Looking back on my life, I cannot believe it took me as long as it did to realise the value of social support and finding your tribe. It took me facing a life-altering loss I barely thought I would survive to value the people in my life truly and also to recognise and seek out the right people.
Most of my childhood and teenage years were spent being the odd one out. I grew up as an only child, and I enjoyed my own company and tended to be a social introvert. I like to think of that as someone who enjoys one on one company with select people. In my twenties I felt I was spending time with people; however, I realised that it was a very selfish decade. I tried to figure out how to get ahead in my career and prioritised time with my partner over everything else. There is nothing wrong with spending most of your time with your partner but do not do it at the expense of your friends or family. Do not do it exclusively. Let me tell you why.
When I turned 30, I became pregnant with our first child. This partner I spent most of my time with, Costa, was now my husband and we couldn’t wait to start our own family. Shortly after our daughter was born, a beautiful healthy baby, Costa was shot in a hijacking on a Friday afternoon in our hometown. Whilst he was in surgery, I phoned everyone I could think of to pray, hope, anything. So many people showed up, and some drove for hours or got on a plane immediately. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by people. And I am forever grateful for those people. They held our newborn baby whilst I prayed harder than I ever had. They kept me breathing, for Costa died of his wounds that night in the hospital.
Over the next few weeks, I suddenly realised that the social support I needed was there. I realised that even though we hadn’t put in much effort to spend real, quality time with our people they still showed up when we needed them most. There was also someone at my house between Costa’s friends and my friends until I managed to pull myself up out of my grief to carry on and overcome. It was the most horrible time of my life, and I do not know if I would have survived the way I did if I did not reach out for the hands trying to support me.
It took me many more months to truly realise that all our friends were grieving too. I was so focused on my loss and the loss of our daughter that only in hindsight was I able to recognise how loved we were. Only in retrospect was I able to recognise that we had a tribe that we thought we put the effort in to. It is not always because Costa had a heart for so many people, but only once you lose someone so tragically do you realise how much we all need each other. How much we need to come together and truly connect on a level of vulnerability and truth.
In 2020 that realisation returned to me as the world faced a massive shift. As we all begun to grieve the way things were and how important social connection is, the drive to strengthen or even identify your tribe became necessary for us not just to make it through but because legally, depending on which part of the world you find yourself in, you could only spend time in person with your “cohort”, or what I like to call your identified “isolation tribe”.
My tribe has supported me through the ugly crying, through the celebrations, through the stresses, through the bittersweet moments. They love me, they love my daughter, and I love them and their families. My tribe has supported me in my crazy big ambitions, and I will do whatever I can to help them succeed in theirs. My tribe shows up even when we have to social distance, whether a drive-by, a zoom wine call, a virtual coffee or learning how to do the Jerusalema dance halfway across the world.
It took adversity for me to recognise my tribe and the amazing support that having people in your life that love you and that you love dearly can bring. It took me losing the love of my life to realise how much I love my people. Look around you, look at your group messages on your phone, look at the clubs you belong to, the mom or dad group you joined, the hiking club you go on adventures with, even the online community you created when stuck at home. Your tribe is all around you.
I challenge you to take a moment today to recognise who these people are in your life. Your partner, his loud parents, your best friend, their fearless kids, your mentor, your colleagues, these are your tribesmen. Perhaps even your partner’s school friends that still come around and reminisce. Do not let it take adversity or a tragedy to help you realise who these people are. Live each day in love and community, even during these physically distanced times. As Edward Kennedy says, “What divides us pales in comparison to what unites us.” Recognise the power of what brings you and your tribe together. Show up for them, let them know you are there, and they are your people. Tell them you love them, make it weird. Life is too short not to, trust me.