I was recently invited to join a group of people in a “skills exchange” of sorts. The general idea is that we all have expertise in something and why not share it with someone else? Then they’ll turn right back around and teach you something!
I was really stoked when I got the invitation – the sender (Kelli) is someone I’ve known online for a while through the Chicago Etsy/handmade scene. I’ve followed her blog for a while and have had a life-crush on her awesome Urban Farmhouse and quiet, back-to-basics approach to life. Plus she’s into social justice and service and has taught classes on indoor composting and other “green your life” skills. YES I WANT TO TAKE ALL YOUR CLASSES ALWAYS YES. I’ve hoped to take some of Kelli’s classes in the past but things always came up and I’d have to cancel – so I was SET on making it to the first meeting of this new group. It was on Sunday and it rocked!
After looking up my route to get to Kelli’s house, I posted in the Facebook event with questions about getting to her house. I knew how to get there but it involved a couple bus transfers and sometimes people know an easier method – a single train ride, for example – that works better, you just have to walk a few extra blocks or something. So I asked, and while Kelli was working on helping me figure out the best route, another event attendee (who I didn’t know) told me she lived near my train station and would give me a ride to Kelli’s. I took her up on the offer and was glad I did. Carolyn was super kind, funny, chatty and interesting. She said (of Kelli and her friends), “excellent people attract excellent people” and I agree. Carolyn described herself as an old-school, social justice type Catholic and we had a nice conversation about how she knows Kelli and the type of service projects she’s been working on lately.
We got to Kelli’s house and it was just really nice. Kelli was warm and inviting – as was her house – and I didn’t feel awkward or anything. I met her husband Jimmy (super nice, funny and VERY VERY MANLY*) and promptly spilled water on the floor, which Kelli didn’t make a big deal out of at all. The other group members showed up, we grabbed some food and sat down in the sun room (I AM SO IN LOVE WITH THIS ROOM Y’ALL) and started talking about how the group should work.
Kelli introduced the idea of a gift/need exchange. The concept is that everyone mentions something they have, and something they need. What you have/need may be something that you can hold in your hands, it may be an experience you want or can give, it might be a talent or skill you can share or learn. Gifts and needs don’t need to match up value-wise and no one should feel pressure to meet another’s need just because you can. Everyone might not have a gift or a need every time we meet. For example – I might need help coming up with a good potluck recipe (if you’re wondering what I brought to Kelli’s, the answer is a big bottle of wine) but I might be able to give something I knitted, or a book I’ve read and can loan or give. I might need someone to go to an event with me and someone else might need help editing their resume. I might be great at editing resumes but just because I can doesn’t mean I’m obligated to offer my assistance. The offering should be from a place of contentment, not obligation or guilt. And sometimes I may not be able to think of anything I need. We will take care of MEETING needs outside of our group. So if someone says they want to learn to knit and I say I can teach them, we’ll handle that outside of the meeting.
We talked about how many of us had been thinking – ever since we got the invitation to the group – about what our skill might be that we could share. I know I can do a lot of stuff, but am I an expert at any of it? What if my expertise is in something less tangible and more theoretical? What if I’m good at somethng but no one wants to learn it? One by one we asked questions and gave suggestions and shared what we think we could offer to the group, and what we’d like to learn or receive. I said that I was mostly in this for the company because I have so little face-to-face time with friends outside of work. I liked the idea of learning something and developing relationships at the same time. So I was pretty much open and would be interested in anything someone else wanted to share/teach.
After lots of REALLY interesting conversation, we decided that we’d meet once a month. There were 6 of us that night but its likely there will be more as time goes on, and everyone may not be able to attend every month. Each meeting we’d start with the gift/need share. Then we’ll grab some food (potluck each time), chat and then whomever is facilitating that night will teach or share whatever it is that they want to teach or share. We agreed that some things might be very interesting to learn about, but might not be something we want to commit to learning and taking up. For example, in October I am going to lead a discussion on selling with Etsy, but it’s not likely that everyone is going to go start an Etsy shop. Still, everyone agreed that they’d love to learn about how it works. Our next meeting is in September and we’ll be learning how to make yogurt and granola. So some of our meetings will be a skills lesson and some will be more “show and tell” about things we do or are passionate about.
We plan to do a gift exchange at November’s meeting, and a cookie exchange at December’s, in addition to whatever topic we’re learning about that night. We also have topics lined up for November and December, I think (sorry, I forget what they are) and we decided to leave the rest of the year open and schedule future months as we go along.
The skills, talents and passions everyone shared are so cool: green living, meatless cooking, how to play guitar, Jewish faith, animals, anti-racism, sewing, knitting, arts and entertainment, copy-editing, community development, parenting, writing and A LOT MORE.
Each person in the group is nice, smart, open and interesting. I’m already Facebook friends with 3 of them since Sunday! I can’t wait to get to know this group more, and to learn about a ton of new stuff.
*When I first came in the house, Jimmy and a friend were drinking beer and playing a football video game. He felt this was very masculine and noteworthy. A little later he popped into the sun room to pick up his copy of Twilight, which he’s in the middle of.