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Juli McClelland

The painful side of growth: overcoming loneliness when migrating tribes.

I remember when I hit my limit with the friends I’d been spending all my time with. It was a Saturday or Sunday morning, one of those coveted weekend mornings I’d look forward to at the end of every depressing workday.

I was hungover, I couldn’t do anything but sleep my stabbing headache away. I hated that headache. I hated feeling like puking. I hated that my precious free time was being wasted trying to recover from a night I didn’t even enjoy. I hated that my bank account had less money in it—and that the money had gone to giving me a hangover. What a stupid concept.

This wasn’t the first self-induced hangover that I was frustrated about. Why did I keep saying yes to these people, to going out to bars and staying out late and getting drunk? I didn’t even like going to bars. Why wait in line to get into a jam-packed, obscenely loud place playing music I detested, to do nothing but yell over the noise, and drink overpriced cocktails (or worse, shots), just to produce a hangover? What was the point of this all??

I was frustrated at myself for continuing to participate in something that I didn’t even want to do. I’d moved to this city a couple of years prior and made friends, but didn’t feel like I’d really found the friends who got me. I didn’t have a group of girlfriends who wanted to have meaningful conversations, or talk about things that were vulnerable, genuine, inspiring, ambitious, exciting—I wanted to talk about real things, and about big ideas! I wanted to spend time with people who were growing, who were pushing their own limits and stepping out of their comfort zones. I wanted to have deep conversations with good friends and be supportive of each other. 

It seemed like the people I was calling my friends at that time were only interested in staying on the surface. They weren’t into big ideas, they definitely weren’t getting out of their comfort zones.

At work, I found myself amongst another not-for-me crew. I remember my team all crowded around my team lead’s monitor one morning and I walked up to see what was going on. They were looking at a very detailed spreadsheet, one my lead had created to determine how he would spend his fantasy lottery winnings. He knew exactly what he would do with every dollar for the rest of his life. There was some mega-jackpot-blah-blah-blah happening at that time, and my coworkers were all buying in.

In this moment, I sensed a different energy; usually they made drama over the news, weather (for real), pop culture, things of that nature. But this time, I was getting to hear and see them dream big. It was a little exciting. I asked questions and loved hearing about the big dream life they planned for themselves. Everyone agreed they would quit their job on the spot if they won, never come back to their desk again. 

In that moment, I was starting to think I was with my people, the dreamers and the doers. But the bubble burst quickly when I asked, “Wait a minute, if you hate this job and your life so much, why don’t you do something about it? Why not find a way to create that dream life you want?” All the air left the room quickly as my team lead deflated with a “mehh”. His personal motto was “aim for mediocrity.”

That’s when I knew, this wasn’t the tribe I was looking for. I don’t even think “tribe” was a word people were saying at that time—I just knew I didn’t fit in with them. I wanted more, I wanted to reach higher heights in my life and see what I’m made of! 

That was my big challenge at that time, I had people in my life who didn’t understand me, and who had no interest in going where I wanted to go. But I also didn’t know where my people were or how to find them.

So those Friday/Saturday nights I kept saying yes to the thing I detested doing, I was hanging onto companionship. I was afraid that if I started saying no, they’d completely stop asking me to hangout at all—and then I’d be all by myself. 

But that one Saturday or Sunday morning that I was hating my hangover and the decisions I’d made, I decided I didn’t care anymore. I realized it would be way more enjoyable to stay in and be alone on Friday night doing something I wanted, instead of one more night doing something I hated, just to be with people.

It seems simple now, but there is fear in leaving a tribe. It’s primitive—tribes are safe. We’ve evolved in many ways, but tribes are still safe spaces for us. One of our highest human needs is love and connection. Our very basic need is certainty, which creates safety. We want to make sure our survival needs are met—food on the table, money in the bank, a roof over our heads, be in a safe physical environment. We also want to feel safe within our bodies—safe to be who we are, because we connect that to acceptance, and more importantly, to love. We all want to be loved. 

Our tribe as a collective shares norms, beliefs, practices. There’s a range of those within a tribe but only to a certain degree, otherwise we don’t belong anymore. For example, a tribe might have different religious practices and be accepting of others who go to different churches, but the general idea is believing in something the tribe feels is “good”. If you’re in this tribe and you want to pray to mermaids and worship your blessed seashell collection, well they can’t get behind your practice. And if they don’t accept mermaid worshipping, you won’t feel safe to wear your puka shells without judgment. 

That’s when we start looking for our other tribes. You might start scouring the internet for a leader of the mermaid church, subscribe to her weekly videos and connect with the other members. You’d feel safe with them to wear your puka shells, to share your favorite mermaid prayer and show off your collection of holy seashells.

That’s why growing can feel lonely. It’s strange really, something that is so fulfilling and exciting can also feel isolating. It can make us questions ourselves, our wants and dreams. It can make us ask if we’re just crazy, and why can’t we just fit in with the others?

You’re not meant to. It’s ok.

It takes courage to be who you know you’re meant to. It takes courage to have boundaries and declare what you stand for, what you will/won’t allow. It takes courage to do something against the norms of your tribe.

You’re amazing.

And it won’t always be so hard.

When I first started seeking my tribe, I joke (er maybe not), that my new friends were podcasts and books. I didn’t know where my people were just yet, but I had evidence of others in the world who were my people. I consumed growth-based content like it was oxygen, I loved it. I felt so good learning and taking more action in the life I wanted to create. I joined an online community, and when I got a little more brave, I started my own. 

It wasn’t a grand success, I think there were 10-12 women in my group, and the online engagement was super low. But it showed me there were people who also wanted more. I kept going down that path—I went to a book signing for one of the authors I loved, and there I met more women, just like me. Women who had the same wants, dreams and fears. I made a handful of friends, not just acquaintances, and maintain those close connections to this day. 

I’ve continued to put myself into spaces where I might find people who are like me. And, I also try connecting with others at a deeper level too. Not everyone is receptive, but I’ve been blown away by how many people are. People I had previously written off as “not my person” cause he/she “doesn’t get me.”

So if I had one simple piece of advice to pass on, I’d say be yourself, even when it hurts. And keep putting yourself out there, you’ll find your people, and your people will find you.

If you know someone who could use a word-hug in this space right now, please share this with them.

And I’d love to hear what’s worked for you! How have you found your own tribe?

1 Comment

Nidheesh Pillai
April 11, 2020 at 6:33 pm

Lovely message indeed. Be You!

Nice click too! You have a lovely smile. 🙂

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