When in Doubt, Part 4: Organize a Local Inspirational Support Group

Part 4 of the “When In Doubt, Do Everything At Once” series on Taste Life Twice. See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

This series of “When In Doubt” posts will deal specifically with how to get happy when you feel like you’re drowning in more questions than answers. I have frequently been in dips like this, as you can see from many of my posts. Sometimes I work out a problem on the blog here with you, but often it is expressed in activity in another sphere. Here is where I’m showcasing those other activities, and how I deal with uncertainty every day.

baby book club

I bet a lot of you have tried joining a book club. It’s kind of a thing. Or it was.

I joined a great one in 2009, with about 10 women who alternated coming to the meetings, so no one person’s apartment was ever completely overrun. And it was great- we voted on books, we hosted everyone by turn, almost everyone read the book each time, and we had really enlightened discussions, like an honors English class would in high school.

Then we were sort of colonized by two loudmouths– one obnoxious and one well-meaning. That’s when I determined that it was more stressful to bear witness to the boasting and attention-seeking than it was not to go, and I made my excuses. That was unfortunate, but it did make room for me to start my own group. And it’s not a book club. I call it SMIAL:

Support/ Motivation/ Inspiration/ Accountability/ Listening

Plus, I pronounce it ‘SMILE,’ which always lifts my mood instantly. So how did this come about? And what are the benefits of doing such a thing? Well, it’s in the name.

The book club was great for social connection and reflection on some of the mysteries of life, but it really fell down when it came down to listening. Also, I read on my own, so it wasn’t fulfilling a need that was going unmet. I wanted to start a creativity or writing club to do that. And hand-pick people who were good listeners and would work well together. So I polled some of my friends and opened it to acquaintances, and we had a first, exploratory meeting, where I outlined my ideas, and the people who showed up got to decide the direction of the group. We drew a little from the Mastermind tradition, and a little from Barbara Sher’s Barn-raising Group idea, and tailored it to fit the 4 of us who would be sticking to it.

The focus is on Creativity. Living in DC, with many of my friends occupying high-responsibility positions, life can get very serious and very stressful. But in creative people, there is always that spark of a flame that wants nourishing. This forum gives that little flame some oxygen by coaxing, encouraging, and urging its host to express his or her creativity.

SMIAL carves out a Space. While everyone tends to be busy these days, I am determined to make this a space where people can reserve time for themselves. Focus. Introspect. Listen without judging.

Tomorrow will be the fifth meeting of SMIAL, and here have been some of the benefits:


One of the members wants to write a ‘memoir cookbook,’ a truly fabulous idea. So she put out a call for similar type cookbooks, and we all contributed what we thought would help out of our libraries. Another member is embarking on a writing adventure, so I passed on Twitter resources from writer and publisher websites. We support each other with our knowledge and connections.


Just like with exercise, creative muscles need practice to grow strong. And just like with exercise, we might find ourselves cozy in bed of a morning arguing with a voice in our head about whether we should get up to start writing/ cooking/ practicing music/ whatever other activity. The answer is yes. But sometimes you need a nudge to push back those covers and get going. Hopefully hearing others’ stories of accomplishment gives that nudge, but there’s also another type of nudge…


…the fact that 4 pairs of eyes will be looking at you, waiting to hear what progress you’ve made on your goals since the last meeting! This is a very old, oft-cited piece of advice: if you want to accomplish something, tell other people that you’re trying for it. Not only will you have the external pressure of people asking how your project is coming along, you will also have some amount of internal pressure from not wanting to be seen as giving up on something important.


One of the most underestimated gifts you can give and receive, as I found out in my book club. If you have a tiny germ of an idea, this is where you’ll be able to air it. If you have a giant, secret worry, this is where you can air that. We want to listen because we realize 1) that you need and are asking for support and 2) that we can learn and profit from hearing abut your process and struggle. Win-win. Plus, real listening helps set the tone for a trusting, respectful space and that is where true progress happens!


I know, it’s out of order and now it spells out “SMALI” which sort of sounds like Somali. Nevermind. This is my favorite part. This is the genius of the small group. It’s not about getting ideas you can copy, since we’re all working on different creative arts. The inspiration comes from feeling the electric excitement of a friend who is doing something he or she loves doing. It’s catching, so then you get totally jazzed to work on that thing you’ve been wanting to do but hadn’t realized. That feeling is called passion, and it’s what I started this group to find.

Are you missing your passion? Do you have a group that can call forth its flame? If not, why not start one?


Cartoon via Amandaonwriting

3 Responses to When in Doubt, Part 4: Organize a Local Inspirational Support Group

  1. Oh Margaret, I love this idea. I am part of a book club. While we really started out strong with the reading and discussion component, we have recently become more of a support group. This sometimes leads to very serious conversations which is ok, but I can feel emotionally drained after leaving. I really like the idea of a more productive focus like SMIAL. I have been thinking of starting something similar ever since I read Barbara Sher’s idea about an Ideas meetup. I believe that’s what she calls them. She recommends inviting strangers too.

    • Ideas meetup? That isn’t one I’ve heard of, but I mostly fell in love with her old stuff. Is this from a more recent book? And I’m glad you like the idea… I was thinking of making an offering to give the steps of what to think about when starting such a group- would it be useful, or too particular to each person, d’ye think?

  2. Pingback: When in Doubt, Part 6: Average a Book a Week, Or, Be Voracious | Taste Life Twice

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