To Take Charge of Your Career, Start by Building Your Tribe

Without tribes, it would be impossible to remember who we are and imagine who we might become.

Show me a person who sees uncertainty as opportunity, and I’ll show you a person who has mastered the new world of work. Sue Ashford, Amy Wrzesniewski and I have collected many stories that show as much for a study of knowledge and creative workers.

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A masterful self protects us against the uncertainty of working on our own or moving from job to job.

We heard freelance journalists, consultants, designers, software engineers and executive coaches share tales of creative struggle, bitter loneliness and chronic uncertainty. And yet most claimed that they would not have it any other way.

They might be uncomfortable, but they were free.

Few of us these days expect our organizations to guarantee a job for life. In that sense, we are all independent workers.

In fact, mobility often defines talent in this world: The people who feel safest are those who know they can leave, and the people organizations are often most desperate to keep are those with ample options elsewhere.

Freelance workers and corporate managers might seem very different, but they have much in common in their pursuits of independence and portability.

Namely, they share the aspiration to fashion a masterful self, able to endure adversity, experience freedom and be of service to others.

A masterful self

A masterful self is useful because it protects us against the uncertainty of working on our own or moving from job to job.

It spurs us to take responsibility for our learning and productivity. It makes us more confident and effective. It is precious because it transforms us from captives of our circumstances to shapers of our destiny.

We can’t achieve and hold onto a masterful self on our own. The workers we studied took care to cultivate relationships that helped them endure and enjoy their independent and mobile working lives.

They might have been nomads, but they needed a tribe. They often described having a tight community, usually a handful of people, who took the edge off their working lives. With those people, they were neither on show nor for sale.

How do communities help us build our masterful self?

Instead of demanding conformity in exchange for safety, they keep our working lives exciting and us stable, ultimately helping us master our working lives. Without them, those same lives might make us bored or too anxious.

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Tribes raise the questions that help us explore the edges of our competence and identity.

Besides letting us feel accepted as we are, they encourage us to show up generously in the world.

They give us courage as well as comfort. They also let us take risks to try something new and focus on learning.

More than a pool of experts serving as resources when you need them, these tribes raise the questions that help us explore the edges of our competence and identity or send us in new directions.

Hard as you might look, you cannot find such communities. You must build them yourself.

Our loose attachments to institutions make it more necessary to find our tribe. Without it, it would be impossible to remember who we are and imagine who we might become.

This article originally appeared on Harvard Business Review and was republished with permission.

[Top photo: Belle Co/Pexels]

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Gianpiero Petriglieri is an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD.

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