Updated: Jul 16
“To be nobody but yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” — e e cummings
One of the great secrets to a fulfilling life is to stop caring what other people think—and most especially to stop caring what your tribe thinks, the group to which you belong, or want to belong.
This is one of the most difficult things you will ever attempt. The pull to gain status with others is subtle. The hooks of social climbing dig so deep into our souls it's often hard to distinguish what you want from what your tribe says you should want. But to truly live free, you have to die to what other people think of you. You have to actively reject the “status seeking” game, and listen instead for the voice of the true and noble within yourself.
This is not easy. It can often feel like trying to swim straight across a fast-moving river. You can think you're swimming in a straight line, but when you reach the far shore you realize the river has moved you hundreds of meters downstream from where you wanted to be. The force of the river is very strong, even though you don't really feel it while you're swimming because you are immersed in its flow.
This is how the compulsion for status works as well. It's so easy to get swept downstream by the currents of tribal pressure that you might not even realize you’ve lost your way until some painful event in your life acts as a mirror to force you to see you aren’t the person you meant to be, and you aren't living the life you meant to live. Somehow in the arduous work of trying to make it to that far shore, your life has become a shallow imitation of other people’s opinions and other people’s rules. There's nearly nothing of your own true self left in it at all.
This is how powerful and all-consuming the pull to “gain status” can be. The first cowboys wore cowboy hats because they were a practical help in the heat of the midday sun. But now nearly everyone who wears a cowboy hat does it to gain status in the Cowboy Tribe. It has become a way to signal to the other tribe members that you “get” what being a cowboy is all about. You deserve to belong.
All of these social dynamics remain almost entirely unconscious unless we actively work to make them conscious. As I often say in my Enneagram Deep Dive Program: You need to get wise to the game you're playing.
Here are a few questions to help you explore:
Who is your “tribe”? To what group(s) do you belong—or want to belong? Some examples might include the:
Successful Entrepreneur Tribe
Artistic Creative Tribe
Competitive Athlete Tribe
Conservative Christian Tribe
Progressive Christian Tribe
Social Justice Tribe
Black American Tribe
White American Tribe
Spiritual But Not Religious Tribe
What are your tribe’s “status markers”—that is, the key possessions, attitudes, and behaviors you need to adopt to signal to the group that you are “one of them”? Some examples might include:
Driving a particular kind of car, or truck
Decorating your house in a particular style
Living in the country
Talking in a certain style, or with a particular accent
Knowing about wine, or basketball, or some other specific interest
Attending a church service every week
Wearing a particular style of clothing
Playing a particular sport (golf, anyone?)
How does someone gain higher status within your tribe? What do you have to do to “climb the ladder of success” within the tribe? Some examples might include:
Go on a mission trip
Get up early and “hustle” every day
Make more money year over year
Get involved in charity work and/or philanthropy
Get 100,000 followers on Instagram
Stay in excellent physical shape
Participate in a Bible study group
Hang an American Flag on your house
Cuss a lot
Don’t cuss at all
(These are all just examples. The possibilities are as endless and varied as the tribes we create.)
If you don't take the necessary time to work through these questions with respect to all the tribes you associate yourself with, you can easily end up living a life that is everyone else's, but isn't your life at all.
A core piece—perhaps the core piece—of finding true fulfillment in life comes from actively rejecting these societal games. You can't just swim straight across the river and expect to end up where you want to go. You have to swim upstream as well, against the current that pressures you to conform to your tribe's status requirements.
Practically speaking, this means you must die to your reputation, and the persistent clambering of your ego for fame or attention or the adoration of the crowd. Instead of this, you must train yourself to pay exquisite attention to your own true voice, the voice of your true life within you.
“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” — Howard Thurman
If you're curious to dig deeper, take some time this week to work through the questions above. Once you have done that, ask yourself:
Who were you meant to be? If none of your tribes got a vote, who would you be then?
What is the life you were meant to live?
To create that life moving forward from here…
what must you let go of?
what must you lay down?
what must you pick up, and make your own?
what must you commit to, no matter the cost?
“We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—even of silence—by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse…I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.” — Annie Dillard