So many parts of our lives revolve around a notion of belonging. At work, at school, at home; with colleagues, with strangers, with those we love. We can’t blame ourselves for wanting to belong – it gives us confidence and strength, catalyzes our growth and creativity, unlocks proverbial doors. We know it’s critically nourishing. Still, there are countless times that I’ve questioned if I belong or not. Asked, am I really good enough to be here? And, if so, why do I feel like I’m on the other side of the glass?
Then we realize, that this perceived absence of belonging isn’t necessarily all our fault. We’re implored to leave aspects of our personality behind, told our existence coincides with a quota. Those who belong, taunt us with melodious words of authenticity, balance, and progress, without providing any way through the glass. Let me be clear, I’m not casting a magenta light on the nuances of workplaces and schools and diversity, acting like each and every situation operates with remarkable identicality. I know they don’t. But I can’t deny that I have noticed a stark trend, both within myself and my communities, of questioning belonging at every stage.
We perpetuate it, too. Whether through lighthearted self-deprecation or alterations in the fabric of who we are, it seems we make sure that wherever we go, whatever we do, we will never quite feel like we belong. We fail to find champions who will take us through that seemingly impenetrable glass wall, despite idolizing those who ostensibly break the glass ceiling itself. Why do we do it? I find myself in this role, constantly having the opportunity to learn from incredible women, who show me that there is a way to belong. Yet, here I am, unable to succumb to that very sense of belonging. Why is that? Why do I do it?
Maybe, we contribute to the construction of glass walls more than we contribute to their teardown. We continue to listen to the cacophony of innocent diversity hire jokes and subtle off-handed comments, instead of being the voice that brings everyone in. Maybe, you find yourself like me, with an internal rhetoric that constantly whispers that I’m not good enough to belong. That reiterates insecurities arising from society or my consciousness or somewhere in-between.
There are myriad systemic issues that I can’t possibly address here. What I can address, though, is that if you find yourself on that elusive other side – don’t stay there. It’s the least we can do, arguably an imperative, rarely identified role. Shatter the glass, climb over it, do whatever you must do, as trite as it is, to reduce the barriers to rubble. And if you are the outsider, please don’t fall prey to the simple loneliness. Belonging is a two-way street in its purest form. Acceptance on both of the other sides is critical and something that still holds so many of us back. But don’t forget, it’s entirely in our power.
Here’s the thing – we aren’t diversity hires, we aren’t buzzwords, we aren’t ridiculous connotations of the word, liability. In fact, we belong. Trust me, even when you feel like you don’t belong, you do. And we deserve to be treated as such.