Tribe, Friendship, & Community

I recently got a group of women together to think about a topic of interest to us right now, and to get down to the core of the matter together. It was truly an amazing night, full of insight from all these rad, different women and connections being made. I think it is reflective of what is happening on a larger scale in our country right now, women speaking out loud what's been in our heads for years. Here is the talk I gave to spark the conversations that happened later. For anyone who wasn't able to attend I would love to hear your take on these topics that mean so much to women right now!

Recently I heard a surprising fact about war that got me thinking. In many societies throughout the world after a major disaster strikes or in times of war, societies expect there to be huge increases in depression and suicides, but the opposite is true. It actually seems to bring out the best in people. In tough times, we band together. We help eachother. And that feels very good. Suicide rates go down. There are no increases in anti depression medication. Communities have reported actually being happier in times of war. Think about that. Researchers think it has to do with the feelings of goodwill that form when we are all “down” and working toward something with our fellow people. Actually, I think that is what is happening right now to some degree. After the election, we all really banded together. We realized we needed to do more, and that we could make a huge difference. Just look at the the #metoo movement and TimesUp! Honestly, it could be possible that the best thing to happen to us was Trump winning. We shall see. It depends on if we all perish in a nuclear attack or loose all of our immigrated family and friends. But times are actually changing because of it, in some amazing, wonderful, powerful ways. When the chips are down, people tend to rise to the occasion. And that can feel really good. And powerful, like what I do makes a difference, which is what we all want to feel.

In contrast, when economies are up, suicide rates go up too. Possibly due to our tendency to horde. To feel that there might not be enough and I need to protect what is mine. I’ve finally got some and nobody’s going to take it. When times are tight I can be more generous, none of us have a lot, times are tough, we are all in this together! Along the same line, soldiers have long reported missing active service. Even in awful conditions, there is something to sleeping side by side with your “brothers”, working as a unit, having eachother’s back. Camaraderie is something very very powerful, that can easily be lost in today’s world where we can work from home and insulate ourselves. But I’m an introvert! I love working in my quiet office where no one will bother me! I get so much done!! In the beginning it actually shocked me how much I could get done alone. When I would work in a studio with a bunch of other people I would get so annoyed by the distraction of people coming to chat me up. I hate multitasking. I like to focus. I like it when I do one thing at a time and no one bothers me. I turn my phones off. I can’t stand alerts and message sounds. Just leave me alone so I can bang this out! Working in an office or studio everyone’s all chatty and hanging out with eachother. Much has been written about how many hours are wasted in an average office work environment. Most of us can get 8 hours of work done in 4 when there are no distractions, right?

But here’s the rub. Where is the camaraderie? Do I get the same feelings of belonging? We are hardwired to connect with eachother. If I’m just banging away by myself every day, does that bring on feelings of isolation? Does that start to make me feel left out on a subconscious level? Something that I might not be able to name, but I can feel like a dull pain? There are so many people working from home, or alone somewhere. Which is good, more freedom, less commuting and wasted time. We wanted this, but what are the side effects?

This is kindof gnarly to think about, but statistically, mass shootings happen not in poor communities, but in the middle class. This is where the affluence is enough to be able to isolate yourself. Affluence is supposed to be a goal, something good that gives you freedom of choice right? The blessing of the middle class is being able to take care of yourself without the help of the group. Maybe this isn’t a blessing but a curse instead. What is interesting is that in poor communities people band together and are often much tighter, closer than upper classes. There are so many hardships that come with being poor, but one thing they tend to do is be much more group oriented. We need eachother psychologically. And when we are alone all the time, we can feel extremely out of sync with the rest of the community. It’s taking its toll on us at a psychic level. When affluence goes up, so does suicide, depression, and PTSD. Modern society brings many wonderful things, but one of them is not psychological health. Thinking about this seems like time well spent right? What can we do to help this, and help ourselves?

In this modern age we don’t have to be a part of a team, and we certainly don’t have to be face to face. But the things is, even if we don’t always know it, we enjoy teamwork. We enjoy being a part of a group. So just because I’m an introvert, that does not mean I should just raise that up like a flag and say, “I don’t need to be with everyone, I don’t like it and that’s ok!!” I got so excited when all the introvert/ extrovert stuff came out. Yay!! I’m normal! I never have to go to a party again! Maybe we’ve taken that a bit too far. As we have a tendency to do, the pendulum has to swing to both extremes before it settles in the middle, where it should be.

In my own life, sure I can crank out all my work for the day alone in 4 hours, but what do I do with the other 4? I think I need to get the benefits of tribe back into my life. One of my good friends and I both work from home and sometimes we will get together on a week day to do a big walk and talk. That is a very good thing. Probably something I should put into my calendar as a committed event every week, like a business meeting. I also think having a regular mastermind group would be powerful. I had one for a full year where 4 of us would skype once a month. We were all blown away by how useful the feedback we gave eachother was. It was like a monthly focus group for our respective businesses. I think having a monthly meeting of a few women in my industry face to face would probably feel incredible. And I think the trick is to make it regular and committed. This is happening. I won’t back out. I would love to hear what you guys think and your ideas for building your tribe.

This brings me to Friendship. Female friendships are where it is at. Women supporting women is so huge. So affirming. So fun! It’s everything. We’ve all heard that awesome quote by Madeleine Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Yes. Honestly, when I hear of women who don’t have female friendships I always wonder what is going on there. Female friendships have always been one of the highlights of my life. They are what helps me feel ok in this world. Maybe because we are not bound to them by birth or marriage or any other contract. They are there by choice. And I think this is something we all could give even more thought and attention too. It’s something so life enriching that it deserves all of the care and thought we give to our love relationships.

Maybe one of the reasons I have such amazing female friends is that I am not passive about it. Like anything else in my life, I am very intentional about what matters to me. This means the friendships I have are the ones that work. I do not keep friendships that hurt me or that I feel are a one way street. If someone gives me “tough love” that does not work for me. But when “friends” say they are not going to sit by while someone makes a huge mistake, or they owe it to a friend to be blunt and “honest” with them, I shudder. That is red flag talk in my world of friendship. I do not appreciate brutal honesty. I think that comes from a deep set, possibly unknown, joy on the givers part to inflict pain in other people. Yes, we can be honest with our friends, in loving and kind and supportive ways. Honestly, I think what a good friend is supposed to do is exactly what some people say they cannot do: sit with their friend while they make a mistake. I am not going to fix the problem, I am going to witness it with them. We can put our heads together and brainstorm ideas if that’s needed. Or we will just feel it together, and not be alone. I feel no need to be the person saying, you are doing this wrong, you are making a mistake, you are hurting someone, etc. How do I know? I don’t have it all figured out. For me to say that you are blowing it is pretty judgemental. And judgemental is not a quality I look for in a friend.

This is how I've felt for 20 years, because I had a "friendship awakening" when I was in college. I had a dear friend who started making choices that I did not love. She seemed to be making bad decisions. At this time in my life I wondered if I needed to distance myself from her because of this. I still loved her, but I was embarrassed or something. I didn’t want others to think I was doing these same things (think drinking, drugs, sex. I was a prude for sure). Then she decided to get married! At age 20 to someone I did not like and I was quite positive she was making a gigantic mistake. I couldn’t support that! I couldn’t support her! The choices our friends make say a lot about us right? I could not be a part of it. The morning of her wedding I will never forget. I woke up with the most clear voice in my head saying, Snap out of it!! Your job in friendship is to support one another. Your job is to hold eachothers hands as you make the best decisions you can at each crossroad. This voice clearly said: true friends say: no matter what I will walk with you. Even if you mess up. Because I will mess up too. But we will do it together. You are not alone. I will not judge you. I will walk with you.

I went to her wedding. It ended in divorce. She went to my wedding. It ended in divorce. See what I’m saying here? She is still one of my best friends to this day, 28 years. That is my longest relationship! We are not the same person. We lead different lives. But I do not judge her and she doesn’t judge me. We support each other. I can not tell you what that support has meant to me over the past 28 years! That is trust and love that endures, that you can count on. That is family. It’s why I call certain friendships a Sisterhood.

From that wedding day epiphany on I have viewed friendship in that way, that true friendship is acceptance. If I love a friend I will accept her and her choices. I am strong enough in my own life to not need my friends to be exact replicas of me. Our differences can truly make us stronger.

When women do not enjoy female friendships and feel the sisterhood, I wonder if the type they have had in the past are the previous type, the kind with all the brutal honesty and competition. When we have these types of friends, it can sour our idea of what friendship can be. That is why I have always firmly believed that we are not all meant to be friends, and that sometimes people change and friendships run their course. We are just not compatible with everyone. And that is more than ok. I have had wonderful friendships that for one reason or another, started feeling bad for me. When I was around them, I noticed I would feel my intuition telling me this ship had sailed. I pay close attention to my intuition, with meditation and my form of prayer being great ways to plug into it.

I think we all agree that one of the most precious things we have is time. The time that we have available to devote to our friends is most definitely not unlimited. Why would anyone spend their sacred time on a brunch with a friend that feels one sided, or that they feel like crap after? When I spend time with a friend and leave feeling exhilarated, we talked about things that matter, I felt heard and seen. Maybe we laughed really hard, maybe we cried, maybe neither, but we connected and it felt true and meaningful. Those are friends worth having. That is time worth spending. Anyone that leaves me feeling uncomfortable or like I couldn’t be myself or like they would not tell me anything real is a friendship I don’t have time for.

I think it’s totally ok and healthy to let the friendship go. If my feelings are hurt, my therapist taught me to put them on my imaginary couch and tell them everything I have to say. Weirdly, this feels really good. No need to tell them in person. This is most likely just about me anyway. Then I can let them go with grace.

Other friendships seem to be forever friends. I don’t have siblings and have always taken my girlfriends as sacred sister relationships. I will devote all kinds of time and energy to these. We will travel together. I will make weekend trips and evenings out major priorities in my life. And by priority I mean, priority. Not, “hey my husband is out of town next weekend let’s get together.” That makes me crazy! What is that?? My close girlfriends get top billing too. We plan weekends away far in advance. To be honest, these sacred sister friendships have lasted longer than marriage or jobs or most things in my life. These are relationships that I take seriously and they get priority time. If one of them needs me, I am there. These women have buoyed me in my darkest, most lost hours. These are the people that matter. And I think we can show eachother that by not making our girlfriends play second fiddle, but actually get starring roles and priority in our lives.


Lastly, my good friend and I recently were talking about community. How she’s been so wrapped up in being a mom to her 2 young kids that she hasn’t had time to be a mom to other kids. What an interesting concept. That we can and should be momming to all kids, especially those that need more mom in their life. This really struck me and I think it’s powerful. Not just about momming, but how do we feel a part of the larger community? How do we spread our web? Something that I have struggled with is “volunteer work,” and I wonder if anyone else does too? Or I would love to hear your take on this. Generosity is by far one of my favorite qualities in a person. I try to be on the lookout, and if I see an opportunity to be generous or give at any moment I try to take that opportunity every time. I also like to regularly support others who are doing amazing work, there are so many great places around town and nationally. Giving money seems to be effective and makes sense to me. But every time I volunteer at a food bank or as a mentor or big sister type thing I always feel like it’s a weird dynamic. Like I am placing myself as the giver, and whoever is on the other side is the receiver. I don’t want anyone to feel less than. I don’t like seeing myself as Oh I have so much and I have it all figured out and I’m going to spend an hour helping poor you and then go on with my life feeling like I really gave and really “made a difference.”  Does it? And more to the point, what does it feel like to be on the other side of that help? It’s always felt condescending. How do we do it? 

Recently I got insight from my husband, he and I were talking about this and he put it as - there are so many different kinds of people, and I need to see my life for what it is. That I was born to a family situation that was healthy and basically thriving, and I was born with a mind and disposition that works in this society. My life has been relatively successful for many probably complicated reasons, and that just isn’t the case for everyone. Which is something I have always understood. He then pointed out that these wonderful organizations that help others in the community simply would not exist if it were not for volunteers. They rely heavily on them to even keep the doors open. So I can accept my spot in things and participate, or if it makes me uncomfortable I don’t have to volunteer. I can sit in my lovely home on a Sunday and go to the MAC. This hit me really hard. Like really hard. It was enough to snap me out of it find a place in Portland where I can volunteer regularly this year and see how it goes.

Brene Brown talks about something relevant to all of this togetherness in her book Braving the Wilderness. Her chapter called Hold Hands with Strangers was the most thought provoking one for me. I had never thought about how impactful it is to experience joy or pain with other people. I recently spent a lot of money to go see one of my favorite bands, Coldplay, perform live for the 4th time. Before the concert I was thinking, Why do I do this? Why do I stay up way too late and spend a bunch of money to hear the same songs I listen to all the time? The answer is the feeling you get when you are with thousands of your fellow human beings in complete joy and euphoria singing and dancing together. Are you kidding me? The energy and vibration in that is something you can not put a price on. That human experience is major. The same goes for tragedies, like after the horrible Max Train stabbing. We all found our way to eachother with vigels and supportive gatherings. To witness eachother’s sorrow and confusion. To be together is very healing and so important. In small ways and big ways. It doesn’t have to be Coldplay, it can be your kid’s soccer game. Which btw, I have never been into or understood. Will I really have to spend my weekends watching kids kick a ball around a field and pretend to care? Please no! Why? How about community. How about getting together with other humans to laugh and cheer and be cool to eachother. How about, we need eachother and it feels good to be a part of something.  

I listen to a business podcast called Build Your Tribe. But I think that is a great idea for life, not just business. Let’s build our tribe. Let’s help eachother out. Let’s work together. Let’s make it a priority. Let’s be better and stronger together. I think our lives might depend on it.

If this blog got you thinking I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! I can not thank the 25 ladies who came to the Talk enough for showing up and being such beautiful members of this Tribe. You inspire me. There are great things on the horizon for us all, especially when we come together. 

I am a very visual person, and I love to have reminders of ideas that mean something to me. If you are the same way, I made 8x10 prints of the image above and the one at the top of the page. Click here or on the image to have me send you one! 


Tribe by Sebastian Junger
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
Super Soul Podcast- Sebastian Junger