I often write about how I am an introvert, and enjoy the road less traveled, blah, blah, blah. But, there is something to be said about the joy and comfort of being among people who make you feel safe, appreciated, validated, and loved. I’ve actually discovered recently that it is what I live for.
This job as a flight attendant can feel very isolating at times – mostly when working with a crew (or multiple crews in succession) of people with which you have no real connection. Sure, I can find something in common with almost everyone, and then just “fake it ‘til I make it” to the end of the trip, but discovering that genuine common ground is so exciting that it can feel like a physical jolt of electricity.
It’s difficult, when having to wear a compliant uniform and act in a very specific professional manner, to find the signs of familiarity in strangers. Crew briefings, which last five to ten minutes in length before the start of a work trip, can be filled with suspense and anticipation as you slowly and painstakingly try to detect the true underlying personality of your crew mates, which whom you will be traveling for the next 3-4 days. Many times, the flight leader will state that they are relaxed and easy going, but only time can truly reveal their leadership style, their personality, and idiosyncrasies. Now that I am a flight leader, I usually tell the crew that I’m learning, I make mistakes, I laugh at myself a lot, and that they can too – without fear of repercussion. I’m hoping that that comes across as more believable than, “yeah, I’m pretty laid back,” which is something that was said by just about every flight leader ever – including the two that have made me cry with their ridicule.
It’s usually towards the end of the third leg (flight) together that you get to see everyone’s true colors. By then, you can see who is a team player, who is overly competitive and loves to be right at all costs, and who has a sense of humor. Usually, if time permits, I can get in a few conversations with my coworkers that go beyond the whole, “where are you from?” and “what did you do before this job?” topics, which are quite customary, but still pretty interesting.
Sports teams are usually an easy way to strike up a conversation. I am a football fan. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about college sports, but I really enjoy following teams within the NFL. I’m not 100% loyal to any one team, but my favorites are the Packers, the Jets, and now the Bills (because I think Rex Ryan is freaking adorable). Of course, as soon as I say anything favorable about Rex Ryan, I usually get responses of disgust, and I have to start all over again, trying to find common ground.
Another easy way to make a connection is television. AMC can’t seem to churn out a bad show – we are serious fans. I’m also pretty much obsessed with Vikings, Game of Thrones, and recently, Doctor Who. And don’t get me started on some oldies but goodies like Battlestar Galactica. (Yes, I can remember recommending this to dozens of friends, and I can remember with equal vividness the look of their eyes glazing over as I reassured them that it’s not just for sci-fi fans.) Finding another BSG fan is one of things that makes me irrationally happy.
If these topics fail, I dig deeper, hoping for a connection on the grandest of scales: What motivates them? How do they view their life? What are their priorities? What is their “tribe?”
I really like the current popular use of that term: tribe. It is the people with whom you naturally, joyfully fit in. It may not be the family to which you were born, but it is the like-minded group that you are lucky enough to find in this life. I like to think of myself as belonging to a multiple tribes. Picture, if you will, a Venn diagram of several circles overlapping in the middle.
One circle is for the nomads, which consists mostly of young people who have abandoned the idea that “roots” are physical restraints to a hometown. These are the flight attendants, the hospitality workers, the Peace Corp volunteers, the adventurers who pick up and move to new places with no plans of actually settling there. I love these people. They make friends easily, never afraid to mix social groups: “New friends, meet old friends, and bring your friends too!” They stay connected in social media, checking in as they globe trot, hoping to run into a familiar face (or new face!) for a hug at the airport or a pint at the local hostel. I can run with this crowd occasionally, and they’ll accept me every time I try.
Another circle is for the art and earth crowd. They knit, host craft nights, partake in beekeeping and home-brewing. They shop local and grow their own food. They live in humble houses, go camping, make their own soap, and thoughtfully choose midwives for the births of their babies. They are awesome, and don’t need reassurance of that fact from any outside source. In fact, they probably don’t even care that they are awesome. They usually aren’t huge fans of social media, and can be utterly satisfied with staying in touch with actual mail (yes: letters with real stamps!). They support and encourage my feeble attempts at gardening and the odd handmade gift. Some of my very best friends live this way, and I aspire to be more like them.
A third circle is for the nerds – and I use this term with all the pride and love in the world! (Your hearts skipped a beat earlier in this post when reading about Battlestar Galactica. Truth.) Some members of this one can be mistaken as condescending, while also endearingly self-deprecating. They are intelligent, (sometimes secretly) creative, sarcastic, skeptical, detail oriented, and completely fine with the amount of time they spend playing video games, watching sci-fi, and preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Best of all, this tribe of mine has a collective sense of humor more clever than any other. They are fans of Carl Sagan, have quite a grasp of all things mechanical, and are more than likely familiar with the flying spaghetti monster. I fall quite short in my knowledge of many of these topics, but fitting in naturally with this tribe is quite an honor and privilege.
The final major circle is for the lovers who are overflowing with passion to do good. These can be the writers, the teachers (including job trainers!), the nurses, the pastors, and the activists. They have a ceaseless need to follow a call to action. As they are creating something every day: lesson plans, grant applications, sermons, or even life, they don’t seem to doubt their general direction – despite the odd detail here and there. Money (or the lack thereof) doesn’t seem to be a deterrent from following their dreams. Loans, low wages, terrible hours and even volunteering their time to accomplish their plans are just parts of their lives, and they somehow accept it, thankful to be doing the work they love. Some of these friends of mine have a job just to make money to support their passion, which is something entirely separate. They are always thinking of how to improve – and I wonder when and how they even sleep because of all of the responsibilities they take on. They use social media to gather support and create awareness of their passion, and they network with other caring, beautiful minds to achieve incredible goals. Some people do this on a smaller scale, but with the same fire. There is one woman with whom I am friends on Facebook who just astounds me with her energy to support anyone who is struggling. She organizes benefits for those suffering; she publicizes the local arts; she is a champion for human rights. Every day, there is something positive and powerful coming from her, and instead of tiring, she seems to garner more strength with each achievement. I wish I knew her better and more personally than only on Facebook, but I take comfort in her existence and the knowledge that this tribe of lovers is thriving in a world that so desperately needs them.
Of course these tribes, as described above, are superficial generalizations not at all meant to offend or pigeon-hole. I am a blend of the four of them, plus many more, as are many other people. This was simply a very fun exercise in realizing my connections to, and appreciation of, some of my very favorite people on the planet. Of course each member of my tribes has a depth far beyond my trite descriptions. Just like me, some people fit into several tribes. And, there are some people in my life that fail to fit into any larger tribe at all, and who I consider a partner in our weirdness. (Can there even been a tribe of two? Maybe just as likely as a wolf pack of one…) For those extremely rare connections and relationships, I am even more grateful.
Recognizing these familiarities and similarities in others has made meeting new people such a joy along the way in this career. True: With crew members and passengers, I don’t have the inside jokes or references of good times past, which is one of my favorite parts of the friendships that remain from before I was a flight attendant. However, I find myself laughing almost as much in appreciation of all the little things that I find funny, ironic, or surprising. Delving into the search for commonalities, and simultaneously opening myself up to the newness of people who seem to be incredibly different from me is quite an exercise for the mind and the heart that has made me feel more alive. Regardless of who I encounter on the road (or in the sky), I always find comfort in the fact that my tribes reach far and wide all over this small, small world. And, a friend (new or old) is never more than a flight away.