January 17, 2024

Fitting in vs. Belonging: a Guide to Living Authentically.


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Fitting in is a natural desire when we are prepubescent and preadolescent.

It is healthy to imitate the world around us as we learn about it and ourselves. At that age, life is new to us and we are learning so much.

Some children are born with a strong sense of themselves and march to the beat of their own drum early on. But for most of us, it doesn’t work that way. We learn through the process of observation, imitation, and elimination.

But when we are pressured to do, think, and behave in ways that others expect from us, it can become difficult to hear our own voice. Our parents or caregivers experience the world in their own way, which they try to impress upon us. They believe they are doing the best for us. They don’t mean us harm.

However, the result is often disconnection from ourselves. We learn to deny our inner voice.

Sometimes you can’t find your way back to yourself, even in old age. You continue to do things that were learned early on, often resulting in low level depression and frustration. Never quite finding what brings you joy or peace.

There are definitely times when it is appropriate to fit in. When we visit other countries, for example, it is important to respect others’ cultures and traditions. For short periods in a social gathering, maybe with family. But those are the exceptions.

It isn’t something you want to do in your daily life. Living that way is rejecting everything that makes you yourself—putting on an act. It’s draining the life out of you. Trying to be perfect.

We all know there is no such thing.

We are encouraged to follow the norm not only by our parents or caregivers but society in general. School, neighbors, relatives, friends, social media. There’s a lot of pressure to be like everyone else, to match up to our culture’s ideas of how we should look, think, and act. What to do to achieve that perfect appearance.

It’s about being cool, popular, successful, doing the right thing, and being good looking. Appearing like we have it all together.

It’s a highly stressful way to live.

I know, in my life, fitting in was paramount. I grew up in a European country with strict societal rules about how to move through life at various ages. Smiling, being too happy, was frowned upon. Everyone keeps to themselves and only looks out for themselves and their immediate family. Asking for help is taboo. Privacy is highly valued.

As a family, we moved from a large city to a smaller one, where my dad started his own business. He quickly became successful and well known in town. That meant that his family had to keep up his image of a successful, smart, and well to do man. His beautiful wife, my mother, developed social anxiety and only left the house looking perfect and being charming. Appearance was important to him. His children had to look equally perfect. Everyone knew and admired the perfect family.

It was a pressure cooker that was inevitably going to explode when we, his kids, hit puberty. I ended up leaving when I was 15.

For some of us, the suffering was enough to search for an authentic expression of ourselves.

I finally found my own group and the joy that I get to experience by having a life that is meaningful to me allows me to be loving and gentle with the people with whom I no longer fit.

Not every family has this type of experience though. When the pressure is low key and steady, it is easier to get trapped into performing in ways that are expected of us. Many of us walk through life continually believing that we have to fit in, to look perfect, and not make waves. It’s our own personal skull-sized hell.

This is living a life of quiet desperation.

When we try to fit in, we know that something is wrong in our lives. It’s exhausting! We become depressed. We give up. We trudge to our jobs to make enough to pay our bills. Life loses meaning. Life becomes a predictable, unsatisfactory routine. We’re afraid to do anything different. We don’t know what we should do different.

We drink more. The evidence is in the continually increasing shelves for alcohol in stores. We smoke weed or take stronger stuff. Antidepressants, drugs, sex, technology, social media, whatever helps us to avoid feeling that pain of living so inauthentically.

We are meant to live out loud, even if we’re introverts. To express our uniqueness. March to the beat of our own drum.

It’s sharing that crazy idea, talking about the strange thoughts or experiences we have. It’s dancing when the music moves us. It’s teaching yoga, even if we have a law degree. It’s painting, even though our parents told us we’ll never make a living that way.

It’s opening ourselves up. Becoming genuine. Stepping into the person we are and unapologetically being ourselves.

Pain and suffering is nature’s way of inspiring change. When there’s enough discomfort, we will seek a different path.

Of course, like most things worth having, some effort is required:

>> It takes practice. It takes being willing to listen to yourself. Stop that inner chatter telling you how you have to act. Find a counselor to help you.

>> It takes courage. Not everyone will like you.

>> It takes maturity. Learning to make wise decisions for your life, recognizing reckless behavior. Being responsible with the freedom that comes with authenticity.

>> It takes humility. We are not better or more important than our neighbor, our coworker, or friend. We may be different, but no more significant than anyone else. There is no need to push our differences onto others.

>> Being you does not mean hurting others but being kind to yourself and others. Remember that everyone is struggling in some form or other.

>> It’s important to find your group. Find the people who you belong with. It may take some time. Not everyone you meet will be your person, but believe me, they are out there.

Belonging, not fitting in

Belonging isn’t about what other people think of you. It’s not about being liked for what you’ve done or what you look like. It’s definitely not about making other people like you.

Belonging allows you to be yourself. Finding the people you connect with naturally. When you belong, people care about you as a person. It is effortless. It flows. It brings out the best in you.

Belonging allows you to truly connect to others. To become intimate emotionally. To be accepted for who you are. It allows you to let your hair down.

We all long to be seen, heard, and understood. It is what every human being craves. It’s impossible to be seen if we don’t show ourselves—if we are not authentic.

Without authenticity and vulnerability, we cannot experience true intimacy.

Finding other souls who you belong with brings feelings of excitement but also peace. You sense that you can finally find rest, and you won’t be judged for that silly thing you said, thought, or enjoy doing. You won’t be criticized for having a bad day or week.

There are no expectations to be met.

Our differences are what lights up our world. Our crazy ideas are the next innovations. This is how we inspire others. Well-behaved people never make history. Even if you don’t aspire to make the history books, be a light for others. Be hope. Be an inspiration so others can find their way out of darkness.

We do that simply by being ourselves.

The price to fit in is too high.


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