“FINDING YOUR TRIBE” by Mike C. Manning
Hey readers, Mike here. Even though I’ve been involved with Boo2Bullying for a while now, this is actually my first blog post. Wish me luck.
In 2012 I began as a Boo2Bullying Boy’s Youth Ambassador. I had attended a B2B fundraiser and after speaking with the founder, I agreed to join the organization. Over the past six years, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with dozens of B2B events, speaking at a handful of schools, sharing stories of inspiration, encouragement, and also difficulties and challenges. It’s been a very rewarding experience. In 2016, I agreed to step up as a Board Member, and last year I took the position of Director of Development.
I tell you all of this to show you that my involvement was gradual, step by step, and took years. Why? Because for a while I was afraid of opening up to strangers, of sharing my story, of risking being made fun of – some of the same things youth tell us they’re afraid of now. I also realized that these fears are human fears, they never go away, we just get better at dealing with them; and that’s ok.
I definitely didn’t take the traditional route to becoming an actor. I began theatre when I was young, but growing up a “jock” in Colorado, I didn’t really see “the arts” as something I would make a career out of. In high school, I wouldn’t tell friends on my hockey or wrestling teams about theatre. I wouldn’t invite them to my shows. I wanted to keep a masculine persona so that I would fit in with my peer group. I was shorter than most of my friends, and I was sort of a nerd (comic books, back before comic book nerds were cool). I was also hiding the fact that I was attracted to both guys and girls. I was terrified of my friends finding out, so I kept it a secret. I had a lot of secrets. Looking back, I missed some opportunities of sharing both sides of myself with my closest friends, whom I now believe would have supported me either way.
During college I followed a friend to an audition for the show “Real World” on MTV. I had never watched the show and went to help my buddy get on… funny how things work out. I was cast, and at that moment I realized that my life would change forever. I went from being a pretty private guy, to having my entire life put in front of millions of people overnight. I was immediately thrust into newfound fame, new “love” from people I didn’t know, new friends… new ridicule, new fears, new bullies. Being on TV meant that people who never met me felt like it was ok to assume they knew me as a person, to post those things online for the world to see. I was made fun of for my appearance, my voice, my sexuality, the clothes I wore, the things I said, everything. And I didn’t know how to deal. I became depressed and began to compare myself to others around me more and more. I thought, “What can I do so people will like me?”
A month into the show airing I started receiving messages from managers and agents saying I should move to LA. “Maybe people there will like me, maybe I’ll fit in,” I hoped. I packed up my car and made the trip.
The past eight years have been full of ups and downs. There were times on sets of TV shows like “Teen Wolf” or “Major Crimes” where I’d think, “This is it. I can die happy. I will never be sad again.” And then there were times I’d think, “You’re not attractive enough. You’re not talented enough. You should quit and move back home.” I’m glad I didn’t.
Now, I have the support system of amazing friends, peers, family, fans, and a guy that I’m lucky to have. I found my tribe. The negative thoughts still creep into my brain sometimes, but they’re much easier to block out. I have people to talk to about them, to vent, people that I know will have my back no matter what. And I think that’s the greatest lesson one can take from all of this – the importance of FINDING YOUR TRIBE.
Like I said in the beginning, I don’t think the “human fears” we all have ever go away. They will always be there, waiting for a vulnerable moment to strike, that doesn’t change. But what DOES change are the tools we give ourselves to fight back. Tool #1 for me is MY TRIBE. Tool #2 is having hobbies and activities that make me happy, that allow me to help others, that make me feel good about myself and giving back. And Tools #3-10 are: dogs, peanut butter, writing, beach days, football games, holidays, camping trips and making movies – in no particular order. My point is, find your tribe. Find the people that love you for YOU, surround yourself with positive influences, know that YOU are enough and that whatever hardships you might be facing are only temporary, that if you just keep moving you’ll make it through whatever storm is in front of you.
What makes you weird or different now is what will make you special and unique tomorrow. Hold onto that person, to who you are – be yourself, because everyone else is already taken. Who cares if everyone likes you? They don’t have to like you. There are 7.6 Billion people on the planet. Find your tribe. Forget about the rest. Oh yeah, and peanut butter makes everything better.
Thanks for reading.