Category Archives: tribes

TRIBES #4: BEING THE PARIAH

Which is worse? Leaving a tribe behind, or being ASKED to leave the tribe??

I wrote earlier about how hard it is to leave a tribe we’ve outgrown or moved past.

A reader reminded me it’s even harder to leave when you don’t want to–but everybody else wants you to.

Is this scenario familiar? You have a special group of friends, good buddies. You’ve all been together for awhile and things are great.

Then one day a new person joins the group, usually invited in by one of the members.

It may start right away, or it may be insidious, but eventually, one of the original members of the group–YOU!!–is slowly but surely forced out.

Maybe you find out everyone else was invited to something. But not you. Or you are accused of talking about people behind their back. Maybe the new person is rude to you when no one else is around. But when you complain, everyone thinks you’re making it up.

The more frustrated and hurt you become, the more the group shuns you.

And one day, you are on the outside looking in. You are no longer part of the group.

This happened to me. I was in my forties, if you can believe it. (This is still humiliating to think about, but I was accused of stealing a tiny Rubbermaid container with Cheerios in it.) And ironically, it was me who invited the newcomer to join our group.

It seems ridiculous now, but at the time it was devastating. It was one of the most emotionally painful events of my life.

I had no idea what to do about it. It took awhile to get over it.

Then, a year later, I read an article about the same thing happening to somebody else, a kid who was in high school at the time.

A new kid joined his group of friends, who had been tight since first grade. Then the new kid spread rumors about him. Everyone turned on him. He was ousted from the group.

Fortunately, he had someone to counsel him. The wise words went something like this:

You cannot control what happened, because you cannot control what other people think. Since it’s not in your control, you must learn to let go, and move on. You may never learn why this happened, and it’s not important that you do.

This is the only thing you can know for sure: People who do this to you are simply not your friends.

The sad thing is, they may have been “good enough” friends for awhile. Maybe even for a long long time.

But when things got dicey, they cut and ran. They did not believe in you.

And so they weren’t really your friends.

Because real friends don’t do that.

Stay your course, believe in yourself, and follow your heart. You will make new friends, built on a stronger foundation. They will be better friends.”

It seems too simplistic to be helpful. But it helped.

First was the realization that this happens to others, too. I didn’t feel like such a pariah any more.

Comfort also came from realizing I had no control over what had happened. Therefore, I didn’t have to figure it out or even fix it. It was over, and it was time to let go.

The kid in the article moved on. He went to college, and made new friends. He began to value other, deeper qualities in his new friends–mutual respect, integrity, trustworthiness.

And the day came when one of his old friends contacted him to tell him that the group had finally broken up when the interloper tried the trick again. Everyone realized what had happened. He apologized and said he was sorry he had believed the rumors and lies.

It was nice of the guy to do that. But it didn’t really change anything. They resumed their friendship, but at a very casual level.

Whether you leave the tribe, or the tribe leaves you, the same thing is true…

They are not your tribe. Not any longer.

As Greg Behrendt says in his book, HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, don’t waste the pretty. Don’t lose any more precious sleep or brain cells on figuring it out. Just be grateful you are free to explore your next step forward. And imagine the lovely new people you’ll meet on your way.

P.S. Of course, there’s always the possibility it IS you. Who can say? But the same advice applies. Move on if it’s causing you pain. Find the group that embraces your unique brand of irony.

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Filed under art, finding your tribe, friendship, networking, tribes

TRIBES #3: LEAVING THE TRIBE

Your needs and goals as an artist will change and grow throughout your life. You will constantly gather the people you need to you.

And you will also periodically leave people behind.

I started this mini-series with a sort of Ugly Duckling story, as one reader noted. I told how my dog tries to be a cat, and why it’s a good thing he isn’t very good at it. When we find out we aren’t really “bad bankers” but are actually “really excellent artists”, it’s an amazing epiphany.

The second article talks about how to find your own tribe.

Interestingly, some people took that to mean searching out other artists who work in the same medium. Some took it as how some artists learn techniques from a master, then never really develop their own style.

Some even found their new “family”, but grieved when it, too, became contentious, confining and restrictive.

While some of us will be fortunate to find a wonderful, cohesive, supportive group of like-minded folks, others will struggle to maintain that in their lives.

Sad to say, but it happens.

The day may come when you have to leave your bright new tribe, and find another.

There are lots of reasons why this happens.

Sometimes the group is just too big. There’s no time for each person to have a turn to be listened to. You can feel lost in the shuffle.

Sometimes there aren’t enough “rules”. A few folks will take on the role of gadfly (aka “jerk”). Or there are too many rules, too much “business”. The lively group dynamic is strangled with too many procedural stops and starts. (I left one craft guild when the business reports began to take up almost half the meetings.)

Sometimes the group narrows its own dynamic. It can be subtle but powerful. You’ll start to feel constricted. Here’s a true story:

Years ago, a quilting guild I belonged to brought in a nationally-known color expert for a workshop.

During it, she commented that there were definite regional color palettes, patterns and technique preferences across the country.

I asked her how that happened. She said when members brought in their projects for sharing, some would generate a huge positive response from the membership. Others, more eclectic or “out there”, would receive a lukewarm reception. “We all crave that positive response”, she said. “It’s human nature. So slowly but surely, we begin to tailor our work to generate the bigger response.”

It hit me like a brick. Another quilter and I did more unusual fabric work. The response to our “shares” was decidedly in the “lukewarm” category.

And I had begun to do more work in the “accepted style” of the group.

I left after the workshop, and never went back. My fellow fiber artists were a great bunch of people. But I was not willing to “tamp down” my vision in order to garner their praise.

Sometimes, our course changes. We find ourselves in pursuit of different goals. Or we find our own needs sublimated to the needs of the group.

Or we simply grow faster than the rest of the group. You may even outgrow your mentor. If our work fosters jealousy–if our work becomes more successful, attracts more notice–then professional jealousy might raise its ugly head.

It can feel even harder to leave this new tribe that gave us so much joy at first. In fact, it’s brutal.

But it has to be done, if you want your art to move forward.

You cannot control the feelings of others. You can make yourself, and your work, as small and mundane as you can. But if someone is determined to nibble you, nothing can stop them.

Take heart in this knowledge:

This group served your needs for awhile. Enough for you to gain confidence, and to take a step forward.

And you will find another tribe. It may take awhile. But your peers are out there.

Consider that they may not even be working in the same medium. They may not even be visual artists. They may not be “artists” at all.

As long as they share the same values, or can support and challenge you in constructive ways, you can benefit from their company.

It may even be time for you to walk alone. Just for awhile.

Just long enough to really hear what your own heart is saying.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, criticism, envy, inspiration, jealousy, mentoring, networking, perseverence, professional jealousy, tribes

TRIBES #1: RUNNING WITH THE PACK

Last summer, we came back from our first Caribbean vacation with a rescue dog. A puppy, in fact, from the Turks and Caicos Islands. Most people bring back a t-shirt or some shells, we came home with our first dog.

Watching him grow and adapt to our household has been a treat. I don’t think a day goes by that he doesn’t make us laugh.

He’s desperate to belong–a potcake cannot survive on the islands without his mates. Here in our home, it means fitting into our family. Watching his antics as he tries to befriend and play with our cats is a hoot.

There are no other dogs in our household, so of course he mimics many of the our cats’ behaviors. He has been around other dogs, of course. But he and the cats are together 24/7, so they are his first source of observation. For example, he noticed that both our cats take a piece of kibble, drop it on the floor, then eat it. And so he does the same.

The funniest cat imitation is how he goes up and down stairs. He watched our cats closely as a pup to see how they did it. Aha! One step at a time.

It worked when he was a puppy because he was the same size as our cats.

But he’s a lot bigger now. As he grew to the size of a border collie, it got harder and harder to scrunch up his body to take each single step. His contortions were extreme.

Yesterday, he had a sort of doggie breakthrough.

For the first time, he took the stairs in great, bounding leaps, three at a time. He practically flew up those stairs.

The look of pleased astonishment on his face was delightful. “Aha!”, he seemed to say. “I can bound!”

There’s a lesson in here for us; you know that, right?

When we have no other examples to learn from, we believe the right way–the ONLY way–is what we see around us.

We look to the people around us to learn “the right way” to do things.

That’s perfectly fine, if we are surrounded by excellent examples. But ask yourself: Perfect examples of what?

Not many artists grow up surrounded by artists and encouraged by other artists.

If you are a dog, there are only so many things you can do like a cat. No matter how many cats you surround yourself with, you cannot be a cat. No matter how much those cats wish you were a cat, you are still a dog. No matter how much they wish you were not a dog, it ain’t gonna happen.

If you yearn to make things with your hands, if you love to draw or paint, if you love to make music, or you must dance in order to think… (I urge you to listen til he gets to part about the little girl who could simply not sit still in school. It is astonishing.)

…And the people around you do not understand that….

What contortions would you put yourself through to fit in?

I scrunched to get up and down those “stairs”, for years. I’ll bet many of you did, too.

When I finally broke through, and created my own paradigm, I felt a freedom of spirit I hadn’t felt since I was a kid.

Ever since, I’ve encourage others do do the same–to find some way of getting their heart’s work out into the world.

Because when you try to bury who you really are, bad things can happen.

If you cannot be the artist you are meant to be, you may become a shadow artist.

I guess you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, inspiration, life with a dog, life with pets, pets, shadow artist, tribes