The difference between ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’

The difference between ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’

I recently listened to Brene Brown’s audiobook Men, Women, and Worthiness and she touched on a subject that really struck a chord with me. She talked about the difference between fitting in and belonging, and clarified that you really cannot truly belong if you are trying to fit in. “The greatest barrier to belonging is fitting in.” The idea of fitting in is about assessing a situation or environment, and changing yourself to become who you think you need to be in order to be accepted. “Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

At 27 years old, I feel I have finally reached a point in my life where I am belonging. I no longer strive (at least not as much as I used to) to fit in. I make my opinions and beliefs known to my friends, family, and social media audience. Though I’m always learning and growing and trying to be the best version of myself I can be, I am doing that in a way that first acknowledges that I am enough. I am not attempting to change parts of myself, but rather to get better acquainted with the parts of myself I have kept hidden for so many years.

“True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Brene brown

I started seeing a psychiatrist for the first time in December 2019, and in our first session he asked me a question that caught me off guard a bit. He asked me “When was the last time you really felt like yourself.” I hesitated for a few seconds, and then the honest answer bubbled to the top of my brain. This honest answer also answered another question: “When did you last truly feel like you were belonging rather than trying to fit in?” My answer? 8th grade.

In 8th grade, I was on the volleyball and basketball teams at my school. I had three best friends, and the four of us became inseparable over the course of that year. I was outspoken, silly, talkative, and a bit (or maybe a lot depending on who you ask) moody. I didn’t hold back. I was unapologetically me. I felt a sense of belonging from my group of friends, from the sports teams I was a part of, from the way I wasn’t trying to be someone I wasn’t.

8th grade besties before our school dance

Towards the end of 8th grade, something started to shift. Like I detailed in my blog post Finding My Voice, I started getting negative messages from my peers. That voice that has followed me through my teen and adult years started creeping in “you aren’t enough.” Or, perhaps, “you are too much.” I started to fear that my method of belonging was not the right move. That I needed to start fitting in. I had not yet heard the life-changing idea Brene Brown presents in her audiobook, that belonging is actually what we need to strive for, and trying to fit in will only hinder our ability to find belonging. I had reached that state of belonging without even trying in 8th grade, and the years that followed would set me back a few paces as I searched for answers in the world of fitting in.

The idea that middle school was the last time I felt like myself scared me at first. As I sat in that psychiatrist’s office, finding it hard to meet his gaze, I wondered if my answer was “typical”, if there was something wrong with me for saying I felt it had been about 13 years since I was truly myself. Of course, that was part of what brought me to his office in the first place. To see if medication might help me feel and act more like myself. I have felt more alive and more myself these past six months since I started on medication to help with my depression and anxiety. But I think something else has changed in these six months. I think something shifted inside me in that psychiatrist’s office when I realized I had been living in a state of inauthenticity, trying to fit in, trying to be someone I wasn’t. I realized I didn’t want to live that way anymore.

I made the decision (mostly sub-consciously) to start being more like Eight Grade Shelly. The Shelly I once thought I needed to fix, became the Shelly I admired, the Shelly I now strived to be more like. Eighth Grade Shelly was my new idol, my new muse. I was Eighth Grade Shelly’s newest, and greatest, fangirl. I’m smiling and tearing up as I write this, because I know that younger me would be proud. And she’d be so happy to know that someone thinks she’s perfect just the way she is. That she has achieved something, a sense of belonging, that many people spend most of their life trying to obtain. She has lessons I need to learn. She has the key to Present Day Shelly’s happier and more fulfilled life. Those voiced from her peers are the voices of people who do not yet understand that fitting in is detrimental. That being unique is cool. That standing up for what you believe in is important.

These past six months, something has shifted inside me. I’ve started being even more open on social media and this blog. I started a podcast called Vulnerable Views where we talked about, you guessed it, vulnerable topics such as dating and mental health. I’ve started being more honest with myself and others about what my true passions and goals are in life. I joined TikTok and post videos that are about as authentic as you can get. I’ve had people reach out to me to say my videos have helped them or inspired them or made them feel less alone. I really feel like I’ve found a sense of belonging on TikTok, where I’m applauded for being completely myself. I’ve found a sense of belonging in my friends and family, who allow me to be my imperfect self. I’ve finally come full circle back to being that outspoken, silly, talkative, and a bit (or maybe a lot) moody girl I was before. It feels good to belong.

I’d love to hear your experience and opinions on this topic. When was the last time you felt like yourself? Do you think you are belonging or just fitting in currently? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

25 Lessons I’ve Learned in 25 Years

25 Lessons I’ve Learned in 25 Years

A little over a week ago I turned 25, and something about this age has made me reflect on everything I have learned in my life up until now. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am still very young in the grand scheme of things, and I have a lot more to learn about this thing called life. But I also feel that I have learned a thing or two on my journey thus far, so I thought I would share 25 nuggets of wisdom today, in honor of the 25 years I’ve been on this earth.

  1. If you’re afraid to do something, I ask yourself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” This is what my mom always asks me when I’m feeling nervous. Something about acknowledging what I’m really afraid of helps me think logically about the situation, and often makes me realize there isn’t much to be afraid of in the first place.
  2. If you want to get to know someone better, they probably feel the same way about you. Ask that coworker to eat lunch with you. Reach out to that new friend you just met to see if they want to grab dinner. After all, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
  3. Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves to be judging you. This is something I like to tell myself when I’m worrying too much about what others think of me. If you feel like you made a bad first impression on someone, I guarantee that person is thinking the same thing about himself/herself.
  4. Don’t put things off. If not now, when? I’m just as guilty as the next person of procrastinating, but I always feel so much more satisfied when I get things done. Speaking of which…
  5. Write to-do lists. I write lists of what I want to get done both at work and in my free time. I’m looking forward to crossing write blog post off my list after this!
  6. Try to say yes more. I’ve been testing this out a lot lately, and I’m already seeing positive results. In the last few weeks, I’ve said yes to going on a trip to Costa Rica in April, going to a trivia night for the first time, and attending an event with my coworkers where I ended up making some new friends! But with that being said…
  7. Know when to say no. As much as I am an advocate for saying yes, I have also been working on knowing my boundaries and when I need to say no. For me, that normally manifests when I find myself doing too much for other people and not paying enough attention to my own wants and needs.
  8. It’s important to get “me time” every week. I have a fairly busy schedule between work and my social life, and I’m the type of person that needs time to recharge. That’s where saying no comes in, as I sometimes have to turn down invitations from friends in favor of staying in and relaxing for a night.
  9. The most important relationship you have in life is the one with yourself. Be your own best friend, your own biggest supporter, and your own #1 fan. When you truly love yourself, others will love you even more.
  10. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and try new things. I’ve written about this quite a lot. From my time taking an improv class, to starting a YouTube channel, I’ve been pushing myself to do the things that scare me more and more as I’ve gotten older. And the kicker is, I never regret it!
  11. Don’t ignore your passions. Find ways to do more of what you love. A recent example for me is that I’ve started teaching myself to play piano again, after not playing for many years.
  12. Be selfish sometimes. My first instinct is to think about the other person and how they feel or what they want. This is a great quality to have, but I often need to remind myself I deserve to get what I want sometimes too.
  13. Don’t dwell on the past. In the end, this only brings you more pain, and holds you back from truly appreciating what you have.
  14. Always remember to be grateful. When I’m feeling down, I like to remind myself of all of the positive things in my life. No matter what you’re going through, there is always something to be grateful for.  
  15. It’s okay to fail. Nobody is perfect, everyone messes up from time to time. Plus, failures often teach us the best lessons and help us grow more than our successes.
  16. The logical and emotional parts of your brain don’t always agree. Sometimes your head knows something is a bad idea but your heart doesn’t want to listen. Or vice versa. The best thing you can do is just go with your gut instinct.
  17. Spend as much time outside as possible. Nothing makes me happier than going on a walk on a nice sunny day. Nature can truly feel healing at times!
  18. There’s no shame in going to therapy. You always hear people talk about exercising and taking care of your body by eating right, but we still don’t talk enough about taking care of our minds. Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health!
  19. You’ll have bad days, weeks, months, and even bad years. But there is always something good amongst the bad. Focus on the good.
  20. Feelings aren’t facts. Just because you feel one way, doesn’t mean everyone feels that way. At the same time, just because someone feels differently than you, doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Nobody can control how they feel.
  21. Hindsight really is 20/20. It’s the unfortunate truth that situations and events in life become much clearer when they’ve become history. Don’t beat yourself up for not seeing something in the moment. Be thankful you can learn from your mistakes and move on.
  22. If someone annoys you, they probably remind you of yourself. This is a lesson I learned from my dad. We don’t like to see ourselves mirrored in others, which is why opposites can attract in friendships and romantic relationships. Whenever I express dislike for someone, my dad always asks me “what about that person reminds you of yourself?”
  23. Don’t be afraid to let people really know you. I’ve been trying to push myself to share more of my life with friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers who read this blog.
  24. Be fearless in the pursuit of your goals and dreams. I truly believe I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I try to set a lot of goals for myself, both in my personal life and my work life, so I always have something to be working towards.
  25. Never stop learning. I’m sure in the next 25 years of my life I will learn many more valuable lessons. And who knows, maybe I’ll still be sharing them on here!

Thanks for reading! Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts on these life lessons, and share some of your own!

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