Building Your Tribe

“The only true voyage would be not to travel through a hundred different lands with the same pair of eyes, but to see the same land through a hundred different pairs of eyes.”

Marcel Proust

Entrepreneur, investor and author, Tim Ferris, opens his fascinating book Tribe of Mentors with the quote above. Turning 40 and feeling at a crossroads in his life, he began to ask himself a series of questions about how he could approach the next chapter of his life. Finding that the ensuing list generated anxiety as opposed to clarity he asked himself the seminal question:

“What would this look like if it was easy?”  

The answer when it came was:

“What if I assembled a tribe of mentors to help me?”

He decided to reach out to a wide and diverse range of dream interviewees who he thought might have valuable insights to share with him at this time of his life. He sent them the identical set of 11 questions. He collated the answers and collective wisdom of over 100 respondents into his book. Beyond the inspiration ultimately provided in the book itself, his action models for us the commitment, creativity and courage that it takes to stay creatively engaged in unearthing and building the support that we need to keep our lives and careers on track.

In medicine, we often develop a go-it-alone mindset, which in many ways act as a double-edged sword. We build incredible resilience, that paradoxically may in fact be more fragile than it looks. It may hide loneliness, sadness, and even shame. In fact, we may get trapped in a “collusion of silence’ that both isolates us and prevents us from reaching out and fostering a rich “support” system. Perhaps we have a limited understanding of the word “support”. If we confine ourselves to a definition of support as meaning “to prop or hold up” we may interpret it as a sign of weakness or failure. In doing so we ignore the word’s broader meanings – to reinforce, sustain, champion, advocate, endorse, strengthen, encourage, etc. There can be an innate, albeit unconscious arrogance to a go-it-alone mentality, that hampers the curiosity, creativity, even humility necessary to build a dynamic support system. The whole culture of the medical environment can reinforce this mindset and further hinder physicians from seeking input and support. 

Relationships with clinical mentors are probably most familiar to physicians, but even these relationships need to be cultivated and nourished. Are these mentors sufficient for your needs or do you need a wider network of support? Are you overburdening existing personal relationships with unrealistic demands that tax those relationships and, in addition, may be out of the realm of the individual or group’s expertise.

What does it take to build support?

  1. Let go of the idea that this will always happen organically.
  2. Commit. Harness the courage and curiosity necessary to explore new possibilities.
  3. Check in with yourself to see if your go-it-alone mentality is keeping you stuck.
  4. Ask yourself how a support network would benefit you?
  5. Write down what issues (personal and professional) you need help with.
  6. Be specific as to the kind of support you are looking for. For example are you looking for new skills; additional resources; a friend or collaborator; inspiration; formal training; etc.
  7. Make a comprehensive list of all the leads that you might pursue. 
  8. Be aware of and address limiting beliefs and saboteurs that stop you in your search.
  9. If you are building a relationship, list the foundational qualities that you need in that relationship. Do you need more than one person?
  10. Be bold, out-of-the box and courageous.

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