My mother’s psychics says, everyone essentially wants
the same thing a everyone else,
a sense of belonging, a coming home.
– Ada Limon
I don’t think you have to be psychic to know that everyone wants to feel like they belong. There is certainly a body of research to support the importance of having a sense of belonging. Sadly, if you watch the news, you can see the tragic consequences that result when people feel that they do not belong. I have been very fortunate to have worked on a project for the last few years around the social emotional learning of children and teens. Sense of belonging features prominently in those metrics. Not surprisingly, sense of belonging impacts learning.
As a teenager I moved three times in five years to radically different environments. I moved from a small Catholic school to suburban public middle school in Washington State, to an enormous public suburban high school in Georgia, to a small rural high school in Washington State. The communities I moved between were radically different. That may have contributed to my feeling like an outsider. One day I was attending morning mass in my navy and grey uniform in a highly structured and calm learning environment. The next day I was in my “after –school” clothes moving hourly through a noisy, crowded hall to a new class. Going from the Pacific Northwest to Georgia was even more jarring. Everything about me was different. I spoke with an accent. I dressed differently. I had a different understanding of what it meant to be a girl. In each of these settings, what was acceptable to adults and my peers was radically different. In the first two moves, I deeply wanted to belong. Frankly, I changed myself to belong. In the final move, I gave up changing myself and decided I was who I was. I would rather be alone than pretend to be someone else.
Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging
have the courage to be imperfect.
In my 15 year-old mind, I thought those were the only two options: morph yourself to belong in a new community or choose not to belong at all. What I did not know at the time was that I actually created the conditions for a true sense of belonging by being my true self. The truth was that morphing myself to fit their styles, ideals, and habits of others did not give me a sense of belonging. It made me socially acceptable which is not the same thing as being accepted or belonging. Social acceptance and popularity can be detrimental to one’s sense of belonging because they require one to conform to the standards of a group in order to belong. This may mean denying your authentic self in order to feel accepted by the group. It means giving up parts of yourself in exchange for being accepted. That does not give you a sense of belonging.
Our sense of belonging can never be greater
than our level of self-acceptance.
My college-aged daughter wrote a blog on sense of belonging recently. I realized how differently she conceptualizes it than I did at her age. Though I certainly would not want to imply that her experience is the experience of all young adults, it does give me some hope that we are making inroads in social-emotional learning leading to a healthier sense of self and of relationships.
As I read her words, I reflected on those times when I had a deep sense of belonging. The fact is that I have been blessed to feel a sense of belonging in many facets of my life. I belong to a pack of friends who understand what it means to be a woman raising a family while working in a leadership role. I belong to a writing group that feeds my creativity. I belong to a community on social media that inspires and encourages. I belong to a spiritual community. I belong to a sisterhood. I belong in my family. My daughter reminded me of the beauty and gift that is a sense of belonging.
- I belong when I am able to be myself and be unconditionally accepted.
- I belong when I am able to be vulnerable.
- I belong when what we share deeply is greater than any difference.
- I belong when I can be challenged in my thinking without being challenged for thinking.
- I belong when we choose the greater good for each other.
Find your posse, pack, band, crew, pride, squad, tribe, family, club, circle, or flock. There is one out there just for you, the true you. Whatever you do, stop trying to fit yourself in. Find the place you fit.