I live in a small town, under 15,000 people small. Now I know there are smaller towns than this, but I came from Cincinnati with a population of slightly over 2 million. To me, it’s tiny. To give you perspective on how small I’ll tell you that I live in a house that was previously owned by a high school teacher and people constantly inform me, “Oh yeah, I’ve been in your house.” There are five legitimate restaurants, one gas station, and one Dunkin’ Donuts (which says a lot for a New England town).
To me, I feel like I’m back in high school.
I knew exactly 2 families when I moved in to the community and that number has slowly grown since my children started grade school. But I find all of the insecurities and challenges I faced as a teenager in high school creeping back to the forefront of my mind. I attend birthday parties for my son’s friends, and I’m literally standing against a wall just observing the other parents’ interactions and wondering, “Will someone actually talk to me? Do I look appropriately dressed? Is this the “in” crowd?” Or I volunteer at the school and find myself scrutinizing every clothing selection I make and how I apply my make up prior to leaving the house in an attempt to fit in with the current trends of the other moms. I attend story time at the library with my youngest daughter, and I look around examining the other moms, wondering if just one of them wants to be my friend.
It’s exhausting. And in the end I just want to belong, to have my own tribe of women that I can honestly call my girlfriends.
I recently listened to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast episode 131 in which she discusses the Happiness Stumbling Block of feeling “like you are in high school, all over again.” She explains how this feeling brings back anxiety and uncertainty and can occur whenever important areas of your life are changing. In their discussion, Elizabeth remembers words of advice Gretchen once gave her, “It’s not that it’s high school all over again, but it’s that life is high school. High school is just the first time you noticed it.” I stopped in my tracks when I heard that because it is incredibly true. Most of us experience changes whether it be with a career, a move, marriage or children. All of these have the potential to turn the status of our current existence upside down, resulting in uncertainty and insecurity which is exactly the same emotions high school elicits.
So how do I survive this small town? How do I find my tribe?
Truth is, I believe I need to lean into this discomfort and literally put myself out there. Just like in high school, to find your tribe, you need to put aside your insecurities and be vulnerable with people. Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for, and other times you might not. At this stage in my life, I really have nothing to lose if it doesn’t turn out. I’ve honestly thought about wearing a banner with the words “Will you be my friend?” on it because, just like high school, the majority of people around you are in the same boat. I’m nearly positive that I’m not the only one who needs a tribe in my town. But, will I be the one to step up to the plate?
It’s a challenge for me, as well as you. Whether you find yourself in need of a tribe of women or men, don’t let that “it’s high school all over again” feeling keep you from seeking out the connections we all desperately desire and need.
Your Fellow Traveler,