I heard a podcast recently in which two best-selling authors were talking about chemistry – the intuitive sense that this person or those people are “my people.” Partly because I’m a raging extrovert, partly because a big part of my life’s calling is relationships and partly because I believe life with others is what the whole spiritual journey is about, I think finding “my people” is one of the essential components to wholeness and joy.
Of course, “my people” is a fluid category, which is why you probably aren’t still friends with your high school buddies (at least in the same way) or married to the first girl you went out with. As life ebbs and flows, today’s “my people” often turn into “used to be my people.” That’s just an inevitable part of the journey.
I heard an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and presenter of one of my favorite TED talks) and she was talking about meeting fans and how 20 people may say to her at a book signing, “your book changed my life.” For whatever reason, though, the 21st connects at a deep, soul level, and the compliment reduces her to tears. (And the 22nd is so creepy that she wants to call over security, even though they said the exact same words as the others.) Whatever is going on there, it’s about connecting with “my people.”
And so, earlier this week, a friend and I were talking about “my people” and asking, how do you know when you’ve met “my people”?
The first thing we came to is that we usually just know within minutes. It’s something about eye contact, pheromones, “energy,” or “the vibe.” I heard someone say that it’s stupid to commit to a long first date (dinner AND a show), because you usually know in the time it takes to consume one drink whether someone is “my people.” I’ve met people and in the space of a single conversation moved to the deep stuff. And I’ve also journeyed with people for years and, while I may like them, value them, respect them, think the world of them, they just aren’t “my people.” We can’t be “my people” with everyone.
The next step, my friend and I decided, is that we test the premise. Addie Zierman, in her book When We Were on Fire, talks about how she uses swearing as a way to ascertain whether someone (particularly in the Christian subculture) is “my people” (a strategy I also frequently employ). If I see them wince, I know they aren’t.
But I test it in other ways as well. I name my favorite things: books, movies, hobbies, tastes and wait to see their reaction. They don’t need to share all my interests, but generally “my people” have a degree of overlap or at least empathy. I throw out an idea, a viewpoint, an opinion and see if it’s shared, valued or reciprocated.
And then we start to descend the vulnerability spiral, choosing to share more intimate things, building intimacy, going deeper with each other. I share a struggle, a temptation, a vice, a failure and I wait to see what happens. “My people” respond in kind. They share their junk, they’re vulnerable with me in the same way I was with them.
This is what Brene Brown is talking about in Daring Greatly when she talks about mutual vulnerability and connectivity:
“When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them – people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story. Is there trust? Is there mutual empathy? Is there reciprocal sharing? Can we ask for what we need? These are the crucial connection questions.”
But I guess it also works in reverse as well. Sometimes it’s working the other way, where people who used to be “my people” are becoming less so. And it’s not necessarily just about them, sometimes it’s about us and our journey and our circumstances, and in those times we’re working the other direction. We’re sharing less than we used to, establishing a new, shallower depth of intimacy, finding new “my people” to go deeper with, and that’s okay too.
Anyway, here’s the point of this whole post: I hope you’re finding “my people.” I hope your journey is one of being open to new experiences of “my people,” because part of the spiritual journey of growing upward and inward is the experience of doing so with others. With “my people.”