Feeling like you’re not where you’re supposed to be?
People need people. It’s human nature.
Sometimes, finding where you belong comes naturally because you don’t even notice that you’re there. Other times, it can feel like trying to fit a triangular block into a square-shaped hole.
That’s okay. It happens, but the important thing is that there’s always something you can do about it.
Here are five key things you can do when you’re feeling like you don’t belong.
1) Embrace who you are
“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
— Kurt Cobain
Not belonging somewhere doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. It just means you’re not where you belong.
The first key thing to do when you’re feeling like you don’t belong is to accept and embrace who you are, even if — and especially if — it’s different from who the people around you are.
It’s tempting to tailor who we are to fit into the places we want to be. You might be thinking that it’s okay to adjust this and that part of your personality because it’s not a big deal anyway, right?
Not if you’re turning into someone who isn’t you.
Step one: get rid of the notion that no one will like you as you are.
You deserve to be liked as you are.
You shouldn’t feel the need to wedge yourself into a space that you know you don’t belong; if you belonged somewhere, you wouldn’t have to try so hard to be there. You would simply be there.
When we feel like we don’t belong, we tend to think that it’s a problem with ourselves that’s causing it.
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“Is it my humor that’s out of place? Do I need to be louder in conversation to keep up? Is it my beliefs that are wrong?”
The truth is that we are who we are and they are who they are.
Trying too hard to fit someplace we don’t belong can have the opposite effect and make us feel even more alone; the more of ourselves we cut off and throw out the window, the less we feel like we’re comfortable where we are.
Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D., says that the more you accept yourself and your difference, the more others will naturally accept you as well.
There’s no shame in being different because you’ll find somewhere that your “different” is the exact wavelength to be on.
You know who you are; you know what values are important to you, what you find funny, how you believe the world began, how you take your coffee.
The only thing you need to do with all of that is accept it, not select and remove the bits that don’t conform to the square-shaped hole you’re fitting your triangle-shaped self into.
If there’s a voice in your head saying that there are parts of you that are wrong or need to be adjusted, pull the plug on their microphone.
Psychotherapist Joyce Marter, Ph.D., suggests quieting your inner critic. You don’t need that judgment and negativity telling you that you need to conform to a specific mold; what you need to do is shove it into a closet and embrace who you are, differences and all.
2) Process your thoughts and emotions
To take the first steps into a new journey, you’re going to need a game plan.
If you woke up one morning and decided to do something about feeling like you don’t belong, you can’t just say, “I’m going to feel like I belong today”. If only it were that easy, right?
If the goal is to find a sense of belonging, it needs smaller goals that will get you there, baby step by baby step.
Sit down with a piece of paper and concretize what exactly it is that’s making you feel like you don’t belong.
Take this for example. “I feel like I don’t belong”.
Imagine your friend walked up to you and told you that out of nowhere. What would you say? Could you give a solution to something that vague? It sounds intimidating and too big to handle and the problem seems bigger than they have to be.
Instead, you can say something like this: “I feel like I don’t belong because my friends and I have nothing in common anymore.”
That’s a concrete problem, with an attached concrete solution. Instead of saying “I feel like I don’t fit in at work”, you could say “I don’t think I enjoy what I’m doing.”
When thoughts and emotions are simplified, they’re easier and less scary to manage.
Let’s say you have a list of simplified reasons you’re feeling like you don’t belong. The long-term goal is to feel like you belong. Having this list gives you the opportunity to come up with short-term goals to take you closer to that long-term one. Kind of like chopping a pretzel into bite-sized pieces so it’s easier to swallow.
3) Build your life around your values
You’re reading this because you’re feeling like you don’t belong. At this point, you’ve identified what it is that makes you feel that way.
What is it about your current environment that you aren’t a good fit with?
- Lack of similar interests with the people around you
- Different goals and priorities
- Different energies and mindsets
- Personalities that clash in your environment, including yours
- Mismatch with the culture of the area
- Misalignment of current career and ideal vocation
Any of the above (and more) can make you feel like you don’t belong because you may feel like no one understands you, like no one around you truly gets you.
If this is the case, your relationships and physical environment might be holding you back from your ideal life where you belong.
The question is, what now?
Answer: rebuild your life around your personal values.
Your values shape your choices; make them the foundations of your life.
What’s important to you? What makes you happy? What won’t you compromise on?
Since we’re working on finding where you belong, it’s time to make another list. Write down all the areas in your life where your values show up.
The usual areas would be work and career, relationships with family, choice of friends, hobbies you do in your free time, where you spend your money, whether you do any charity work, and any other aspect of your life that your values play a part in.
Now identify if any of those areas have a misalignment with your values.
Is your job not something that you morally agree with doing? Do you think your money could be spent more on causes you believe in? Do you really want this set of friends in your life?
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Once you start intentionally making choices that lead you to your ideal life, you’ll find belonging on the way, along with your life’s purpose.
For example, you’ve decided to start looking for friends who share the same beliefs that you have.
Find people with the same interests, same religious and political beliefs, and personalities that naturally vibe with yours. You’ll find that there’s a sense of belonging there because you’re where you want to be and where you’re meant to be.
The trick here is to be sure to express yourself. You can’t meet like-minded people if you don’t communicate your personality, beliefs, and interests to the people you meet.
You might even have a close friend who you never knew shared the same belief about pineapples on pizza and the meaning of life.
If you’re lucky, you could also find best friends along the way who meaningfully support your sense of self.
Something important to note here is that you don’t necessarily have to belong with that one person who you see as your best friend. It’s unrealistic to expect that one person will meet all your friendship needs and vice versa, so it’s perfectly healthy to have more than one best friend.
Surround yourself with what you love and who you love; belonging will follow.
4) Accept and adapt to change
You may be thinking that after all these years of being friends, you have to belong with this specific group of friends. You have to belong in this workplace. You have to belong in this community.
The hard truth is that everything changes, and so do you.
You aren’t the same person you were last year; your friends aren’t the people they were when you met, your workplace isn’t the same place you started working, your community isn’t the same thing it was when you first entered it.
Everything evolves and sometimes, that means things have to end to make room for new, more fitting beginnings.
One example here is, again, your circle of friends. If you met them and became friends with them five years ago, it’s possible that they aren’t the same people you wanted to be friends with
Are they still supportive of your dreams? Do they still add positivity to your life?
If you realize that you don’t want to be friends with them anymore, that’s okay. Friendships grow apart because of change and that’s okay.
In the same way that you don’t want your friends to change who you are, you have to accept them for who they are and who they are not, too.
The same can be said for the other areas in your life.
Your job might not be the same one you were so excited to land all those years ago. Your community might not be the same one you were looking forward to moving into when you were younger.
Accept that change happens and adapt to it. This is where your role comes in.
To find where you belong, you have to be open to adjusting — not cutting off parts of you like we’ve talked about but being open to new experiences as long as the essence of what you’re doing isn’t lost.
If you’re feeling like you don’t belong in your current space, move out of it. This means leaving your comfort zone and it’s something that you should be prepared for but not scared of.
5) Work on yourself
Lastly, be open to working on yourself as well.
No matter how many countries away you move or how many new friends you make, if something that needs adjusting in your mindset and personal health goes unnoticed, you’re going to keep feeling like you don’t belong.
How has your mental health been doing? Have you been feeling depressed or anxious? These may be factors towards your sense of belonging as well and shouldn’t be neglected.
Do you know how to listen to people to understand them, not respond to them?
Maybe you feel like you don’t belong because the people around you are trying to reach out to you but you’re not hearing them because you’ve just been waiting for your turn to interrupt the conversation. You could have more in common with them than you realize.
Are you truly receptive to the opportunities around you or are you too afraid to leave your comfort zone?
If you’re planning to search for the place you belong, you have to make an intentional effort to step away from where you currently are. Say yes to the opportunities to be with other people and be with them fully when you have the chance.
These are hard questions to ask because we might not like what the answers are but we can’t find where we belong if we don’t ask ourselves even the toughest of questions.
All in all, finding where we belong can take some effort on our part but the important thing to remember is that that effort isn’t for squeezing ourselves into places that aren’t for us; it’s for exploring the possibilities of the places that were made for us.