Phillip Smith

Friends and family, brothers and sisters, and tribes.

Reflections on turning 40


It seems fitting that as a sit down to write this reflection, two days before I turn forty, that I’m bundled up at a friend’s apartment in Vancouver struggling to fight off a cold.

I am away from my bio-family, who are mostly in Toronto, but I don’t feel alone at all. Quite the opposite: I feel embraced and supported by an extended family just about everywhere I go, be it Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, London, Brighton, Berlin, Adelaide, or Oaxaca. This other family is my tribe, a term I adopted from a great article in the New York Times more than ten years ago, and a term that fit more than ever with my lifestyle and beliefs.

I live with very few regrets in life, and I get that confident perspective from my mother. My mother is an inspiration: she has a been a race-car driver, fought her way into a men-only business club before that was a thing to do, succeeded as an entrepreneur more than once, excelled as a corporate executive, and completed a marathon just a year after a major health setback. There is only one regret that I’ve heard her mention with any frequency and that is that she didn’t provide me with a sibling.

But my life is rich with siblings. I feel like I have an abundance of brothers and sisters; people I can play with, grow with, dance with, and share my inner-most thoughts with. It is the strength of those relationships that gives me the confidence to follow my dreams.

Nonetheless, I realize that I must strive to not take these relationships for granted, because I suspect that it is all too easy to let these friendships slip away in the hustle-and-bustle of lives now full with careers, marriages, children, homes, and so on. I am certain that truly great friendships are built. It’s rare that one has been simply handed to me on a silver platter. Neglected, without a doubt, they will start to fade.

This past weekend I read a profoundly simple recipe called My Code of Friendship, written as part of a project called Lifeboat that was, serendipitously enough, produced by people I know through Web of Change. Web of Change was a spark that changed the direction of my life, and also ignited many great and lasting friendships that I still have to this day. So it should have been no surprise to me that people from that network would have created “a movement of people rediscovering great friendships.”

I realize now, reflecting on the ideas behind the Lifeboat project, that having a brothers and sisters, an extended family, a tribe, is not an accident.

Going forward, I want to strive to:

  • Continue to work on building truly great friendships: both old and new
  • Explore with friends how I can help them to feel at ease: there should be no pressure or guilt in great friendships
  • And to always remember that – if I’m typing a message into a tiny box on a screen to feel connected – I should probably just pick up the phone.

Finally, I would add to the code: take a long view. Part of what makes it possible for me to embrace “slow” is the confidence that the world is going to be here for a long, long time. Projects like the Clock of the Long Now are a great reminder that friendships can be like that too: they can exhibit longevity and evolvability, as long as you give them the room to do so.


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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