Experiment -> Live -> Belong.
I never really felt like I fitted in.
It took me a long time to ‘find my tribe’ – to find the people who really ‘got’ me. To find the people who are picking up what I’m putting down.
But I’m glad I stuck with it. I’m glad I didn’t settle by surrounding myself with “pleasant” people – or just who happened to be closest at the time. I’m glad I kept going until I found my life was filled with people I felt like I could connect with at a deep level.
I don’t know why I never settled. I wish I could say that it was because I possessed some unique insight at 17 years of age, but the truth is really just that I’m pig-headed.
I couldn’t see any reason why my life couldn’t be exactly what I wanted it to be, and I was willing to keep working on my life until it was exactly what I wanted.
But if I could go back and give that dorky 17 year old version of me a little life lesson, it’d be this: fitting in is the enemy of belonging.
We all need to belong. We all need to feel connected and part of a bigger social picture. We’re a herd species. It’s just how we’re wired.
And at it’s deepest level, the place where you belong is where the truest, most authentic version of your self is welcome – and not just accepted, but celebrated.
Belonging is not fitting in. Fitting in is an act of concession and compromise. It’s where you go against your own truth so as to not rock the boat. It’s where you lose your own values, and adopt the tastes and fashions of the group.
Fitting in necessarily requires you to give up who you really are. It’s an act of pretending and make believe. You are pretending to be someone more socially acceptable and nice.
And nice is boring.
But the real trap here is that we can go to great lengths to fit in. We can wear a suit and tie. We can get a neat hair cut. We can watch the right TV shows. We can say the right things at parties.
Like any skill it’s something that we get better at with practice. And eventually, we succeed. We construct a very pleasing persona, and we fit in.
But if we’ve done that by smothering our true impulses and desires, then we don’t feel like we belong. We don’t feel like we are truly accepted because we’re not. Our social group likes the fiction that we’ve created. They don’t really like us.
And so we can “fit in”, but still feel deeply alienated and lonely.
How many people are living out this tragedy?
And so belonging – that deeply held need – only comes when we find our tribe – when we find the people who see the real us, and who are able to celebrate it.
But that requires two things. First, it requires us to be living an authentic life, so that our tribe can recognise us when they see us.
If deep down you are longing to be a merchant banker, but you spend all your time with people who expect you to play guitar and eat lentils, then your tribe will never find you. If they ever cast eyes over you, they won’t recognise who you really are because your true self isn’t on display.
So if we want to find the people who can love and accept us as we really are, we need to be able to actually live as we really are.
But this, of course, is much harder than it sounds.
If you’ve spent you’re whole life living up to other people’s ideals, how do you actually know who you really are?
If you’ve spent your whole life eating radishes, even though you know you don’t really like radishes, how do you know what you’d prefer to be eating? Maybe you want something sweeter, like oranges. Maybe you want some more spicy, like a sausage.
The only way to know is to start experimenting. Start trying out different foods, until you find the flavour that resonates with your unique soul.
And so the journey of belonging begins with a period of experimentation. Of getting to know yourself.
You can’t skip this step.
I see a lot of people trying to ‘jump ship’. Not fitting in – getting cut off from our herd – is scary. And so if one social clique isn’t working, then they jump clique.
They say, I’m not feeling like I really belong in the 50s rockabilly scene. I’m tired of trying to fit in here. I think I’ll go and try fit in over at the yoga day spa scene and see if that feels better.
Replacing one regime of fitting in with another is not a recipe for success.
It takes courage to step into that space where we simply don’t fit in anywhere. To clear the paddock of all the crops we think should be growing, and just see what comes.
And like any relationship, getting to know yourself, takes time.
But it’s worth the investment. As you uncover who you really are, not only do you get to live a more authentic life, but you are now calling in your tribe. Whatever you’re now laying down, someone is going to pick it up.
And to live, as your authentic self, in a supportive circle of support, is a joy. It’s a relatively new joy in the human story, but it’s on offer right now.
Don’t settle for anything less.
Have you ‘found your tribe’?