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Where do you find friends to help you build a thing?
Build it and they will come, more or less.
As touched on before, there’s been a lot of public commentary on our projects—much of it from folks wishing they had friends to help them build a thing.
I suspect that most are using the opportunity to vent about their loneliness and that few are actually stuck trying to hoist a beam by themselves, but I figured I’d hit this specific concern anyway.
Now, I’m not saying you can replicate what Molly and I had at our property—post-pandemic and friends moving away (or having kids), we can’t even replicate what we had. We’ve had a lot of helping hands on our projects and there was a special run for a handful of years with so many people being available and eager.
Still, some lessons stick.
People are eager to get their hands dirty.
More than you might assume, anyway. And—maybe counterintuitively—this is more the case with those to those who live in cities and crave something apart from city livin’.
They’re not looking to be your slave labor. They probably don't want to do it for a living. And of course, not everyone shares a desire to help you stack wood for funsies. But, there is absolutely a strong contingent of quality and like-minded individuals who would love to spend a weekend soaking up some camaraderie and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from hard work and making a thing.
That feeling they’ll leave with—of being a capable and empowered human who has learned a new skill and shared in communal achievement—is worth a lot more than you might realize.
People (especially interesting people) want to do interesting things.
It may take a few rounds of sharing some fun photos and progress, but if you put out to your social circle, or work circle, that you’ve been building a cabin in the woods, you’ll likely find a few interested parties. You’re doing something interesting.
There’s an unfortunate number of adults who don’t have friends, don’t have hobbies. They aren’t sure where to look for either, but they’re open to new experiences. There’s also humans with rich social lives and stimulating hobbies. Both are game to help raise a cabin wall and are likely quality humans to spend time with.
There’s also the Internet. Over the years, I’ve had a hundred strangers reach out on social media and forums. They see the projects and the community and offer to lend a hand. (I also know a number of other people who have had semi-public building endeavors and properties and their experience has mirrored ours—people reach out. They want in.)
There’s a network effect.
If you’re doing something enjoyable and unique, word spreads. Our email list for work hangs on our property grew quite a bit as friends would extend an invitation to those in their network who expressed interest.
Our friend Joey, who I now share a workshop space with, came into orbit because our mutual friend Darren was helping us build stuff on the property.
Darren told Joey about what we were up to. Joey asked if he could participate in the next build. He did. It was rewarding. Social. A physical rural experience within a reasonable drive from Joey’s Oakland apartment. Fun was had (fun is key… the building of our pavilion—aka The Dojo—critically, did not break Joey’s spirit.) And so Joey stuck.
It’s different when you have to do it.
I’ve been mostly talking about urban dwellers for whom swinging an axe or hammer is cause to snap a selfie. Statistically, that is most people (80% of the US and 56% of the globe). But there are still plenty of humans who build for a living, or live a lifestyle that demands working with their hands. It might be a little harder to get those folks to split firewood with you for the weekend.
Here it’s all about reciprocity and what you’re offering. Being a good neighbor. Being helpful. Being a good host.
Let folks know you want to lend a hand on their project and they’ll probably help you with yours. More likely still, if you’re offering a fairly measured work day that won’t beat them down and some dinner and drinks at the end of it.
If they do offer to pitch in, make sure it’s a smooth running operation and it really respects their time, because while this might be the path to friendship, it’s also likely much more of a favor than an Instagram summer camp experience.
Keeping it smooth. Keeping it fun.
I wrote more about this here, but a large part of why all the above has worked so well for us is because we really understood the trade. We knew our friends were there to help out, but that they were also there for a good time.
We did as much of the boring preparation as possible—and made sure everyone was set up with creature comforts—to ensure that once hands were on deck, work was humming along and enjoyable.
I also learned to pace things and take breaks at more reasonable times—still not something I’m great at—and I definitely pushed a few volunteers too far in learning those lessons.
Molly and I found that if we offered an opportunity to join in a project that sparked joy and reward—and were considerate hosts—the problem of finding helpers was never actually a problem.
Think of it less as an issue of finding people who are willing to give you free labor and more through the lens of just what it is you’re offering:
Skill building. Social connection. Recreation. A decent meal, hopefully. Tools, materials, and tasks, at the ready. And a shared sense of hard-won accomplishment rarely found in most folk’s day to day. If done right, it’s more play than work.
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