Identity and Finding a Tribe

Identity and Finding a Tribe


Something of interest for me is identity, culture and finding a “tribe”.  By tribe, I am referring to a core group of people that are relatable and who view the world in the same way as I do, a tall order to be sure. In high school the tribes were as one would expect: cheerleaders, jocks, nerds, misfits etc. I can say with confidence that I did not fit in any one group.  I had friends in all of them and didn’t feel ownership over any collection of ideas or identity. It was a bit lonely in that way.  My tribe at that time was most definitely the dance studio friends that I had. Interestingly, we came from all different groups in our schools, but came together over our absolute passion for dance. As a Midwestern girl who had relocated to Florida my freshman year, this was very important to me. Floridians were so different from Midwesterners.  I was teased for my easy going nature, lack of interest in makeup, and the way I said “pop” instead of “soda”.  I was an outdoors, relaxed girl thrown into the beach and bikini environment of Florida and I didn’t like it one bit.

After marriage and the birth of my first child, I quickly surmised that the awkwardness that I had felt in high school lingered. I appreciated the dance community, yet did not buy into “the difficult lives nurture great art” themes that they professed. I was a deep thinker and slightly introspective. This and my early motherhood isolated me further. I could not relate to the other young twentysomethings in college, I never had that experience and really didn’t crave it. I didn’t relate to the older mothers and felt completely inadequate for the job most of the time. The only place I felt peace was in a dance studio.  Dancing, while taught in classes and groups, is a very solitary practice.  It was me against the mirror and perfection was something that was desired but never attained. Dance required a strong internal dialogue and mental toughness without the benefit of a team to lift me up on hard days. I suppose my tribe became my family and a small number of older dance students. Even with this, I still recognized that I had a chameleon like way to move between different groups of people and rather liked the freedom. I still retain this skill today. I can adapt my language, mannerisms and delivery depending on who I am talking to. It is a way of relating to someone delivered in a manner in which they can receive, unthreatened.

The trouble with this practice is that I can become lost in translation. The “real” Lavinia is buried under layers of other tribe’s communication styles that I have tried on for size over the years. As my family grew, I also moved multiple times. This exposed me to many different tribes of people from the Southern Bells to the Mormon communities of Utah. All had pieces to offer me in my bag of tricks and I am thankful for that. Still, not one group spoke to be completely in a way in which I could take ownership of. I began to think this might be what everyone else experiences in life, maybe I was not alone. After speaking out to a few friends, I found that many did not experience this but rather felt a sense of inclusion with groups that they identified with. I felt alone.

Moving into my second career I encountered this same thing once again. After retiring from dance, I decided to become a librarian. When I gather with other librarians at conferences I am again acutely aware that I am quite different from the group. I am neither the stereotypical quiet, reserved librarian, or the flashy sexy librarian of so many people’s fantasies. Many are even shocked when they hear my profession. I take this as a compliment in that I have once again put on a chameleon skin and am navigating the world untethered to a group’s image.


The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. Einstein


As I have passed middle age, I have begun to accept the fact that I have many tribes rather than just one. I am a complex women and embrace that fact that I am able to move between groups of people effortlessly. I have also accepted that I have a very small core group of people that really know me.  They consist of my family; I am not really a girlfriend type of girl. With them I do not have to put on other layers to communicate. They knew the child I was and the women I am. It is freeing in such a beautiful way. Being with people that have such a shared history and of whom I can pick up the phone and fall right into step, just as a tribe should be.  The fact that I do not have a large group of college friends, or families that I shared the experience of raising my children together with is not as important. I have learned to accept my uniqueness and embrace all of it. I am nearing a point in life in which I no longer care if another person thinks I “fit in” or if I find myself the only one at a gathering feeling as if I am on the outside. I enjoy the sociological perspective of this and like to observe the interactions that occur during the gathering.

I am not what one group defines me as. I am not even what I define myself as. I am many things. I am a daughter, sister. mother, dancer, writer, librarian, lover of nature, lover of the outdoors, introverted, fun to talk to one on one, funny and a little bit of a joker when you get to know me.  I am all of these things and more. If I cannot be put in a box, then I am doing something right on this journey.


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