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The kind of tribe with which we surround ourselves can make or break our quest for authenticity. Values like respect and honesty are integral to our relationships; without them, authentic living becomes a fight, rather than a journey.
So, what is the right kind of tribe?
In her excellent book Overcoming Underearning, Barbara Stanney defines what she calls ‘naysayers’ and ‘supporters’.
According to Barbara, four kinds of supporters are important in your community:
1. True Believers
These are people who recognise your potential and celebrate even the smallest success. They are the ones who say ‘go for it’ and are your community cheerleaders.
These are the people you turn to when you need a sounding board. They are the people you can talk to about your personal development, your quest to live an authentic life, and your challenges and successes along the way. They understand the steps you’re taking to change and are there to support you through the highs and lows of your journey.
3. Way Showers
Way Showers are role models. They might be people you know directly, or people you watch from a distance. People in this category are proof of authentic living. They say “you can do it too, let me show you how.”
Messengers are information-bringers. They are the connectors, the referrers and the people that can provide you with leads that will further your authentic living. These are people who say “I can help”.
The Fifth Category
And then there are the naysayers. These are the people who expect you to conform to their expectations, ideals and wishes. You can (usually, but not always) recognise people in this category by their use of emotive language, emotional blackmail, criticism, judgement and blame.
Your authentic self is likely to provoke people in this category. That has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
As we get older, we can find ourselves in several communities we didn’t necessarily choose: family relationships, friendships with people from our schools and colleges, friendships from work, and so on. These communities can be a source of comfort but, because of the ‘unconditional’ nature of them – the sense of obligation that comes from shared history, shared genes or shared experiences in the present – these aren’t going to be the communities in which we are necessarily able be our most authentic selves.
We might feel limited to express our authentic selves in front of our work colleagues due to the professional connection we have with them. We might be aware how much we have changed during the time we have been in certain communities. Some people in these communities – especially families – might have expectations about the way we should be, and the things we should do with our life. With friendship communities or old relationships, we might be aware that the person we have become – our authentic selves – might not fit in so well with that community anymore. Sometimes, this is simply because everyone in the community has gone their different ways. Sometimes, it’s because the community isn’t authentic, and your growing authenticity challenges them.
And that can be scary, because if we acknowledge that particular community is a block to our authenticity, then what?
Supporters: Yay or nay?
Grab a piece of paper and write each of the four headings at the top. Then, go through everyone you know and currently spend time with and add them to the relevant column. Include everyone who has some meaning or significance in your personal life. When you’re done, write down the total for each column at the bottom.
Note: There are some people in our lives – best friends, partners, parents, well- meaning aunts and uncles, siblings, managers, mentors – who are supposed to go in the supporter category, just by virtue of the relationship they have with us. For the purpose of this table, however, we’re disregarding labels and titles, and looking at reality. This table is for your eyes only, so forget about being polite or conforming to other people’s expectations: look at how the individuals in your community actually behave in real life.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of how your community is spread among the categories, spend some time thinking about these questions:
1. How does the spread look?
2. Are there any supporter categories that are looking a little thin?
3. Are there any surprises?
Now look at the naysayer category and think about the following questions:
1. How do I feel about each of the individuals in the naysayer category?
2. What affect does each naysayer have on me?
3. Based on what I’ve noticed doing this exercise, is there anything I could do differently in the future?
Sometimes we need to ‘fire’ our wrong people. They will cost you far more distress and discomfort in the long-term than making a difficult decision will in the short-term. When we invest in relationships with people who share our values, respect our values and support our growth, we’re giving ourselves the best chance of living a whole-hearted, authentic life.
Who would you like to see more of in your tribe?
Image: Ben Duchac