I was speaking with my friend the other day about tribes. Not the East African kind, but the sort we all belong to every day.

We have tribes for sports, cheering on our teams while hating and vilifying the other team. We have friendship circles that act as tribes. Our tribe could be anything, a hobby group, a band, or even a quilting club. I’m not one to judge. These tribes tend to define us in very limited way, shaping our identity and making us who we are.

american-indian-tribes-6Then he said something that struck me as distinctly profound.

He was relating a story about a man who grew up on an Native American Reservation but decided that he didn’t like the direction his people were taking, so he left the reservation. Essentially he became tribe-less. When he ventured out into the world he discovered that people off the reservation didn’t seem to overtly care about tribal affiliations. For example, when someone introduces themselves to you on the reservation, the first questions are often “Who is your father?” and “Who is your family?”, variations on asking about your tribe within a tribe. Off the reservation, the man noticed that instead of asking about our families or personal affiliations we often asked this one question as our sole identifier…

“What Do You Do?”

He found that we do still have the innate need to belong to a tribe, but what we consider a tribe has changed. Now we hold our company and workplaces to be our identity. Our work is how we define ourselves for the world. In a way, the work we do and our tribes have always been intertwined going back to the hunter gatherer days. However, the extent to which we latch on to this concept is greater than ever.

This got me thinking, is this why Generation X and some Millennials have such a hard time with the workplace? I know that I’m one of those that goes through the motions most days at my work, meanwhile searching for the “perfect” career or job. I draw my identity from my workplace, from the work that I do. My work is in effect my tribe.

Is that the best way?

Could we find a replacement for our work tribes? What about creating your own tribe of like minded individuals who go out and regularly accomplish great things? Would that be an acceptable substitute?

I think if any man or woman had access to such a membership, the angst and pain of not having the perfect job or knowing what your career will be, would recede.

Here are some tips for forming a successful tribe of your own:

  • Have a clear purpose – Most organizations, tribes, groups, even businesses whither away because they don’t have a shared vision. Even the Bible in Proverbs says that without vision, the people perish. People will attend,  go through the motions of being a member of the tribe, but they won’t stay if you don’t have a vision. I see this a lot in churches. Have a reason you are coming together, whether it’s community improvement, family improvement, supporting a charity, football, it doesn’t really matter as long as everyone is on board.
  • Determine how to achieve your purpose – It’s just not enough to have a purpose, you must go out and do it! Say you form a tribe of men who want to improve the local community. How will they accomplish this? What steps will the tribe take to improve the community? It sounds simple (and it is) but many a tribe has failed for want of planning. Figure out your goal, then how to achieve it.
  • Do work together – Nothing brings a tribe together like engaging in communal work. Whether it’s doing some form of physical labor or an intense mental activity, coming together to do work makes the tribal bond exceptionally strong.
  • Establish Tribal Rituals – People will come to your tribe because its purpose and activity draw them. They will stay because of the rituals you set in place. It could be something as simple and benign as a secret handshake, or an oath that you recite before you begin your work together. Develop some simple rituals that you can all accomplish together.

If we can form new tribes, away from the disappointment and despair of the workplace, then we might have a chance at reclaiming the power and peace that comes from belonging to a tribe of like minded believers.

How might you begin a tribe of your own today?


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