Painting by Hannah Joiner – There Is Always a Place For You

It’s been one year since it happened.
I didn’t write about it, because I wasn’t sure how.
I still don’t know exactly what to say.
We did everything we knew to do:

Found her a place to live.
Helped her land a job.
Gave her a new start.
Tried to find her good friends.

But after a year, she moved back to New York.
Then, last November we got the letter.
She sent it by mail.
She knew it would be too late for us to do anything by the time we got it.

Here’s what she wrote:


I just wanted to say sorry. I’m forever grateful for everything you guys tried to do for me.
I just can’t do it any more. I love you all and will miss you very much.

Reggie – I’ll put in the order for some custom Orange wings for you when you get here.

Lots of love, I regret that it’s ending like this.


She was only 22.

I’m no expert. I’m not a professional therapist.
I don’t really have answers.
But all the therapists suggested the same thing.
They repeatedly said:

“If she doesn’t find a community,
if she doesn’t get connected to others,
if she doesn’t find a support group of people who will do life with her,
she probably won’t survive.”

We only knew her for a couple of years, and we tried. I have relived those years over and over in my mind, and I’m not sure what we could have changed. I just think years of messy experiences kept her from letting anyone get too close, and maybe we were just too late. The tragedy is that she was a fun, savvy, smart, self-sufficient, talented individual that could never really believe anyone else cared about her. She never really felt like she belonged anywhere. I know she was lonely, because she admitted it once in a vulnerable moment. She fought hard to win for at least a decade, but she just got tired of fighting.

So on this anniversary of her death, I would just like to make a simple request:

  • Get serious about giving someone you know a place to belong.
  • Become more intentional about helping kids get connected to others.
  • As a parent, realize your kids will need other people in their life besides just you.
  • Pay attention to the kids or students around you who feel awkward, lonely, uncomfortable.

I usually don’t get too concerned when loneliness happens occasionally.
Temporary solitude can actually be a character builder in your children. It can help a kid develop a sense of empathy toward others who are lonely. It can teach them to value their significant relationships.
As long as it happens occasionally, loneliness doesn’t usually have a long-term effect because. . .

Kids are resilient.
Kids are optimistic.
Kids tend to believe they will ultimately find a place to belong.
So, they keep moving until they land somewhere.

But the point is everyone has a need to be known by someone.

Our drive to belong is powerful.
It is the reason. . .

people take showers.
men stopped wearing leisure suits in the seventies.
synchronized swimming has fans.
Tom Hanks apologized to a soccer ball named Wilson.

We are all trying desperately to fit in somewhere.

And not belonging can be devastating if. . .
the loneliness is consistent.
the isolation is frequent.
the rejection is recurrent.

If you grow up without a tribe, it can really complicate things. And the complications of not belonging over time can seriously impair the future of a child.

Stanford Professor, Gregory Walton, claims,
“Isolation, loneliness and low social status can harm a person’s subjective sense of well-being, as well as his or her intellectual achievement, immune function and health.”

It’s just another reason we wrote the book Playing for Keeps.
We think its time to get serious about things kids need over time that will affect their adult life. Our experience through the years has convinced us that tribes over time give kids the best chance to find a healthy place to belong.


This week, we will continue to talk about how Tribes Matter in the life of kid. I you want to follow more on the conversation on the 6 Things that Matter in the life of a kid, start here and PLAY FOR KEEPS!