Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.“
– Oprah Winfrey
When I first moved to California my aunt and uncle were kind enough to let me live in their guest room rent-free until I was able to find a job. The arrangement was not supposed to last more than three months. Instead, it lasted nine.
They lived 45 minutes north of Los Angeles, which was a lot more convenient than my parents’ house 3,000 miles away, but it still felt like a world away from where I wanted to be. Every day I spent the morning sending in job applications, trolling the internet for more places to apply to, nagging every contact I had to see if they had heard of any openings. There were a couple of interviews but they were weeks apart and it was becoming obvious that none of them were going to work out. I started applying for local retail part time jobs as well, just to get some cash coming in but with the unemployment market the way it was they knew better than to hire a recent college graduate who was trying everything they could to get their “dream job.”
Needless to say, it wasn’t long before the depression set in. My aunt and uncle were amazing and so generous during this time, but I still felt separated from all of my friends back home and I knew no one in the place I wanted to be. There were one or two people from college living in LA but if I was being honest, their success while I was struggling to figure out exactly what I wanted to do just made everything more frustrating. I felt so alone.
Then I made the most important decision that I’ve made since moving to the west coast. I decided to take an intro-level improv class at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. At first I naively thought I could take one class, prove to be an improv messiah and be hired as Amy Poehler’s assistant before the whole thing was over, or at least get a hook up for a page job at NBC – not to mention it’d force me out of the house and into the city for three hours a week. Of course, I’m still waiting for my call from Amy but what I did find will be more instrumental in my success than any job interview or fancy contact will ever be. I found my tribe.
Suddenly I was surrounded by people exactly like me. They were all at varying points on the road to being able to pay rent by entertaining people, but we were all traveling together. They were people who cared about being funny. About performing. About writing. And as we learned to “Yes, and…” and listen together, we began to care about each other. Improv is entirely about support, after all. It’d still be another two months before I found employment, but taking that class and making those friends gave me a whole new outlook on my journey in Los Angeles. I felt a renewed energy and motivation. I listened to their stories and soaked up their wisdom. I went to their shows and clapped the loudest. For the first time in almost a year since I uprooted my life to go after this ridiculous dream, I felt like I belonged here.
Last summer when comedian/writer Katie Dippold released her first written feature length movie The Heat, her old friend and fellow comedian Chris Gethard wrote an essay about it, and how Katie had been a fundamental part of finding his own tribe.
Now maybe you think you have a shot at being a creative person who pays their rent by being creative. Maybe you’re scared to go for it, like I once was. Maybe you have something you want to do and you don’t know if you can really do it. My suggestion, based on experience, is to find someone else who might be uncertain of themselves, and be brave enough to tell them what you see in them. Be brave enough to hear about the belief they have in you. Be the lighter fluid for someone else, and let them fan your flames too. Find your tribe.“
Finding your tribe is not at all about finding the people who are the best connections to get you to the next level. No, those are contacts and you should keep them separate. Your tribe are the first people you call when you land the big job because they were the people you cried to all the times you didn’t. Your tribe are the people who tell you that you’re being an idiot and you need to focus when you blow off a writing a deadline. They are the people that pick you up and take you to the movies the morning after you’ve had your heart broken to give you something else to think about. Your tribe are the people that hold your hand when things are messy and they are the ones that clap the loudest when all of it becomes clear.
After that first class I started taking more and over the past year I’ve been steadily adding more and more people to the tribe. This advice isn’t just for creative people because it’s not just creative people that need support. Everyone participating in life needs a tribe. So do yourself a favor and look at the people you spend the majority of your time with. If any of them make you feel less than deserving of all the things you want, tell them to beat it. Make the conscious effort to surround yourself with people that not only support you, but have the strength and integrity to call you out when you’re being ridiculous. As Oprah said, you need the people who will ride the bus before they’ll ride the limo. These people are your magic potion, your cheat sheet, they’re the key thing you need to get you to where you want to go.
If you’re in need of finding the right people for your tribe, take a risk and put yourself out there. You can follow my footsteps and take a class. Or you could join a book club. Peruse MeetUps.com for people that follow your interests. Put yourself in a room with people you don’t know but who have a common interest or goal and see what happens. And don’t disqualify the internet as a great place for meeting those people. Message boards and social media sites are great ways to meet people you otherwise wouldn’t have who share your passions and can be a great resource as you start to figure yourself out.
Find your tribe. Find your happiness. Find you.