Find your tribe. It was practically the mantra of 2015. Blog posts, lifestyle columns, magazines, podcasts, and books have been advising us to find our tribe for several years now. I think it is sage advice. Finding a group of like-minded individuals to connect with allows one to have a sense of belonging. The antithesis of which, frankly, sucks.
The Training that Wasn’t
I completed a two-day training class at work today. I could drone on and on about what went right and what went wrong, but the net effect is that it fell short of my expectations and – even worse – left me feeling disconnected. The training was blandly titled, so I learned on day one that it was covering a series of topics of which – as a result of taking classes at past employers and through my own self-study – I have a deep understanding. As I learned throughout the course, I have a deeper understanding than the instructors. It happens. I’m a nerd. However, my disconnected feeling came from the fact that I was surrounded by people who are my peers or elders and they simply weren’t connecting with the material. I realized after a couple of attempts that while I could have helped move the class forward by supplementing the materials with my practical examples at nearly every turn, the room wasn’t up for it. So I just sat there quietly and watched it all move slowly forward like a car driving on a flat tire. After work, I attempted to communicate this to my better half, who did what any loving wife who is pursuing her Master’s degree in Psychology would do: she challenged me on it.
I’m paraphrasing here, but my wife told me that as long as she’s known me, I’ve expressed these feelings about training classes. They’re a waste of my time and such. She added that, with love of course, I’m being arrogant about knowing the material better than others. I had considered it. I considered it carefully before offering up the feedback at the end of class that I would have appreciated the opportunity to test out. I also don’t think that my wife is entirely wrong. In the past, I have been downright haughty over the fact that I knew the materials better than an instructor who was attempting to move the class forward. I mean, I’d like to get something out of my time investment. But… and I’d like to believe this isn’t my ego talking here, I think there might be something different going on now. I think this is the latest in a very long string of events in which I get excited to find my tribe only to realize it is a village of people wearing the hand-me-down shirts of my tribe because they left town a couple of years ago.
The Consummate Outsider
I was born and mostly raised in the economically depressed, Appalachian foot hills of the Ohio River Valley. Now famous for being the epicenter of America’s opioid crisis, Portsmouth, Ohio and the neighboring tri-state areas have been featured in books (Dreamland by Sam Quinones) and TV series (Heroin(e) on Netflix) for all the wrong reasons. This is small town, middle America where the oblong football is king and the schools effectively shut down for the first week of deer hunting season in the fall. As one might imagine, a naturally curious, rather slight framed, near-sighted and bookish kid from this area had some trouble fitting in. But by middle school, I had found a “crew” and we were all groping our way through the haze into high school. But then… two weeks before high school started, my father took a job transfer and moved us 350 miles away to the then extremely prosperous Northwestern Ohio town of Bryan.
With my southern accent, bad haircut, and not exactly impressive frame, I was among the first kids cut from the freshman basketball team because, and I quote, “You’re not from around here, we don’t know your parents and you didn’t go to our basketball camp.” Now, I want to pause here and tell my dear readers that this is not a pity party. Far from it. That move to Bryan, Ohio immeasurably changed my trajectory for the better and I frequently thank my lucky stars that it happened. At the time, however… not so much. I had finagled my way onto the eighth grade basketball team in my home town and I thought I was on to something. Having been rejected by my new town, I eventually found a spot floating between and among the real jocks, the stoners, the rockers (most of whom eventually turned into stoners), the gear heads, the comedians, and an on-again, off-again girlfriend in a relationship that would have fit nicely into a daytime soap opera.
Look, I get it. We’re all outsiders in some way shape or form. But let’s fast forward to today, shall we? As I sit here and write this… I am 43 years old. I am once divorced and twice married – the second time to my better half in every way. I have a 22 year-old son, an 18 year-old daughter, a 12 year-old step son, a 9 year-old step son, 2 dogs and a house that somehow fits us all. I gobble up books, but my all time favorite is Ulysses (think, cult following), I play guitar – but mostly songs you’ve never heard; I eat a plant-based diet and I love to cook. I run marathons, I am fascinated by Zen Buddhism and have a fledgling mindfulness practice. I work in a gigantic multinational corporation, which has exactly zero to do with my degree in Plastics Engineering Technology. I have additional college degrees and professional certifications that take me deeper into nerd-dom. I am an amateur photographer, but I could probably make some money at it. I am a former soccer player and coach, and an FC Barcelona FANATIC (we’re called culés). I enjoy traveling and practicing my two underdeveloped secondary languages – Spanish and French. Clearly, I’m a blogger. Camping and kayaking – yep; Wine? I bet I could help you find one you like. I am also an art lover and occasionally pick up a pencil or paintbrush to make my own. I hope I am painting something here.
I have nearly boundless energy for pursuing hobbies and interests. Now for the real inquiry: how on earth did a hillbilly kid of very modest means from an area known for its homogeneous distaste for anything outside or different turn out to be so… well, weird? That – I honestly cannot answer. What I can say is that it is VERY difficult to find a tribe and that will leave one feeling a good bit like an outsider. I have friends aplenty, and I love them dearly. But – for instance – it took a trip to Dublin, Ireland for me to find a group of people willing to sit in a pub and read James Joyce aloud. And that gentle readers, gets to my final point.
Know When to Move On
Judging from various social media forums and circles, I am not the only one who is occasionally frustrated by not having a tribe. I see people routinely standing on their digital soapboxes taking issue with everything from a neighbor’s words spoken behind the back to international ethical topics. I know, I know, freedom of speech and all. I sometimes think of what life would have been like if I had never made it out of West Portsmouth, Ohio. With all my energy and a very short list of opportunities, I would at best be a raving lunatic on social media. I was lucky that I got a chance to physically move on from there and many times since. Even though I still haven’t quite caught up with my tribe, I think I have found a village that’s wearing the shirts from last fall. If you’re struggling to be happy in your surroundings and feel like others don’t get you, it might be time to try a new village – either real or virtual.