Why I Need a Tribe and Why You Might Want One Too

2014 - 07.24 - #14 tribe pic

How would you like having a group of people on your life who:

  • Share interests
  • Have similar values around respect, openness, sharing, learning, etc.
  • Cheer you when your work’s going well
  • Remind you of your greatness when things aren’t so hot
  • Point you to resources, ideas and people
  • Share parts of your dream
  • Are helpful personally and professionally
  • Help you stay current in the areas you’re passionate about?

I do – and I call them my TRIBE.

My tribe members aren’t just networking connections (I don’t like that word – but we’ll talk soon!) I want my relationship with tribe members to be whole-hearted, mutually supportive and sustainable over time.

Because my tribe is my best business asset.

Years ago, I didn’t know I needed one.

When I joined a university faculty, I gained an abundance of great colleagues. We shared (mostly) similar values around adult learning – and a save-the-world ethic around our work. We were creative, caring, and carried the zeal of missionaries! We saw almost too much of each other (I don’t miss our faculty meetings) and I took my easy network of colleagues for granted.

But as Joni Mitchell sang, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone.”

Now as I’m navigating the creative world of solo-preneurs, I NEED a tribe. It’s no fun being out there alone, using the Internet as a place for community. I like my virtual networks, but they’re no substitute for folks I can call up, Skype with, visit when I travel, or, better yet, join for a cup of tea.

Even if you’re safely nested in an organization, you might still want a tribe, especially if your specialty, your expertise, or your passionate interests aren’t easily shared with the folks around you.

A tribe is more than a network.

The most contemporary definition of tribe I read is “a group of people, or a community with similar values or interests, a group with a common ancestor, or a common leader.”

Sometimes followers of a guru or blogging star are called a tribe. Or folks who have a similar pattern of lifestyle and buying habits. But in my tribe, it has to be more than that. I want us to know each other and be interwoven.

A tribe isn’t a club – e.g., no dues or requirements. But a tribe requires regular tending because what gives it juice are the exchanges – the ways in which members reach out and support each other.

When you look for a tribe, you want to know who you’re looking for, and I am pretty picky.

My criteria for my tribe:


In my tribe, members are open, non-judgmental and willing to share both personally and professionally. Nobody needs to wear those masks you often see at “networking events.” Folks are willing to “get real” and share the real scoop about what’s happening for them – no elevator speeches allowed!

Mutual support for our professional passions

We don’t all share the same professional interests. But I’d say everyone is interested in a new, wholehearted way of leading – and making this world better. So we respect each other’s interests and share the stories of what we’re up to. And some folks in the tribe do share my passion for organizational storytelling, improv, and performance, and that’s really cool!

My tribe members have reviewed my website, talked strategy with me, and shared resources. I’ve read their books, listened when their practices were growing and waning, and shared new business ideas with them. We’ve been raw and real together, supporting each other when things were tough, and applauding when we’ve had successes.

I think of my tribe as my safety net when I’m launching a dream.

Willingness to dig deep and ask some big questions

Most are up to making a difference, in their family, their community, their art, their work or the world. Some friends are into social justice, some business, some healing and spirituality. We’re each tackling a piece of the puzzle. We’re all searching.

We value long-term connections

My tribal friendships grow as they’re nurtured across time. I met my colleagues Liz and Margaret casually at a training more than eight years ago. But we’ve kept our connections rolling, and they’re now in the first circle I call when I need to talk a new idea out.




Bold dreams and


Who wouldn’t want that?

Next blog post, I’ll share tips for finding and building a tribe. In the meantime I would love to hear about your tribe in the comments below.


How to Get Back in the Saddle When You’ve Been Thrown Off

2014 - 07.17 - #13  Getting back into saddle-mounting

It happens to all of us: we lose our seat and get thrown from the saddle. Maybe we get bad news about a friend, a project we wanted to do is canceled, a promotion doesn’t happen, or our kid gets in trouble.

Hitting the ground is never fun.

And sometimes we get bucked off. That really hurts. We learn that we’re losing a job, a marriage has died, a relationship is over, or our company is closing. We hit hard.

Four years ago a big black gelding bucked me to the ground, a horse that I should never have bought. I lay sprawled in the sand arena, chest heaving. Fortunately, I didn’t break any bones. I hobbled home, collapsed on the coach and called my husband, spending the next two days with ice and ibuprofen while I slowly started thinking about what to do next.

2014 - 07.17 - #13  Getting back into saddle - on groundRecently, I was bucked off again when I learned that I did not win a big contract proposal I submitted. I was thunder-struck. My clients liked my work, my proposal was first rate – and after doing the work for 22 years, I knew it better than anyone else. But sometimes life throws us a curve, and a competitor had come in with a very low-ball bid.

And there I was on my back again in some deep emotional sand.

At first I was numb. Speechless. I couldn’t believe what had happened.

Then I started asking: how do we get back in the saddle when life throws us off?

Here’s what I found can help:

1) Call someone right away who cares. That could be a good friend, partner, or spouse. You don’t want to deal with this alone, especially when you’re in shock.

2) Check for broken bones. Take a quick material assessment. Yes, you’re in emotional shock – but is there anything else you have to deal with right away (like calling your lawyer)? If not, this is probably a good time to chill.

3) Go slow. Do the next simple step that’s in front of you – like pulling up your socks. Don’t try to do much. Just keep going. (Don’t tell your agent to sell the house!)

4) Make a list of immediate pleasurable things you can do for yourself. For me it was:

  • Take a walk.
  • Buy flowers.
  • Snuggle with the cat.
  • Buy and eat a big box of blueberries (I’m a fanatic).
  • Take some photos (kept me focused outside of myself).

Avoid doing things that you’ll regret tomorrow (like eating two cartons of Haagen-Dazs) but if you do overdose – forgive yourself immediately. Life has hit you hard enough!

5) Get ready to feel whatever comes up. This is the hard part. You may feel numb and want to stay numb. But feelings will eventually come and you want to let them – maybe not at your staff meeting, but as soon as you get home.

You may feel many things – fear, sadness, numbness, depression, anger, and even joy (I did). This is where a good friend (see point #1) can help. Who likes to feel anger? (I don’t!) You’ll pay a price (like an accident?) for stuffing down difficult feelings. I’ve discovered that when I feel like my heart is breaking with gut-wrenching emotions, it’s probably just getting stronger.

6) Tell your inner circle. OK, it might feel embarrassing to share bad news, but this is a good time to practice receiving support and working your vulnerability muscle. Pick the friends who know how to be there for you. They don’t know want you to hide.

7) Reframe your experience to keep from being a victim. I told myself:

  • I submitted an excellent proposal, and did quality work until the end.
  • Losing to a low-bid was not a reflection on me.
  • After 22 years on this project, I was ready to move on.
  • New space was now available for creative projects and key endeavors.

I wasn’t being Pollyanna! I wasn’t pretending that there weren’t still financial consequences and fears to feel. I just wasn’t a victim!

8) When you’re out of shock, assess the tangible consequences. What will you need to do? Are there real risks? Stuff to handle? Changes to make? Be kind. Don’t deprive yourself or force too much analysis when your bones are still hurting.

9) Be grateful for the journey – and use what you’ve learned to deepen your story. Real heroic stories always have bumps and challenges. Failures add drama to our story and depth to our character.

When I was bucked off my horse, my confidence was creamed for a while. I hurt for months. I had to sell the gelding. But life moves us on. Now, four years later, I watch as Mariah, my sensible, personable, smaller mare walks across the field to greet me, and all I can feel is gratitude. I bet in six months, I’ll feel the same way about the lost contract!

Wishing you all the best,


Managing Creative Chaos

2014 - 07.10 - #12  - Managing Chaos

This is one of those blogs where I don’t have the answers. And believe me I’m looking for clues.

First a confession: I’m not a member of the clean desk club. Not that I’m against clean desktops – I like them a lot. I had one on Saturday, May 17th, 2013 at 9:15 pm. It was a wonderful moment.

But I look at my desk today and see an old laptop battery (what to do with that?), a HUGE stack of recycled paper (keeps building up), a video case with the DVD from my recent monologue, a stack of papers with the e-book I’m writing, a bottle of lens cleaner, a tax document I don’t want to forget, a little memento from a colleague in Santa Fe, and a pile of books that I’m reviewing… you get the drift. It takes time to figure out what to do with all that stuff.

And mostly, I always have something I want to do more than clean my desk. Sometimes it’s an urgent work project. Other times, I’d rather garden when the sun is out, or write a poem when it’s not. My desk waits patiently for me to find just the right moment (maybe the next time the power goes out) when I will step away from projects and attend to it.

I’m not touting this as a way to be!

I remember a boss who was running a start-up, and couldn’t understand how I could be Yale educated and yet tolerate chaos. Little did he know! He wanted my desktop to always look organized.

Silly man. He didn’t get that my stacks and piles were a sign that I was deeply engaged in a project.

When I was most creative, my desktop looked chaotic. The “happy-clean-desk-look” meant that I had either finished a project or really hadn’t been doing anything productive and polishing the desk was amusing. (Oh, the days of having people pay you to clean your desk!)

He kept his desk super neat – but the company tanked.

But sometimes the chaos gets to me. Have any ideas?

Here’s where I’m looking for help:

1. Understanding learning styles.

Maybe you’ll call it a cop out but it helps me to know that I’m not crazy – in fact, given my learning and personality styles, I’m pretty normal. One style-ometer that I really like is the Gregorc Learning styles instrument which tells you how you perceive and order your world. In the Gregorc system – you are either random or sequential, and either abstract or concrete. I’m abstract and random. My random side is creative but never remembers to place the same thing in the same place twice. My abstract side gives me the ability to be very intuitive and see invisible possibilities. However, sometimes I don’t see the stuff right in front of me – which is why my husband harps at me when I’m cleaning up the kitchen. “Look at what you’re doing,” he says. He doesn’t understand that I’m busy strategizing the future.

The good thing about knowing your learning style is you stop using those righteous time and self-management systems that were made for obsessive concrete-linear people.

2. Reading David Allen and his Getting Things Done website.

One big idea I took from David Allen is to WRITE THINGS DOWN. I used to keep a lot in my head – so it was as if my mind was constantly on and constantly spinning. Even my computer would complain of such treatment. By writing things down I can close some of those open-ended do-loops in my brain and start organizing things in terms of purpose and projects. David has a lot of great information on his website and blog.

Note to self: write that down!

3. Using Evernote.

Finally, I discovered a place where I can write down all my random thoughts: Evernote. I know that I’m late to the party discovering this web-based software but now I’m a zealous convert!

Evernote let’s me write notes about all the stuff that’s been floating around my mind or my desk: quotes I want to use some day, ideas, deadlines, or the synopsis of a phone call. Those slips of paper floating around my desk can get added right in. And Evernote’s so search-able.

4. Grooving with Jennifer Lee.

I’m just discovering Jennifer Lee and her uber-fun right-brain business planning. She uses color and visuals to organize and plan which seems cool although I haven’t actually done it (no time!) I’m hoping that she’ll have the right-brain approach to de-cluttering my desk.

There’s more to share but I think I’ll hold right now and listen for YOUR ideas. I’m sure you can help. Besides, my handlers tell me that my blogs shouldn’t be too long, and I have a lot of papers to file!


Take a vision day



This year I am starting 2014 with a Vision Day.

Most of the year, I’m simply swamped with so much doing. It’s hard to pull away from the report that needs to be written, the class that needs to be planned and—always—so many emails.  But sometimes I just have to STOP and remember what it’s all about. A Vision Day helps me do that.

A Vision Day is an opportunity to focus, for one day, on the big picture, and to refuel my inspiration for work.

It’s an opportunity, especially at the turn of the year, to review where I’ve been over the past year and dream about where I want to go.

Vision Day is my opportunity to unplug from the urgencies and distractions of the day-to-day demands of a consulting practice and to concentrate on what is “important but not urgent”, in Steven Covey’s words. As a solo-preneur, I don’t get sent off on corporate retreats – if I want to retreat, I need to plan it for myself.

Let day-to-day demands wait

The demands of day-to-day business can wait one day. Vision Day is my day to think, take a walk with my journal in hand, watch the clouds pass (or the Northwest rains pour), savor long cups of tea, and reflect on what really matters and how that applies to where my business (and life) is going.  And, as the spirit moves me, I’ll envision the next year and begin to plan.

But forget the spreadsheets, timelines and metrics.  A Vision Day is a time to access the deeper sources of inspiration and to rekindle the spark from which my best planning comes.  Unless, of course, my inspiration takes me in the direction of action planning or my next blog.   (No need to be rigid!)  On Vision Day, I follow my nose, and let my footsteps lead me to what inspires my creative juices.


I love to take Vision Day during the holidays. Some years ago, during the days after Christmas, I took a lot of time to reflect on the purpose of my work – inside and outside of the university for which I worked.  I sat still, contemplated, meditated, listened. I did not try to “be productive.”

Be prepared to be surprised!

During one of my long reflections, I surprised myself.  An inner voice announced that my next job was to design and launch an innovative graduate program in management, one that would be designed as a learning community.  YIKES!  You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. That wasn’t in my plans!  But the message was clear.

When the Muse Speaks, Listen

I had asked a question about my purpose and received an answer.  The next step had to be action. I retreated to my desk and typed up a vision for this new program.

Three days later, the University President was in town and I presented him with the idea for the program.  The timing was perfect—he gave it his blessings.  I spent the next six years developing and running a very creative university program—with the best people I could imagine—all as a result of an afternoon of deep reflection.

Pick the right place

Northwest path through the trees

Place matters. On Vision Day, I want to be in a spot that inspires me and puts me in a mood of gratitude and reflection, such as a retreat center, a forest, the beach, a long ferry ride, or a great café. When I lived in Seattle, a 25 minute trip to Brusseau’s café in Edmonds, Washington was enough to send me into another world. If I were living again in New York City, I would choose to walk the Highline Garden with a notebook in my hand, or hang out in a beautiful hotel lobby or sit in the atrium of the old Citicorps building.  If I pick a place with the wrong vibe, I find another. It’s a special day for me, so I want the energy to be right.

This year, my home on this beautiful island feels like a retreat center, so I may take a walk around a forested pond and then curl up in my writing cabin.  I’m thinking about reviewing some of my recent journals and looking at books I keep in my cabin for inspiration.  My challenge will be to turn off my email and tell my husband that I’ll be “out of commission” for a while.

Then I’ll dial up the Muse – and listen.






Does Your Contact List Need a Spring Cleaning?

Address book page in computer with unknown friend in address book

It’s a great new day.  I’m launching my new blog – and looking forward to lots of new subscribers, colleagues, and friends.

So why do I feel compelled to launch a fit of cleaning professional “house?”

It reminds me of what happens when I bring a piece of great clothing home– like my new Eileen Fisher jacket.  The piece feels great and fits who I am today. But as I hang it up, I notice my other clothes and start wondering – uh oh – what about that blouse, those pants, that skirt – are they still right for me???

This invariably leads to a fit of purging. (I love our local thrift store!)

But today, I’m thinking business, so I’m not cleaning my closets but tackling my address data base….

My family tells me that even as a toddler I was interested in connecting with people.  This applies to my professional contacts as well.  I don’t want to have names just to have names.  I want to care about those names.

So when I looked at my address book I was in for a shock: 2045 names.

2045  names?

Wow.  I hope that I’m likeable – but I don’t think I am connected to 2045 current friends, family members, colleagues, and services.

So who or what is in that list? It was time to find out, like opening the door to a closet full of stuff I don’t even remember. Or cleaning out “that drawer” in the kitchen.

I started to cull the list.  First, I went for low-hanging fruit: the vet who helped my dog who died thirteen years ago, the nice neighborhood bank that went bankrupt, the phone service that no longer exists.  And all those addresses that start “info@….”  from some purchase I made eons ago.

I found duplicate names – entered I’m sure by gremlins. Every time I “sync” data duplicates pop up like Janes@aol and janes@aol.

Then I searched for easy targets – like the 200 names from a meditation community I once was a part of.  I didn’t know some of those people then – and I sure don’t remember them now.  I kept the names of people I know.

The hard work begins

I found a few colleagues and friends who had died.  Sad.  I blessed and deleted them.

And all those unknowns!  I felt like I’d thrown a party at my house and it turned into an open house – I didn’t recognize half of the guests.  Time to send them home!!!

I turned the sorting process into a meditation.  I’d stare peacefully at each name for 10 seconds. If I had no clue who it was – bless and delete.

Why was I so naïve to think my great memory would last forever???  Note to self:  remember to add little notes with all new names: met at Improv conference in Berlin, etc.

Occasionally, I’d find names that brought up bad memories, people who wanted a different kind of instructor or consultant, and told me as much. Sometimes I have reconnected with one of them and heard how much he or she really learned in my program.  That’s been sweet! But often, seeing one of those names has been a way for me to stay stuck in the past.

It’s time to bless and let go. Let the new energy in!

I push that delicious delete button. It’s a weird kind of empowerment.  One stroke “sayonara”.

I already feel fresher.  More ready for this new world.  Ready to welcome new subscribers.

Bless and delete

Now some of you may think it contradictory to profess to care and then cavalierly delete contacts.  Well, I didn’t promise to be contradiction free!  And my tendons can only take so much repetitive stress before I begin to feel a lot less spiritually enlightened.

But I’m happy that the names I have kept mean something to me.  They’re real connections, people I want to learn from, talk to, write for, or call up and say, “It’s Sally.”

So now, before my wrist (and spirit) goes into carpal tunnel shock, I’ll stop for tonight and tackle the next thousand names tomorrow.


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