The Weekend Workbench

The Weekend Workbench – Sense of Place, Belonging, and Fitting In


Sense of Place:  Weekend, North County San Diego. 10:23 AM.

Weather:  Sun is out early, feels like San Diego fall (or an upstate NY perfect summer day – our cool is not all that cool, really).  It’s probably almost 70.

Mood:  Relaxed, upbeat, the weekend still has promise.  House is messy, but groceries are bought, corned beef is braising on the stove.  I have gotten very comfortable at ignoring the “housework” that I was socialized to care about, and making sure that I don’t give up creative or leisure time and lose time that I’ll never get back because of some formerly ingrained (and difficult to achieve) level of “order.”  I’m quite sure I won’t ever regret these decisions.

Walked with a dear friend this weekend at our lagoon, with its white herons and deep scent of eucalyptus, dirt, and wild fennel.  With its trees, reeds, rushes; with this beautiful piece of engineering called “the 5” that is the third busiest freeway in the United States.  I love the paradox of nature against this backdrop, because it pleases me to know that you can have access to people and their ideas, to jobs and business and arts events and nature all at once.  There are often painters tucked in among the trees on Saturdays.  I can always show up as my true self with this friend, which is why she is so dear.

Listening To:  School of Greatness with Lewis Howes and Brene Brown.  This continues to be one of the go-to podcasts.  Lewis interviews a huge range of people, and always pulls great ideas and information out of his guests in a graceful and hospitable way.

This gem:  “True belonging never asks us to change who we are, it demands we be who we are, because if we fit in, because of how we have changed ourselves, that’s not belonging.  Because you’ve betrayed yourself for other people, and that’s not sustainable.  And you start to lose yourself.  You have to show up as who you are.”

That Brene…she’s another one with power to change lives.

Fitting in or Belonging
So much good stuff in this podcast, but this concept of “Fitting In” as opposed to “Belonging” is so significant.  Humans are hard-wired to want to belong – this is third on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs after our physiological (air, food, water) and safety (personal, financial, health) needs are met.

So how do we get those needs met in a way that at the very least allows us to maintain our sense of self?  It is a sticky wicket, because a huge part of what groups or teams require is an adherence or willingness to embrace the rules of the group, which necessarily eliminate some of the variances in behavior to be effective.  This is fine – we can and should moderate some of our behavior for the good of the whole.  But when that expectation grows into a belief that we must make deep changes in ourselves to get in or stay on the inside, we can betray ourselves to a point where we don’t know who we are or what we think anymore.  And unwinding this takes a lot of courage and relentless work.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to join the popular group, and was told by some other members that the only way to get in was to beat up another girl.  I really wanted to be on the inside, and so I remember deciding to do this thing, to beat her up.  I had never in my life ever even hit anyone, let alone beat someone up.  The day came when I finally cornered the girl in the bathroom and as she was backed up against the sink, crying, I realized I couldn’t go through with it.  And it was a completely losing situation, because not only was I not able to go through with it, but I had already caused fear and suffering to someone who didn’t deserve it.  And now the deal was sealed.  I was an outsider.

To this day, I regret trying to fit into a group that so clearly didn’t want me and was so shitty for making this demand.   I felt bad about this for years.  But:  I didn’t realize until many years later that this was a small but important demonstration of courage and strength – choosing not to betray who I really was in that moment and living with the consequences.

Who doesn’t have a story like this – of wanting to belong and being rejected, or changing themselves to fit in? We all struggle with this.

At Work
One of the most difficult places to navigate this can be in the work or team environment.  Are you someone who is already part of the tribe or are you still trying to prove yourself?  What do you do if you disagree with the direction a project is going?  Or if a course of action could be disastrous?  How do you stay true to yourself AND speak up AND remain on the “inside?”  When is the right time to disagree, how much do you say, how adamant are you?  How do you lead yourself AND be a good, thoughtful follower?  There is no road map for this and the stakes can be high.  There is no good answer, except to stay true to yourself, and listen to that trusted inner voice.

The relationships we build form these pathways of behavior that are hard to unwind.  If you’ve ever tried to change the rules in a romantic, family, or work relationship, you know it takes an extraordinary effort to make even the smallest lasting change.  We default so easily back to what we know, which often has been learned so early that we aren’t aware.  This means there has to be a constant vigilance and commitment to the change, which often results in a level of discomfort that makes it hard to stay the course.  It is about courage.

Finding Belonging
Knowing yourself, and embracing all the various parts of yourself that you both like and don’t like is essential in finding belonging.  You have to know who you are first, and that is some difficult work.  As e.e. cummings once said:

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” 

A note:
I’ve spent the past 10 years unwinding my own story, and doing the difficult work of understanding who I really am.  It is a continual evolution that can be very uncomfortable at times, but the payoff is worth it, because it clarifies where to put your energy, and can eliminate a lot of questions about choices and tradeoffs.  If you are struggling with this, I have resources and a great ear.  Get in touch.


Photo Credit:  Photo by Rebekah Howell on Unsplash

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