Fitting In vs. Belonging

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight - and never stop fighting.” - E.E. Cummings

I’ve always been the sort of person who marches to her own drum. I guess dealing with hands and feet that were physically different than anyone else, on some level I recognized that no matter what I did - I would be different. It didn’t matter if I had the trendy clothes, played the right sports, and looked/acted like everyone else, my physical differences kept me from fitting into a neat little box.

But as I got older, as I got away from the same people and environment I’d been in since birth, things started changing. I started figuring out who I was. What I truly thought, the clothes I liked to wear, my work and learning styles… I was learning how to be a fiancé and then a wife, a college student, an employee with supervisors who didn’t know my parents or my reputation, etc. I would go from being a wife with my new husband, to being a senior-level college student, to working in an accounting department, to serving at a sports bar within a 12 hour period. Each place I went got a different version of me. Yes, there are certain things that remained the same. But I got really, really good at fitting in.

I learned quickly how to dress, what to talk about (or not talk about), and how to act depending on who I was around. I’d go home at the end of the day and was utterly exhausted. And unfortunately, things just got more complicated as time went on. I found myself doing this not only with strangers, but with friends and family. I found myself hiding or sheltering parts of myself from every single person in my life except for my husband.

Oh, I fit in. But I never truly belonged. I always felt a bit off - like I was on the outside looking in.

Brené Brown has a really great chapter about this in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. She sums it up beautifully:

When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.”

I was constantly tired because I was juggling different performances throughout the day. I was so focused on fitting-in and making sure no one was put off or disappointed in me. But this habit gets in the way of actually belonging. How do you know if you truly belong if you’re not being 100% authentic with yourself. Belonging doesn’t mean you have to change. It means you have to be who you already are.

Even if it scares you…

Even if it bothers those around you...

If showing up as YOU every day make others uncomfortable, that’s their problem. Unless YOU are actually a hateful asshole who enjoys spreading hate then, please, feel free to hide that mess. This process is hard. It can be lonely. It can mean looking at the people you’ve surrounded yourself with and realizing they have no idea who you truly are. But getting up every day and intentionally fighting back the desire to fit in leads to a much happier existence. It leads to a greater sense of self-acceptance and the ability to find where, and with whom, you truly belong. I firmly believe that with everything that I am.

I've been working on this myself and I'm not sure if I'll ever get to beat the habit completely. But the thing that has helped me the most is that when I feel like I can't be myself, when I default to fitting-in-mode, I stop and take a breath. If I find myself saying " No one truly knows me or truly likes me," I tell myself "The right people love me." I reinforce that belief over and over and I know that somewhere, the people I belong with are out in the world loving me and supporting me (even if they don't know it).

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