Longing to Belong?
I’ve said it before and I still believe it’s true - no coach is ever “finished” with their self-discovery. We peel away some beliefs that don’t serve, or act in a new way more aligned to our values, just to see that there’s a new distinction below. I find it pretty energising, to be honest - I love who I am today, but just imagine who I could become tomorrow! The possibilities are exciting and endless.
If you’re wondering where I’m going with this, don’t worry - I have a point, I promise! I’m working on my own sense of belonging at the moment, and I’ve been having all kinds of insights that I’d like to share with you.
Up until now, I’ve been working from this definition: feeling happy and comfortable in a situation. That feeling of “I’m with my people - I am known, and safe, and loved”. My coachees often tell me that they would love to feel that sense of belonging, but it generally comes with a big ol’ set of baggage. Our pasts become a story about our own ability to belong (or not belong), based on hurts, disappointments and the results of the actions we take.
Is any of this sounding familiar?
I remember a particular moment at a very beloved friend’s hen party… It was a gorgeous escape from reality - yurts in a field, a hot tub for the evening, laser tag in the day then a fancy afternoon tea. I knew a few people already, and everyone there was loving and welcoming. We’d all gathered to celebrate a totally incredible woman and everything should have felt incredible. As it got dark, it was hot tub time. Delicious, right?
Well, here’s the first problem I had - my lupus was all over the place at the time and my doctor had told me in no uncertain terms that my immune system did not want to be in a shared hot tub with a group of people I didn’t associate with regularly. So everyone else put their swimmers on, and I put on my coat to hover awkwardly next to the tub. I girded myself - still part of the party, just a little step to the left.
The talk turned, as it does so often at hen parties, to our collective dating histories. We shared horror stories, rowdy tales, fond reminiscences of the hen and our mutual exploits. In case anyone reading was there - don’t worry - what’s shared in the hot tub stays in the hot tub. The only person I’m about to expose is myself!
Because here’s the question that made me step fully into my outsider self: “what was your first kiss like?” We went round the tub, and I went into a full-scale panic because my first kiss was with a girl. How could I tell a collection of friends and lovely strangers - all in bikinis or cozzies while I’m fully clothed - that I was not straight? That felt like an option that would introduce all kinds of awkward! I was keeping my eyes fixed on socially appropriate places, but my capacity to potentially fancy them felt as incongruent as if a straight man were to suddenly join the circle.
So I went with a very familiar question - what would someone “normal" do here? Do I lie? Do I tell them about my first kiss with a boy? Do I dodge the question altogether? But maybe that seems weird - everyone else sharing and I don’t. I have a husband, so I’ve obviously kissed at least one person. What does it imply if I don’t share? What if…
In all honesty, I can’t remember what I did in the end. I can only remember the visceral panic and the overthinking. I can tell you that at no point did anyone there give me even the slightest hint that my bisexuality would be anything other than accepted - in fact, since coming out I have received nothing but love and support from them. It was a reflection of my own thoughts about myself and how “not normal” I felt at the time.
The outsider archetype shows up in the moments that someone feels at odds with the people around them. They feel excluded from the enjoyment that other people seem to be having, and can feel hurt or even angry about the situation. When embodying ‘the outsider, there can be a lot of overthinking, and a tendency to try to “act” as if they belong. It’s the role that I cast myself in most often in my pre-coaching life. I saw myself as the person slightly out of step with everyone else around me - whether that was my family, my friends, my colleagues or the wider world.
Let’s fast forward a few years now… I’m sat in a consulting room at a local hospital with some fellow professionals, discussing autism and what are diagnostically referred to as “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus”. (Feel free to take a moment to shudder at the wording - I do! As someone who is most likely neurodiverse, the pathologising of someone’s passions is a whole other soapbox for another day!)
Anyway… The topic of LEGO comes up. Is it “normal” for an adult woman to have a lot of LEGO sets? Or is that a marker of autism? Well, post-coaching me loves my quirks and has long ago decided to embrace the nerdiness that runs through me, so I have a fair few lego kits myself. This time my internal monologue is a little different - here’s an opportunity for some truth-speaking!
“I collect LEGO” comes out of my mouth, and I can tell from their faces that it maybe wasn’t what my colleagues were expecting to hear. They respond politely but with a bit of a disconnect - the idea of filling their houses with Star Wars and Marvel toys is not appealing to them (and that’s okay!) We quickly move on to the next part of the conversation and all is well.
When I get home I send one of them some pictures of my LEGO sets, with just a touch of rebellious energy. Look - I love myself and I love something that is a bit weird. I’m weird and that’s totally fine. By this point, I am much more comfortable in my skin but belonging still seems a bit elusive.
The individualist is a close cousin of the rebel archetype - to me, it has a bit of that “I’m different and I don’t care” energy. Suck it up - I like me and I’m not gonna change for you. It’s a lot more active and empowered than the outsider, but being completely honest there was still part of me hoping for that feeling of belonging. The “OMGOSH ME TOO” moment.
One of the ways I have found belonging is in finding my people. I have a wonderful gang of nerds, a network of coaches, and one of LGBTQIA+ folks, and an autism professionals crew… Sometimes those categories overlap and sometimes they don’t. Finding the people who mesh with me on a real level was one of the most transformational parts of my journey and one I highly recommend if you haven’t found yours yet.
The next evolution
So here’s where I’m at now. I love my individualist self and know that I’m generally showing up with authenticity from the reactions people give me. I am confident that I have found a lot of my people and I know how to recognise new ones when they come my way. Things are going well.
But. There are still times when the individualist longs to belong. That “suck it up” energy shows me that I’m still feeling the gap between me and the rest of the world, and the voice of all my conditioning, past hurts and social expectations still whisper “be safe and blend in” to me occasionally. I feel the urge to filter myself at certain times, “just to be on the safe side”. For all I love my difference, I haven’t been totally sold on the distance.
So naturally, as the universe so often loves to do, I’ve been in a whole heap of situations and containers over the past few weeks that have brought this to my attention. I’ve been challenged to find a new perspective on difference and belonging. It’s a fairly freshly hatched thought in my mind, but I’m sharing it because I’d love to hear other people’s perspectives.
What if I move to another definition of belonging: to be in the right place?
What if I belong, simply because I am me and I am in that space?
When I studied project management and group dynamics as part of my Masters, I learned that people who think differently are a critical part of a successful team. They keep a watchful eye out for groupthink, challenge the status quo and eventually help the group to create the best available outcomes. They aren’t outsiders, they’re essential. They belong because of their alternative viewpoints, not in spite of them. And sure, they might not always be the most popular member of the team, but that’s okay. They belong.
So here’s the new archetype I’m aligning to - the activist. The activist archetype sees the changes needed in the world, then takes active steps to bring that change to life. They use their voices to spotlight where there are inequalities and societal challenges. They connect to others on a personal level, wanting to hear their story and understand the world through a new lens afterwards. They know that a strong community embraces our differences.
I belong because I’m different, and my role is to change the game.
I’m pretty damn excited about this evolution.