When my blog and Facebook page began to “take off,” an old friend sent me the book, Tribes, written by Seth Godin. This old friend is actually someone from high school, a guy who was two years ahead of me and really only an acquaintance during those years, but we were both Naperville Central High School Redskins – proud members of a tribe! 20 years later, we are both married with children. He came across my blog and rants and found them relatable. We are now part of another tribe – the tribe of parents, which we all know has many sub-tribes. Recent circumstances led me to start thinking about tribes and how important it is to find a tribe actually is.
Godin describes tribes –
“A tribe is any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea. For millions of years, humans have been seeking out tribes, be they religious, ethnic, economic, political, or even musical (think of the Deadheads).”
Along with thinking deep thoughts about the importance of finding one’s tribe, I painfully recalled how difficult it has always been for me to feel like part of a tribe. Sure, I was part of tribes, but I hardly felt like I belonged. I still don’t. I rarely feel comfortable in groups of people and aside from my close family and friend tribes, the only tribes I do consider myself a part of, are tribes that come together in more abstract and less intimate ways. I do think some people do better with one to one interactions or very small and specific tribes, yet so many of those people struggle to find their place for a very long time before they realize this is the case. I am one of those people.
In attempting to find my own tribe, I spent a good deal of time as a member of tribes where it quickly became obvious to me, and to the other tribe members, that I simply didn’t belong. Religious groups? Don’t get me started on how that went. Cliques in junior high and high school? Suffice to say, there were more than a few times when I was schooled on just how unwelcome I was. Luckily I made some very good friends that are to this day, my tribe. Sorority life? So called “sisterhood” was right up there with the worst experience I have ever had in my life with a tribe. If that's what sisterhood is like, I’d rather be in brotherhood of baby harp seals to be clubbed tribe. In college, a member of a different sect of my own religion informed me that I was a “fake” Lutheran, (ELCA) and that because of this; I would certainly be going to hell. I don’t blame God for this ignorant bat shit thinking, but I know plenty of people that do, and have run screaming from religion and church because of this close-minded nonsense. It's so sad too, because I think everyone needs and deserves a lovely and safe tribe, a soft place to fall and find comfort when the pains of growing are just too tough to bear alone.
Work environments have been equally tribe negative for me. I was never part of the social crowd that went out for drinks unless it was a company sanctioned event, where everyone was invited and required to show up to get a secret Santa gift or spend a few minutes at the office bridal or baby shower. Now, I realize that the vast majority of the time, regardless of the tribe or environment, aside from the glaringly obvious incidents of sorority life and religious asshats, I did more to exclude myself from the tribe than any of the tribes could have done to make me feel excluded. When I realized that I wasn’t much of a tribe person, but more of a sub-tribe kind of gal, the relief was powerful and comforting. Tribe members know a potential member when they see one, just as people seeking out a tribe know when they have found one!
When I met my husband, I found my tribe. Our little circle was, and is, my happy place. I like being at home. I like being with him. In college, we both knew it was more satisfying to ditch big parties and bar hopping in favor of spending time just the two of us, watching old movies and playing cribbage. Adding to our tribe was a huge decision. I wasn’t so sure. But now, I like our kids and can’t imagine this tribe without them. I like that my husband and I have similar values. We don’t even have to discuss things so much of the time, because we both just assume that we will agree on what is important to us with regard to how we spend our time, treasures and talents. But unfortunately, even though I feel safe and loved in the confines of my little family and my family of origin and small, close circle of friends, I still have to go out into the big, bad world and find a way to exist as a guest member of several tribes. And despite my outgoing and friendly personality, much of the time, I do not enjoy this.
I’m not boo-hooing about it, but I will say that as I have grown into a full fledged adult, I am now keenly aware that I really don’t fit in so well with the majority of the tribes that would certainly welcome me with open arms, and that makes me sad for many reasons, but the most important reason is that my children see this, and I don’t want them to be like me in this respect. At least not now! I want my children to have the tribe experience. I want them to feel who they are and who they are not, in context with the world around them. I want them to find their people, to find their tribe, to find their way in the world. But they cannot do this in a vacuum.
They have noticed how small I keep my social circle and how limited my involvement is in any type of organization. I am not a cool person that gives off an air of aloofness and hostility, but I am a bit unusual in the sense that I have very little interest in things that so many other people care about, things that bring people together to form tribes! My involvement is limited and peripheral. I am on the sidelines. Despite my outgoing and friendly personality, my tribal experiences have shown me the truth about who I am and where I am most comfortable. Where I belong, is behind the scenes. When it comes to running the show, I prefer not to, unless I'm running my own show with words on page or screen. I like a teeny tribe, a small group setting where everyone knows your name, like on the television show "Cheers."
I am happy with my life, but it scares me sometimes that I can be so content with so little, both materially and socially. It scares me because I think most people need tribes, and I don’t think my kids see enough examples of how being part of a tribe can be a satisfying and positive life experience! Team sports, religious groups, clubs, organizations, neighborhood Bunco groups, golf buddies, exercise groups, political organizations, etc. are important and I do want my kids to have an opportunity to find their tribe! I’m just a shitty role model for helping them see the value in trying out different tribes and broadening their horizons a bit.
This week, and weekend, I had planned to be a guest in a larger tribe, to broaden my horizons, but I changed my mind. You see, although this tribe is known to be somewhat welcoming, I knew that they are only a little tiny bit of somewhat with regard to sub-tribes, and not nearly enough for me to feel comfortable as a guest of the tribe or the many sub-tribes. Not all tribes are welcoming, they are polite, but aloof. Some are bent on exclusion and exclusivity, even rejection based on belief systems or status requirements. Even the grown up tribes, despite being made up of adults who have lived enough life to know the value in being a part of a tribe and how difficult it is to be excluded from one. And sometimes those are just the people who do form the most elite tribes - the people who desperately need to feel like they belong, because they never have and have to make sure they won't lose the security of belonging. It's complicated!
Oh, but some tribes are so amazing. They open their hearts and arms and you melt into them like butter on a muffin and you know, you just know you are home. And this is the kind of thing I would like my children to see and understand, but it’s a really complex idea for them to process at this time in their lives. They have no context for it. I won't quit visiting tribes, looking for my more of my people and more of myself, and I won't stop being a guest in tribes, knowing full well that I am certainly not there to find a kindred soul. I have to keep trying, learning, experiencing and growing. But there are times when a gal just knows. Like she knows her pants are doing nothing good for her specific ass shape or size, you know what I'm saying? For me, this is one of those times. A time when I know the difference between a good fit and a junk pinching, ride up your butt-crack pain in the booty.
Yep, I know the difference, and I guess that’s what is important right now. I know where I belong and I know my value doesn’t lie in what a tribe can do for me as much as what I can bring to a tribe. And if you are reading this and nodding your head in agreement, well, then you definitely belong to the MWDAS tribe. I hope you have other tribes too, places where you can be your true self and know that you are valued and cared for and celebrated as you continue to grow into the person you continue to become.
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