There are moments in life where I question myself “do I belong here?”. Others when I look for that “feeling of belonging”. And the odd ones where I am tempted (or desperate) to try to “fit in”. The feeling of belonging is innate to human nature. As old as can be, one of the things that makes people drop lives and go looking for something. Or that can make them feel unsatisfied throughout. But what does belonging mean?
Belong or fit in?
It was not until recently that I heard the distinction between these 2 concepts. As I was reading through Daring Greatly, Brene Brown helpfully shares the way a 7-year-old would describe it. Not wanting to butcher it, the memory I have is:
“If you belong you want to be there and people want you there. If you fit in, you want to be there and people don’t care”
She shared multiple descriptions along those lines, and whilst 7-year-olds seem to have this straight in their heads, I don’t think the same can be said for grown-ups. How often do we catch ourselves saying “I don’t belong here, I don’t fit in with these people” interchangeably?
Why do we want to belong?
Belonging is a fundamental need for our sense of happiness and well-being. As I researched on the topic that seems to be the common thread. Belonging can affect our motivation, our level of stress and anxiety. It is everywhere, and many may consider it to be evolutionary. That is part of what brought us here and kept us going.
For me, belonging has a lot to do with authenticity and your values. Often in my life, I was likely more worried about fitting in. And I am not sure I can use the past tense on this one. But what really drives a deeper meaning is the sense of belonging.
As an example, when I went to Harvard I may have questioned multiple times whether I fitted in. And in all honesty, I adjusted my lifestyle to ensure I did. It made me feel like I belonged, but did I? It was not until the 10-year reunion that I really thought of this deeply and actually tested it a bit. I chose not to conform and to go with my authentic self. And whilst there were some tears as I often felt the odd one out, there were also much stronger bonds created with the places where I truly belonged. Just like 10 years before, there were people with whom I felt no need to fit in. I just belonged.
Impostor syndrome and belonging
This morning I heard a headspace meditation about impostor syndrome. That was indeed what led me to dive a bit deeper into belonging. Impostor syndrome makes us question our sense of belonging. Whilst it makes sense, I question whether it just questions our sense of fitting in. That is where it all gets confusing.
Last week, I went to Bookclub. A social event after a year of being apart. I often spend a lot of time in that group trying to fit in. Making sure I have a place there. But always fearful I do not and they will kind of just drop me (even though I know they would not). I always felt different. The youngest, the less “achieved”, the one potentially with more doubts in life. Why was I even there? Yes, that has crossed my mind. And I stayed grateful to have been invited alongside such a great group of women. I assumed some sort of kindness was in play.
When suddenly you belong
I think it was not until last week that the feeling started to dissipate. We had no book so I had no fear of being too geeky or having a silly opinion. We just went in for a chat. And as we went through war stories at work, at some point I just blasted out “I just don’t fit in this”. One of them smiled and said, “do we all really?”. And that feeling of belonging became more real as I realized that maybe I do belong in the group, even though I may not fit in all the stereotypes.
Belonging in the new world
I struggle to get that feeling as impostor syndrome has been increasingly prevalent in my social relationships over the years. As I chose non-traditional ways, my confidence in fitting in gets shaken and I can’t deny that makes me question my sense of belonging. A 7-year-old clearly knows better than me.
The last year has given me breathing space to really be what I want to be without the presence of others. And as re-opening looms, I navigate through the renewed social interactions with caution. I don’t want to feel like I don’t fit in. But most importantly, I don’t want to feel like I don’t belong.
Self-worth and belonging
When you belong, I believe you have little questions about your sense of self-worth. You know that your true self is part of a community, a family, a school or a place of work. You know that you are part of the fabric that constitutes it. And you know that you are actually a special cell that makes it what it is. You are unique to it.
If you are someone that has trouble reading through this, you may often be questioning your self-worth. I have to tell you, this feeling of being special is not something I easily relate to. I tell myself all of the above. From that to really feeling it goes a long way. But I am on the fake it till you make it camp on that.
The truth is, our worth has nothing to do with whether we belong. Worth is based on judgement and belonging has precisely to do with that lack of judgment. You are what you are. Judging only happens when you try to fit in. I think that is probably the easiest way to distinguish between the two concepts, at least for me.
What does it mean to belong?
I have to admit, I am working through this one. The first thing that comes to mind is that you can be you and people want you there. And you want to be there. It’s not about whether you went to the right school, pick the right job, dress the right way, make the right amount of money. Yes, there is a common sense of values when you belong to a community, but there is not necessarily a right or wrong.
And as above, there is no judgement involved. When we belong, we do so with open hearts, and as such we are more vulnerable and authentic. There is no space or fear of judgement.
So, where do you belong?