I have never felt a strong sense of community after I first dropped out of college at 18.
Most people my age couldn’t relate to me and vice versa. I didn’t drink or smoke (often). I cared very little about dating. I had no interest in going to raves (anymore). I had no midterms or homework since I wasn’t in school. So what do I talk about with other 18-year-olds?
Venturing off and trying to start my own business left me unable to connect with friends my age, isolated at coffee shops, and led me down a dark place. It felt terrible and incredibly lonely.
This feeling of isolation started my quest to find friends who were as weird as I was.
I didn’t know what I was looking for at the time but I wanted to find other people who took unconventional paths, also felt like a misfit, enjoyed reading (and applying) lessons from books to improve themselves, prioritizing agency over their lives, and having a strong desire to help others.
After four years of going to conferences, socials, events, and even hosting my own gatherings… I feel like I was FINALLY connecting with my kind of people. It wasn’t until we established our main tribe was when people from the outside say to me, “Wow, I would want to be part of that.”
People started to resonate with the values that we have established and the quirky things that we did with each other. It turns out that there are other people who are deeply passionate about personal growth and social impact… and would rather jump straight into deep conversations then stay at surface level.
One of my biggest missions in life is to help people find or build community. I’d like to share some of the quirky things that we do with each other as an inspiration for what is possible.
I’d like to stress for you to not imitate us, but find people who do things that YOU enjoy doing, and that there are other weirdos out there to make it happen.
Coaching through our biggest problems
When anyone in our tribe has a problem or something that they would like help processing, several people volunteer to “coach” them through the issue. None of us are therapists but we realize the value of having an outsider look at our situation to help us find the answer. We use “motivational interviewing” to help the person discover their own blind spots, a skill that is often used by executive coaches.
Example: I once brought up that I couldn’t help but feel superior to other 20-somethings knowing where I am in life compared to them. I would remember going to a Philz Coffee seeing folks over 30 years old ringing me up for my order and think, “What have you been doing with your life?”
I knew I had a problem with my ego and I seemed to judge other people harshly when I have zero context on who they are.
My friends offered to let me coach me about the issue. Coaching can be as informal as a 1-on-1 conversation or as formal as two friends grilling me with questions, listening intently, while another friend writes everything down via Google Docs.
They would ask me questions like:
- Why do you think you are better than them?
- How are these thoughts impacting how you interact with them?
- What does this say about you?
- What would the best version of Tam think in this situation?
Often times, you discover things you already knew about yourself, but in a different light where you go, “OHHHH. I finally get it.” In this example, I already knew that people come from all backgrounds and privilege. I knew that I am extremely privileged. I knew that comparison is not helpful. I knew that being a barista is towards the bottom of a made-up career ladder that society has created.
But hearing myself saying these things out loud and truly processing everything makes me understand and “get it.”
Typing this story now realizes how pretentious that might have sounded. But it’s a very raw thought that I felt I needed help through because (1) I want to grow as a human and (2) my friends want to do support me.
Other breakthroughs (for me) included texting my dad to have lunch, the first time in 6+ years that I’ve seen him in person after my parents got divorced. They helped me talk through a keynote speech that I gave to 4,000+ high school students. They have helped me process what kind of impact I want to make in the world that helped me make several important career decisions. Another friend helped me tackle my fear of dating and process all of the mental blocks that was stopping me from taking action.
The cool thing is that this is very normal. I can text anyone, “Hey, I need some help processing a tough situation at work. You free to help sound board?” People in the tribe are very likely to say yes and off we go.
Having a safe space to talk about our most vulnerable problems with friends who truly want to support us is one of the greatest gifts of our tribe.
If 1000 years have passed and historians would have to label our group of friends, they would probably call us “Millennial Misfits.”
We just don’t do most things that millennials are expected to do. It’s not that we are trying to defy the status quo. It’s just something we are not interested in.
Most people go out for drinks and clubbing on a Friday night. Instead, we rent a conference room in the back of a milk tea shop to have over 3 hours of deep conversation around topics like mental health, porn, lifestyle design.
Most people love spending money on nice things. We value minimalism and are aggressively saving money for FIRE, which is creating financial independence to retire early. We all still want to work, but on projects that we get to choose regardless if it pays or not.
Most people go on a getaway trip and a vacation. We instead organize friend retreats twice a year. We lead workshops and activities that open us up to be extra vulnerable to each other.
Most people talk about their jobs, gossip, celebrities, trending TV shows. We talk about topics like emotional labor, social issues, and actively share interesting documentaries and podcast episodes.
Most people want to get a good job after college, get married, buy a house, and have kids. We want to do this too but are very open to living in a tiny home, adopting children, and homeschooling our kids.
I remember being in circles where I would openly share some of these desires and forget that most of the people there lived conventional lives. They looked at me like I was crazy. However, with our tribe, living unconventionally is a norm and a theme among all of us.
Creating an impact
We all deeply care about helping others. Especially those who need the most help like minorities who don’t get the same opportunities as everyone else, high school students, lower-middle class citizens, and more.
The majority of us are involved in education because we care about helping young people. We are high school teachers, former edtech investors, edtech founders, authors, course creators, diversity and inclusion leaders, SAT tutor, chess teacher, and informal mentors to many.
We actively read books like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, watch documentaries like Most Likely to Succeed and Crime+Punishment, watch shows like The Wire, and podcast episodes from ReplyAll and Revolutionist History around social justice.
We host events around social impact, personal development, and education usually at someone’s house but sometimes public events with 50+ people to bring more awareness.
We geek out about what is the most effective way to do good better. What levers do we want to pull? What skills do we need? How would we like to give back? Who are the people we admire that do a good job around this?
Now we aren’t crazy. We read fiction books, play volleyball, watch Key and Peele, listen to Ariana Grande and more. But that is not what keeps us together. Our uncommon commonalities are the glue to our tribe.
Plus no matter where we go in life, our group will always support each other in any way that we can, no questions asked.
Even if you don’t care about most of the things above, I hope you can find a community who accepts you for who you fully are, where you all want the very best for each, and have lots of fun along the way.
Unfortunately and fortunately, I plan to move to another country in 30 days, leaving behind the BAMBU tribe and the community I spent years building.
I wrote a plan of action of how I plan to rebuild my community once I’m settled in Toronto, Canada. If you’re curious or if you want inspiration on actionable things that you can do, feel free to look at my plan here.
Good luck finding your own tribe of people who “get” you. Having a community who loves and supports you is the greatest gift in the world.
Tam Pham's Blog
I write about my adventures, learnings, and reflections on living my weird, unconventional life. Subscribe below!