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Comfort in my Tribe

When we are in the working phase of our lives, we grow accustomed to routine—so much so that when we are nearing retirement it is the lack of that monotony we long for most excruciatingly. I felt that same way in the last year in my job, my Retirement Countdown Calculator ticking away the days as I sat in meeting after meeting discussing concepts it seemed we had been debating since I began 28 years before. So it was lovely when my colleagues toasted me at my retirement party and I could move into this next phase, where ostensibly I can do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it.

It turns out, of course, as I’ve said here many times, that this kind of free-floating approach requires a completely different personality from mine, but I’m still enjoying my own version of exploration. As anxiety-producing as it can be at times, I’m liking the feeling of trying on new hats, gazing at myself for a bit in the mirror to test their fit. The exhilaration of getting to have a new identity—or, more accurately, many—is unexpected and delicious.

What I didn’t think about particularly when I was imagining my next journey was the profound role that our tribes play in buoying us along the way. I’m feeling so strongly now that our friends and families, our colleagues, our teams, our groups, our neighbors all play such a powerful part in helping us be who we are and even in letting us be someone new. It is those strong, confident, loving faces I think of in my mind’s eye when I am trying out a new idea or approach, or when I’m frightened of my next step.

It isn’t even the verbal connection I want as much as the sense that there are people at least a little like me out there on similar expeditions.

A year or so ago, when I was doing homework with my then-16-year-old friend Isabelle, I remember being struck by the drawings in her history book depicting the development Nile and the Ganges rivers. All along these waterways, where they could find greenery and shelter, enclaves of people would make places to live. On their journeys down the rivers, the banks barren in many places, the travelers sought comfort with each other where they could find protected land. Many would make homes in these oases, while others would stop for a rest before heading on.

These days, as I find myself experimenting and exploring, I feel like those very explorers. I can head out for miles in a new direction but then, without fail, I look for my people—the ones who get me, who see me, who will take time to sit with me and listen. As I try some different things, pushing myself to be brave and open, I find myself in new groups, different communities than I’ve been in before. It’s scary at first, finding my voice and listening to theirs, but that longing to belong, to be part of other people, is hard to fight. As an introvert, it isn’t even the verbal connection I want as much as the sense that there are people at least a little like me out there on similar expeditions.

And of course, even as I find myself on an adventure, bonding with brand new folks, it is still my home tribe that I crave, that I steer toward when the journey lasts too long or goes too far. It’s those people—the ones who know me, who laugh with and at me, who love me, who hold me close and are able to let me go when I need to—that are making the next voyage possible. If I didn’t have them here waiting, heading out to the unknown would be practically impossible.

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