I moved to Pittsburgh not knowing a single person. It was exciting and frightening, a mid-twenties plunge and break from the rhythm of my post-college life with Break Away in Atlanta. Tense, and then smiling as I unpacked books, I thought of Joan Didion, who asked as she navigated her own plunges: “has anyone ever been so young?” Yes, they have, sitting on the porch after unpacking, wondering if a new city would ever feel like home.
Resolved to meet people and build community, I made a pledge to say “yes” to everything in my first six months in Pittsburgh. Any invitation, any event, any request, any opportunity (within reason), “yes.” No excuses or breaks. This was hard and tiring. And like any pledge, I had moments of waffling. Did I really want to go to any of the two dozen networking events and hear about X disruptive startup? No. Was that adult male bocce ball league how I wanted to spend Thursday nights? Not always. Was I excited about the neighborhood Chinese take-out potluck? Yes, actually – that was the highlight of the fall.
Unaware of Shonda Rhimes and modern copyright law, I started calling this my “year of yes” (I was drawn to the alliteration, despite the pledge only being six months long). Each day I had to fold up my introvert tendencies and recommit to say yes to “saying yes.” But by the time the pledge ended and I started giving myself permission to say “no, thank you” to things, I had built a number of strong relationships, with different types of people - usually through the events or moments I had said “yes” to. These relationships were crucial to figuring out the city, and to shaping my expressed civic life in Pittsburgh.
Now, I know this approach to rapid community building is a bit drastic - I don’t think the only path to community life in a new place is to give over your life to stray invitations. But, hopefully, it’s a reminder of the power of being actively open to new experiences and relationships. A year and a half later, I’m still grateful that I got up off my porch and didn’t look back.
Community life continues to be, for me, much more than a box you check off. It’s a continual - sometimes daily - recommitment to saying yes to one another. To this messy, often beautiful social compact. Which is needed now more than ever. That said, it’s okay to sometimes stay in. Unless there’s a Chinese take-out potluck.