I ease closed the silver lid of my MacBookPro and tuck it into a worn leather bag near my feet; my colleague stashes her computer, too. Two hours earlier, Beth and I had met at a cafe to combine co-working with catching up. Our hour-long lunch break starred chicken poppyseed salad — yum! — and old fashioned face-to-face conversation.
These are the things — conversation, connection and most of all, friendship — that inspire Shasta Nelson.
Shasta is the founder and CEO of GirlFriendCircle, the only online community that matches new friends offline by connecting local women in cities across the U.S.
I recently interviewed her, intrigued by our mutual passion for connecting women (hers, to support women personally and mine, to build professional community). I loved Shasta’s open spirit, genuine heart and deep knowledge about the importance of relationships.
Tell us about the seed of inspiration that flowered into Girlfriend Circles.
Shasta: Well, the seed was recalling times I didn’t have a local and meaningful circle of friends — whether because I had moved, they had moved, or we just went in different directions in life. But what spurred me into action was working as life coach and hearing from amazing women that friendships were missing from their lives.
With statistics showing that we are replacing half our close friends every 7 years, it’s natural we should regularly develop new relationships. But as busy adults, it’s not that easy.
One of my clients said to me, “I can line up three dates on match.com this weekend but I can’t figure out for the life of me how to make new female friends.” After hearing this, I was committed to creating a website that helped women find each other!
You’ve talked about how research proves friendships really benefit women. Can you say more?
Shasta: Oh I could go on-and-on about this subject!
The damage done by loneliness— a feeling we have more than we acknowledge— is breath-stopping. Feeling disconnected is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, twice as harmful as being obese, and is like we’re lifetime alcoholics. Our bodies are not made to function in isolation.
Having a circle of supportive friendships ranks high for helping our longevity, memory health, ability to survive cancer, have fewer colds each season, and heal faster after surgeries.
Few things can reduce our stress and increase our joy than feeling supported by friends. Friendships, unlike spouses and kids and parents, come with many of the benefits of any healthy relationship, but also come with less of the stress and responsibilities that our families bring with them.
What’s your sense of how professional relationships benefit entrepreneurs?
Shasta: I am a BIG fan of professional relationships.
It is still the number one place most of us are meeting people since our work lives are such a big chunk of our time. If we can create relationships around what we’re already doing and have in common with others, we are more likely to see each other consistently.
What is #1 lesson you’ve learned about leading a thriving community?
Shasta: Oooh fun question! The #1 lesson is that as empowered as we all are, we still seek permission from others around topics that hold some shame for us.
And I’d say loneliness and friend-making is one of those areas.
We rarely admit we’re lonely, even when we are, in part, because we are afraid that to admit we’re lonely might be misunderstood as saying no one likes us, that we’re not a good friend, or that we’ve never had friends.
Our greatest fear as humans is the fear of being rejected, so we’re scared to admit it if we don’t feel like we’re popular, accepted, or connected to others. We have busy, networked, amazing, giving women who are dying on the inside because they’re lonely.
So my greatest lesson is speaking from my own truth and calling out what no one else is talking about. How I learned that?
By talking about it and having heads nod in the audience, tears wiped away, and emails flooding me as women whispered that they, too, know what it feels like to be hiding loneliness.
Lots of women would imagine you never struggle with insecurity or self-doubt like they do. What would you say to them?
Shasta: To have self-doubt is to be human! I feel nervous when walking in to rooms of people I don’t know, often forget to worry more about loving others than about trying impress them, and take things personally all too often.
All signs that I don’t live in my own worth as much as I wish I did! But what I will say is that I’ve observed myself feeling a lot more peace in recent years as I let go of needing everyone to like me and try to to focus more of my energy on letting others know they’re accepted by me instead of trying to get them to accept me. We all go through this world trying to be enough and hope that others see that we’re “enough”— my goal now is to make sure others don’t leave my presence wondering if I accepted them.
You’re a former pastor. How does spirituality support you now?
Shasta: When I started GirlFriendCircles.com I saw no connection between that passion and my work and training as a pastor— they were two different hats I wore.
But about two years later, it just became crystal clear to me that bringing people together in community was what I did in both those worlds. It looked different, for sure, but they really were just two different vehicles for expressing the truth that what I believed mattered: people practicing living from a place of love with each other.
I believe I am doing some of the most spiritual work — inviting people to show up in relationship and grow. In fact one of my keynotes is “I believe that Friendships Will Save the World” and that speaks to this very point— that it’s only in relationship where we practice patience when frustrated, compassion when busy, forgiveness when hurt, apologizing when defensive, etc.
It’s in my friendships where I have practiced saying no even if it disappoints someone so I can do a better job of that in my world. It’s in my friendships where I practice shining my brightest and speaking my truth so I can do that with greater ease in this world.
Friendships are our emotional health clubs where we practice being the people this world needs! If I can’t do those things with women I love, than what chance do I have of doing it with women who intimidate me, do it differently than I do, or seem to do it from a different motive? I practice being my best self with my friends, knowing that the training is helping me show up that way to the world.
Join Shasta in her upcoming “The Friendships You’ve always Wanted” Virtual Program (click here for details) and receive her special bonus, “Friendships Wanted” workshop and free copy of “Friendships Don’t Just Happen.”
Connect with Shasta