Written and contributed by Keely Malady, a twenty-something Architect and recent participant at 3DS Wade Institute in Melbourne, Australia. We are cross-posting this article from Medium. You can access the original article here.
This is a story about finding your tribe. An abused cliché, ‘tribe-speak’ is the height of uncool. Until it happens to you. And then it is everything. This is the story of my 3DS weekend.
I’d always imagined “finding your tribe” as a process of finding comfort. Comfort in yourself and your role in whichever group of people you find yourself agreeing with. I’m familiar with this sense of comfort, its ease of repetition, and its calming effects. But it can also numb your sense of contribution, and your ability act on intuition. The comfortable relies on you to stay constant. Accepting you with open arms at point of entry, comfort asks no more of you.
The next time that sense of comfort comes with a side of unease, be open to new potential.
Ten days ago, I didn’t know what a tribe could be.
Ten days ago I, in preparation for the 3 Day Startup at Wade Institute (#3DS300) I sat down to write out some goals. Imposter syndrome had already set in, hours before the event had even started. My mind spun. What was it going to be like? Where did I fit in this room of the brightest business and tech? I had struggled in my work as an architect with not-hipster-enough self-doubt, so how in the world was I going to contribute to the hustler-hacker-hipster lean startup triad? What had my past-self got my present-self into, when it had cheerfully dashed out an application just a few weeks ago?
In this state, I did my homework — an ingrained habit of using preparation to quell doubt. I set out three SMART goals for the weekend;
One: put my hand up
Two: connect with others whose expertise is outside my own
Three: mention one of your ideas.
Reviewing those notes now, I’m embarrassed by just how meekly I wrote about #3 especially. I couldn’t actually get specific, measurable, attainable or realistic about it. All I had certain was time. Three days.
Assembled at Wade for refreshments, the group is a bright-eyed and eager contrast to the working week winding down outside. There is a vibrancy in the room as chatter gives way to attention, the introductory 3DS briefing given on-foot, with no time for note taking.
Small groups form to brainstorm ideas. Our group is cautious, as internal dialogues overwhelm external expression. Sharing is daunting whilst still working out the niggles and cracks between the unfolding reality and our own expectations of the weekend.
Always hyper-sensative to awkward pauses, I offer a gap-filler. “What about X?”
Characteristically leading with the idea I was least emotionally invested in. The group warmed a little. “Or this other, what do you think of Y?”. We ran with this for a while, but decided the tech leap was too big for a startup, especially one that might only exist for a single weekend.
As we resigned Y, the group was no more. Compressed by circumstance, we had already begun to reform as a tribe, driving each idea beyond the individual. There is a gratifying beauty to be observed as the tribe forms, as previous strangers debate the merits of an idea you’ve struggled with for years.
With the assigned time nearing end, we’ve written just a scattering of ideas on the over sized white pad. The facilitator takes a seat at our table. Blank space stares back at us.
I inch closer, arms now resting on the cold surface, my mind seemingly as blank as the paper in front of us. Glancing around the group, I’m searching for support, a suggestion, something. They’re all leaning forward too, eyes fixed on the page.
In that moment, ten years of comfortable-but-not-quite-right came to an end.
Through graduations, resignations, and registration, fear and anxiety had been my constant companion. It had survived a quarter-life crisis of existential angst and sleepless nights. It had compelled me to endless networking events, strengths tests, personality assessments and oh so many sleepless nights. It had driven me to reach out and connect, spending two years writing about entrepreneurs taking the very leap I was so afraid of.
On the edge of my seat, I was comfortable no more.
“What about Z?”
I have no other way to explain my 3DS weekend. No other way I can reconcile the memory of being held so far out of my comfort zone that I forgot it’s history. No other way to reconcile the moments that I could share (out loud!) my personal, inner process of understanding the world. That I could be me, in public, with all the catches in my throat, all the brain-freezes on stage, and all the self-conscious inner voices, and be thriving.
3DS was thriving together, because there was no other way.
Shared sleep deprivation and coffee refills, as well as a commitment to raising the best in each other to the next level. Holding in both hands the humility of knowing your limits and a willingness to learn from others, 3DS created a community capable of taking this complexity and making something of it.
A tribe comes together at the right place, and the right time for you. It could not have existed before you, nor without you. If a tribe falls in the forest, and you’re not there, the tribe did not exist. With this in mind, there is no such thing as ‘tribe envy’, nor the related ‘tribe competition’ or the inevitable ‘tribe regret’. There is no Mr & Mrs. Tribe-Joneses. Leave attachment to these at the door. Your tribe will form. A tribe can end. But the parts of you formed during that process will remain.
A tribe asks who you are as you enter, a unique set of skills, experience, dreams and ambition, then explodes that potential. In an instant, the various parts different than before. Responding to demands of the collective, learning in public enables the tribe to act, react and mature together.
This process is exhilarating, terrifying and gratifying.
It demands fast failure, and fast recovery. In a compressed time frame ideas can flow from good to great, through questionable, to dead in an instant. Released into the public domain, they take on their own life, reactive to the needs of the crowd. As someone who usually seeks the wall, you might imagine this kind of churn to be nauseous. But the strength of the tribe is reassuring, and doesn’t permit private stagnation. Sparring between diverse experiences, debate reaches as crescendo where release can only be clarifying.
A tribe is not a group of people who agree with you, whose shared points of view lead to one sided debates. A tribe does not share a uniform, an aesthetic, or even a singular common goal. A tribe is not as big as a cohort, it’s not as middle management as a team, nor can it be as small as a partnership. A tribe is a group of individuals who sum is greater than their parts.
So I’ve become a walking cliche, a tribe-speaking-convert. But it’s a price I’m willing to pay. For the exchange of ideas and potential that continue to flow from our 3DS weekend are far reaching. Perceptive explosions experienced only a week or so ago, are still expanding, finding their place in the present. And so to “us” — this is my way of saying thank you — as the tribe once found, is never lost.
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