“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” – Brené Brown
We all have an innate human need to belong. When we belong somewhere, to someone or something, we bring our whole selves to the experience. When we belong we don’t feel the need to hide parts of ourselves to “fit in.” Fitting in is about acceptance. Acceptance is what happens when we are invited in, but actions and conversation still suggest, or even highlight differences. Acceptance looks like choosing to act the way others would expect, want, or even need us to act. Acceptance can be satisfying, but it can also be conditional and superficial. It may feel like we have to hide or change parts of ourselves to be liked or included. We may also feel insecure and anxious about losing the approval of others. Acceptance can lead to conformity and loss of identity.
Belonging is being accepted for who we are. Belonging is what happens when we are invited in and our differences are welcomed and useful. This is very fulfilling and can also be rare and hard to find. When we belong, we feel we are valued and respected for our unique contributions and perspectives. We may feel more confident and comfortable in expressing ourselves. Belonging often leads to a richness of diversity and growth.
December is often a time when leaders find their schedules packed.
Wrapping up things before the New Year at the office, while balancing increased family and social commitments may not sound like the best time for self-reflection but let me ask you one question:
If you could give someone the gift of truly belonging this season, would you package that up instead of buying them something material?
I think we all would answer yes but there is a catch … Until you give yourself this gift, you will not be in a place to create teams, homes, or organizations, where others feel they belong. All belonging, while it is systemic and most certainly involves others, begins with self-acceptance. The irony is if we don’t innately accept who we are, we seek acceptance outside of ourselves and never find a sustained sense of belonging.
Here are some questions that I hope will feel like a gift to you this month. Leading is hard work but creating a place where others feel a sense of belonging that is inspired by your commitment to self-acceptance is life’s work:
What did you learn in your past from different family, work, media, school, and sports systems you were part of about what characteristics of yours were “in or out”/“good or bad?”
These internalized prejudices unknowingly become calcified as our personal truths. What are some of the ways you have marginalized your gifts to “fit in”?
What are you doing to unlearn your biases and relearn how to love all the parts of who you are no matter what others want you to believe?
Do you think, look, or sound differently from a place where you spend a lot of time seeking acceptance? Describe this place and what you don’t feel comfortable sharing about who you are when you are with this group of people.
What is the emotional, physical, and mental cost of not belonging?
Do you think, look, or sound differently from a place where you spend a lot of time and feel a deep sense of belonging? Describe this place and what you DO feel comfortable sharing about who you are when you are with this group of people.
What is the emotional, physical, and mental benefit of belonging?
When thinking about a place you desire full, authentic belonging, rate the following on a scale of 1-10 (10 being you belong and 1 being you are trying very hard to fit in and be accepted.)
- I feel free to share ideas and suggestions.
- I feel recognized for my contributions to the whole.
- I feel respected by others.
- I feel like I can be my authentic self no matter what is happening in the external environment and being me is welcome and expected.
If your score is between 30-40, congratulations for accepting yourself and loving yourself enough to align with others in a place of true belonging.
If your score is between 20-30, you are on your way to a sense of belonging and use this reflection as a way to assess where the catches are and work to clear them internally.
If your score is under 20, it is important to look inside yourself and ask if this is a place where you can ever be your authentic self. If yes, how can you work more on increasing your level of self-acceptance? If this place conflicts with your authentic self from a values perspective, you may need to realign your energy elsewhere.
There is no greater gift we can give to ourselves than self-acceptance. It is not something we have to earn but it is something we have to align within ourselves first. Only then can self-acceptance open in us the capacity for others to feel a sense of belonging in our presence. It is the gift of expansion in the most profound way.
“Tomorrow belongs to those of us who conceive of it as belonging to everyone; who lend the best of ourselves to it, and with joy.” – Audre Lorde
Wishing you peace and moments of reflection this holiday season.
Please click here if you would like to receive this reflection in a worksheet format that you can use personally and/or pass along to someone who may find it useful.