I vividly remember the moment. It was the summer between 4th and 5th grade at a friend's birthday party. The year was 1980, and some significant trends were just getting started.
The sun shone through the evergreen trees onto a group of giggling girls jumping on a trampoline. They were all wearing the same blue jeans with a fun design embroidered on one back pocket. The trampoline was shimmering as they all continued to bounce and flip for what seemed like forever to me.
I was not having fun. I wanted to explore the woods and be among the trees. Also, I did not have designer blue jeans with fun embroidery on the back pocket. I didn't belong, and I felt it. I wondered what I needed to do to feel like I belonged. At that moment, I decided I needed to start jumping on the trampoline, and I made a mental note to beg my mom to buy me a pair of those jeans.
Fitting in is like the wind. One moment it blows a gentle breeze that makes you feel relaxed, tickling your skin and enticing your hair to dance. The next moment it blows with the force of a hurricane, pushing you into directions you may or may not want to go, howling so loud you can't hear your voice.
At that birthday party in 1980, jumping on the trampoline, I remember wondering why I wanted to be out in the forest, and nobody else did. Reflecting on that moment now, I realize that no one knew I wanted to explore the woods because I was too worried about fitting in to voice my desire. It's possible someone else may have wanted to dance in the trees, too, but they were too busy fitting in with the rest of us!
Brené Brown tells us, "Belonging so fully to yourself that you're willing to stand alone is a wilderness-an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can't control it or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it's the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand."
You may have similar memories of trying to fit in. When you jog down memory lane and think of these times, what exactly do you feel? For me, I start to feel a knot in my stomach, and my heart begins to beat a little faster. I may even start to breathe quickly or even hold my breath.
My path as a high achiever led me down several roads of trying to fit in or conform to societal norms and pressures. The harder I tried, the more I felt I was not good enough. Looking back, I don't think I wanted to fit in. What I longed for was to belong.
To belong, you get to inhabit any space as your true self. Not changing yourself but being comfortable with yourself and owning your uniqueness can seem scary, but it requires much less effort and brings much more peace and joy. To show up as your authentic self takes courage and a constant reminder that you are already OK, just as you are. Remember, fitting in may seem more manageable, but it's also easy to lose little pieces of you when you try to fit in.
Once you understand that you would rather belong than fit in, you can celebrate this and bring it into all areas of your life. As women doctors, we are often in leadership positions and fostering environments of belonging can enhance our daily experience of life and empower others to do the same.
A belonging workplace environment allows others to share ideas, become enhanced problem solvers, and work together with more harmony and joy.
Simple Actions To Foster Belonging:
*Check-in with others. Ask how things are going professionally and personally.
*Ask for opinions from those that are often quiet during group discussions.
*Celebrate everyone's unique gifts often and openly.
*Continually ask for input and encourage curiosity and questions.
*Remember, to be understood, you should first aim to understand.
A simple and interactive values exercise is one of the best ways to move towards a more belonging work environment. It's always one of the first tasks during our Practice Wellness Programs, and we are always impressed with how this key opens the doors to enhanced team culture.
Choose the path of belonging for yourself and for those you surround yourself with in life. Belonging is your home. And, you don't need to wear blue jeans with special embroidery on the back pocket, I promise!