In Conversation with Emily Merrell, Community Building Expert

As many of you know, there’s nothing more important to me than my community. Or should I say, communities. 

I consider all of the incredible people that I let into my life to be part of my community in some way, big or small. Whether that’s my family, friends from growing up, friends from my 20s, coworkers, my entrepreneur community, or the core crew who’s really supported me during social distancing these past few months, all of these people have influenced my life in so very many ways, and become a part of my story.

I am a firm believer that the people you surround yourself with truly have the power to impact your level of consciousness. And that goes in both directions, my friends. We can level up, remain stagnant, or be pulled downwards in response to those around us, and even more so, by those who are most present in our lives. I think about this a lot, as I seek to create boundaries, connect with like-minded individuals who push me to vibrate at a higher level, and notice myself shining more brightly in the light of some more than others.

One of the women who has, since the age of twelve, both pushed and allowed me to shine more brightly is none other than Emily Merrell. Not only has she been a part of my most inner circle for over twenty years, but she just so happens to be a subject matter expert in intentionally building community, particularly among women. 

As the Chief Networking Officer of her business, Six Degrees Society, and a brilliant business coach, Emily has built her life’s work out of her life’s mission: bringing people together, forging connection, and allowing all of us to grow through that beautiful process. 

I sat down with her (virtually) to pick her brain about how she views community, how she sets boundaries, how she thinks about creating new community as an adult, and growing out of communities as well. 

Please share your thoughts with me about this really personal interview – send me a DM, leave a comment on my feed, or respond below. And don’t forget to read til the end – there’s a surprise waiting for you there. Happy connecting, my friends 🙂

  • I think that when a lot of folks think of you, they think of networking. But I believe that if you take a step back, what you’re really doing is building community. I know that I’ve met some of my closest friends through you, and also feel an incredible amount of kinship with other women through the business that you’ve created, Six Degrees Society. What does community mean to you, and how is that definition interwoven with all elements of the business that you’ve built?

You nailed it. Networking is the road that leads to community. As adults, finding a community that fits your needs and desires can be tricky. How can you make friends or meet like minded individuals beyond the immediate circles that you’ve cultivated through school and through work? 

While we all like the idea of community, creating community is typically not on the top of our “must build now” list. That’s where I come in. As a self proclaimed “people collector,” it’s been my life’s work to help solve people’s problems, and I so often find the solution comes from human connection. 

My community has saved me and shaped me in so many ways on this life journey. The members of my community were the ones who believed that I could take my vision for Six Degrees Society and translate it into a business. They were the ones that kept reminding me that “I’ve got this” when I was ready to throw in the towel on the winding road I’ve traveled as an entrepreneur. Lastly, on a personal note, they really showed up when our house burned down and we were evacuated from our wedding, both in the fall of 2019. 

Community, to me, is like jumping into a crowd and knowing that you will be caught. It’s literally the people that hold you up and keep pushing you forward. 

  • Something that I have really come to believe in is the Law of Averages, and from that the idea that we are the average of the five people that we spend the most time with. I truly agree with the idea that we are very much tapped into and influenced by the energy of those around us, particularly those that we are closest too. If your group of female friends is constantly judging, comparing,and  gossipping, for example, you are more likely to vibrate on that level and internalize and promote that negative energy. If you are surrounded by people who genuinely believe in you and want what’s best for you without inserting their motives or projecting their own insecurities onto you, that is an absolute game-changer. What makes a community healthy and constructive to you, knowing how much power it has to influence us as individuals?

I couldn’t have said it better myself – a good community is like having a built-in board of advisors. These individuals can and should be your trusted advisors, cheerleaders, and experience every win and hardship almost as if it’s their own. The lesson I’d like to hammer home is that it’s super important to articulate to your community how they can help you. If you’re not feeling like they are supporting you the ways that you want them to, make sure to have those conversations and express that. Community should always have a healthy influence on your life. 

  • Just like we all cultivate community in our own lives, this goes hand in hand with creating boundaries within our personal and professional communities. How do you personally create boundaries, seeing as so much of your work is about connecting with people? How do you ensure that you have healthy boundaries in place so that you can preserve your own energy, rest, and restore so you can continue connecting?

I LOVE boundaries and they’ve been a new implementation in my own life. To start my boundary journey, I got really comfortable with my calendar and knowing what times work best for me and my productivity. When do I get into the flow of my work? When does my brain get foggy? When do I want to end my day? Tackling my boundaries started with figuring out my work/life balance.

In regards to actual humans, I’m still working on boundaries, especially since so much of my work is through connection with friends via coaching and Six Degrees Society. Where do the lines of working with and being friends with someone start and stop? 

For me personally, as much I’m “on” and holding space for others, it’s important that I’m also “off”. I spend a lot of time doing me, recharging my batteries, and surrounding myself with people that have no connection to my business. I love shutting off my “work brain” on the weekend to really recharging for the week ahead. My business and my clients are my pride and joy, but looking out for myself is ALWAYS my biggest priority. 

  • Building community as an adult is a challenging subject for many, as we have “built in” friends from growing up and from college, for example, based on sheer proximity a lot of the time. However, as we get older, the friendships that we choose for ourselves have, to me, felt more important than ever. Whether you’re meeting adult friends through work, through your significant other, through parents at your kid’s school, or through groups like Six Degrees Society, how do you think about cultivating adult friendships, and also the idea of outgrowing earlier friendships in a healthy way? 

This is such a challenging area to navigate. It all begins with the reason “why”. Why do you want to expand your community and circle of friends? Look at the ways your current community is not serving you and what you’re currently looking for in a community. What void are you looking to fill? 

I currently have an inner business community that knows all of my financial numbers, hardships, and challenges. This is a dedicated space I’ve given myself where all we talk about is problems and solutions within our businesses. 

I also have a really close inner circle of girlfriends with whom I rarely talk about my business or challenges. It’s the place where I can be “off” from my working brain. Where we can talk about life, boys, travels, cooking, and things that don’t revolve around my work day. 

One message regarding community that I want everyone to keep in mind is that it’s OK to have multiple communities. It’s ok to still be friends with your childhood friends and not have a thousand things in common. Each community is there for a reason. They represent a part of your life and your growth. I look at my communities as micro-communities that I maintain for specific reasons, and they all contribute to my health and happiness in different ways. 

  • Having a healthy community online feels more important (and daunting) than ever these days. I know that for me, my community on Instagram can sometimes feel as real a part of my daily life as my IRL connections. I’m a big fan of curating my Instagram feed so that all of the presences in that community lift me up and teach me something, especially in this space where judgment and comparison are such low-hanging fruit. How do you safely and healthily build and maintain community online?

I love my online community just as much as my IRL community. I’ve been able to experience such depth with my friendships and relationships that might not have been had if we limited everything to IRL, especially right now. I recommend individuals find communities through platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, and explore what that feels like for them. And of course, echoing everything we talked about earlier,  it’s important to introduce the same boundaries and expectations into virtual communities as you would to IRL communities. 

As our gift to you, Emily and I are offering you a free Six Degrees Society event so that you too can experience the beauty of connection within her community. Just use code virtualsds at checkout on the Six Degrees Society website.

Don’t forget to sign up here for my email newsletter for more freebies, hot takes, and delicious connecting 🙂

2 thoughts on “In Conversation with Emily Merrell, Community Building Expert

  1. There’s a good book on friendship by Letty Pogrebin called Among Friends, which has some interesting insights on the who-what-why-when-where-how’s of friendship. I find it interesting that Emily refers to “finding like-minded individuals” because I think one of the dangers of living within our friendship communities is that we tend to be too similar and it is hard to find room in our lives for new people who are different enough to challenge us and push us to see things differently. How do we meet different-minded individuals who we can still bond with?

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