Fitting In Vs. Belonging


For my whole career as a leader I worked really hard to create a safe and inclusive work environment where people could feel like they really belonged. But it wasn’t until a few months ago that I stopped to ask myself…

Valeyne Grotrian, do you feel like you belong at work? 

No, not do you feel like you fit in? 

No, not do you feel like people like you?

But, do you feel like you belong?

Do you feel accepted beyond your output? Do you feel valued beyond your productivity? Beyond who you are relative to other people?

How could I have ever expected that my employees or my clients would feel safe and known if I wasn’t even sure I was showing up as a safe, known person?

A fan favorite in the Agora Community, Brene Brown, reminds us that "true belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness."

In other words, we cannot create a culture of belonging outside of ourselves until we ourselves feel a deep sense of belonging within. And it’s really easy as a busy leader to forget to check up on what’s happening within ourselves. Or even if we want to, a lot of us just aren’t sure how.

But when we’re constantly seeking external validation and trying to fit in, we're missing out on showing up as our authentic selves. 

Inauthenticity has a smell. People sniff it out. They run from it. They see through it and distrust it; it has the opposite effect of what we’re hoping for.

With the help of my coach, I’ve been asking myself some tough questions around belonging. 

When do I feel like I truly belong to myself? To others? When do I not? What is happening in me when I don’t feel that I belong?

If you ask yourself the same questions, what comes up for you? Sit with it. What might it mean for you. What might it mean for your leadership?

All this belonging exploration keeps bringing me back to the same truth. I am enough. Flawed old me is plenty enough. Today. As is. 

Jay Shetty is a certified coach and former monk. He says that "true belonging starts with self-acceptance." And he’s right, although I think it’s beyond acceptance and the real magic is in self-love! But self-acceptance isn’t a one-hit wonder. It’s waking up in the morning and looking at the bags under my sleepy eyes and knowing that I am enough.

And a few minutes later, it’s approaching a new aspect of my business that I feel totally unequipped for and knowing that I am enough. 

It’s knowing I am enough without a college degree, when a client I’d love to work with decides I’m not the right fit. It’s knowing I am enough when someone unsubscribes from my email list or I see another coach who is doing it all “better” than me. 

I might have to accept myself 100 times a day. Belonging to ourselves and in the world is hard work. And much of it happens within ourselves, for ourselves, before we can be accepted by the extensions of belonging that others offer us. 

Creating a sense of belonging outside of myself starts with deciding to belong to my Self. 

If I don’t start there, all my other work to create spaces where others can belong will start to have a smell. It will lack something deep and true. 

So, here's my question for you: Are you doing the inner work to cultivate a sense of belonging within yourself before trying to create a culture of belonging within your team? Think about it, and let's work together to create spaces where people can truly belong.


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