I'm Shaylyn

I’m a writer, speaker, and changemaker pursuing connection, community, and a world built on belonging.

About Me

I am the coauthor with Robert D. Putnam of The Upswing: How America Came Together A Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again (Simon & Schuster 2020), which has been acclaimed as “a magnificent and visionary book,” and “a must-read for those who wonder how we can reclaim our nation’s promise.” 

My writing also includes the uniquely revealing portraits of religious communities across the United States in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which won Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson Award for best political science book of 2010-11. 

I’m a passionate believer that everyday interactions are where we do the “heart work” required to transform our hyper-individualistic culture and reclaim the power of “We.” I write about my personal journey back to community on my blog and newsletter, Project Reconnect

I’ve shared my opinions, writing, and research in numerous outlets including TIME Magazine, The New York Times, National Public Radio, BBC Radio, and the PBS Newshour. I’ve also been an expert commentator for documentary films. I am a seasoned public speaker and enjoy presenting to a wide range of audiences including policymakers, philanthropists, civic organizations, students and community groups. And I’ve have consulted for groups ranging from businesses such as Facebook, to nonprofits such as the Salvation Army, to current and former elected officials.

I’ve also enjoyed a successful career as a social entrepreneur. I am a founding contributor to David Brooks’s Aspen Institute initiative, Weave: The Social Fabric Project, and a member of Citizen University’s Civic Collaboratory, and the Braver Angels Scholars Council

With my husband, James Garrett, I co-founded Think Unlimited, a nonprofit venture working to catalyze social innovation in the Middle East. I speak Arabic, and lived in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for six years, during which time I created an original Arabic language curriculum on creativity and critical thinking, and partnered with Queen Rania Al-Abdullah to bring it to Jordanian public schools.

My nonprofit work has been featured by the New York Times, FastCompanyLinkedInHarvard Business Review, and Arab Investor. In 2011 I was honored with the Draper Richards Kaplan Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship, and was a finalist in the global Echoing Green Competition. I was twice awarded a membership to the Clinton Global Initiative, and have been a speaker at TEDx.

I hold a BA in Government from Harvard University, and am a returned Peace Corps volunteer. I’m also a permaculturalist who loves to get my hands in the dirt, and thinks a lot about healthy soils as a model for thriving human communities.

I live in the beautiful red rock desert of Southern Utah with my husband James, my daughter Sophie, my son Aeon, and my loyal dog Dewey–named for one of my favorite Progressives!

My Story

My career path has taken an unorthodox shape as I’ve followed my heart and pursued diverse passions. I’ve poured myself by turns into the fields of research, writing, activism, and social entrepreneurship—never able to fully commit to one single approach. But the thread that seems to tie it all together is community. I’ve studied it, experimented with it, been fascinated by it, and been frightened by it. I’ve reoriented my life around the dream and promise of community more times than I can count.

And yet, outside of my family, a deep sense of connection has always been more a dream than a reality. I’m not one of those people who seems to have more friends than they know what to do with. Or to just naturally belong wherever she goes. Or to be much of a joiner. The opposite is true, actually. I often struggle to build meaningful relationships, usually feel like the odd one out, and can default into being a bit of a nerdy introvert. And I have long wondered how to build real and lasting community in a culture oriented almost completely around self-actualization and hyper-individualistic pursuits.

I often feel that community is something I have thought more about than almost anyone but have less of than almost everyone.

So in 2019 I decided to spend a year engaging in a series of challenges designed to help me break out of an individualistic, self-focused mindset, and walk my way back to community, connection, and relationship. I called it Project Reconnect. Each month I took on a new challenge, and wrote articles and essays about what it is in our culture, habits, and daily lives that makes it so hard to connect.

What was designed to be a year-long journey was interrupted after about six months by the joy and challenge of becoming a mom again at age 40. Something had to give, and in short order I dropped the commitment that felt most challenging: working my way back to connection. I told myself I’d pick it up again when I had a little more room to breathe.

In 2020 my book was published. My infant son grew into a toddler. And in a thousand ways, large and small, the whole world came crashing down. But as I have reviewed some of my early writing for Project Reconnect, I’ve been astonished at how resonant it feels today, as we look to a post-Covid future.

And so, Project Reconnect continues—under circumstances that make experiencing deep connection feel more challenging and elusive than ever. Today my ambitions are humbler, my approach a bit gentler, and my starting point more vulnerable, more raw. Indeed, what felt like an urgent endeavor in 2019 feels like a burning fire of need in 2021—both personally and collectively. 

Come along with me. Let’s remember together what we once knew about community, reflect on what 2020 has taught us about connection, and chart a path forward for a reimagined future—in a world built on belonging.