Finding Our Tribe

From Generations Magazine Seventh Issue

By Kellie Goodman Shaffer

While attending a professional development course, I noticed a class of adult students sporting t-shirts with the message: “Find Your Tribe.” I was drawn to the sentiment, as well as the graphic print, which reflected Native American symbols of feathers and arrows, which have become a popular trend in today’s fashion.

The artwork was beautiful, but these three simple words resonated…far beyond a stylish statement or a reflection of our country’s heritage. Being part of a tribe is arguably essential for success, both professionally and personally.

In his best-selling book on corporate leadership, Seth Godin described a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea… A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

So by this definition, tribes could be lovers of Jane Austin or Harry Potter novels, Bon Jovi fans, Penn State tailgaters, workout or weight loss groups, Bible studies or knitting circles. But they can also be professional peers, colleagues, coworkers or personal friends.

There are tribes we are born into: clans of family members with whom we share our blood, our homes, and our life’s experiences.

There are tribes we have been compelled to be part of: a school class or corporate staff, brought together by educational requirements or employment opportunities.

And then there are the tribes we choose for ourselves: those bands of close friends, confidantes, counselors and fellow travelers with whom we decide to share the journey of life.

“I would describe it as a non-judgmental, safe, nurturing place to be,” said Helen Sickle, a marketing and event professional and servant leader, who says her most inner circle/tribe is probably 6 or 8 close friends. “Above all, we have each other’s backs.”

“Trust, loyalty, non-judgement,” said Marcia O’Rear, president and founder of StelTek Graphics, “And also for me, I look for mentorship and wise counsel, I think my tribe is made up of very intelligent women, very intuitive.”

That concept of loyalty seems to be key. As teenagers, we gravitated by necessity toward groups of shared interests, of those who seemed to accept us; they’re usually called cliques at that age, which somehow doesn’t evoke the positive imagery of the tribe. Teens, subjected to the culturally-prevalent “girl drama” are often afraid to share their accomplishments with even their closest friends, because it often leads to a jealous backlash. In those difficult years, especially in today’s world of snapchats and tweets, it may seem easier to try to fly under the radar.

But with our adult tribes, this small circle of faithful friends who wholly love and support us, we are not only allowed, but encouraged and inspired…to soar.

“I’d say my tribe has provided me with support in difficult times,” said Sickle, “But at the same time, they are the first to celebrate an accomplishment, a birthday, whatever… we’re always happy for each other, and I think when we show that kind of support for each other’s successes, it makes us all stronger.”

We may be drawn to them by our similarities: shared interests or shared values; but these spirit-sustaining relationships are strengthened by the diversity of their members. We learn from the varied experiences and advice from those we love and respect.

Sometimes we find our tribe, and other times our tribes find us. They can start out as accidental and become a conscious and intentional choice.

“I think when you look at how some of our paths cross, we are so lucky to be in each other’s lives,” said O’Rear. “Some friends from childhood are friends for life, but there are also people you meet in different legs of the journey, and they become your tribe. There’s this ‘magnetic pull’ it doesn’t feel like a coincidence. I think God brings people into our path. We have the power of choice, but I feel blessed with the best friends as part of my tribe.”

Our tribes can change and evolve, based on our needs and experiences in different stages of our lives: we may gravitate toward fellow executives as we climb the corporate ladder. Thirty-something working Mom, Sarah Ferrari notes of her tribe who formed years ago as young mothers, their family roles brought them together.

“It provides a different perspective because when you’re in your life doing your thing you think there’s one way of doing something,” said Ferrari, “But when you’re with a tribe of different kinds of people with one thing in common, like motherhood, you realize there are other paths.”

As their children grew, so did their tribe, and their relationships within it.

“We’ve all evolved in our group, and we’ve become more than ‘Mommy’ friends,” she said. “We acknowledge that we are women beyond motherhood, so we can talk about our jobs, faith, families, everything. But the thing that always brings us back is what put us together in the first place –that we’re moms.”

Our peers share our challenges and struggles and remind us that we’re not alone. They share in our triumphs, join our celebrations, and commiserate and console us in our sorrows.

While a tribe suggests to the concept of a chief, Marcia O’Rear finds that the leadership responsibility is shared, and even passed from one to another as needed. Sometimes she is getting advice, and other times she is giving it. No one is more important or better than another; the tribe lifts each other up.

“If we are really lucky,” she says, “We have one or two people you meet along the way who can be in our personal and professional tribe – someone you work with but who also knows you on a personal side, so that is rare, and that is gold to me.”

In business, tribes are discussed in the realm of leadership, as Tribes author Seth Godin explains in his 2009 TED Talk:

“It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas. And it’s something that people have wanted forever. Lots of people are used to having a spiritual tribe, or a church tribe, having a work tribe, having a community tribe. But now, thanks to the internet, thanks to the explosion of mass media, thanks to a lot of other things that are bubbling through our society around the world, tribes are everywhere.”

According to Godin, tribes are the keys to changing the world: even the most fringe-thinkers can, through technology, find a group of people who connect with them and validate their views, for good or for bad. When these small tribes spread their influence to others, a movement is formed and with enough passion and momentum, that movement can change the world, for good or bad or indifference. It’s how terrorists recruit the disenfranchised around the world, and how the ice bucket challenge made millions of dollars and led to genetic breakthroughs in research around ALS.

These movements started with connecting with people who wanted to be connected. It’s an interesting concept for business, advertising, even law enforcement, and one worth exploring.

But the value of connecting doesn’t have to lead to a world-wide movement or a million-dollar idea. It can be that small group of close friends who know us so well and love us anyway; those confidantes who keep our secrets and protect our hearts; who inspire us to dream and to do; who share our burdens try to help us over the hurdles; who make us better, happier, and more at peace just by being part of our lives.

“The relationships with my tribe have survived many other relationships,” said Sickle. “Others come and go: jobs, romances, non-romances… but your core tribe shows support, listens, gives advice… but often it’s just listening and being there through everything.”

Author Jess “Chief” Brynjulson of Highway Writings said:

“All my life I’ve always
come back to one thing:

my need to feel free
and the need to feel the breeze,

the ride provides a freedom
this gypsy needs,

where every road is another
blessed memory,

a new experience to carry
inside my journey,

a sense of belonging
to a familiar tribe,
a brotherhood that
goes beyond a bloodline.”

As the concept of tribes harken back to the Native American culture, that t-shirt with the poignant words and beautiful graphics sticks in my mind: feathers, and birds symbolizing freedom and inspiration: like the freedom our tribe gives us to be ourselves, the inspiration to be our best selves, and the strength to soar.

And the arrows, symbolizing defending family, courage, direction and even peace; our tribes help us to find our way through life’s trials, with support and encouragement pushing us to be our best, our most, and our happiest.

We want them; we need them. Find your tribe and soar.

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