James Gallagher: Finding Your Tribe

Friendship, time investment, personal growth — and joining a budding Maker Mag

Member Post by @jamesg_oca

“The best way to build your tribe is just to get started, and to not look back. Consider what values matter most to you — integrity, accountability, loyalty, for example — and then look for people with those values.” — Read more below:

Arguably, the most valuable investment that one can make in themselves is to spend time with those who push them to be their best selves — the people who are passionate about seeing you succeed.

As the old adage goes, people embody the characteristics and the personalities of those with whom they spend the most time. Therefore, it is very important to spend time evaluating their current relationships and whether or not they are of personal value.

This does not mean that relationships should be of a transactional nature, but rather that your core relationships should be built upon the principle of peer-support and motivation.

The right “personal tribe” will always be there to support you, provide you with advice, and will consist of those who you are most interested in. We all have a limited time to spend on Earth, and so that time should be spent with the right people.

Personal tribes somewhat resemble the people in movies who hang around with the same group of people all of the time, but are more professional in nature to a degree. Your tribe will become a major aspect of your life, and spending a little extra time to optimize this will be worth it in the long-term.

One way to consider whether or not your current friends are adding value to your life is to ask yourself whether you can visualize you working with them in ten years. If you believe that you will have moved on, then you should try to find other people who you are interested in committing that amount of time toward. The best relationships develop over time. [1]

Relationships

An important thing I would like to note is that people don’t really have a singular tribe, but are rather a part of multiple different tribes.

This essay has referred to the “tribe” in the sense of a “tribe of tribes” — the individual people with whom you communicate frequently, irrespective of what other tribes they are a part of.

Your personal tribe is your personal community, and other tribes that you are a part of may regard work, shared interests, etc.

All of the tribes we are part of contribute to the development of our overall identity. We will react differently to situations with professional co-workers than friends who we have known for years, because the nature of the relationship is fundamentally different.

I don’t like to think that we have one singular identity, but rather that we are fluid beings who change based on the specific situation we are in, and the people with whom we communicate. As many people say, we are the manifestation of the people with whom we spend the most time.

One of the most notable benefits of the internet is that it has allowed us to communicate with almost anyone on the planet.

In that regard, it is easy for us to find people with whom we share common interests because there is a high chance that at least one person interested in something you enjoy is on the internet. Technology communities such as Product Hunt and Hacker News have made it even easier to find people who are interested in the same thing as you, and that can serve as a starting point for a new relationship in the future.

Before the internet, there was really no way to find all of the people in the world who are interested in a specific subject. Today, it is very easy to discover passionate people who you could have a great conversation with about a particular niche, no matter how small.

If you invest energy in a new relationship with the right person each day for a year, you will both have yielded major benefits. Relationships are a two-way street, and it is important to consider why you should evaluate your current relationships in the context of helping others as well.

Spending time on building a friendship with someone who you are not genuinely interested in is very unproductive for both you and the other person. If you cannot derive any real value from a relationship, it is unlikely that the person with whom you are conversing can too. Therefore, evaluating who you should spend more or less time with could actually help make other people more productive as well.

It is important that you spend time on finding the right people to join your tribe. Optimizing for long-term growth over convenience is important here. If you invest time and energy every day for the next year into an individual who you are interested in, then you stand to realize significant gains. Compound growth is a powerful effect, especially in terms of friendships. As people invest more effort in their personal tribe, it becomes easier and more natural to connect with each other, and so more productive and genuine conversations can be held.

The people I have spoken to almost every day over the last year have been some of the most interesting people I know, and every day I am able to benefit from their wisdom.

Discovery

The question remains: how does one find their tribe?

The best way to approach this question is to first ensure that you have clearly defined your values and understand what matters to you most.

In my case, I am interested in talking with entrepreneurs and technologists who are interested in startups, life capital, and education. This is not an exclusive list — many of my closest friends do not work in these areas — but acts as a general guideline to help me evaluate who I would like to talk with most, and who would most benefit from talking with me.

This requires a lot of personal introspection and for one to spend time evaluating what matters most to them, but it is worth the extra time.

Identifying those with whom you want to spend more time should be a conscious and deliberate choice so that you can develop authentic relationships that will advance your life, and present you with the opportunity to have a similar impact on the lives of others.

By doing this, you can develop a greater sense of the qualities that you want your tribe to embody which will make it easier for you to evaluate who matters most to you. In addition, you should find the people who you want to be like. If you are interested in being a startup founder, then reaching out to other startup founders will be optimal. This will allow you to acquire more insights about a particular subject matter from people who are (or have been) in the same position as you, and gives you a good conversation starter point. [2]

Further, it is easier to find a tribe when the person is nice and helpful toward others. The people who are kind and interested in the success of others are more likely to be able to connect with better people because those people want to have productive relationships. This resembles “deal flow” in venture capital where if you gain a reputation for being a kind investor, more startups will normally come your way. In the same way, if you are known as a kind and interesting person by others, then you are more likely to be able to have conversations with the best people. Deal flow begets deal flow; good reputation begets good friendships.

Finding one’s tribe can also be done by moving to other areas where the talent in specific industry you are interested in is primarily concentrated. For example, San Francisco is considered the technology capital of the world, New York for finance, Boston for robotics and biotech, et cetera. Interesting people are naturally attracted to these areas because they offer better prospects for growth. It is arguably easier to start a company in San Francisco than in Vancouver, BC, because of the vast and rich startup and venture capital scene in SF.

SF offers access to more tech talent, more capital, and a culture for shipping fast, and so more founders move there. People want to move where the action is. It is easier to build a personal tribe when you live in one of these cities because you will be surrounded by an environment dedicated to your interests, and there will always be events and opportunities to discover other people with whom you can work.

Further, it is easier to cultivate a strong relationship in person because you don’t need to worry about scheduling or advance planning — you can just call someone and go out for coffee. The internet has for sure made it easier for people to find new people, but there is no substitute for in-person interaction and collaboration.

I also think that the best workplaces cause tribes to naturally form, especially at the earliest stages of companies. Co-founders of a company generally stick together for a long period of time because they have a vested interest in each other’s success, and are all so passionate about a subject that they want to spend all of their time focused on it. The same effect applies in groups of people who are working on interesting side projects together — collaborators normally become close friends.

This is all rooted in the fact that those who you work with in close proximity are most likely those who have the biggest impact on your life — working with good people generally results in stronger connections. Conversely, if you are not working in a workplace with a good culture or on a project with good people, close relationships do not form.

One of my most transformative experiences with regards to my personal tribe happened when I volunteered my support in getting Maker Mag started. I was the first person to offer editorial support in the project, and ever since the founder of the publication, and new editors for that matter, have become close members of my personal tribe. I have been working with them closely toward a shared vision which we are all passionate about, and naturally we started to cultivate closer connections. These people have since provided me with advice in a variety of different capacities, and I have also given all of the editors advice on numerous occasions because of how supportive they have been. I can attribute a portion of my success thus far to the relationships I cultivated by getting in on the ground floor of Maker Mag. [3]

Specialities

Building expertise in a specific subject matter is also a good way to find people who could join your personal tribe.

The people who you want to talk with more will likely want to talk with someone who has subject matter expertise in a specific niche they are interested in, or want to learn more about — not someone who has few core skills. You should become an expert in a specific niche and invest a large amount of your time pursuing projects and an education in that area. This allows people to develop firmer insights into a particular area which other people have not yet developed. Therefore, more people will naturally want to talk with you — at least a few times — because you deliver something that nobody else can: a unique insight into an issue they are interested in. [4]

Cultivating one’s personal network is also a good opportunity for personal growth and introspection. If you have had trouble connecting with someone, then you will naturally ask yourself why.

The relationships that one invests time in that don’t work out offer the opportunity to understand how one can improve and be more supportive towards others.

As one embarks on a journey toward building their personal tribe, it also presents an opportunity to learn more about one’s self. You will have to spend time pitching yourself to other people when you introduce yourself, and will be able to practice refining your individual identity.

New people can help you understand other areas of your identity that you may not be conscious of. If you have traditionally seen yourself as very confident and your friends notice that you sometimes back down too soon, then they will make you aware of that feature of yourself.

New people can also broaden your horizons and introduce you to a plethora of new ideas and concepts which can help you gain broader comprehension over subjects that you are interested in.

Our personal community — our personal tribe — will make up our main character traits, whereas all of the other tribes we are a member of will contribute to our overall development and help make us a more rounded individual. Our personal tribe may be focused on developing the values of integrity and staying in the moment, which are very important.

In sum, we are not a part of one tribe, but rather our “personal tribe” consists of people from all of the other tribes that we may interact with.

Time

Over the last year or so, I have spent a lot of time focusing on building my personal tribe. I have spoken with hundreds of unique and passionate individuals, and as I continued to talk with people, naturally my tribe was formed with those who I was most interested in.

When I need assistance, I can turn to my tribe and they will be open to providing me with advice. When they need support, I am always happy to help.

All of the time I spent finding the right people to work with has paid off, and I wouldn’t have changed anything. I spend a lot of time talking with people every day — for work, for pleasure, or for side projects — and the time I spent optimizing this has been one of my best investments thus far.

My personal tribe is scattered across the internet, but I can for sure say that the time I have invested in these relationships has helped me develop a greater sense of identity, and has also offered many professional opportunities for growth.

Finding your tribe does not happen in a day. It takes a long time to figure out who you want to spend more time with, who you are working with that you cannot add any more value to, and what values you want your personal tribe to share.

The best way to build your tribe is just to get started, and to not look back. Consider what values matter most to you — integrity, accountability, loyalty, for example — and then look for people with those values. Talk with as many people as you can and spend more time getting to know them better, even if you are not interested in developing a long-term relationship with them.

One thing to remember is that if you are no longer interested in working with someone, that is indeed fine. If you are not adding value to anyone’s life, then perhaps they would be better off focusing their attention on developing a relationship with someone else.

Notes

[1] I think that most “personal tribes” are very informal and loosely structured. Oftentimes people will not state that they have specific online friends who together make up their tribe, but the effect is always present, irrespective of whether the person is conscious of it. People’s personal tribes online can be spread across a variety of platforms such as Slack, Twitter, email, et cetera, which makes it more difficult for people to say who is really in their tribe. I believe it is easier to identify one’s personal tribe when they meet in person and work with them frequently, because the nature of their relationships are clearly defined. That is not to say that online friends are not as important — the opposite is true actually — but rather that when you are interacting with people in-person, the dynamic of a relationship is clearer.

[2] Surrounding yourself with people who exude the qualities that you want to develop is very productive. If you want to be more confident, surround yourself with confident people. If you are ever in doubt, your tribe will be able to guide you through the process because they have been refining that specific quality.

[3] The Maker Mag tribe is an example of a work-based tribe, and I would not consider to be my “personal tribe”. This is one prominent example of how we can be members of different tribes. Maker Mag has a culture of maintaining journalistic quality and integrity, hence why I apportion a large amount of my personal time to the project. Other tribes in my life include people who value different characteristics that help me cultivate my best sense of self.

[4] The easiest path toward this is something I have found to be more lacking on the internet. People need to be authentic and convey the principles they are interested in cultivating, rather than developing an artificial identity. When you have a unique insight into an issue, it is important to convey your actual identity because that is the reason behind your acquiring that insight. Be authentic, and don’t be worried about your thoughts being similar to others. The more unique you are, the more interesting you will appear to be for others.