Seek & You Shall Find: How I Found My Element & My Tribe

"Connecting with people who share the same passions affirms that you're not alone; that there are others like you and that, while many might not understand your passion, some do... Finding your tribe brings the luxury of talking shop, bouncing ideas around, of sharing and comparing techniques, and indulging your enthusiasms and hostilities for the same things." - Ken Robinson

Ever since I was young I was a little different from my classmates and those my age, in general. Being the youngest in my family and having siblings who are more than ten years older than me might have something to do with it. On the outside I dressed and talked like my peers and we even shared the same interests but my values were slightly different. While girls my age were into designer bags and clothes I was more interested in the creativity that went into making them. I was curious about why certain types of beauty were featured in fashion and lifestyle magazines and others weren't. When I was 15-years-old I wrote a long email to Eh! magazine and asked them why they only featured women with straight hair as the ideal representation of Malaysian beauty. I didn't know anyone else in my social circle who would do such a thing that's why I was so happy to see these girls on television a few months ago. I hope other young girls will look at them and know it's okay to be smart, inquisitive and different.

Varsity life was a lot more exciting for me because my friends were more diverse in terms of age, religion, background and ethnicity. Today, the university environment is probably still one of the few places I feel I can be myself but have my intellectual abilities challenged at the same time. Perhaps that's why I felt a strong urge to return to school and pursue my Master's degree. But another reason was because I was in search of my 'tribe'.

In the book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Ken Robinson defines the Element as "the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion... When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being" (21). He continues to explain that finding your Element is not only a matter of natural aptitude but also your attitude towards life. "Accidents and randomness play some part in everybody's lifeless. But there's more to luck than pure chance. High achievers often share similar attitudes, such as perseverance, self-belief, optimism, ambition, and frustration. How we we perceive our circumstances and how we create and take opportunities depends largely on what we expect of ourselves" (25).

In The Element, Robinson shares the story of how Meg Ryan became an actress to demonstrate how "being connected with people who share the same passions and have a common sense of commitment" can help you to find your Element.  These people are referred to as your 'tribe'. When I read this years ago, it occurred to me that I hadn't found my tribe.  There are tips on how to build your tribe but finding the people for your tribe is an important aspect.

Anyway, Ryan intended on becoming a writer or journalist but to help pay for her college tuition she acted in commercials and that's when she found the world of actors to be fascinating. "I was surrounded by people who were interested in the human condition and the idea of bringing writing to life," said Ryan as she explained how she decided to turn acting into a profession. Robinson adds, "Meg Ryan could have been been many things... she has a wide variety of interests and fascinations. However, when she's acting, she finds herself with a group of people who see the world the way she does, who allow her to feel her most natural, who affirm her talents, who inspired her, influence her, and driver her to be her best... Being a part of this tribe brings her to the Element" (105).

While it's nice and ideal to be surrounded by your tribe, they also don't have to consist of people who work with you or people who are even alive. They can be erudite leaders you are inspired by or trailblazers who have set the path for you to pursue your passion. If the ideas I'm discussing in this post intrigue you I suggest reading The Element. It's very similar to Malcolm Gladwell's books.

My tribe will always consist of dynamic and open-minded people who understand why I say, "I'm not too sure if I want to get into the advertising industry" or "Let's talk about purpose, what we want to achieve in life and how we're going to do it". They're often genuine, sincere and intelligent individuals who want to make the world a better place in ways they can, especially through gaining and spreading knowledge. My tribe is always growing and evolving as I go through different stages and experiences in my life and as I continuously work on my Element and improving myself. When you have a tribe you realise: "Rejection is inevitable but it has nothing to do with your sense of worth. Not everyone needs to love you because you need to love who you are. You just need to find your tribe."  (thanks Dr. Shefali!)

I want to dedicate this post to my friends whom I met last year and consider to be part of my tribe - my fellow postgraduate colleagues from Victoria University. When I met my postgraduate friends from Victoria University last year I finally understood what it felt like to have a tribe. Now, I believe we can have more than one tribe, especially because we often have more than one interest in our lives. For today, I want to focus on my intellectual tribe, if I may call it that. When I met them we instantly clicked and had a lot in common, from our interest in spirituality to feminism to lipstick shades. I'm not saying it was effortless. No, relationships require effort but when you're with your tribe it almost gives you pleasure to make the effort. We could talk about the media industry, our dreams, our struggles and how neoliberalism has affected the education system all in one seating with great ease and without judgement. I never felt out of place with them nor did I feel like I had to try to fit in. We shared our joys, achievements, grievances and frustrations with empathy and concern. And most of all, I believe we helped each other in our journeys to find our Element (which is perhaps a lifelong endeavour), become stronger, more authentic women and we'll continue to support each other even when we're oceans apart.


Feda said…
Love this post and love seeing you in all your colors! It's fascinating to encounter people who see life the way you do and people you just click with at a different level than the superficial. XO
Shahirah Elaiza said…
@Feda: I LOVE you! xox
Moi said…
Yes so true ! Finding your tribe hits home, especially having more than one tribe !