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February 8, 2011 > Counseling Corner: What is Your Tribe?

Counseling Corner: What is Your Tribe?

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

I once landed my dream job, the coolest job you can imagine. It was the kind of job that only a select few in the world get to experience. (Sorry I can't give you more details than that - the people in my "dream" job would hunt me down and give me grief). You would think that I'd still be in paradise working my dream job, but I only lasted a few sorry months. Almost as soon as I landed that job, I had to quit because the people at the organization were more toxic than leaking barrels from Chernobyl. I simply didn't and couldn't fit into that particular corporate culture.

Here's the flip version of my first story - when I was in graduate school, I did a summer internship at a nonprofit in San Jose. The job paid hardly anything and I had a doozy of a commute (this was way back in the dotcom boom days when commuting from Fremont to San Jose took over an hour). My job responsibilities weren't even in my areas of interest or passion. You would think that I would hate a job that didn't pay well, had a horrendous commute, and wasn't completely interesting to me. But that job was one of my favorite jobs of all time because of the colleagues I got to work with. They were caring, kind, supportive, and appreciative people who were welcoming and accepting. They worked hard, were good at what they did, and were willing to share of themselves and their knowledge. Even though I was only a summer intern, I was immediately welcomed into their circle. Very quickly, I felt like part of their family. They inspired me with their work attitudes and work ethic, and I feel like I'm a better person for having worked with them.

The moral of these two stories? Choose your work environment and work family with great care!

People often worry about the "right" career or job for them. This is, of course, a legitimate concern, but I would add that one's work environment is an important component of a person's overall career satisfaction. We don't often think about this aspect, but the tales of woe from my clients attest to the fact that finding one's right tribe is critical to career happiness.

What are some things you can do to make sure that you find the right tribe?

If you are in the process of looking for a job, read carefully about the company culture and try to find out from the people who are working there what it is like to work in that company or department. If you are at the interview stage, be sure to ask about the company culture with questions like, "What kinds of mentoring happen here?" or "How are mistakes handled here?" or "What is your supervisory style like?"

If you are in the process of trying to figure out your career, reflect on the types of people you like to be with. Who are you most comfortable with? Who do you admire? What kinds of people inspire you? These questions can help lead you to finding your tribe.

If you are torn between one or two career choices, say being a nurse or being a paramedic, see if you can line up an informational interview with several nurses and paramedics and see how you fit in with them. If you can't find anybody to interview, go to a professional conference where you are guaranteed to meet dozens of nurses and paramedics.

Another helpful source of information is the Strong Interest Inventory, a research-based career assessment tool that matches your responses with the responses of people who are satisfied with their jobs and gives you suggestions for career fields to consider. It's like a career without the dating hazards.

If you are currently in a job where you don't feel like you are in the right tribe, there are some things you can do to safeguard your mental health if you can't leave your job: get a mentor who can support you through this time. Find external sources of support to inspire and validate you even though your work environment doesn't. Be sure to set good boundaries between yourself and your work. This latter piece of advice is essential if you are in a dysfunctional work environment.

I do believe that finding your tribe is one of the keys to job and personal happiness. If you think about it, many of us spend more time with our co-workers than with our own families. Isn't it crucial, then, that we feel good about the people we work with?

Best of luck in finding your work tribe!

(c) Anne Chan, 2011

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is

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