Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Assembling Your Tribe

I was at a wedding recently and the bride and groom had written their own vows (Why do people insist on this?) and promised to be each other's "best friend."
I cleared my throat and squirmed in my seat. That's kind of a lot of pressure. And there is a gender gap about it. If you ask a married man who his best friend is, he will more often than not (especially if she's standing there) name his wife (Don't even get me started about what that says about the lack of male bonding and support in our culture). Ask a woman the same question and without hesitation, no matter who is there, she will name the woman to whom she most regularly complains about her marriage. She isn't insulting anyone, she just knows the difference.

 Life is long, if you are lucky, and complicated if you are breathing. Among other things you are going to need friends, mentors, confidantes, counselors, travel companions, work out partners, lovers, people to challenge you, people to accept you, inspire you, prod you, hold your hand and kick you in the pants. You are going to drain a single human being, putting all those expectations on them.

Take a deep breath right now and exhale the word "release" into all of your relationships...Release your death grip, release your expectations, release the people you care about from obligation.

There. Doesn't that feel better? 

You don't need one person. You are going to need a tribe. This idea is promoted by Sir Ken Robinson in his book, Element. He is specifically speaking of finding the people who share interests in your creative ventures. Those people who encourage you and share a passion for something with you. Musicians, for example, seek out other musicians to learn from, teach, and share with. It's why people with common interests form associations and clubs. If you are married to someone who has no interest in your passion for SCUBA diving or Star Wars then you already know how important your outside alliances can be.

I'd take it a step further than Sir Ken. Depending on your family circumstances, mobility, etc. you may need to fill family positions with people unrelated to you. If you have a parent who isn't trustworthy or family members who are distant, you should seek out friends for support. A friend of mine is a new mom and fairly new to town. So last year when she was pregnant with twins our coffee group became surrogate sisters dishing up advice. She dubbed us her Village People . Whether you believe it "takes a village to raise a child" or not, it certainly takes a village to keep mothers out of psych wards world wide.

I imagine my friend list as concentric circles narrowing toward the center like a target. The extremely small and carefully guarded center, I call The Inner Sanctum. Remember the ending of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Making it to The Inner Sanctum is like that. These are people who have proven they can be counted on to keep confidences, give sound advice, listen, and provide encouragement. I'm also more than happy to do all of those things for them. You know immediately in your own mind who these people are for you.

Are you holding on to a relationship where you are doing all the work or one where you feel emotionally exhausted after spending time with that person? Think of relationships as investments. You are investing your time, interest, and attention in someone. Don't waste your time making big emotional investments in people who don't have your best interest at heart, are unreliable, or untrustworthy. Do a gut check. You know who these people are too. You may not be able to cut them loose completely for a variety of reasons, but you can limit access. It may take a while for some people to reveal their true character. Don't ignore red flags.

People drift in and out of our lives for all kinds of reasons. The game changers come to stay. They make time for you no matter how busy they are. They have a genuine concern for your well being. They refuse to allow distance or any other obstacle to come between you. They are also rare.

Choose wisely.

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