evolve in unexpected ways, and that's the power of humanity.
I don't believe there's anything else like it.