The Tribal Necessity


Soon after being elected to the leadership team of my teacher association, I was sent to Anaheim to learn things about being a leader. Coincidentally, although I’m not sure I believe in true coincidence, Sir Ken Robinson was a keynote speaker at the leadership summit. And, beyond being a man who understands education far better than most of my colleagues or I do, he is a man who understands the human drive to use our lives meaningfully and satisfyingly.

Upon returning home from the summit, I went out and purchased one of Sir Ken Robinson’s books, The Element, which, as the title suggests, is about human beings finding and living in their element. I honestly didn’t buy the book with any plan for it to impact my life. I bought it merely because that’s what I do: I buy books – more books than probably anyone you know. I certainly buy more books than I read, which is one of those quirks transferred to me through genetics or upbringing… or both.

I bought the book, shelved it, and went about my business. At the time, I had no plans of quitting my job for at least a year. My reign as secretary of the teacher association was to last three years, and, though I was skeptical about my ability to endure teaching for that long, I was certain I’d serve at least one year, and I intended to try to make it all three. In three years, I would have invested enough time into teaching to get an increased portion of Arizona State Retirement, so it made sense to serve my whole term.

And yet, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… I quit my job.

It’s a strange thing to explain to people why I quit, because it wasn’t a decision that I thought and prayed about, the way I think about pray about most life decisions. It was an intuition… sort of. It was a whisper from the Almighty. I’m a firm believer that God often nudges us and we often miss it. Therefore, there is a certain ineffable inkling I get sometimes that I attribute to God. Yes, that’s impressively touchy-feely and not at all practical. However, no amount of reasoning with me will convince me that God hasn’t provided me with moments of intentional, specific revelation, and in those moments, it seems appropriate to always, without question, reason, or delay, do exactly what I believe God has told me to do. I might be wrong… I might be justifying my own desires by attributing them to God, and yet, I hope that anytime you believe God has told you to do something… you will do it.

I wrote my letter of resignation without any sense of what I’d do to make money and pay my mortgage. The people around me expressed enthusiastic envy for my situation, which was humorous to me, because anyone who wants that situation need only walk into his boss’s office and say, “I’m done,” and yet, that’s not what people do.

I finished reading whatever book I was reading at the time, and decided to pull out my Sir Ken Robinson, and have a go at The Element. Beyond the book just being an excellent reminder that people are all unique and fascinating, it was exactly the book I needed to be reading.

As I reflect on my life and what the book has to say in regards to me, I don’t think I became a teacher because I was passionate about it. I think I did it because it was a practical way to be around books and language every day.

Chapter five is the one that brought me to this conclusion. It’s a chapter about finding your tribe. I know it sounds a little alternative and hippyish, but it hit me pretty hard. There are tons of bloggers out there (Seth Godin is one, I think) who deal with the idea of tribe, and it usually goes something like this: a tribe is a group of people who speak the same language, share values and beliefs, defend and nurture one another, and live life together. This idea of tribe is inclusive of families, religions, gangs, etc… One way Robinson describes the tribal sense is, “common commitment to the thing they [tribe members] feel they were born to do.”
I think everyone has felt this sense of tribe at one time or another. I can think of exactly two tribes to which I’ve thoroughly belonged in my life: the softball tribe and the church tribe. Of course, there are sub-tribes (as if that’s even a thing) within each of those tribes, and the feeling of connectedness hasn’t been 100% consistent for me, but when I’m speaking with someone who isn’t a part of the softball tribe, I always find myself trying to explain things that can’t be explained, and it’s that sense of separateness and aloneness that I think frequently leads people to depression. I think we were meant to connect with other human beings in this tribal sense – that a need to understand each other beyond explanation is built into our DNA.

I think I’ve been missing that. After quitting softball, I didn’t feel connected to anyone for quite awhile and I was depressed, and after my church dissolved, it was the same thing, only more intense… that longing for tribe. I wouldn’t have identified that as a root of my depression before, but it became clear to me as I was job searching and reading Robinson’s book.

Now, get ready for another impractical and somewhat impulsive idea. I think I should go back to school and study creative writing. I’ve resisted this idea in the past because I’d probably have to take out student loans in addition to working full-time while going back to school. Additionally, a masters degree in creative writing isn’t the kind of thing that gets a girl jobs. It’s one of those degrees that in many ways seems useless.

And yet, I think my sanity and sense of contentment require it. There is currently only one person who gets my love of story. One. And she’s moved away.

I reserve the right to completely change my mind tomorrow, but, for today, I plan to set myself on a path of MFA in creative writing.

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