When I was a kid my father used to say, “Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are” <in Spanish>. When I was in Elementary School his advice didn’t really make sense. Then in Middle School I began to see the tribes forming. Finally, it was in High School where the social experiment began in earnest. The lines were drawn in blood between competing groups and joining a circle was essential to surviving the four years with your sanity intact.
My social chameleon skills blossomed in those last teenage years. My main group were the Magnet students, black kids bussed in from all over Miami-Dade to learn how to become engineers. They exposed me to a culture that I was unfamiliar with being a Cuban kid from predominantly Spanish neighborhoods. Then there were the fringe crowds I was introduced to by my girlfriend at the time, gay kids who didn’t fit into theater or other clubs and hung out in a secluded part of the school. That’s where I learned their stories of being perpetual outsiders, shunned by family and still searching for their tribes. There were also the stoner/skater kids who loved punk and ska music who I met through another girlfriend–girls were a gateway for me to many cliques. I rubbed shoulders with jocks through my fellow Magnet students, who did all the afterschool sports, and my own short-lived stint in Track & Field. It was a melting pot of experiences achievable by my talent for sliding into social clusters and acting like I had always been there.
This proficiency made me damn near perfect for the consulting work I did as an Info Tech gun-for-hire. Every week I was in a new city, state, or country; dropped behind enemy lines with a singular mission to teach, implement, or reconfigure a piece of technology. I navigated the economic wastelands of backwoods North Carolina, brutally cold streets of Chicago in the middle of the night for Data Center emergencies, and criss-crossed the United Kingdom via train. Wherever I went my job was to execute a project, but also to build a quick rapport with the client in order to give our work a better chance at success. When you’re constantly switching between hats—nerd, bon vivant, trusted advisor, rescue team—you can lose sight of who you are.
It wasn’t until I began extricating myself from Info Tech that I realized how mercurial my core had become. The past year and a half has been spent trying to rediscover the edges of what makes me a person and rebuild the map of who I want to be in life. As I look around, my father’s words ring loudly in my ears. What I want to achieve in life, the milestones I want to reach, and the way I want to live my life are far from the beaten path. When I share these thoughts with others I now find myself as the alien in the group not the welcomed familiar who fits right in.
The wanderlust is difficult enough for many people to understand, but then you throw in the artistic pursuits, radical change in career, multiple brushes with death, and all the other flotsam and jetsam accumulated over my years, and I turn into a strange creature from an unknown world to be studied from a distance. I’m having trouble finding my tribe, those kindred spirits with the same thirst for a life well-lived.
Sometimes the words of Hugh MacLeod pop into my brain when I’m wrestling with all of this.
“The price of being a sheep is BOREDOM. The price of being a wolf is LONELINESS. Choose one or the other with great care.”
But then I’m reminded that wolves run in packs, tightly knit and cooperative, which gives me hope for the future. I believe I will find those who want a life outside of the rulebook. A life with a global viewpoint, inclusive of the world and drinking in its myriad possibilities.
Image by Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid