Until I heard Brenè Brown make mention of this, I’ve never really considered the difference between fitting in and belonging somewhere. In fact, I think I’d always assumed they’re the same.
But when I think about it… they’re so clearly not.
As Brenè tells us, ‘In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, is doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”
Does this definition ring true for you? It certainly does for me. Fitting in – or rather not fitting in – conjures up memories of high school, uni, teaching placements and a myriad of other social interactions in which I felt that I couldn’t be myself; that I had to present myself in a certain way, in order to feel ‘enough.’
Looking back, with irony, I see that even when I was successful here – even when I pulled it off – it didn’t feel good.
Trying to fit in, doesn’t feel good, even if you manage it.
Today, I see that I have a much greater sense of belonging in my life. I’ve cultivated friendships and relationships and a career, that allows me to be myself much more often.
Of course, I do fall victim to trying to fit in sometimes. When I’m awkward at social gatherings, it’s my hardwired habit to say what someone wants to hear, or not say what I’m really thinking and feeling for fear of the reaction it will cause.
But I’m working on it.
I’m working on it in the knowledge that trying to fit in is corrosive to my own self-esteem; that I can’t successfully fake being someone else, without at the same time stripping away at my authentic self, which is at the core of belonging.