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How to let go, be vulnerable, and build your tribe

Mind KEY / Lifestyle  / How to let go, be vulnerable, and build your tribe
build your tribe and find your people
Go out and build your tribe. Image by Charla Dury

How to let go, be vulnerable, and build your tribe

By Theresa Birmingham

This is the first in a series of six articles on how to build your tribe and includes a discussion on how to find your guy or gal pals, and how to go deeper with ourselves and become more vulnerable. Each article will focus on a different area of friendship and intimacy in order to not only build that tribe, but to create long-lasting bonds that transcend a game night. You can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends and the best kind of friend is the one who becomes family.


One of the most difficult tasks in this inundated digital age seems to be the ability to build your tribe.


Why it’s hard to build your tribe

Perhaps it’s hard to build our tribe because we use technology as a be-all, end-all, rather than as a tool. Perhaps the reason is because of the culturally driven lie that we need to be constantly busy. Maybe it is both of these, combined with the fact that we have this vaguely misguided idea that vulnerability is a weakness. Many of these tie back to an unhealthy ego and view of self. Without interaction, without those beautifully relaxing moments of bonding, without a strong sense of self and the ability to share our feelings, can we truly have a strong tribe and sense of self?

We’ve been busy or logged online 24/7, and although neither of these are bad in and of themselves, we treat filling our calendar and technology as the paths to everything, rather than the valuable tools they are. We have hidden away from the world in order to become strong, independent individuals; however, in the process of becoming independent, we have lost the true sense of self as it relates to a group. Independence is a blessing. Loneliness, seclusion, and isolation are curses.


Intimacy vs. Isolation

A predecessor or Freud, Erik Erikson, hypothesized eight stages of development. His psychosocial theory suggests that in order to have a healthy ego, we must successfully complete each stage. However, as many psychologists will tell you, stages are not necessarily linear. In fact, we may return to a stage several times in our lifetimes. One of Erikson’s stages is the idea of intimacy versus isolation. According to Simply Psychology, this particular stage spans a large part of adulthood. Anyone from the age of 18 to 40 is included in this life stage. Ironically, this is also the group that is most often attempting to build or maintain their tribes.

While all the former stages in Erikson’s theory need to be met in order to be truly successful and attain intimacy with others, one of the reasons intimacy versus isolation is the longest stage is because the former and latter stages of his theory play out in a circular pattern as we adjust to forming our bonds of intimacy. We form much of ourselves through independence, of course, but a truly healthy person also forms identity through the help, guidance, mentorship and camaraderie of others they trust or learn to trust through this growth.

But gah! How do you get there, right? How do you find those people?

Well, first…breathe. Seriously. This kind of thing takes time. Second, give this list a go and start in on that search to find your tribe—or maintain your tribe if you’re trying to build stronger bonds with people who are already yours.


Let’s build that tribe:

  • Join a meetup. I know it’s geeky and so early 2000s, but honestly, #fwtt (#fuckwhattheythink). You have this one life. Just this one. I mean, even if you believe in reincarnation and maybe you’ve got 2.2 billion lives as men, women, psychopaths, a granny, troubled kid, bird, tree, ant, or whatever… You still only have this one life AS YOU, as you are now, as this beautiful being that is who you have become and are becoming. So, seriously, join a meetup. They have everything from book clubs to hiking to “stitch and bitch” get-togethers to gamers to foodies and on and on it goes. Go, now. I’ll wait.
  • Join a gym. I know, I know. Sweat. Gross. But I’ll tell you, whether Bikram yoga, Crossfit, ilovekickboxing, or some other form of fitness, you will meet people. By pure virtue of the fact you are basically psyching up your brain so that it just might believe you are at war, you will make friends. It’s a tried and true method: Those who sweat together break bread together. Maybe you’re gluten-intolerant and don’t eat bread. Still, the rhyme applies. Get in a workout. Make friends. Go get food. Or alcohol. Best plan ever.
  • Date. Online dating isn’t just for finding your forever guy or gal. It also puts you in touch with people who share common interests, goals and hobbies. You might find a forever, but don’t overlook that “looking for a friend” button just because “looking for a forever” is right there. Sometimes, building your tribe means thinking of the now, this moment, and letting the chips fall where they may.
  • Following the same vein as above, start online. There are a million and one dating sites, yes, but did you know there are about as many friend-finding sites, too? A few of my suggestions (besides Meetup, which is more a tool to meet peeps outside of online) are Friendmatch, Facebook (join a group!), Nextdoor, Bumble, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Find people who share your interests. For those shy dudes and dudettes out there, you may be able to relax and share more from behind the screen. From experience, this won’t change in person. Because you’ve already shared, already made yourself vulnerable, and so have they!
  • JUST BE YOU. When you’re at work or one of your only friends drags you to some event, take a friggin’ breath and just let things be and be you. You will connect with someone—  you will— because if you’re just being you, and others see this, you’re going to find not just a tribe, but a tribe that is yours!


Word of caution: not to scare you, but in the business of finding friends, please please please treat it like dating. Check people out. Go in with both eyes open. If your gut is telling you something is wrong, listen. Protect yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually.


Go Deeper, Be vulnerable, Have fun

You’ve found some peeps to chill with, but how do you go deeper? For some friendships, it’ll be that instant click. Again, though, we are many of us a product of the digital age and ego-driven. It takes us time to let down our guard, to be vulnerable.


  • Play. Grab your pals and build some bonds. Hit up your local indoor karting adventure palace or a Dave and Busters or an arcade or even have a beach day or a snow day if the weather permits. Have fun. Be a kid. Open yourself up to possibilities. I guarantee you will find out things about each other. How we play is truly how we live.
  • Go outside. You may be sitting there saying, “Aw, hell naw, I’m a gamer, I don’t do nature shit.” Or you be saying in a frightened voice, “B-b-b-but, but what about my shoes?” I get you. I mean, I’m not a gamer or a fashionista. In fact, my favorite pairs of shoes are my cowgirl boots and my hiking boots, and also I close my eyes when I play Zombie video games because that shit is stressful. But otherwise, I get you. Nature can be what you will, ladies and gents. That means, maybe you grab lunch with some friends or coworkers and sit outside, take in the breeze. Maybe, instead of video games, for one night you let your geek flag fly by way of an outdoor scavenger hunt, a cool beach arcade, an outdoor renaissance fair, or a bike ride (because it really doesn’t get any geekier than bike shorts). Maybe, for my fashion-minded friends, you hit up an outdoor mall or buy a super cute outfit for a day at the beach, or you do yoga (in a new outfit) on the town square. There are a lot of ways to get out of your basement, or apartment, or the shoe store. Be creative. And just get out there with some friends.
  • Do not force it. This applies to finding as well as to bonding with your tribe so it bears repeating. Do. Not. Force. It. You will not get your tribe by worrying. Nor will you get your tribe by being someone you are not. You will not keep your tribe by pretending to like things they like. You will not keep your tribe by turning into a pretzel and bending to the whims and follies of every stinkin’ person around you. Have fun, don’t force it and just be you.
  • Host a game night. These are the best. I’m a little biased, though. I play Clue and Life and Yahtzee and Uno and Cards Against Humanity like they’ll go out of style without me keeping them alive. A game night is just another form of play. Added bonus: Throw in some booze and pizza, and you definitely bond and learn about each other.
  • If all else fails in this journey of letting go in order to build your tribe, have a glass of wine and let the shenanigans and sharing begin!


Go get ‘em, Tiger

You have already been given the tools to build your tribe. This means you can do this. You can have that fulfilling life you’ve dreamed of for so long. However, you need to grab it by the horns and tackle some of the ideas from the lists above.

Don’t be afraid. There is no need to fill your calendar with unimportant things in order to appear as though you’ve got it all figured out. Don’t just sit behind a computer and expect that you’ll have it all with the click of a button.

DO, however, be proactive and open. And, DO fill your calendar with purpose and game nights and honky tonks and bonfires and family get-togethers and nights of shenanigans and quiet hikes with family and friends. DO use technology as a tool to meet others and to keep in touch with your tribe in between getting together.

When all is said and done and you look back on your life, what are you going to see? Will you see a life filled with strict independence where there are no holes to let anyone in, but you’ve got a busy schedule that makes you look good to your supposed people? Or will you see a true life of adventure, peace, friendship, beauty, and give-and-take? At the end of your life, will you have built your tribe?

Theresa Birmingham

​Theresa Birmingham studied Biology and English Literature for her undergraduate degree and then went on to get her Masters in Forensic Psychology and also in English Literature and Creative Nonfiction writing.

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