For a significant chunk of my writing career, I’ve been a lone writer. I’m not talking about a personality trait. I mean that I’ve been the only writer working on the project.
Being a lone writer means that it all rests on your shoulders. There’s no one to share the work, or help plot the strategy, or even bounce ideas back and forth. Even when the projects turned out better than expected, there’s a certain hollowness to working that way. I prefer to collaborate. I love the zing of synergy when you talk about an idea with a peer, and they toss back a thought that makes your idea even better. Or when a disagreement requires an in-depth discussion of the goals and strategies that turns into not just a deeper understanding of the project, but a greater respect for your co-workers and a better strategy and deliverable for the customer.
So, what do I do when I find myself working without peers and collaborators? And what can you do when you find yourself in the same situation?
Gather A Tribe
Thanks to Seth Godin, I have a name for my strategy. It’s something I’ve been doing for 10 years without a name. Somehow, having a name makes it feel more official and more important.
I’ve gathered a group of people that form a support team for me. I have a rather motley crew of people with all sorts of expertise. They don’t know each other (for the most part). I don’t have meetings with them. But they are there when I have a question, or need to bounce an idea around. It’s not something formal. It’s not something I really talked about before today. In fact, some of you reading this may have just realized that you are part of my tribe, and may have been part of it for a very long time. It’s that informal.
My tribe membership is always changing. Sometimes, I gradually lose touch with people. Sometimes, people’s priorities and schedules change, making it more difficult to connect. Other times, people show up in my life and immediately join my tribe (without a formal declaration).
When I’m looking for new tribe members, here’s what I want:
- Someone with perspective from either work experience or life experience.
- Someone with patience to listen to me explain an idea or rehash it until I can express it clearly.
- Someone with an open mind who is willing to walk a few feet in my shoes.
- Someone who isn’t afraid to disagree with me.
- Someone who understands the value of reflection and contemplation.
- Someone who enjoys the exchange of ideas as much as I do.
Building Your Own Tribe
If you feel the need for a support team, for people who can create your tribe, start looking around. I’m sure that you will find some of them are already around you. All you need to do is ask them for a little help. As you move through your day, keep you eyes open for people who can be recruited to your tribe.
People have different interests, abilities, aptitudes, and availability. You might want to add someone to your tribe because you notice they excel at an area of life and you want to mimic their success. For example, you might collect people who can give you:
- Relationship/dating advice (If you don’t know anyone in a great relationship, start looking!)
- General career advice
- Specific career advice
- Family dynamics advice
- Advice to help you through your challenges, illnesses, addictions, and other problems
- Spiritual or religious advice
- Hobby or recreational activity advice
If you keep these things in mind, you can pull together a diverse tribe that can help you resolve almost any challenge you face in your life.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone if you can add them to your tribe. Most people are happy to talk about the important issues of their life. Some people are knowledgeable, but not so great about listening. If you find someone like that, keep looking until you find someone who can talk and listen to you.
Show respect to the people in your tribe.
- Respect their time. Ask them if they have time to talk and listen with you. Never pressure them to participate if they are already busy with their own life. Trust that another solution will appear.
- Limit your requests. Spread out your support throughout your tribe. Don’t keep using the same people, give them a breather.
- Find a balance. You don’t want to always take from people without giving something in return. Offer to help your tribe members in exchange. Figure out something that makes sense between the two of you.
Many of the people in my tribe use their expertise to support themselves. I never ask my tribe for freebies of their work. I respect them too much for that. It’s just one thing to keep in mind as you build your relationships.