Belonging vs. Belongings

What do places of worship, sororities, fraternities, country clubs and boardrooms have in common?

Belonging (noun)
1. something that belongs. 2. possessions; goods; personal effects. 3. a close or intimate relationship • a sense of belonging

We all have our issues. Some of us even have “triggers” that come up from time to time to side-blind and erupt us into a fear, rage or withdrawal inconsistent with the current event. Consider these underlying issues, laden triggers or themes as semi or unresolved conflict or trauma from a previous time.

No doubt an underlying theme I’ve faced throughout my life is belonging—and boy have I had some experiences lately to remind me of my own personal opportunity to get complete and comfy with this recurring theme (trigger on some days) and to publically declare that I know I’m not alone.

I don’t know how many books have been written on the topic of belonging and how it shapes our sense of self, worthiness and general happiness, but I contemplate writing the next book about it. If I could distill all of the issues, neuroses, concerns and challenges that my personal development clients have presented over the past sixteen years, I would say they all funnel into a desire for belonging.

Having grown up with an atheist father and absolutely no religion or indoctrination of any sort in my life, I envied friends with faithful following families of tradition and religion. Most of my friends were Jewish and I begged to convert between the ages eleven and thirteen. Sure, part of it was the badass Bat and Bar Mitzvahs my friends were all celebrating, but a bigger reason was the religious school that brought them together every week.

My twin sister and parents and I grew up as a close-knit family and traveled extensively throughout our childhood. We spent half of the year living and traveling on a boat in Florida and the Bahamas and most of the summers cruising islands in New England. It was amazing, fun and lonely. While I felt completely loved by my family, I also felt different, like I didn’t belong. I wanted something different and more—a lot of my childhood and into my adolescence. I do think differently than my parents and surely didn’t please them with dreadlock, hairy-leg, vegan and pierced face phase in college. There were many times we agreed to disagree and then there were times we just had nothing to say to one another and I felt like that was even sadder.

My fear and confusion about not belonging ramped up into high gear when I faced the greatest shame I didn’t think I could live through; admitting to my parents that I didn’t belong at Colby College. I wanted to leave. I wanted to go to what they would undoubtedly regard as a crazy hippie school out west.

The moment I finally decided to leave Colby College was a breakdown and break through time in my life.

Aren’t those transformative moments really just that, simultaneous breakdowns and breakthroughs?

We think we cannot survive the shame, disappointment, disapproval and rejection of our truth as it affects others and their judgment of us. But we live a slow and miserable death otherwise.

Leaving Colby College was ripping the bandage off my life of not belonging. It hurt in the moment telling my parents I couldn’t go back and facing the self-perceived “failure” of not just sucking it up and finishing the two years. The temporary pain and discomfort allowed me to recover into a vibrant and incredibly healthy and happy life at Prescott College, a place I currently still feel in alignment with and connected to—a place in which I currently still feel I belong. In fact, it was the first institution in my life in which I actually felt I belonged wholly and authentically, but it was hell getting there.

Growing up and coming home to family of origin, as an adult, is an interesting (read: challenging) journey for many of us. Since I moved back to Colorado, I stay with my parents frequently as I am back and forth to Naples for work. I have had a lot of opportunities to experience my different-ness or accept belonging in my family. Nothing’s changed. I mean, it’s actually gotten worse with regard to our political differences and food choices, but because this visit was longer than typical and life is short, I chose to embrace the space between our disparities.

In that space there is no judgment. There is simply love, and that love leads to acceptance of our selves and each other.

It’s been a wonderful time at home with my parents. I am missing my parents already and I haven’t even left yet. It took a minute to get there. My father and I could have a lot to say, but it would likely be acrimonious. We have an unspoken agreement to keep things brief and unprovocative, yet I fall into this small-self-thinking that I am not worth his effort for a more meaningful relationship.

Then I went for a walk one day and had this awesome chat with myself.

I simply thought, “I belong to me”.

I belong to me and I am not rejected if I don’t fit into someone’s worldview, organization, club or life for that matter. My father’s lack of deeper engagement has nothing to do with me being lovable or worthy of belonging. I belong right where I am, wherever I go and with whomever I am with because I belong to me. This came to me on my 44th birthday and I help people do this for a living, so lord knows it’s never too late for anyone to have miraculous revelations and lighten the mental load.

I am just like all of my clients, our Wellfit Girls, my friends and your friends who seek on the deepest level a sense of belonging to something meaningful in life. If we don’t belong to ourselves first, we will always be seeking someone or something else to belong to and will continue to feel lonely and disappointed when we don’t.

I spoke with a friend recently who is looking at some major changes in his life; from leaving a high paying career and facing addiction to looking forward to authentic relationships and true belonging, it’s a daunting and impossible journey for him right now. He shared with me, actually with ironic laughter about all of the luxury belongings he has accumulated over his successful career, and how he has no interest in any of them anymore. He also shared, without laughter, how rejected and lonely he has felt in his relationship.

I shared with him my mantra, “that I belong to me”. When we truly get to a place of belonging to ourselves, we are un-rejectable. I mean really, is there anything worse than getting dumped, fired or not getting that job (or in my recent case lately), that grant we so desperately need. YES, there may be a lot of worse things than getting rejected, because if we reallllly look at it, the situation or relationship might not be the right fit for us.

And when we truly belong to ourselves. We fit well in our skin and there just isn’t a lot of room for excess belongings or people and situations that don’t fit into our authentic self.

Be bold, brave and know your people are out there…always be true and they will find you!

In loving-kindness,

  • patrick dearborn

    awesome Jill

    April 19, 2017 at 12:49 am
  • Nancy Mckay


    Xo Nan

    July 18, 2017 at 2:09 am
  • Barbara Zamudio

    Nice meeting you on the sea lion & whale shark tour in Baja. I really enjoyed your article – glad I asked for your card and checked out your site.

    December 17, 2017 at 8:53 pm

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