How I Knew I’d Found My Tribe
When I was finishing my master’s degree in adult fitness–cardiac rehabilitation in La Crosse, Wisconsin in the fall of 1981, I was struggling with how my dietetics degree would fit into the next chapter of my career. While I liked nutrition, the traditional “hair net” or “lab coat” (food service or clinical) jobs did not appeal to me. Leafing through the member newsletter from the American Dietetic Association, I saw an announcement that some dietitians were forming a practice group in Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition and needed signatures for a petition. The group would be called SCAN. I didn’t know it then, but that was when I found my tribe.
Shortly after signing the petition, I reached out to one of the founders, Marilyn Schorin, and invited her to work with me to develop a SCAN session at the spring conference for the American College of Sports Medicine. She wholeheartedly agreed, and six months later I met my first SCAN colleagues. They weren’t like any other dietitians I’d met so far; they were like me!
Later, when I was moving to Dallas to work at the Cooper Aerobics Center, I reached out to Georgia Kostas, who was the nutrition director at the Cooper Clinic. Georgia warmly welcomed me to Dallas and the Aerobics Center – she even located an apartment for me so I had a place to live when I arrived. Who does that for a colleague you barely know? Someone in your tribe.
Over the next 10 years, SCAN became a focal point for me, and through my volunteer work with SCAN, I met hundreds of dynamic dietitians who shared my passion for pursuing a blended career in nutrition and exercise/fitness. I grew as a leader and formed lasting friendships. Shortly after serving as chair, I began to have babies and SCAN took a back seat to raising my kids and doing my job … 20 years flew by.
Again, I was struggling about my next career step and wondering where nutrition fit into it. I heard that SCAN was organizing a 30th Anniversary Celebration and a little voice inside told me to raise my hand and help. That decision – just like signing the petition in 1981 – began a new SCAN chapter in my life. I’m now serving on the Executive Committee again, and I recently participated in an executive retreat with SCAN’s current leaders. Different SCAN members, but they are still my “peeps.”
The juxtaposition of my early- and late-career SCAN experiences leads me to ponder what it means to find a tribe.
- Can Be Yourself – Unlike other social settings, where we might feel pressured to “fit into a mold,” when we are in our tribes, we don’t feel judged for candidly expressing ourselves. Authenticity leads to deeper and more trusting relationships. Colleagues turn into friends. These connections strengthen our commitment to the tribe and the people in it.
- Care About the Same Things – My SCAN colleagues and I shared similar career goals and values. We also bonded over a mutual commitment to building SCAN as a professional organization. Individual work and leadership contributed to something bigger than what anyone could have done alone. More people joined. Collective energy led to success: SCAN membership grew from 500 to over 3,700 in the first 10 years. With over 7,000 members, it is now the largest practice group in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. When a tribe stands for a higher purpose that matters to people, it can accomplish phenomenal results.
- Not Afraid to Shake Things Up – Tribes can disrupt the status quo, start movements, and leave a mark in the world. My SCAN tribe energizes me because the people in the group are bold and daring. They charter new territory in their individual work and for the organization. I’m drawn to people with the courage and tenacity to create change. Perhaps it’s not a universal reason why people connect to social networks, but groups with the power to create change gain the momentum to make things happen.
- Like to Have Fun! – For me, an organization has to be more than work. When I find deeper relationships, emotional connections, and playful outlets, the work is more enjoyable. I give more and I get more.
In his book, Tribes, and TED presentation, “The Tribes We Lead,” marketing guru Seth Godin talks about social marketing tribes and how leaders build movements by telling a story, unifying disconnected groups, and channeling collective energy toward a cause. He describes leaders of social tribes as those who challenge the status quo and build a new culture by inviting people into a “secret handshake” (rituals/norms unique to that group) that makes them feel like they are part of something that matters. Godin’s principles somewhat parallel my experience with SCAN.
What is your SCAN story (literally or figuratively)? What were your moments of truth when found your tribe? How did you know it was your tribe? How does your tribe enrich your life?