A purity of fun

Every reply to the dispatch is savored and responded to, but it’s particularly fun when the reply is from someone new to our community. I cherish these first conversations.

Recently, I asked someone how she came across Uncommon and it turned out she wan‘t new at all: “I’ve enjoyed the dispatches for the past couple of years.”

It’s funny how much that word—years—surprised me. I mean, the number of dispatches is at the bottom of each one, so the accumulation of time doesn‘t go unnoticed.

But still, years! How wonderful is that? The very first essay about Uncommon spoke of the desire to create something sustainable. June marks three years since this community first took root.

I wrote that post not long after the startup I had been part of for four years was acquired by Facebook. A community had coalesced around a digital passport of visited places. As a startup funded by venture capital without a clear way to make money, the only route to success was to become massive. Many loved what we built, but the totals lacked commas in the right places, so eventually the best option was an acquisition. The app was taken down and with it, all of the travels and memories that had been shared.

That experience inspired some of Uncommon‘s first principles.

A community, not an app. By community, I mean a diverse group of uncommon people from around the world, gathering together online and in-person, introducing each other to new perspectives and sharing favorite stories and things. This dispatch is one expression of that, the website another, as are our gatherings and the tangible packages that land in mailboxes. But those things are not Uncommon. Uncommon is people, period.

Members, not users. The people who make up Uncommon aren’t a means to an end. Members define and shape the community. We have a stake in its future, as we do in our physical neighborhoods.

A trampoline, not a rabbit hole. Uncommon is designed to be refreshing, inspiring, friendly, safe, human, and limited. We refuse to manipulate people into extra clicks, feed the fear of missing out, or toy with insecurities by counting and comparing friends, views, or likes. We want you to enjoy every minute you visit, then return to your day and loved ones. In fact, the site closes one day a week.

A barn-raising, not a lottery. Our community’s online home is designed to be sustainable. Rather than a roll of the dice in which success is only possible at large scale, Uncommon’s foundation is sturdy (and should the servers go dark, what‘s shared online will available to contributors.) There isn‘t outside funding that demands hockey-stick growth or ads that require millions of eyeballs. The team that works on Uncommon does so for free because they want this community to grow and thrive. Every week, another member helps push us forward or offers to lend a hand.

Natasha Lampard wrote a beautiful essay recently, a love letter to the long-term. It an inspiring read. If you want to understand many of the thoughts behind Uncommon, I highly recommend it.

What if, instead of focusing on exits, we focused on sticking around? What if the focus wasn’t on selling up and moving on, but instead was on handing down and passing on? I wonder what our decisions would look like if that were the ultimate goal? What would our businesses be like? What would our communities be like?
Success, surely, needn’t be measured only by the hockey stick or the exit sign.
We can choose to remain small. We can choose to devote ourselves to something, and to those we serve. We can choose to do our small things in small ways and which, over a period of time, can build upon themselves.

When Leonard Cohen was asked about the longevity of his songs, he said:

My songs last about 30 years - that’s about the lifespan of a Volvo. But they’re designed to last as long as possible. My own critical examination of the songs is very severe: if it can survive examination by the heart, the mind and the gut, then I think the song can last a little while.

That sounds about right to me. A community like ours should be able outlast a Volvo.

In giving your time and attention, you are part of this story. Thank you! If you want to help write future chapters, become a member. A membership is currently $24 per year (which never changes as long as you‘re a member) and includes a year for a friend. On the site, you can share the stories behind your favorite things and get to know your neighbors. We have much more in the works, and every new member helps make that possible (and if money is short, just let us know.) Your questions, ideas, enthusiasm, and curiosity shape what Uncommon is and will be.

Spreading the word about our community is also a huge help, whether a short blog post or forwarding a favorite dispatch to a friend.

We‘ve come so far. Who would have imagined that welcome envelopes would be mailed to members in 16 different countries and Uncommon stickers would spark conversations in far-flung airports? Or that there would be people hiking in Uncommon tees or a member performing at a gathering of our very own? Or that the hardworking volunteers of our favorite charity would be refueling on Chicago pizza with the money donated from each membership?

Above all else, there are the threads that now connect us, one to another. The honest stories of failure and triumph, the reflections on the things and moments that fuel us, the new friendships formed. We‘ve only just begun to see the future of possibility that awaits over the horizon. We‘ll get there, together.

Join Uncommon


The latest dispatch asked, What was the first sport you loved to play?

Wesley wrote:

The first sport I love was of course soccer. The only sport that actually matters in the world, and I say that respectfully while considering Hockey, American Football, Baseball and probably even Basketball decidedly niche sports on a global level. And that’s coming from someone who played baseball for ten years on a competitive level (in Europe though).

Joel wrote:

Baseball. The greatest game ever.

Marcus wrote:

Growing up I never enjoyed sports. I never felt good at any of them and was always picked last. I never really liked competing either, and I have never understood the joy of watching grown men and women running around after a ball. The first sport that I actually liked was running and I first discovered it in my mid-twenties. I remember the moment well - I was having coffee with my current manager. He was talking about how much he loved running, and I was talking about how boring it was. He then looked at me and said: “You know that running is only about what goes on in your mind?“. Those words had such a huge impact on me that I went home took out my running shoes and I have been running ever since. And every time it gets tough both running and in the rest of my life, I just think of those words: It is only in my mind!

Paul wrote:

At school I was ok at sprinting and jumping, but pretty terrible at football (soccer) and cricket. When I got to the sixth form (aged 16-18) we were given the choice of which sport we did on a Wednesday afternoon. Together with my friends I chose to do squash, and it was a delight. We were all pretty much of the same standard, apart from one guy who you were glad if you could get a point against.

Brad wrote:

A few of my cousins used to live a few hundred feet from the place I grew up. This was hugely convenient and we took advantage of it all the time, especially in summer when we were off from school. We spent time riding bikes, exploring storm drains, climbing trees and playing Nintendo, but the first real sport that I loved was “three flies up”. Maybe it’s more of a game than a proper sport, but it involves one person kicking a ball high into the air and the rest of the people trying to catch it. Three catches and you get to be the kicker.
It seems like such a simple game now, but we played it for hours and would dump all of our energy into kicking, running, jumping and tackling one another for a chance at every catch. I can’t remember many other things containing such a purity of fun.

Ryan wrote:

Like many boys in the corner of Southern Ohio where I grew up, I played municipal-league baseball for several of my pre-teen years. I never really liked the actual sport very much; I‘m not naturally athletic, and I was too scared of the ball to be worth anything as a hitter. Baseball was just the social activity of choice among my friends, so I played along with everyone else until we moved out of that town. Finding other interests like playing music or messing around on the family Commodore 128 computer quickly convinced me thereafter that sports were not really my thing.
My first year of college, though, I consented to play on my hall‘s intramural soccer team along with everyone else—again, entirely for social reasons. I had played a couple years of soccer as a kid and enjoyed it even less than baseball, and I suspect I was even worse at it, too. Possibly because there were no real expectations that anyone would perform well, and no apparent consequences for performing poorly, I threw myself into intramural soccer with a lot more enthusiasm, and I thoroughly enjoyed it all four years. With more willingness to throw myself repeatedly to the ground in order to block a shot (or fail entirely to block it—whatever!), I was able to provide at least a small amount of value to the team, but more than that, I just enjoyed being out in the fresh air, running around, and yelling a lot.
I don‘t play team sports now, although I‘ve started to run regularly. Maybe I should spend some of my running time having a good yell.

Uncommon reads

The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison by Jessica Benko:

“You have to be aware — there’s a logical type of error which is common in debating these things,” he said. “That is, you shouldn’t mix two kinds of principles. The one is about: How do you fight crimes? How do you reduce recidivism? And the other is: What are the principles of humanity that you want to build your system on? They are two different questions.”
...“If you treat people badly, it’s a reflection on yourself.”

Writing My Way to a New Self by Hana Schank:

“I just don’t understand it,” she said. “In your letter you seemed like a completely different person.”
Of course I’d been a different person in my letter. I’d been writing.

Text Me Maybe by Molly McLeod:

I’m trying a thing where I write my text messages by hand as often as possible. It’s a fun experiment to inject my messages with a little more personality beyond choosing clever and appropriate emoji. Like an instant postcard, a note passed under the desk behind the teacher’s back.

Being There: Heidegger on Why Our Presence Matters by Lawrence Berger:

The thought is that our worldly presence matters for how things actually unfold, well beyond any physical or physiological processes that would purport to be the ultimate basis for human activity. So, for example, when we feel that someone is really listening to us, we feel more alive, we feel our true selves coming to the surface — this is the sense in which worldly presence matters.

The Crossroads of Should and Must by elle luna:

Must is what happens when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own. Because when we choose Must, we are no longer looking for inspiration out there. Instead, we are listening to our calling from within, from some luminous, mysterious place.

Your turn

What‘s the story behind your favorite piece of clothing?