I'm Shaylyn

I’m a writer and a changemaker pursuing connection, community, and healing in a fragmented world.


I am the co-author with Robert D. Putnam of The Upswing: How America Came Together A Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again (Simon & Schuster 2020). My work 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 founding contributor to David Brooks’s Aspen Institute initiative, Weave: The Social Fabric Project. My writing has appeared in TIME magazine and The New York Times, as well as various other publications. I write about my personal journey back to community on my blog, Project Reconnect.

I’ve also had a successful career as a social entrepreneur. 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 tend to be 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 blog posts about what it is in our culture, habits, and daily lives that makes it so hard to connect.

My year-long journey was interrupted by the joy and challenge of becoming a mom again at age 40, right on the heels of which came the Covid-19 pandemic. And so, in 2020, Project Reconnect continues—under circumstances that make experiencing deep connection feel more challenging and elusive than ever. As I continue to explore community and connection in all its forms, I’m hoping I’ll find answers for myself, as well as for our deeply lonely, atomized, and divided nation.

If, like me, you feel that it’s time to reconnect, join me by following my journey, engaging in some challenges, and sharing your experiences in the comments. I’d love for you to be a part of my community!

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