When I was young and in school, I don’t remember ever feeling like I belonged anywhere. I navigated the world feeling isolated and as if it was me against everyone else. My experience of school was that of tight knit groups and looser affiliated ones.
Throughout school, I had the experience of being an outsider, not belonging to any group. Even in my earliest years playing sports, I experienced that time as being on the fringe.
I navigated school with an unconscious desire to be accepted and belong. And at the same time, I carried a chip on my shoulder that told everyone to go fu** themselves when push seemingly came to shove. On a consistent basis I felt angry, sad, and isolated. This was a result of my own doing and a mix of the environment to which I was raised.
I left school navigating the world the same way. I believed I had to figure it out alone, and that my experience of being on the fringe was the norm for most. It was quite a confusing experience for me. On one hand I saw what I thought was belonging, on the other, I saw that you only do well in the world by depending on yourself.
I would oscillate between wanting to belong, followed by an unwillingness to allow it. For it felt that I was required to give up who I was to fit in (different from belonging).
True social belonging offers acceptance of who we are without the mask that waters us down. I see how confusing it was for me when I was young. The layers of social norms running in tandem with my own processing of the complex world around me.
Moving into adulthood, I see how this continued to play out. There’s a want to be who I am, while at the same time wanting to have a place where I experience external belonging. Often seeming that you can’t have both.
This is where I have gotten tripped up time and again. First off, believing that belonging is an outside event, is a trap. Groups of people might be accepting of us as long as we do and say the right things.
Or, we may be with people that accept us without condition of who we must be at any given moment. These latter people may love us regardless of the belief systems we hold. Religious, political, or otherwise.
The latter is a great experience and can add such beautiful meaning to our lives. The former, can be draining and suck the life out of us, as we become fatigued by the mask we wear to fit in. Fit in, not belong.
I have lived the majority of my adult life in an evolving dance where I didn’t know how to create my own belongingness. I spent most of my years trying to find it through external validation.
Yet, I recognize that this is a misunderstanding. My feeling of belonging comes from me feeling like I belong to myself. It’s full acceptance of all aspects of my humanness. Regardless of the events of the world around me, both close and afar, I create my own belonging.
I’m still drawn to being a part of something where who I am is the accepted norm. I am a part of two communities where I experience this.
As the years have gone on, my willingness to water myself down, to comfort another, diminishes. This is not to be confused with being a blatant asshole to people. It is about taking ownership of allowing myself to be me, regardless of another’s response.
And as I say this, I realize that no matter what I do, some people will think I am an asshole. Some people will love me no matter what. The vast majority of the world will never know me. The gift lies in being okay no matter another’s perception of me.
Today I navigate the world seeking acceptance of myself first.
It is in accepting myself that I am able to become more aware of the impact I have on the world around me. With this new awareness, I am able to create new choices.
The more I am true to the essence of what and who I am, the more others are inspired to do the same. When we change, we invite others around us to do the same.
The increasing social narrative around being our authentic selves is full of nuance. As is most of life. To be accepting of ourselves, we create quiet space in our often fatigued minds and bodies. From this spacious experience, we can become aware of the impact we have on the world around us.
This allows new choice and change.
I have seen the shadow side of self acceptance, too. I’ve seen the use of:
“I’m owning me”
“You only live once”
“I have to stay true to me”
As a blatant disregard for other human life. I’ve done this. And, I’m certain I will learn in the future where I still might be doing this. This mask parading around is still shrouded in fear of life. Fear of what people think. And it is an easy default when things are not going the way we want them to.
The problem with any concept that can be helpful in our lives, there is always a flip side to it. This creates further polarization of opinions. In moments where we are coming from true acceptance of our being, we have no desire to criticize or belittle others. From this place we experience the world as a bit quieter, and we see more space for insight and choice. We don’t experience an urgency to shout at the rooftops how authentic we are, or self aware.
I’ve done that. It’s bogus, and comes from fear. In ever increasing moments, I accept myself as the whole being that I am. Until I don’t. Then I feel it again. Until I don’t. In each of those experiences I make choices about how I experience and do life.
And in the context of who I want to be and the impact I want to have, it’s more useful for me to come from a place of wholeness. It’s in my moments of wholeness that I am most generous with my time, money and energy. It’s in these moments where I’m not navigating the world from ‘what can I get from this person, place or thing’.
As we create this experience in ourselves, we are able to help others do the same. The message here is that it is an inside job, first. How can we create safety and belonging for another, if we are always scanning for the next ‘risk’ in our periphery?
This is an important conversation for those of us focused on shaping the future of society.
In identifying the legacy we will live now… it’s important to be clear on where the desire comes from? Is it born in fear of the world around me? Is it born in a need to be perceived as worthy and significant by the world around me? Am committed to this so I can use that as a means to connect to my innate wholeness? I’ve gotten lost in this many times.
In creating the end to end vision and daily actions of our legacy… who will I be as I navigate the world? How might I be thinking too narrow about the effects of what I am doing? What might I be missing?
In living out our designed legacy, today… what’s the impact of that on those around me and beyond? Am I creating this life and choosing this work from a place of full acceptance for who I am? Or, from a need to have the world validate me? If there’s a feeling of fatigue and exasperation, there’s a good chance it’s the latter.
It is essential to the quality of what we create, to experience our own wholeness along our path. From this place, we step beyond our own identity and look upon what is going on around us in a new light. We can see more of what we could not before, because we don’t cling to it needing to be a certain way.
When I was going through school, the only thing I ever wanted was to feel whole and complete. That feeling in my mind and body that nothing is missing. That feeling that I am able to navigate no matter what arises, with a thoughtful response. I am no longer experiencing myself as fundamentally flawed.
That experience of life never came for me during those years, and in truth, most of my adult life. Looking back, it has been one hell of a gift. It’s been in the last few years where that experience of full self acceptance emerges more and more.
I am able to relate to others and the world from a place of ease, rather than urgency. I am able to slow myself down and listen to the experiences behind the words of people I am in conversation with. Ever diminishing is that internal chatter that says I must be this way or look that way. Which always kept me from actually hearing anyone.
This doesn’t mean that more people accept me for who I am. It means that, those that don’t like me, that’s okay. I don’t need them to like or accept me.
More often, I am able to be in that spot of tension where someone may not accept me for who I am, and not take it personally. Even though someone doesn’t like me, it doesn’t mean I can’t embrace their right to choose that.
This allows me to navigate the world with greater deliberateness. I can take my work seriously, without attachment to how I am perceived. Aside, this has served me in getting better at dancing. Funny how that works.
What I am sharing here has been a gradual process. Before, my dominant motives were to create love and belonging outside of myself, so I could feel it within. It took me a long time to see this as a misunderstanding.
It has taken me years to see I must create my own love and belonging first. From this, I can become more aware and responsible for how my actions impact the world.
If you are reading this and have a desire to see current and future generations benefit from your existence, it starts with you first.
This will calm your mind, and create new space to navigate what your heart yearns to create.
A woman I spoke with recently reflected on belonging with me. She shared a question that rests on her heart as she steps forward.
‘What am I willing to give up to create the impact I want in the world?’
‘I’m willing to give up the need to belong’
She knew that being socially accepted is not always possible, when you break away from the norm. It seemed she knew that her own feeling of belonging begins within her.
Without our own created belonging, it is difficult to speak up. Without it, we will operate at a fraction of our potential. I’m grateful for my conversation with her. It inspired this post and reflection.
Before you go…
Are you devoted to being the greatest version of yourself? Today, where might you begin to accept yourself for who you are even more?
Are you devoted to supporting current and future generations through your gifts? Today, where might the need to belong to a group be in your way of moving forward?
Let me know your answers.