Do you have a tribe? I’m not talking necessarily about the one you are born into, though that could work. I’m talking about the kind of tribe where you see each other regularly, have a common purpose for being there, listen, talk, and suggest, but don’t judge. Fires are optional. Marshmallows are good.
In our crazy, hectic lives, we tend to pooh-pooh the notion that we need this kind of refuge. Somehow, the priorities of the nut-case, dysfunctional colleague/partner become more important than the needs of our souls.
Humans have lived in tribes or similar groups for, oh, pretty much all of their history. Banding together for protection and community is what differentiates mammals from all the other types of living creatures on the planet. Alone, we are limited to just our strengths, and to our weaknesses. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts. We grow wisdom in community, and draw previously unknown strength from each other.
I’ve been reflecting on this as my own personal tribe, my Artist’s Way group, nears our 1-year anniversary. I started the group because I wanted to work through The Artist’s Way again, but not by myself. I knew my commitment would flag if I went it alone.
Well, we all did work through the book, and kept right on rocking from there. Last spring, we plunged into new-to-us art forms, to discover and push through our many fears about creativity. This summer, we’ve been (allegedly) reading Creative Is a Verb. This fall, it looks like we’ll be tackling Walking in This World, by Julia Cameron, and Raw Art Journaling, by Quinn McDonald.
I’ve gotten so much from this group. Deep friendships, caring sounding board, nurturing, motivation to tackle some hard things. Regardless of the book or activity, what we end up doing a lot is figuring out how creative work helps us to confront problems with:
- our motivation,
- what we want our work to be,
- what we want our life to look and live like,
- our spouses, and
- our families and other friends.
The gift of having a group to keep you focused on these important things is, really and truly, priceless. You get reminded about what is wonderful about you. You do the same for others. You get encouragement to just try a little bit. You don’t have to do it all alone.
Assembling Your Tribe
I’m betting most of you don’t have this kind of tribe. I never did when I was practicing. I had people whose offices I bitched in about the batshit craziness of law firms and their inhabitants, but we never worked to find solutions for each other, and for ourselves.
So put a tribe together for yourself. Make it a priority. A really big, honking, #1 priority, that you work on for a few minutes daily.
I’ve found that having something to center the discussion around is a key to this group. It’s too easy to lose focus and drift into complaining if you don’t. Some books you could use as your centering place might include:
- The Gifts of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene Brown
- A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink
- Learned Optimism, by Dr. Martin Seligman
- Flow, by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Steering by Starlight, by Dr. Martha Beck
- Linchpin, by Seth Godin
- The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
- Creative Is a Verb, by Patti Digh
I purposefully did not mention job-searching books, because those who want to leave law usually don’t have the foggiest idea what it is they want to do instead. Remember, focus on what you want your destination to be first, then when that’s good and solid you can pick up the how-to-get-there books.
More logistical suggestions for gathering your tribe
1. Who should you invite to your tribe? People who are looking to change, not just for a change. People who are open, whether it’s to new thoughts, new ways of doing things, or new ways of looking at themselves and the world.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t invite people whose inner critic is out of control and are super-needy. Everyone has critic moments and times of profound need. But if someone is unaware of the critic dynamic in her or his life, that person has other work to do first before joining your group. If they haven’t done the work, they will derail it with all those issues. People in your group should be aware of the critic dynamic and committed to corralling it.
2. Meet in a neutral place, like a coffee shop, a quiet restaurant, a book store or a library. Meeting at people’s homes can be burdensome, because it can invoke turf issues, clutter issues, and sharing issues.
3. Have a facilitator, probably you. That person’s job is to be part of the group, but also be the one who reels everyone back in to your book/theme when you’ve strayed too far away. (I know, that would never happen, but just in case.)
The facilitator also asks questions of those who aren’t participating as much, and gently redirects those who are talking a bit much. The questions work best if they’re open-ended, such as “I wonder if this would work . . .?” or “I was curious whether anyone else thought that the author was trying to say . . .” or “What resonated the most with you about this chapter?”
4. At first, you might err on the side of inviting more than your ideal number of tribe members. If you ultimately want a group of 5 or 6, try inviting 10 or 14. People who you think will drift off will surprise you and stick around, while many others will do the opposite.
5. Meet at least twice a month. Weekly is better in the beginning.
I know you’re saying you don’t have time. Or, asking how on earth you can find the time? But the better question is, do you have time to be deathly ill? How much time are you spending on being miserable, and avoiding work? If you can find time for therapy a couple times a month, you can find time for a tribe. It costs you less and it might just help you more.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer whose life is immeasurably better when she is surrounded by her tribe. Having trouble forming your own tribe? Jennifer can help you overcome those stumbling blocks. Find out how with a discounted sample coaching session—email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours.