Where Do I Fit?
My whole life I would say I have been scratching and clawing, trying to find a way to fit in. When my family moved in the middle of 3rd grade, it was…well…horrific for me. We lived close to extended family, friends that I had known my whole life, and we moved across the country for my dad’s work. Me not taking it well would be an understatement. One of the biggest shifts for me was the change in my 3rd grade social circle. I can vividly remember the popular girls who would dance together during recess, but I was never invited to join. One day they let me play with them after school. I was so excited, but I mostly just watched them, never really being allowed to participate – never feeling like I was a part of them.
These experiences would continue for years. I would try out for cheer-leading, dance, track, cross country, but nothing seemed to work out.
I Didn’t Fit In Anywhere
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that I fit in at home either. My family loved me and cared for me, but I was different, and we all knew it. My parents sacrificed a great deal for all of their children and I am forever grateful for them. But I never had anyone I could talk to openly about my feelings. I never felt that my reactions were appropriate, and I never understood how to deal with my feelings. To this day my family considers me to be the emotional one.
It took me a couple extra years to get married and I felt that I didn’t belong when marriage failed to happen right away like I had planned. I know that there are many people who get married later in life than I, or may still be waiting to get married, but regardless of your situation, the conversation on this topic seems to intensify when you pass that “appropriate age” to get married. Well-meaning but ignorant people would ask me when I was going to get married, or tell me to have faith…that it would happen.
During the years that my husband and I were struggling to have kids, it seemed that every person in at church had a vendetta against me and that they suddenly became programmed robots who could only talk about being a mother or father and having kids. There were many weeks that we would leave the meetings early or not go at all when those comments were abnormally high, and I felt significantly weak.
When I started teaching, I felt this same need to fit in. I had so many ticks on the paper against me though – I was the youngest, I had little children at home, I was just starting out. My status was the low man on the totem pole. I also was surrounded by assertive, strong people, some of which could be quite abrasive. Working doesn’t bother me, so I thought I could gain their affection and approval by doing what they wanted done. There was a lot I learned. But I was a roller coaster of emotions…wanting people to like me but feeling that it wasn’t always my real self.
Do I Not Belong?
In each case I didn’t feel that I fit in, but I made the significant mistake of believing that not fitting in meant that I didn’t belong. That singular thought can be devastating to a testimony and is a great trick that Satan uses to keep us from the Lord’s house and from our covenants.
Sometimes we get confused because we teach that God asks us to grow, to progress, to secure our own salvation. That means changing things about ourselves, and becoming more perfect. So when we don’t feel that we fit in with the fundamental components that the church teaches, we incorrectly assume that we don’t belong.
But Christ NEVER taught that we don’t belong because we have struggles that seem contradictory to what the gospel teaches. He taught that we are all precious. We are valuable above all else. He doesn’t say that you only belong if you fit a mold. In fact, he asks us to bring our uniqueness to the gospel, because each of us are needed. Just as we are. Christ was always quick to help those who needed Him feel that they were safe with Him. Even if He needed to teach them to be better, to repent, or to learn something, He first helped them feel that each of them belonged. At times in my life, He was the ONLY source of peace…because I didn’t feel accepted or included anywhere else.
Researcher Brené Brown talks about the difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in is trying to be a part of a group, club or team, and molding our behavior to fit in with them. Becoming part of their culture. When you are trying to fit in, you change things about yourself to feel accepted by the group. We at times all feel that we need to change something about ourselves to feel accepted. But belonging is different. Belonging is coming as you are. It is about working from where you are and being vulnerable enough to show the whole you.
However, the caveat is this…the feelings of fitting in and belonging are self-inflicted. At times it is so easy to blame other’s behavior for why we don’t feel that we belong, that they don’t know us or that others may not care. Other’s may not know us, and it’s true, they may not really care. But, we also don’t know what they are thinking, going through, or dealing with. In order to belong, it must come from us, not others. We must be willing to put ourselves out there, time and again, and to be vulnerable with showing our weaknesses and faults. We must do what we are commanded to do (go to church, serve, read, pray) because the gospel needs each of us. The ward needs each of us. Others need us.
The Savior taught that the body is in need of every member. Each member is unique and serves a specific purpose. If we believe this principle of the gospel, then we should be doing our part to create environments of belonging and putting ourselves in places to feel that peace.
Here’s a few environments we typically encounter during the week where we should help others feel they belong:
At church you will find people who don’t have the same testimony as you, who have different struggles who parent and discipline differently. Your family or marital situation may be different. There will likely be some way that you don’t fit it. But He tells us that we can come as we are, and that He will accept us with our faults, our trials, our problems, our weaknesses…as well as our strengths, and use them all together. We are not just what we want others to see.
What makes us beautiful and unique is the combination of all of the aspects of us. Our complexities, traits, beliefs and gifts. Do you feel like you belong at church? If so…talk to someone. Be willing to be vulnerable and express your feelings in a constructive way. Look your concerns in the eye. Be humble enough to consider that you are part of the solution. Consider what you can do to make the environment a safe place for you and for someone else.
Russell M. Nelson had announced in 2018 that we were to become a home centered, church supported organization. That means that if Christ cries unto all of us to “Come unto Him,” then our homes should also be welcoming safe haven for our children and others.
Man! This is a difficult one for me! When the kids get off the bus, I think they cross over an invisible veil and they become argumentative and the pitch of their voices go up an octave while they lengthen their words….
“I’m telling!” (Crying ensues).
This is a tough one for sure. If you are at home by yourself, with kids, with extended family…whatever your situation is, it is important to work on creating an environment where all who enter feel that they belong. Prayerfully consider what you can do, and always remember to respond, not react.
I love that we all look the same at the temple. On Facebook and Instagram people will capture themselves looking their best, and we tend to compare our worst selves with their best selves. But in the temple, we are all the same. We are all beautiful and we are all loved. We aren’t trying to see how many “likes” we can get or “shares,” but can push all of that aside and look to Him for guidance and love. At the temple it can be your first time or your hundredth time, it is not about fitting in, it is about belonging as a child of God.
The workplace may seem like a strange place to talk about belonging but many of us worry more about fitting in. Good leaders today have been talking about looking to the left and the right of you and seeing how you can help, be involved with and care about others. Simon Sinek has been putting out some great information on how to create better leaders with improves the work environment. Success is not determined simply by the numbers, the politics, the drama, or meeting the requirements. Every work place is different!
When I stopped trying to fit in and I focused on being a team member and belonging even if I was different, things got better in so many ways. I didn’t realize I was doing it, I simply got tired of feeling crappy all of the time and not having any confidence. Some colleagues did not respond positively to my new found belief, but those that cared for me as a person became even closer to me. I realized that there were many things that I truly love about my job. And I was able to focus more on my students. Most of my change at work was with my mindset and my self-worth.
If you don’t fit in, know that you are among friends. All of us have felt that way at one time or another. If you don’t feel that you belong – pray and fast fervently to gain a testimony of His love for you. Put in the work. Wrestle to know your worth. You belong. You belong because you are His. He wants you to be all of you, He never intended for you to fit in.
Come as you are. Then grow in His love.
Belonging is a feeling everyone struggles for because we want to connect. Read more in my book, If a Seed Can Do It: Recognizing Your Potential and Becoming Who You Want to Be.