There is something deeply unsettling to me about a community that lives on indefinitely into perpetuity.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them, I participate in them, I have led them for years.
But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of my closest friendships to this day came out of communities that had a clear expiration date.
My personal experience
I still, nine years later, have a reunion every year with my six best friends from college. We have tattoos, we send birthday and secret Santa gifts, we remain committed and in touch even as the years have changed us. I believe part of the reason this crew can exist today the way it does is because the community where it began (college) came to an end.
This was one of the most labor-intensive programs I have ever participated in. I still have two friends in particular who I keep in touch with and have met in real life (the program was fully remote) after this program ended.
Some of my closest friends in Portland came from working together at a startup called Sseko. We have all left the company, it has been years since we worked together, but the bonding that happened when we worked together has led us to keep in touch and even do an occasional weekend retreat, despite being in three different States.
💡Think back to the strongest groups of friends, how and when did those groups form?
We like to focus on what happened during the formation of a group that resulted in such strong ties that endured. But I wonder if the very nature of those structured experiences coming to an end gave these community connections a chance to survive for the long-haul.
It’s almost like the structured community or program gives us fertile ground to establish the roots of friendship, but the expiration of the community gave us permission to finally take ownership for our own micro-group dynamic to blossom.
Like in order for our friend-sub-set to find a new beginning, the larger community we came from had to have an ending.
What is it they say? You are a completely new person biologically every seven years?
By this same logic, if the people you started with in your community seven years ago are still there, your community is now a completely new group than it used to be. Your collective goals, purpose, and tactics even have likely changed (whether or not you are willing to recognize it).
What does this mean for how we design communities?
Far more communities end up fading away long after their purpose is achieved rather than being purposefully and meaningfully sunset.
I hypothesize here that you have a higher possibility of the legacy of your community continuing on through a subset group from your original community, when you purposefully sunset your community.
And from that subset group, you might very well watch a new, beautiful, and totally autonomous community emerge.
Like the mythological phoenix, are we brave enough to usher in an ending so that a new and brighter beginning can be reborn?
A note for cohort-based courses
This is one of your greatest strengths - you have an end date! Don’t rush to turn your cohort into an everlasting community. You could very well completely serve your purpose BETTER by bringing the experience to an end with a thoughtful ritual like graduation. You don’t need to keep going and in fact some of the potential friendship and connections WON'T keep going if you don’t let them find their own path.
Questions to Consider
What if you HAD to put an expiration date on your community?
What would need to have happened for you to say “mission accomplished?” How would you tell?
After they finish the journey with your community, where would their new journey start?
I’m not saying that everyone needs to put an expiration date on their community. But I think you would be doing a disservice to your members if you don’t understand what a good ending looks like and what new beginning you hope they’ll embark on next.