There is an I in Tribe

What is a ‘Tribe?’

As humans we all are part of and operate in systems. We call them families, teams, groups, or more recently “tribes”. There are traditional models of these systems, and there are the individual definitions of these systems. Different personalities tend to gravitate more heavily to certain systems over others. For some, their primary tribe is clearly their social or family network. For others, their tribe may be those they work with or seek to achieve with, such as a sports team. Many of us probably consider of ourselves part of two tribes or more. However, no matter how maverick you consider yourself, unless you are a recluse – you have a group of people with whom you behave with (care, love, work, achieve, strive and fight etc.), care for and confide in.

When loyalties are formed to our tribes, we begin to feel pressure mount. This arises between the need for our personal identity/development and being a “team player”. Sometimes, these concepts go hand-in-hand. Particularly, when we are in a junior position seeking to learn from our elder tribes-people. As we get older, this pressure will inevitably mount as we seek to flex our influence and autonomously.

How does this pressure manifest?

Naturally, this is seen frequently in child-parent relationships, as we grow and seek to begin our own lives. We are faced with the challenges of forming our direction and “leaving the nest”. We also navigate the tricky transition from child and dependent to friend, equal with our parents. This is not easy, requiring growth and role change from both child and parent. Less organically, we see this in the professional world as juniors seek more opportunity and begin to set eyes on their managers “mentors” position. It is greatly seen in team sports where rookies seek to find their position in the team. These can overlap with roles the more senior players have traditionally occupied.

These times of individual growth should continually present themselves throughout life. During these periods, we seek to remain a positive contributor to the tribe but must also learn to prioritise ourselves. This pressure mounts as  internal conflict arises. We have always been told that “The right thing to do, is that which is best for the greater good”. Subsequently, we naturally prioritise what is best for our tribe. If this occurs, we generally have one of three reactions.

What are our reactions to this conflict?

Firstly, we can compromise our commitment to our own development. This is to maintain our “safe” position in the tribe and not rock the boat. However, this dilutes our focus and discipline. On the other end of the scale we can become completely selfish. Through developing a competitive based mindset, we seek not to grow ourselves, but replace someone else within the tribe. We  exclusively prioritise our own pathway. This can involve withholding information which may benefit others in our tribe. We can also withhold imparting knowledge to others, as this is a threat to our own progress. We become aggressive rather than assertive.

The third response is in the middle. This involves balancing an assertive personal drive with the appropriate humbleness. This allows us to to maintain a contribution to the tribe, while helping develop individually.

Why do these mindsets occur?

The key to the third mindset is having clear expectations and accountability for ourselves. We also need to accept fallibility as a temporary part of our journey. Often, we enter mindset 1 (give in to the group) when we are not clear of our own expectations, on ourselves and of others. When we envisage our growth ahead, we need to have a clear understanding of what we expect from ourselves in regard to discipline and priorities. If we are clear of the accountability that lies on the journey, we can avoid distraction. This allows us to assertively reject committing to actions that others may want us to be involved in (e.g. socialising, fulfilling the child role) which detract or sacrifice from time committed to our pursuit. If we are clear on what these actions are, we can direct ourselves with confidence.

Mindset 2 prioritises our own progress to being number one rather than the development of greater functioning and understanding. This comes from a place of survival. Where we feel that if we are not seen as indispensable to the tribe, then the tribe will not want us as part of it anymore. This can breed a mindset of competing with our tribe rather than growing through it. How we view our personal mistakes and failures as well as the success of others is critical to avoid on-boarding this approach and actually enhancing our own development.

What do we take away?

Mistakes are temporary – they are the best learning opportunities you will have. Admit when you make them so you can own fixing them (rather than excusing them or twisting the situation so they don’t “exist”). Remember to celebrate the successes of others in your tribe. Their success doesn’t mean you can’t also succeed, and if you review closely what they did, how they succeeded/conquered… you may even find ways you can grow also. So remember while there is an I in tribe, without the other letters it loses a lot of its meaning.

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