You're Never Ready - with Mieke

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Ever felt stuck? Or like you don't know where to begin? This conversation with Mieke will help you conquer some of your own doubts around just getting start. Mieke is part of Starfire's initiative to put families at the center of community building… This means she was granted a small stipend and offered a mentor from Starfire, to help nudge and uncover her family's own wisdom around building community. She addresses some of her own struggles - like expanding her concept of who her "neighbors" might be, her epiphany  around how to bring her four kids' passions  together in one project, how she leveraged weak ties of people she already knew to help with the project, and what tools you actually need to get started…

Mieke: My name’s Mieke and I have been passionate about community building pretty much since forever. I was the kid who was the bridge between friend groups in elementary school, I got voted most outgoing in my high school class of 307 people and I have just always been about bringing different groups of people to the same table.  

1:59 – 3:12 

Katie: Yeah, and that’s very true. I know you personally as well and I know that that’s been my experience with you. So your high school classmates - they had it right. So one of the questions that comes up a lot about community building and trying to do a creative project in your neighborhood is that starting is the hardest part and for somebody like yourself, it sounds like you’re more outgoing, so help people who might not be as outgoing, also bring them along in this podcast, so they can get a deeper understanding of what ittakes. Because I don’t think this is just for people who are outgoing, do you? 

Mieke: No, definitely not.  

Katie: Ok, take us back to when you first started your project with Starfire what were some of your first steps? 

Mieke: The hardest thing about getting started for me was that I didn’t feel like I was owned by any particular geographic neighborhood. I feel like I belong to Cincinnati, and I wasn’t sure how to narrow that down.  

Katie: So your project really started around that problem that this is supposed to be a way to activate my neighbors, but what you kind of had to come around to or learn was that community could be a community of interest, is that right? 

3:13 – 4:09 

Mieke: That’s exactly right. So that was my first struggle and I struggled with that for like five or six months. We walked our neighborhood, we looked around and we looked at the community bulletin boards and looked at the rec center and met people and I just still did not feel like that was what we wanted to do.  

Katie: And you had said that was a neighborhood you had newly moved to? 

Mieke: Yeah, and so just kind of first problem expanding my concept of who my neighbors are and realizing that it’s ok to do a project on a community of interests rather than a geographic community.  

Katie: So once you landed on that how did you come up with that community of interests?  

Mieke: The next big problem that I had was that I was very involved in a lot of this community work in Cincinnati but I was doing it without my kids.  

Katie: And you have how many kids? 

Mieke: I have four kids.  

4:10 – 5:12 

Mieke: From 10-17 and they all have very strong opinions and a lot of varied interests.  

Katie: Ok, so each child had their own thing going on? 

Mieke: Yeah, a lot of our time is spent going in different directions.

And so I would say another big hurdle I had to jump over was how do I bring it all in guys, coach mom at the helm here trying to figure out what we’re going to do as a family and how we are going to combine all the things that everybody, exploring everybody's interests and bringing everybody back to the table together. So that each kid can feel some ownership of our project.  

Katie: Yeah, I think it’s really interesting as a parent to do that because you do, you end up, well this child likes ballet and this child likes soccer, this child likes crafts and this child likes theater. So you end up doing things very separately and in their own age group. So then to bring it all back together and say we are going to do something as a family, was that more effort in the long run to have everybody come together or was it more efficient with your time?  

5:13 – 6:29 

Mieke: I would say having a central focus point for what we are going to do with our project did end up bringing the kids all together which did make it somewhat more efficient. But the fascinating part to me was that the project that we picked had so many different tasks. We had a master tasks list and each of the tasks built on each kid’s strengths. One kid could really care less about art in some ways but he took on the role of you know I’ll walk the stuff over to the venue and I’ll walk my youngest brother over to the venue and I’ll help by transporting things and carry things. Which was really helpful because I don’t have a staff I don’t have administrators, or secretaries or anything you know, I could use about five. And you know another kid is very creative but very picky so I said well you can do all the décor and you cann design the space and she was ecstatic about that, that’s in her wheel house. I guess what I’m trying to say is the project ended up having lots of little tasks that played to each kid’s strengths which brought them all around the table in a way that I did not expect.  

 6:30 – 7:29 

Katie: Yeah, and I love the idea of having really intentional invitations for your children to participate but also anyone who is getting involved from the community, you have that mind set of: ok where are they going to thrive and how is this going to feel energizing for them so it’s not a chore? And definitely coming from a mother/parent asking your kid to do something often sounds like a chore but you found a way to make it this fun thing that they did together. So tell me a little bit more about your project, what exactly you guys ended up landing on.  

Mieke: I had been meeting with my mentor for this entire time at a café in our neighborhood and it turned out that being at that café every month ended up being the open door for my daughter to get a job there. So then my daughter started working there and we became friends with the owners, and made community for ourselves in this space and then one day our mentor said why don’t you hold an event at this café? You’re friends with the owners already, they’re open to doing cool stuff in their neighborhood.  

7:30 – 8:29 

Mieke: So we ended up saying what can we do that is a community event that gives back some kind of creativity opportunity to the kids in the neighborhood, our friends, the people that we know. We wanted to do an event that had mindfulness, art, music and food. And we ended up inviting some artists, we invited the pop-art truck, my friend Janet owns that.  

Katie: And you had not known Janet as a friend when you reached out to her right, because you guys had known each other as acquaintances and then you reached out, how did she take to that invitation? 

Mieke: Yeah, she was thrilled. She was super excited, I told her what my budget was she said she would make it work. At first with my mentor I was brainstorming, I could put out a call to artists, I could put out an ad and then it was like, stop, think. I already know people.  

Katie: So you had the pop-art truck, you had a woman from the Hive.  

Mieke: Yes, there’s a woman whose an art teacher who made art journals with people, like these little made out of one sheet. Then my youngest son is also an artist, and he taught origami at this table and just him being able to you know use his gift of creativity to do the actual teaching which he thrives in. Having him have his own space you know, where he felt respected, was huge for him.  

8:30 – 9:29 

Katie: And he did awesome, at ten years old I was super impressed.  

Mieke: He was nine at the time.  

Katie: Ok, yeah not even in double digits and he mastered me in origami I could not do it.  

Mieke: He’s pretty amazing at that.  

Katie:  So do you think for people who are just getting started and they might not have the vast network that you already had, do you think one of the steps might be, who do I know who knows a lot of people and going out to find that super connector in their life who might be willing to reach out to their network? 

Mieke: Yes, I think that makes a lot of sense, because you are your own best resource. 

Katie: Yeah, and it seems like what we tend to do right now is I’m going to go online, I’m going to Google it and then you just don’t have that personal connection to really start with.  

9:30 – 10:33 

Mieke: Right. And I think don’t minimize the fact that no matter how young your kids are, they have ideas, so don’t lose sight of your own household as a source for ideas.

Even for somebody like me who already has so many connections, it’s like, I have so many other things on my plate, this is for the benefit of you, the benefit of your family, the benefit of your community. There’s nothing to feel guilty about or feel stressed about, it’s a win win.  

Katie: Yeah, because we can definitely put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be the ideal of what we have in our minds.  

Mieke: Exactly.  

Katie: So how do you know when you’re ready to jump in?  

Mieke: That’s a great question. I think of it a lot of times as how do you know when you’re ready to start a family? You’re never ready, there’s some things you can’t predict everything and you can’t know the end from the beginning. You just have to trust that it’s ok to not know what you’re doing and get started at the same time.

Things will happen almost organically and dare I say, magically.  

10:34 – 11:30 

Mieke:  It just kind of happens and you don’t have, there’s so few things in life that you are actually are ready for before you do them, but you just do them anyway.  

Katie: What’s the magic? 

Mieke: The magic is you already know people, you have a family, you have a community, you just haven’t really stopped to think about it. But it’s already in you. Literally you are the magic. You bring you to the table and everything else happens. You are the only tool you need. 

Katie: So it’s that simple? You don’t need some master chart that you hang up on a wall, it’s within you? 

Mieke: 100%.  

Katie: Mieke that’s too easy.  

Mieke: No I know, well let me just tell you a little secret. I did buy this big wall chart, it happened to have five rows and we have five people in our family and it had all the days of the week and it had all these little post it notes. I lost it.  

11:31 – 13:30 

Mieke: And then I replaced it, it arrived from Amazon and then I lost it. Basically there are no tools.  

Katie: Clearly it wasn’t being used enough if you’re able to lose it. Well I think that’s really important because sometimes tools can get in the way of doing what is hard. And it’s not to say that tools are bad or that they don’t come in handy for some people but the point is that there is no magic thing that’s going to get you on that track.  

Mieke: I mean I think everybody has all the tools that are needed just kind of built into being an adult in this world and you just keep putting one foot in front of another and you keep going down a path and it ends up being something so much more special than you set out to make it.  

Katie: Well let’s end on this quote then, from T.S. Eliot “For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business.”  

Mieke: It’s good.  

Katie: What’d you think about that?  

Mieke: In more poetic terms it’s a value that I live by.

I’m not responsible for the outcome, I can’t make people love something that I do or participate in something that I am passionate about but I just keep going anyway. And yeah I think you just have to take the leap, trust that there’s going to be a trampoline under there somewhere and that you’re going to bounce back higher than where you started.  

Katie: Sounds like fun too. When you put it like that. 

Mieke: Super fun. I’m all about fun.  

Katie: Well thank you, I appreciate it.