Fitting in is becoming who you think you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging is being your authentic self and knowing that no matter what happens, you belong to you.
I’ve learned that it’s exhausting to “fit in.” I’ve attempted in the past to become the perfect version of what I thought others wanted me to be. What I also realized is the metrics kept moving. One day I was too fat and a few years later I got accused of being anorexic. Regularly “pecked” by close others, I felt I could not ever measure up to what I now see was a certain insanity in other’s changing expectations and judgments. Who I thought I needed to become was shaped by the words, criticisms, and deeds of many other people, some of whom had a distorted view of themselves, the world, and me.
The only path that began to make sense to my soul was to become my unique self. I began to allow myself to love what I loved and to pursue my preferences, inclinations, and heart messages with a fervent passion. Often this involved doing the opposite of what I was told or simply exploring another pathway to my healthy, thriving life. I also observed that those who struggle to accept themselves probably won’t ever accept you no matter what you do or don’t do.
It could be as simple as noticing all the goodness and challenges as opportunities in a day and others tending to focus on all the upsets or horrific happenings. You may have experiences that obliterate the limiting beliefs of others or things you were told as a child.
Self-awareness becomes crucial to this journey of belonging to yourself. You simply must begin to know that you are unique, that you have particular preferences, that you might learn things in a very distinct way from others around you. You might begin to notice that you see the world differently than others do. This becomes your gift and maybe your challenge. It could be as simple as noticing all the goodness and challenges as opportunities in a day and others tending to focus on all the upsets or horrific happenings. You may have experiences that obliterate the limiting beliefs of others or things you were told as a child. For instance, you may have been told that if you are fat and smart no one will like you. Yet, as an adult, you choose to fully embrace the body type you are, to seek knowledge from lived experiences, and create amazing bonds of lasting friendship with beloved ones who love and accept you for the wise soul you’ve become. Maybe you were told you have to be ruthless to get ahead, but then you allowed yourself to become compassionate and kind and many opportunities to serve others began to pour into your life. You have to be willing to risk and become comfortable with the discomfort of the disapproval of others.
My most recent hilarious “Seriously, do I have to do this to fit in?” moment happened when a woman I had met business networking approached me at a workshop we were both attending. I did not know her well. “Laura, when you smile, you light up a room. But your other face, and you may be concentrating, looks like you have no confidence. I recommend you hold your face like this.” She then demonstrated what looked to me like this fake bad Botox smile. I believe she was coming from a place of helpfulness. I smiled at her. “Thank you so much for your feedback. I really appreciate it! May I give you a hug!” She startled, backed up a bit, but agreed to the hug. I hugged her, turned to the woman I had been talking to and continued our conversation.
Later I wondered how long it took this woman to muster the courage to share this with me. I also wondered if she woke up that morning and said to herself, “Today is the day I’m telling Laura Staley what I think of her non-smiling facial expression!” Mostly, I concluded that my face triggered something for her about fitting in, about being accepted. Ultimately, her opinions about my face, smiling or not, were not about me nor did her observations alter my commitment to belong to myself, to be myself.
What path have you taken to shift from the exhausting world of “pretzeling” yourself on the altar of acceptance to embracing who you uniquely are? For some of you, the path to belonging to yourself has been hard won. You traveled on detours with a world of trolls, tortured others, well-meaning societal rule followers, and limiting belief bearers. For others of you, you’ve been accepted by loved ones and then likely faced challenges from colleagues or bosses in a workplace or encountered societal expectations of how you should or should not behave, speak, or smile. Some of you may still be navigating this brave path or wondering why you feel so exhausted when you are with others. Fitting in can begin to fall away as a mental shell game you are no longer interested in playing.
Belonging to yourself involves being brave enough to end your cravings for the approval of others, especially those who don’t know you nor have your best interests at heart.
It means taking actions from your core values with full awareness that you risk being rejected by others. Yet, you recognize you won’t ever throw yourself under the bus. Cultivating non-judgment for the scripts you carried around in your head that had nothing to do with being yourself brings delightful moments of shredding, an end to rights and wrongs, and that great divide inside of you. You begin to bring closure to the angst and the imposter syndrome.
Living from your heart, inside your own skin, and your experiences of being true to you, you begin to recognize other courageous, genuine ones who belong to themselves. You notice you can create freely, nurture compassion, and feel much empathy for yourself and others. An internal sense of grace, peace, and freedom become your unshakeable fulfillment. Your words and choices will likely annoy someone out in our world, but you will be able to go to sleep at night with a smile on your face.