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The word “tribe” has been used a lot lately. It’s become a cultural phenomenon, this idea of finding a tribe. Perhaps it’s a result of being a bit too connected, a consequence of social media in the digital age, but we’re starting to look for where we really belong, trying to find people with similar values and outlooks, trying to find where our skills and passions fit.

In his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin describes a tribe as “any group of people, large or small, who are connected to one another, a leader, and an idea.” I love the concept: your tribe is where you belong. We all have been part of a tribe since the beginning of time. It feels uncomfortable to not fit into one.

The thing about tribes is that the anthropological definition includes the quality of “existing before the development of, or outside of, states.” (Wikipedia) There’s no need for tribes anymore, and because the only tribe we’ve had to start creating modern tribes.

As a result, we have sports teams, school teams, religions, bike clubs, fan clubs, and even our best friends, our chosen family, whom we drink wine with while trying to solve the world’s problems.

Our profession even forms tribes, and because my personal definition of a tribe includes admiring the leaders and respecting the members, I’ve discovered some of the leaders of my own tribe, whom I respect and admire: Linda Miles, Tanya Brown, Judy Kay Mausolf, Bete Johnson, Yolanda Mangrum, Fred Joyal, Gordon Christensen, Patti DiGangi, Heather Mapp,  even Richard Branson of Virgin Group and the author Zig Ziglar, among others.

Don’t try to fit in to the tribe; make the tribe fit you

One of my first positions as a dental hygienist was working for a high-profile dentist that had all the latest equipment with all the bells and whistles. He also had great patients, because he was an all-star: his work was some of the best in the industry.

Yet he treated people poorly and was always surprised to tell us that his dreams involved him being blown up – literally. I actually felt sorry for him, until he insulted my clothing choices, docked my pay, and ate half my lunch, and then I understood the reason for his nightmares. (I have pretty tough skin, but having my lunch eaten is where I draw the line. When a hygienist has not had time for a restroom break , and then their lunch gets eaten by the boss, you can be sure they will want to blow you up!)

I probably stayed too long at that office because it was so high tech and beautiful, and I loved the patients. But it was not my tribe. I believe in being kind and respectful to people no matter who they are or where they come from, and I couldn’t compromise that belief for any practice. If your values don’t align, it’s just a matter of time before it all blows up.

We have all the tools to make our work meaningful. If you’re in the dental profession and you don’t feel passionate or motivated by what you’re doing, you probably aren’t finding meaning in what you do, and you’re definitely not going to be happy doing it. And if you don’t feel like your work is meaningful, it is my pleasure to convince you otherwise.

Your tribe should reflect your purpose

People are starting to realize that if they’re going to work so much, they might as well be working on something they love. Finding one’s purpose is becoming more important than finding a big paycheck.

It’s no secret that I live and breathe dentistry. I feel that I am at home in my profession, and my tribe is my dental family. It has given me such happiness and joy in my life.

I fit in my tribe – or should I say, the tribe fits me – because the profession is about helping others. You alleviate their pain. You help them feel better about themselves. You change their lives. Helping others makes the profession meaningful to me.

It’s helpful to know that you can start seeing the meaning in your profession now; you don’t need any training to do so: it’s all about perception and attitude. However, perception and attitude only go so far.

Your tribe reflects your values: if it doesn’t, you’re in the wrong one. Don’t try to fit to the tribe. Make a change!


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