Review: Tribes by Seth Godin

On a recent flight, I began reading Seth Godin’s Tribes. On the return flight, I finished it. It was my introduction to Seth Godin—no idea why I hadn’t found him sooner!—and what an introduction it was. The book blew me away. It is the best book on leadership and change management that I’ve ever read. While the content is sure to inspire change of the greatest sort within any organization—from business to church, non-profit to learning institution—it is also of incredible value to individuals.

In this post I want to share some of my favourite pieces from Tribes as well as some of my own insights.

Whether you want to create positive change in the world, in the workplace, or simply in your own, I recommend that you read the book for yourself. It is a relatively easy read, spliced up into short, digestible chapters. I got through it in a few hours. But it is absolutely packed with revolutionary ideas, suggestions, and real-life examples of people making a difference and leading tribes in today’s world.

Many people are starting to realize that they work a lot and that working on stuff they believe in (and making things happen) is much more satisfying then just getting a paycheck and waiting to get fired (or die).

I’ve begun to think of my generation as the Fight Club generation. Tyler Durden said it best, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” I think Tyler and Seth’s sentiments are one and the same. Our parents (or maybe you) were raised to believe that you needed to grow up, go to school, get a job, and stay there. Work hard, save money, vacation once a year, and retire as soon as possible.

Well, the Fight Club generation doesn’t want to hear that nonsense. We want gratification now. We don’t want to spend 40 hours a week miserable just so that we can collect a paycheck twice a month. We don’t want to spend half a lifetime at a job that we hate just so we can get fired or die one day! We believe that we can be happy now. We can pursue our passions, make a difference in the world, live out our dreams, and be successful all at once. And… we are right. We can do it. There are people doing it every single day. I love Tribes because it tells the stories of those people and more importantly, how they got there and how we can do it, too.

Somewhere along the way, perhaps when twenty thousand Ford workers lost their jobs in one day, or when it became clear that soft drink companies were losing all their growth to upstarts, the factory advantage began to fade.

The reason why the “school-job-suffer-retire” model worked for so long was because it was safe, it was comfortable. Human beings like to feel safe. It feels good to know that you will get a check once every couple weeks. It feels safe to know that you can walk into the office every morning and the lights will turn on and the computer will turn on. The peace of mind in trading your hours for dollars seems worth it when you have to put food on a table and a roof over someone’s head. But, guess what, that model isn’t really proving to be so safe after all.

The recent tanking of the economy has really shaken things up. People are losing their jobs at rapid rates, unemployment is way up. Ethics have been violated, corruption runs rampant, and people don’t feel safe anymore. We want to take matters into our own hands. We want to create the lives of our dreams and be completely independent. We are doing it every day.

In unstable times, growth comes from leaders who create change and engage their organizations, instead of from mangers who push their employees to do more for less.

Now, more than ever, each of us has an opportunity obligation to become a leader, to create change, and to make a positive difference. The ever-evolving world of social media and the Web—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, Google—give us instant access to an unthinkable quantity of information and resources. When we learn how to leverage those resources we can become unstoppable. When we teach others to leverage those resources our tribes can become unstoppable. It is a great time to be a leader, and it is also the right time.

Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.

Change = pain. If there is anything that I have learned over the past three years, it is this. Human beings are creatures of habit. When asked why things are done a certain way, most people will always respond the same way: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” It is safe, it is comfortable. Our profits may be plummeting, our staff may be miserable, our customers may be disgusted—but this is the way we’ve always done it! Don’t try to mess with our traditions! Right? Wrong!

Success takes dedication, hard work, persistence, and change. Dedication, hard work, and persistence can be painful. Some people are cut out for it and some people aren’t. The people that are, are the leaders. Being a leader is not comfortable and it’s not supposed to be. Being a leader takes character.

Believe it or not, anyone can do it. “No one is born charismatic. It’s a choice, not a gift” (Tribes).

Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.

The time for change is now, my friends. If not now, when? There has never been a time where the need for positive change was more urgent. If you do not realize that this moment is all you have, then you do not have anything. This is it. After this moment, nothing is promised—not tomorrow, not next week, not your 81st birthday. You have this moment and you alone get to decide what you do with it. Yes, you can surf Facebook for a few more hours and stalk out your ex-boyfriend’s life for awhile more. You can also sit on the couch with a six-pack and watch The Jersey Shore marathon on MTV. …But if you asked me, I’d tell you that you’ve got more important things to do. Whether you’ve been waiting to pitch a great idea to your boss, waiting to take a proactive approach to your health, or waiting to embark on that 6 month “vagablogging” journey; stop waiting!

There is really nothing in your way. There are no problems and no obstacles. Any anxiety that you might have stems from your past or your future; but your past and your future are not real! The only thing that is real is this moment, right now. The past and the future are in your head. No matter what you think is standing in your way, you can find a way around it. If you can’t get on the next flight to Melbourne (to start your career as a kangaroo-catcher) then sit down and figure out how you are going to make it happen. Right now.

I’m frequently asked about getting credit. People want to know how to be sure they get credit for an idea, especially when they have a boss who wants to steal it. Or they want to know how to be sure to give me credit for an idea in a book or a blog post of their own.

Real leaders don’t care.

If it’s about your mission, about spreading faith, about seeing something happen, not only do you not care about credit, you actually want other people to take credit.

There’s no record of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Gandhi whining about credit. Credit isn’t the point. Change is.

Stop worrying about the obstacles and start taking action. Stop worrying about who is going to get credit and start making a difference.

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What I loved most about Tribes is that it left me feeling like anything and everything is possible. The book is full of stories about ordinary people who did (and do) extraordinary things every single day. These people don’t let fear stop them. They become leaders and they create & inspire change. Every person is capable of this. You are capable of this! What do you want to do? Are you ready to become a leader? I say yes. Yes you are!

The Courage to Confront Your Dream

What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream. —The Alchemist

Are You Aware of What You’re Doing?

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately (as if you hadn’t noticed). One of my most urgent ambitions/dreams is to live an entirely purposeful life. I see people around me everyday, sleepwalking through life, on autopilot. Alarm clock, shower, breakfast, commute, zombie work, commute, dinner, television, sleep. Repeat. Day in and day out. It breaks my heart. What hurts more are the moments (sometimes hours) when I catch myself falling into that terrible haze. Of course I snap myself out of it as soon as I realize it’s happening. The way that I snap out of it is simple enough: I ground myself. I literally take notice of my feet on the Earth, carpet, tile (wherever I am). I recognize my breathing. I acknowledge that I am a human being walking the Earth, beneath the sky, on a great big planet, floating in the Universe. It’s really important to do that, to ground yourself in reality at least once a day, probably more. If you don’t do it you will get caught up in the trivial — the fight with your spouse; the disappointment over your kid’s report card; the scratch on your new car; the ever-growing pile of papers on your desk; your unappreciative boss — you get the picture.

Proactive vs. Reactive Living

When you ground yourself, you pull yourself from the depths of the trivial, unimportant, little details that tend to take control. When you ground yourself, you become aware. The only problem with grounding yourself this way is that it is reactive rather than proactive. There is actually a much better way to avoid autopilot and that is proactivity. I am going to start talking a lot on this blog about reactive vs. proactive thoughts and actions. So let me take a moment to define what I mean by each of these terms.

Reactive—Something happens and triggers you to take action.

Example 1: You get on the scale one morning to realize that you’ve gained ten pounds. Your reaction is to begin a diet and start breaking your back in the gym until you lose the ten pounds.

Example 2: Your marriage has been falling apart for the last two years. You fight with your spouse daily or more. You are both unhappy. You put everything before each other — work, friends, hobbies, etc. The marriage is your last priority. As a last resort you decide to attend marriage counseling.

Proactive—You consciously prepare and act in ways that will produce certain desired outcomes in your life.

Example 1: You are aware that you want to be physically healthy. You continually live a lifestyle that promotes health. You always take the stairs instead of the elevator. You run a mile each morning before work. You feed your body foods that it craves & needs and avoid “junk” whenever possible.

Example 2: Your marriage is one of your top priorities. You make “alone” time and set dates with your spouse at least once a week. You plan vacations together to explore places you’ve never seen. You participate in each others favourite hobbies. You fight, as all healthy couples do, but you practice open communication and work through arguments before they become significant problems.

If you analyze all of the actions and thoughts in your life, you will find that each one is either reactive or proactive. The goal is to make all of your thoughts and actions proactive. The problem with practicing reactive thinking or action, is that it is usually too late. And even when you do succeed, it is usually a short-lived success because reactive thoughts and actions do not treat the causes of problems; they only treat the symptoms.

Let’s take the reactive approach to the extra ten pounds for example. You notice the excess weight, you starve yourself, you go to the gym religiously — within a few months, the pounds are gone. You feel great for a little while, but soon you go back to your old habits. A few months later and the pounds are creeping back on. On the other hand, if you had made a decision to begin taking a permanent proactive approach to maintaining your health, you would have achieved long-lasting, sustainable progress and results. These same principles would apply to the example of the troubled marriage and any other example that you could think of.

Proactivity is a crucial element to a happy, fulfilling, successful life.

Follow Your Legend, Confront Your Dream

Now, I am going to tie this whole thing together and tell you how you can live a life of constant proactivity and sheer joy. Ready? Have another look at the opening lines to this post. What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream. (If you are not religious, replace the word God with the word Universe. What is a personal calling? It is the Universe’s blessing, it is the path that the Universe chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream. To me, the words God & Universe mean the same, beautiful, powerful thing.)

That’s it, my friends, if you want to live proactively, if you want to live the life of your dreams, all you have to do is confront your dreams and follow your legend.

Ask yourself these questions: What fills me with enthusiasm? What is the one thing that I could wake up and do happily every single day for the rest of my life without even being paid? When you have the answer, then you have your personal calling. It is the path that is meant for you. When you do this thing, you will follow your legend and you will confront your dreams.

Next month, it will be one year since I discovered my own personal calling. I will never forget the moment. It hit me like lightning — to help people by sharing my journey & the lessons I’ve learned along the way — so simple, but so amazing. That is what compelled me to start this blog eight months ago. That is what has kept me going ever since. And I know what you are thinking now: Dena, I can’t do it. You are making it sound so simple, but it’s not. I can’t afford to quit my job. I have a mortgage to pay. My mother is sick. I am not talented enough. I’m too old. It’s not practical. And the list of excuses will go on and on and on. Well, I am sorry, but none of your excuses are good enough! No matter how stuck you think you are — no matter how dire your circumstance might seem — there is a way out!

Take it from me. I was depressed and anxious for the first half of my life. I spent much of that time wanting my life to end. I was seventy pounds overweight. I was $40,000 in debt. How much further down could I have gone? I could have used a lot of excuses to keep myself in that state; but I didn’t. I made a decision to change my life. I lost seventy pounds. I overcame anxiety and depression. I’ve cut my debt in half and continue to pay it down every day! I figured out my personal calling and I am doing it. I am following my legend, confronting my dreams. I am making it happen — and you can do it, too.

Before you get started with your excuses again, I’d like you to imagine something. Imagine being born a young girl in Alabama in 1880. Imagine then growing up to understand French, German, Greek, and Latin. Imagine then going to Harvard, at a time when few women from your town did anything other than get married and raise kids. Imagine then writing a book that was translated into twenty-five languages and inspired two Oscar-winning movies. Imagine then meeting every President in your lifetime and being awarded the highest civilian honor—the Presidential Medal of Freedom. That would be some accomplishment, wouldn’t it? Now imagine doing all of that whilst being blind, deaf, and barely able to talk for your entire life.

It’s not impossible, friends. In fact, it’s very possible and there is a woman who did all of that, her name was Helen Keller. She accomplished all of those things, and more, because she believed in herself and she had a good teacher. (Taken from How to Be Rich & Happy.)

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.” —John Wayne

Every single day is a new opportunity for us to begin living the lives of our dreams. Today is called “the present” because it is a gift. Take it and do something with it!

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post. What is your personal calling? What obstacles are standing in your way? How are you going to overcome them? What can I do to help you get there? Let me know in the comments.