Our recently held inaugural YOBBERS retreat far exceeded my expectations and imagination (read our core authors’ retreat recap and listen to our special retreat podcast for more scoop). I experienced many meaningful moments at our retreat, including one that produced this profound — perhaps obvious — realization:

I am an other brother too.

Maybe I already knew that on some base level; of course, I’m an other brother. I introduced many of our founding members. Your Other Brothers didn’t start with any one person; we did this thing together.

As the months and years have passed, however, and as I’ve assumed more and more responsibilities with YOB, editing blog posts, recording podcasts, shooting videos, planning the future, and organizing a mammoth supporters’ retreat, I know that I’ve also separated myself more and more from the others.

I’ve distanced myself from our YOBBERS, certainly, but I’ve also distanced myself from my fellow authors. Looking back, I understand why. For boundaries. Responsibility and duty. To focus more intentionally on my in-person relationships and less exclusively on my online ones that grow in number by the day.

Some noble reasons. Some logical. It’s been a healthy separation in many ways.

Returning home from the retreat, however, I now realize my relational separation with YOB hasn’t been totally healthy. Boundaries are good. Isolation is not.

I’ve mostly rationalized my distancing for emotional reasons. Getting less involved relationally meant getting less entwined emotionally, and God knows I’m already drenched with enough emotions to flood the Sahara.

YOB is my baby. I deeply care for this thing that once wasn’t a thing. This bizarre and beautiful thing which many guys at our retreat tearfully thanked me for creating.

I don’t want my emotions to take over. I don’t want to mess YOB up. I know YOB hasn’t been perfect, but I also know it’s done way more good than harm for so many people around the world.

As I’ve kept my distance.

I simply can’t be hundreds of people’s friend. Perhaps the best way to build YOB — to nurture this place for our readers, listeners, and supporters — is to remove myself from the fold. To be the distant leader and never the fellow journeyer.

And then the YOBBERS retreat happened.

The second night, I was sitting with my Brotherhood Tribe — our 47 attendees broke into five tribes (small groups) based on our five values — on a picnic table island by myself while three guys sat on one side, five on the other.

It just sorta happened this way without any conscious thought on my end: sitting separately from my group. A fitting metaphor for my long-running role within — above? — YOB.

Then without warning, during a pause in our discussion, one of my other brothers stood up from his seat.

Stepped over.

I wondered where he was going. And then I realized it was toward me.

He said nothing as he wrapped his arms around me.

I closed my eyes and let him hold me. For the first time that weekend, I didn’t feel like the leader. I didn’t feel the need to perform and project and plan-plan-plan. That hug was a relational equalizer like nothing else I experienced that weekend. Like few things I’ve experienced since starting YOB.

The more I think back on that picnic table moment, the more I realize I could’ve just wept. Wept into the arms of someone I’d just met the previous day with seven others watching. Wept for all the disconnect and pent emotions of the last two and a half years.

It’s lonely to lead. Sometimes I wish someone else had created YOB and I could enjoy the spoils. But maybe I still can, in a sense.

Yes, YOB needs leadership. A blog needs a schedule. Podcasts need a flow. Videos need a purpose. A retreat needs a location and activities and a $2,000 grocery budget and lots of Enneagram integrations.

Without this brotherhood, however, I am sinking fast. Sinking deep.

Without our brotherhood, this place is a meaningless echo chamber. A dark well with perpetual drop.

The YOBBERS retreat reminded me I cannot draw from a dry well, cannot lead alone, cannot even journey alone, and I need to lean more on my brothers — my fellow authors and, yes, even our faithful supporters.

New friends.

Yes, I need in-person relationships. But I need not fully discard and distance myself from these online ones.

I loved meeting so many other brothers at our inaugural retreat, and I look forward to journeying further with them coming down from our mountaintop weekend together.

I hope to be a source of leaning for them too.

Are you in a position of leadership? Do you struggle to “fill the well” and pour more effectively into others? How do you experience brotherhood online and offline?

    Thomas Mark Zuniga

    I'm a storyteller and story-liver in Asheville, North Carolina - the Jewel of the Blue Ridge. I'm YOB's cofounder and editor, and I also host our bimonthly podcast. I've written a couple books, including a memoir in 2013 where I first came out to the world. Once upon another universe I anonymously blogged about my faith and sexuality under the Xanga username, "twoBeckonings." I'm an INFJ, an Enneagram 4w5, and my spirit animal is the buffalo. My favorite place in the world is the one where coffee and vulnerability meet.

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