Two Decades to Build a Tribe

Truth Byte #43

“Life is a team effort.”

For many, many years, I bought into this lie that I was supposed to be able to do everything.

All by myself. 

As soon as I launched from my mother’s home into the big, complex world of adulthood, I assumed that I was on my own, and somehow, I was supposed to “make it”. Sure, I had friends and professors and bosses, but the responsibility for my life was now in my own hands, and I had to damn-well make it work.

And for a while I did!

Well, kinda.

I hustled through nine years of academia after leaving the shelter (and occasional mayhem) of my tight-knit family of origin, living on a shoestring student budget and the generosity of my mom’s and aunties’ unexpected and unasked for (but oh-so-needed!) long-distance cash deposits and care packages. Every so often, I would swallow my pride and even reach out to my long-lost dad for a little bit extra to keep the heat on and the gas tank half full and maybe a plane ticket home for Christmas.

But I was making it, right?

Kinda.

In between the late-night babysitting and bleary eyed tutoring jobs, I was getting that degree so I could be that grown up that everyone wanted me to be.

But when I met my would-be husband, everything about my solo life changed.

For the first time in my life, I felt like I could breathe. I was living back in my mom’s basement, completing my Ph.D. because it was unaffordable for me to continue another year in California while I completed my research and writing phase.

My old bed and old room were long gone, and I remember how proudly my sweet mother displayed the faded Mickey Mouse bedding in the new space she had carved out for me in her home. When my face fell, so did hers, and we realized simultaneously that I wasn’t a kid anymore, and yet I still couldn’t afford to really be on my own while I finished up.

Huddled in that basement at the unfamiliar desk, I sat, night after night, transcribing interviews, tearing up drafts, and chatting on MSN with the young, patient Chicago Cubs fan who I would one day marry.

And today, I can boldly say, I could not have finished my Ph.D. dissertation without his flirtatious encouragement and my mom’s persistent and relentless monitoring of my progress. (Some would call that nagging, but not me, right?).

So why am I telling you this story?

I want to remind you that you don’t have to do this alone.

Once I married him, I was sold. I realized I didn’t have to do this alone. I now had a buddy, a confidante, and a partner in crime who would do half of all the stuff I used to have to do all by myself.

And ten years later, I have realized that one person is not enough. It’s just too much pressure!

It was only after getting married, having two kids, owning a car, building a career, and buying a house (in my mind, the pinnacle of my personal capacity for “adulting”), that I was ready to take the risk and begin building a tribe of like-minded others. I had friends from my past, we all do, but they all live far away and none of them really know each other anymore. So I decided I needed a local crew, people whose eyes I could look into without a screen between us. I started small with invitations to coffee/tea/smoothie/some-other-drink to larger events like home-grown dinner parties for people I thought I might one day want to let it all hang out with.

Fast forward one year.

This weekend, I went out for dinner after an incredible workshop that I co-facilitated with three other therapists. Three.

For those of you that know me, you know how hard it is for me to share a stage.

Three other therapists. And I didn’t hog the mic.

During the course of the workshop, I realized how we gelled, how we built each other up, and how we were harmoniously helping the women in the room to come to their own aha’s. And as I looked at them, I didn’t see colleagues or my competitors.

I saw my girlfriends. 

These were women I had cried with and to, women who had poured out little pieces of themselves into me, women who faced the same challenges that I had, and probably do the same little happy dance in their messy kitchens or pristine offices when shit goes right.

At the dinner, I looked around at the table and asked myself: would I refer a client to these women? The answer was a resounding “YES!” Then I asked a bigger question. Would I refer my own brother or sister or mom to these women if any of them needed a therapist?

I was stunned to her the same “YES!” at the same volume in my head.

I have found a group that I respect professionally, and that I trust implicitly. Even with my own family.

Plus, we have fun and like each other’s fiances and husbands and kids and parents – which is important when you are building life-time relationships.

Almost two decades after leaving my mother’s house, I am finding my tribe.

And it’s such a relief! Though flying solo felt a lot safer, it also was uber lonely. When things went wrong, it sucked.  When things went right, I had very few people to share it with that actually got it. And though at times I am gripped with an irrational fear that they will ditch me unexpectedly, I remind myself that my ego is a tricky saboteur. It doesn’t approve of my vulnerability or this growing intimacy with people outside my tight-knit family of origin.

But my spirit knows that this path of life was not meant to be walked alone.

And I look forward to the tribe growing and evolving as we all bring back the deliciousness of life and share it with each other, and the world.

Curious about who these women are? Check them out: my powerhouse super-mama: Nasreen, my deep soul-sister, Shahaa, and my giggling girlfriend Jena. And join me at www.talktosaira.com or on Jena and my YouTube Talk Show Today is Your Day if you are tired of the loneliness and want to learn to build a tribe of your own.