When Belonging Doesn’t Mean Sameness

I don’t like coffee. There, I said it.

I read blogs and listen to podcasts. I’ve seen the memes. Women who are younger than me – a lot younger than me- who write books, wear great earrings, who all seem to know each other. And they all seem to love coffee.

Somehow I’ve told myself if I were ever in Nashville or Chicago or the next blogging conference I’d be able to blend right in. If I wore a cute pair of boots, a long skirt, found some cool earrings from a free trade company and wore my Warby Parker glasses, it might distract from my obvious age. But then someone would say, “Let’s grab a coffee,” and I’d be exposed for the outsider I am.

Even in the photography class I’m taking I try to fit. When I scroll through Instagram to the pictures of others in my group they are full of spring blossoms, of lilacs and peonies, tulips, cherry blossoms and ranunculus- bundles and bundles of ranunculus. I sigh a lament of not having these beauties around me. When the prompt is branches and blossoms, I grab my fake branch with pretty pink blooms on them. It might be a fake cherry blossom branch, but I hope it doesn’t look too fake. I look at these photos and again feel like I don’t belong. What can I do that will look as lovely? How do I fit in with this group of artists?

I’m used to standing out having grown up in the Salvation Army but not always comfortable with the things that make me different. It all sounds so juvenile. Am I still worried about fitting in? At 60, is that still clawing at me?

Maybe it’s my first born, perfectionist tendencies that want everything to be just right. In my mind, “just right” means looking like the crowd. It means not standing out by saying the wrong thing or wearing the wrong clothes. Or perhaps it’s my urge to control life that compels me to be “just right”. If I can orchestrate the setting, the agenda, the music, then I’ll know who to be. I’ll wear the right clothes, I won’t make a mistake (as if being myself is ever a mistake). It’s an irrational fear, but how do I break the constraints I allow to bind me?

My first impulse is to insert Stuart Smalley’s words:

I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

Or the line that had us all tearing up from the movie The Help:

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

As simple as those lines sound, they’re what I need to tell myself, and they help more than I want to admit.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I’m learning over and over again- even at 60- that belonging is more than looking like everyone else, that the only person who can make me feel like I belong is me. I began to understand that more after working in a recovery community. This group of people are a mix of handsome and plain, young and old, successful and unskilled. Some have made a fortune only to lose it, and others haven’t held a job longer than a few months. Their common bound is their brokenness. At their bottom they’ve found surrender and acceptance. When they stopped hiding, they found belonging. Brene Brown talks about this in her book Daring Greatly. She writes,

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” 

As a result of the endless uprooting I experienced growing up, I’ve carried the insecurity of not belonging for too long. It’s time to let go and remember that imperfections aren’t flaws but part of what makes me accessible and approachable. They are reminders that when God knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) he knew my place of complete acceptance could only be in him.

So I’m dipping my toe into joining in. Instead of waiting for others to reach out to me in my photography class, I speak up and share first. I’m willing to risk showing up, to be present in class, in my community, in writing because I know the risk is worth it.

So let’s meet for coffee. Just make mine tea.

Debby Hudson
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28 thoughts on “When Belonging Doesn’t Mean Sameness

  1. Oh, this struggle is real. I never feel like I quite fit anywhere. And I still feel the ache as an adult, too. Thank you for standing out, for being set apart – and being an example to those of us who know we should but struggle to do so. And I’ll be happy to have tea with you any day (I DO love coffee but I’m happy for a good cup of chai with you:)

    • Nicole, chai is my favorite! Thanks for your kind words. It’s always good to hear another say, ‘me too’. xx

  2. From one non-coffee drinker to another – Thank You. You’ve penned so many thoughts that have resonated with me. To have the courage to show up to my own life has been something I haven’t always wanted to do. Thank you for sharing these words with us. They may be your own but they are meant for many. Blessings.

  3. Dear Deb,
    You and I are such kindred spirits. At age 50, your words truly “hit home” for me. I happen to like both coffee & tea…and, “doggone it, I like you too”!

    • Oh, Leah, how special to see you here. We are, indeed, kindred spirits. I’m blessed to “know” you, friend.

  4. I deeply resonated with this post because I too haven’t outgrown the insecurity of not fitting in, or not being enough, and it shocks me that at my age (in your ballpark), I still have to fight back against those feelings. I love that you reframe your imperfections as the very thing that make you “accessible and approachable”, and for the reminder that it’s our imperfections and brokenness that binds us in community with each other and not who we hang out with, what we wear or drink. Blessings and thanks!

  5. Frankly, at this point in my life – and I’m a a bit older than you – I LIKE being on the outside of the circle. I am who I am not because of trying to fit in with everyone else, especially those who seem so much cooler than me (I know, that’s an old term – cooler- LOL), but because the experiences God has allowed me to persevere through have molded me into who I am. I never would have made it through some of those without relying on Him. When those feelings of inadequacy rise up, I drink my cup of tea with you (I don’t like coffee either!) and remember to whom we belong. I know your words here will bless and encourage every one who reads them. Be blessed yourself, my friend.

  6. Oh how I love this post! So fun to see my blogging friends over at the Mudroom!

  7. Yes! Agreed! I still struggle with fitting in, but I finally figured out it’s because I grew up believing I was supposed to be THE SAME as everyone else. How crazy is that? I started some new things and if a class is not a good fit for me, I wait a week or two until I’m sure (and it’s not the wild hormones talking) and then I gracefully bow out. I think it’s being comfortable in my own skin, accepting all my faults and silencing the angry mom, the cranky fourth grade teacher and the judgemental parents in my head. Once they are silent, I have peace. AHhhhh… Blessings on your favorite tea!

    • Good way to handle it Rachel. I might be a late learner but I’m learning 🙂 Thanks for your wise words.

  8. Oh yes! I LOVE this post. Although, I am a coffee drinker, but long skirts and earrings, not so much.

  9. Make that tea for two, Debby. And yes, there’s nothing like the recovery community to show us what real, what authentic, what grace-fueled acceptance looks like.

  10. Love where this piece went, Debby! Yes – true belonging is presenting our imperfect selves to the world. Learning to be confident in the imperfections…

  11. aww, Debby, thanks for sharing. I too feel like I don’t belong. It’s been a lifelong feeling. Wanting to belong has gotten me into trouble and cause pain. Imagine life if I didn’t have this sense of outsider-ness? I guess, God meant it for good because I seek hard after him. I also know how it feels to be on the outside which has helped comfort those on the outskirts of society.

    • Thank you, Sara. You share a good point of how it can help in relating to others who may struggle with this too. Glad you’ve discovered God’s purpose in this area.

  12. It’s so good to see your words here, Debby. I like coffee but there are so many other ways I don’t feel like I fit in. I constantly need to remind myself that God made each of us to be unique and that we can only really belong when we take the risk to be ourselves.

    • Being our true selves does feel risky at times, doesn’t it Lesley. Yet, it’s worth the risk.

  13. Love this. Only we can make our self feel as if we belong. Wisdom. We need to risk being our authentic self, even if is not like everyone else. The world does not need another imitation, it needs our authentic self.

    • I like that Theresa – the world doesn’t need another imitation. So true! Thanks for sharing.

  14. This is so good, Debby. The world needs the real, true “us,” not some costume we wear to try to manufacture belonging. So nice to read your words here.

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