Find your tribe
Connecting isn’t always easy.
Former US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, wrote in Harvard Business Review that, “we live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s,” and predicts this as the next big healthcare epidemic.
We are all so connected by technology, yet many feel alone in this crowded world. To flourish, we need to invest in connections with others that are real beyond the persona we project at work or in social media.
“3 a.m. Friends”
I’ve thought a lot about this, largely due to the consequences of a friend’s suicide. Certainly, we could text and talk whenever we wanted to, but that moment of losing Charlotte made me realize that more than ever in this globalized, disconnected, changeable world, we need personal connections, people I call my “3 a.m. friends.”
A core network of support, 3 a.m. friends are the people you can call in the middle of the night who will drop everything for you and help in your moment of need. I’ve had moments in the past where I was so upset that I literally walked out of my apartment in gym shorts with no money, crying, and called a close friend to say, “I just need to talk.”
She said, “Tell me where you are. I’m dropping everything and we’re going to go get a drink!” It didn’t matter what she was doing at the time, because our relationship in that moment was most important and she knew I needed her. We ended up sitting outside on the lawn near my apartment. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but it was so important to know that she was out there.
“I am Here for You”
There was nobody Charlotte could call at three o’clock in the morning who could come to her to intervene in a bad situation. My own long-distance let-down as a friend made me realize that there is an element of personal face-to-face connection that needs to be present in our lives.
When dear friends have moved away, I know I’ll need to have someone to take me out for that drink. It’s amazing that you can find a tribe of like-minded people anywhere in the world with just an internet connection, yet so many of us fail to invest in and connect personally with the people we can rely on for deeper support when life throws us a grenade.
Unfortunately, when we optimize for efficiency or “likes” over human connection, those relationships suffer.
Strength in Community: Find Your Tribe
Much like the tribes of the olden days, the community involves connection to place, routines, purpose, and working together to find solutions. Connected communities allow people to weather the emotional ups and downs of work and life. They also help to gain energy and inspiration in a less-structured environment. We can learn how to maintain our sense of belonging despite the transient reality of today’s modern world. Just by taking a lesson from the nomadic tribes that have managed to exist for centuries.
My Trip to Mongolia
In 2016, I went to Mongolia with Anthony Willoughby and Josie Stoker, who started the Nomadic Business School. They have been visiting nomadic tribes across Asia and Africa. Their purpose was to study how they’ve been able to maintain purpose, clarity, and agility over time. We stayed with a family in the Altai Mountains, camping around their yurt and using their horses and camels to explore the surrounding plains. The elder of the family, whom we called Ata, showed us tools they have used for generations. “This tent pole is from my great-grandfather and this is how we’ve managed to organize ourselves over time, where every season we must move, and we face great adversity,” he told us.
It was fascinating to learn how these people survived for so long. It certainly made me wonder what my own equivalent tent pole might be.
Community is Essential
In today’s world, we are continuing to find our own tribes. As Seth Godin, the wildly successful business executive, blogger, and author, discussed in his TED talk, “the internet has ended mass marketing and revived the anthropological human social unit of the distant past, which is tribes. It’s founded on shared ideas and values and it gives ordinary people the power to lead and make a big change.”
This concept is becoming even more fitting for the age we live in.
Anthony and his group talked to many different tribes to understand how some of the old ways can be transformed into the modern way we work. He says it’s about the connections that give us “airbags of trust” so that whatever happens, we can bounce back. Traditional societies are models for groups that form together around a commitment, a purpose, or a community. This is becoming more essential to our work lives today.
Think about what tribes you might belong to. Nurture them to develop a network of connections around your interests and values. Also to understand yourself more in the context of community.
We Are Like Trees
Shveitta Sharma, Chief Happiness Officer at the School of Happiness. She works with Google and other companies on interpersonal relationships and enhancing teams. Shveitta often talks about the connections we make, comparing them to the giant California redwoods. The trees are hundreds of feet tall and live an average of 500 years. One would imagine they have roots that connect deep into the ground to support those majestic branches.
The reality, however, is that their roots extend only six to eight feet. Their real strength is that they grow in clusters and use their network to support each other. When one of them gets “sick,” the others compensate by sending their nutrients to the affected tree.
They all hold each other up, which is a beautiful metaphor for community and resilience in our own lives.
 Vivek Murthy, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic,” Harvard Business Review, September 2017, accessed September 30, 2018, https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic.
 Seth Godin. (2009). The Tribes We Lead [Video]. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from https://www.ted.com/talks/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead?language=en.
 Anthony Willoughby (connections), interviewed by Diana Wu David of Future Proof, August 2018.
 Shveitta Sethi Sharma. (2014). The Secret to Being Happy [Video]. Retrieved September 30, 2018 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q6EEYoxSpQ.