Do You Belong To A Tribe? The Trouble With Going It Alone

“Call it a clan. Call it a network. Call it a tribe. Call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” –Jane Howard

Hello friend,

I don’t have a tribe.

This is a reality that I am only now coming to face. I don’t have a tribe.

I think I have been in at least some degree of denial of this fact for many years. I have either explained it away–“OF COURSE I have a tribe; it is just VERY small and we don’t keep in contact very well,” or, “My family is my tribe.”–or chosen to avoid the topic by focusing on the fact that I am very happy just as I am and have always basked in my periods of solitude. Armed with those two tactics, I have become quite the expert at denying this fact throughout the course of my adult life. I don’t have a tribe.

But as I begin this process of facing the truth and attempting to comprehend the sobering consequences thereof, the first question that comes to my mind is, “Did I EVER have a tribe???” Because that would be a start, right? A first clue as to what my tribe might look like should it appear today. So, have I?

Maybe I should begin by making clear what I mean by a “tribe.” To me, a tribe is a group of people whom you not only love and adore but who also make your soul feel like home. It is people who get you. People with whom you are celebrated when you are at your most authentic, quirks and all. People whose presence makes your energy vibrate a little higher.

I don’t suppose I should include childhood for the purposes of this discussion, though I have to say that I absolutely loved my high school friends and liked nothing better than to spend time with them.

I know that for many people, college is where they find their first true tribe. It may be the people on their floor at the dorm, the classmates in their major, or perhaps their pledge-mates in the fraternity or sorority. Whatever the case, I think that the passions stirring in the hearts and minds of people that age tend to make the different energies more clear to one another and more magnetic. Kindred souls find each other more easily. I didn’t have that experience, though. I had friends, but not a tribe.

I can say the same thing about the next few places I moved to and “settled down” as a young adult. It would seem most likely that I would have found my tribe when I moved to Los Angeles to be an actor. After all, there were other actors and artists all around me. I had the makings of a tribe, too–a couple of actors and writers who got on well–but our various life paths seemed to diverge before we congealed into a true tribe. An opportunity lost.

After a couple years of mostly solitude, you might have thought I would be so starved for companionship that I would have easily merged with a tribe when I returned to the university setting, especially since I was a huge fan of knowledge. Surely there was a crowd for me. Right? Nope! I bonded with a few of my professors on my first stop, but they were mostly separate relationships and never became a unified group. At the second school, where I was pressed into close quarters with people studying and teaching exactly the same thing as I was, I still never found that genuine kinship.

When I moved fully into “career mode” in a unique, small, and tightly knit profession, I might have guessed–again–that I had finally found “my people” and would quickly merge with a handful of them into a tribe who would work and play together and commiserate afterward over refreshments. Again, no such luck.

The other place where I thought there was a decent chance of finding my tribe was in my neighborhood. I moved here when my kids were just babies and planned to stay here for, well, forever. I figured that being surrounded by so many other people with families who shared the same schools and frequented the same stores and libraries and such, I (and possibly my wife, too, as a couple) might fall in with a pack who would gather regularly–often with kids in tow–and grow old together like regular social animals. I’m sure you can guess how that has worked out.

I say all of this not in a “Poor me!” sort of way, but rather to make a careful chronicle of my potential connections and missed opportunities all along the course of my adult life. When I see it laid out like this, with all the different chapters along the way, it is clear that, whether through circumstances or choice, I have never been a part of a tribe. I have never felt that sense of belonging. I have never felt simultaneously challenged and inspired by my nearest companions. Never felt completely understood and thus never valued for who I truly am.

That seems pretty sad when spelled out like that. It sounds like I have missed out on the best Life has to offer.

But I think it is more fair and accurate to say that, more often than not, I have opted out rather than missed out on finding my tribe. Because honestly, it is not as though I have made any special effort to make it happen. I haven’t pushed past my comfort zone to put myself into extra social situations in order to “audition” more people for the potential tribe. I have remained my introverted, solitude-loving self all along the way, even when I knew it was costing me opportunities for new and deeper friendships and love.

So, while I know that sometimes this stuff comes down to simple luck–you randomly end up in a classroom or office full of kindred spirits or on a bus seat next to your soulmate–I certainly believe that much of it comes down to the choices we make. At each stop on my journey, in each high-potential group, I could have said “Yes!” to more invitations or set up gatherings of the people I felt drawn to or simply struck up a few more conversations. I can say categorically that I have been consistently awful at that sort of thing for as long as I can remember. If I were to have a tribe by now, it certainly would have been by one of those random lucky circumstances I mentioned above, because it is painfully obvious that I have not done my part to make it so. I have to own that.

But is it really so bad not having a tribe? I mean, all of this talk of missed opportunities and no sense of belonging is making me depressed, but is that depression justified? Is a tribe all that important? I am very, very happy, after all. My life is filled with blessings. I relish fatherhood. My wife is great. I love writing. Sure, I wish I had more close friends, but only close ones. I don’t care about more acquaintances. And I know who I am: I am an introverted guy who has high standards and very little tolerance for small talk or anything else that feels like shallowness. Given the opportunity for solitude or a group activity, solitude wins almost every time with me. Probably I should just accept that I am a loner at heart and be on my merry way.

And yet, I cannot help but admit to some longing for a true tribe. I have romantic images in my mind of being a part of a group of kindhearted artists and social justice activists who encourage and inspire one another as they work to make the world a better place. Are these people even out there? And if so, can they come to my house somewhat frequently but only when I feel like it? Ha! Herein lies my problem. I want that communion, but I want it on my terms. Judging by the last 25 years, one clearly precludes the other. Welcome to my world: where personal boundaries override social desires.

I think I will just look for a great friend. Just one to start. If that works out, expansion of the circle will be taken under consideration. Who knows? Maybe in our little pair, the seeds for a tiny tribe will be planted. I would like that. I could grow the way the tribe grows: organically. As I have become more conscious of my patterns and tendencies, I see that it will take a focused discipline to become and remain open to the possibilities for belonging. I can do that. Kindred souls, I am ready for you!

How about you? Do you have a tribe? Open up your journal and examine the course of your life and the closely-knit groups that you have been a part of. How many (if any) of those groups would you consider to be a tribe? What do you think elevated that group to Tribe status, rather than just, say, a group of good friends? What united you? How many people were in it? Do you think there is a maximum number beyond which a group would be too large to be a real tribe? Is there an ideal number? Have you been in more than one tribe at once? How many tribes have you left behind? What were the causes? If you have never been in a tribe or once were but are not anymore, do you feel like you are missing out on something important by not having that group of kindred souls in your life? Can you be just as happy and fulfilled in life without a tribe? What do you suggest–for yourself or anyone else–as ways to find a tribe? Has that worked for you in the past? Which areas of a person’s life are most likely to engender a tribe: work, school, family, spiritual community, neighborhood, gym, social cause, bar, hobby, or something else? What percentage of people in the world do you think belong to what they believe is a genuine tribe, with all of the special feelings that go along with it? Are you one of them? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you a member of a tribe?

Thrive today,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, I hope you will share it. Perhaps that share will be the start of a tribe.

P.S.S. If taking a deep dive inside your heart and mind is your thing, check out my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailer.

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