Lost Your Vibe? Find Your Tribe
When you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself. I was sick of following a path that only had one destination (retirement). I was done with being told what I had to do. In the same sense an athlete can't blame their coach for a shitty performance, I'd be forced to take responsibility for my life and what I made of it. Entrepreneurship enticed me with its all-in philosophy. I knew it meant starting from scratch, a damn scary realization in your mid-thirties. Was I being crazy? Crazy felt like doing the same thing I was doing and expecting different results. Either I had to change my expectations of working for someone else or I had to leap and see what was on the other side. I wanted a job to be more than just a means to a paycheck. I heard how others talked about their careers. It's a source of purpose and meaning, a place in the world. That's what I dreamed of. A blank canvas to paint a fresh start.
As I stepped into entrepreneurship, a bucket of ice water to the face served as reminder shit was going to be hard. "Professionals" from LinkedIn, Facebook and Saw-movie-level-painful networking events were sobering. They wait with greedy little grinch hands to play on your vulnerability of not knowing what to do. I was desperate to make it work. It felt like opening your eyes in murky swamp water. You can see shapes and movements, but good luck being able to navigate to clearer waters. It feels like you're drowning, yet you're surrounded by life preservers, only to be picked up, driven further into the swamp and tossed back in. You get further and further into the darkness of feeling like there's no ground under your feet to stand on.
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” As unconventional as that sounds, it comes from one of the most prolific entrepreneurs of all time, Sir Richard Branson.
He's challenging us to stop looking at traditional models like school as a means for answers. School is to education as McDonald's is to innovative, sustainable cuisine. This is why when you read and listen to so many successful entrepreneurs, they typically didn't do great in school. They hated school. Branson has dyslexia and had poor academic performance; on his last day at school, his headmaster, Robert Drayson, told him he would either end up in prison or become a millionaire.
There are no tried and tested rules for starting a business that guarantees success. Successful entrepreneurs create their own playbooks. They don't grab a single textbook, listen to one teacher and take it as dogma. Entrepreneurship can't be approached like school. There is no test. There is no right answer. There is only what works for you. Mark Twain put it like this, "I never let school get in the way of my education." You have to treat entrepreneurship with a similar mindset of experimentation. But more important than any strategy is the belief system you carry and how you see yourself in the world.
The soap company Dove had a brilliant ad campaign back in 2013 that unmasked the power of beliefs. They hired an FBI-trained forensic artist to draw women, the catch being, he couldn't see them, he drew the picture based on how they described themselves. Later, the artist would draw the same woman based on how a stranger described her. He may as well have been sketching two different people. The stranger viewed the women in their true, beautiful light. The women described themselves with beliefs that limit them, rather than serve them – robbing them of the ability to be content and accepting who they are beyond flesh and bone. We have a nasty habit of believing what we're told by those we trust. It's a delicate dance between two worlds of what we want to believe and what we believe because we think we have to.
How can we see ourselves for what we truly are if we can't even describe what we look like in a mirror–where we can see, touch, measure and validate our opinions? The beliefs behind our eyes are much harder to describe. I recommend starting with figuring out what signals your emotions are trying to tell you. I write about this at length in the article The Six Steps To Master Your Emotions As A Creative Entrepreneur.
When you first dive into exploring the signals behind your emotions, the water can feel like it's over your head.
Seth Godin in a recent blog post shared two analogies that might help you decode some of these moments. It brings a level of clarity to what you're looking at and feeling.
It’s entirely possible that the water is quite deep. The thing is, if you’re used to swimming in water that’s six feet deep, then sixty feet of depth is actually no different. It’s not more dangerous or difficult, it simply feels that way. Giving a speech to 20,000 people isn’t twenty times more difficult than giving one to a thousand.
It’s worth reminding yourself, regularly, that the work hasn’t changed, merely your narrative about the stakes involved.
On the other hand, if you’re used to surfing 6-foot swells and you find yourself on an island of the coast off Indonesia—where the swells are 25 feet—this is a good moment to sit on the beach for awhile.
Surfing bigger waves is not the same as surfing small waves but with more effort. It’s an entirely different interaction, and it’s not all in your head.
Take a lesson. Take five lessons. Give yourself the room to learn. Don’t jump from 6 to 25 in one day. And don’t assume that just because you’ve figured out how to survive at 25 that you’re ready for 50. Big waves are usually right next to big reefs.
Begin with the question: Is this a deep water problem or a big wave problem?
The internet is filled with deep water moments, and we can get our narrative straight and learn to thrive even when we think the water is too deep.
And our careers often offer us big wave moments. When you see one, don’t walk away right away, but get yourself a coach.
The real breakthroughs in our transformation are sparked through a connection – in meeting people who think like us and see us for who we really are, even if we're still struggling to see ourselves in that light. You are the average of the five people you hang around most. How do your friends, family and coworkers see themselves? How do they talk about themselves and others? Do they push you to expand your worldview?
Find your tribe. Seeking out new friends, people to talk to or attending networking events can feel nightmare inducing. Start with podcasts. Think of it in the sense of six degrees of separation. Start with a podcast like Tim Ferriss who has a huge range of guests. Write down the names of people that speak to you. Everyone has a website, podcast or twitter. You begin to see there are others who think like you do. These are the people that you dive into. Listen to what they say, who they admire, who goes in their circle and you learn to use those connections as a means to find what works best for you.
Looking for a starting point?
It's hard to describe how damn good it feels to find your tribe. I have a chubby little pug named Chugs that slips on our hardwood in panicky excitement as he dashes to the door to greet me from the gym every morning. You'd think I was returning from war. He's smarter than I am. He doesn't need a reason to be happy. He found his tribe. Lindsey and I are damn lucky to be reminded of this. Your tribe doesn't have to span the globe or have a reach of millions to feel a part of something. It starts with a single belief that you have what it takes.
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare;" said Stoic philosopher Seneca, "it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” The smoothest life paths sometimes fail to teach us about what really brings us satisfaction day-to-day. The struggle is part of what later gives us the ability to appreciate what we otherwise would have taken for granted.
Had I not found my tribe, I would have given up. I would have thrown in the towel and retreated to going through the motions with my tail between my legs. I would have had no one to tell me these feelings of doubt, fear and moments of painful truths are part of the journey for everyone in pursuit of entrepreneurship.
It's that reminder that you only need to take one step at a time. As you struggle, remember, it’s far better to be exhausted from lots of effort and learning, than to be tired of doing absolutely nothing. I'll still have those moments where the thoughts creep in and feel overpowering, but those are the days I lean into my tribe. You need to spend some time crawling through the dark to fully appreciate what it is to stand in the sunlight.