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‘Now It’s Second Nature’: Building My Community Alongside C School

By Doug Finkelstein

My entire life, connecting people has brought me joy. As a young adult in New York City, I found myself consistently going out with a group of about five people that quickly grew to around thirty. When a stranger asked how we all knew each other, we'd send them to Amanda, who would grab a pen and find the nearest napkin. "Well, Doug knows Micaela from high school, and she went to school with Kristen, who's dating Doug's friend Derek, who lives with Doug and his work friends Dylan and Joel..."

While I made these connections subconsciously, I never appreciated just how happy it made me to introduce people to their future spouse (or ex...), best friend, roommate, or colleague.

At 25, I found myself working in finance as an equity trader — still not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life — when I had my first psychedelic experience. After doing some online research and scraping together what I could find (trustworthy online psychedelic resources are unfortunately sparse), I felt I had the knowledge I needed to make sure my first psychedelic experience would be a positive one. And it was!

I continued to go on psychedelic journeys every three to four months, traveling into nature with a small handful of friends for a therapeutic weekend. I had a moment of clarity on one of my journeys in August of 2020, when it finally clicked: my passion is connecting people! And by being part of someone's first psychedelic experience, and being part of their life after, I get to see the greatest connection of all — not person to psychedelic, but person to their true self.

For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to do. I got to work building our psychedelic community, Empathic Health. But I didn't know the first thing about intentional community building. Where did I even start?

Energy, emojis and fate

I knew I needed guidance and resources from people who had experience, so I started building my network. I found Commsor soon after I dug into my community research — and a community operating system wasn't all I discovered there. I also ended up joining The Community Club's private Slack group for community builders. I love the energy and atmosphere there, all the emojis everywhere... I knew that I wanted to create a similar space for my community.

This was where I encountered their inaugural C School program, a bootcamp for aspiring Community Managers. The first program was due to finish just when I planned to launch my community. It aligned so perfectly that I knew it was a sign. It felt like fate.

Community management, unlocked

After week one, I remember messaging my partner to say, "I can't believe anyone runs a community without this knowledge." The 'aha' moments were there from the very first session. Things like defining what community actually means in a business context to posting rituals to fuel engagement — things that might feel so natural to a community pro, but, as an outsider, I was overlooking.

From there, we took a deep dive: from how to moderate so you don't alienate anyone or tone police, to content planning to provide value and spur engagement, to checking in with disengaged members. All these things now feel like second nature to me.

Our instructor, Noele Flowers, has greatly helped with the architecture of the Slack community I'm building for Empathic Health. For example, she dissuaded me from my initial plan of having 15 channels for all the things I hoped members would be discussing. In a one-on-one coaching session, we unpacked how having so many channels would dilute the conversation in the main channel, making it seem stagnant — a common issue in the other psychedelic communities I'd discovered. We worked through my strategy for each channel, and whittled it down to five. Now, the plan is to let the community guide us in creating new ones. Having a community veteran as a mentor has given me years' worth of practical knowledge in just a few hours of conversation.

Connected and powerful

Before C School, my mentality was along the lines of "build it and they will come", and probably engage. I suspect that's what's been going on behind the scenes of every other community I've seen in the psychedelic space — and why they've failed to gain traction. I've seen things like forums that get one post a month and Slack channels that have 500 people but no comments for four or five days at a time. None of them had a Community Manager.

The greater psychedelic community is dense, powerful, and more interconnected and willing to help than you can imagine. I'm optimistic that having this background from C School will give me the tools I need to do what those other communities haven't been able to do — build a safe, thriving, fun space for people to learn, connect, and grow.

If you're interested in joining the Empathic Health Community, sign up here. You can also join us for a psychedelic trivia event on Thursday, June 17th, for a chance to win money for the charity of your choice!

Discussion (1)

jenny profile image
Jenny Weigle

Kudos to you for starting your community! I actually just started reading Michael Pollan's book "How to Change Your Mind," and I'm learning a lot more about psychedelics than I ever realized I would!