With each new location, we attempted to be smarter about where we’d try next – what did we like about somewhere? What didn’t we like about it? What was missing? What were the most important criteria for us to choose the next place?
But fast forward 10+ countries and 3+ years later and we were still none the wiser and nowhere nearer to finding anywhere we wanted to call home. So why did we fail?
Because at the time, we didn’t really know what we were searching for. In hindsight, what we were looking for as we travelled round the globe was that sense of ‘home’, that feeling of belonging – not just of fitting in – but of truly belonging…a place where we could just be.
So how do you know you belong? Being born in Hong Kong, of Filippino origin, adopted by British parents and moving to England when I was 4, I don’t personally know and so I come at it from the opposite direction…
How do you know you don’t belong?
Here’s how I know…
You feel like an outsider, an interloper, an intruder. You’re someone who never gets the ‘in’ jokes or who will never really be on the inside. You have a tendency to ‘flit not fit’, that is you flit between social groups – whether online or off – never quite fully committing to one but flitting in and out of several, making connections at a surface level but never going much deeper than this (though truthfully that depth is what you’re really looking for).
You feel like you can’t be yourself. You feel like you have to be someone you’re not, and change who you are depending upon whom you’re with. Or that you have to hide parts of yourself or tone yourself down (or up) to be accepted or liked. You feel like the real you isn’t good enough to be accepted, to be liked, to be loved…to belong.
You can’t see yourself reflected back to you in the people you surround yourself with*. In social groups when you’re with people you feel a sense of belonging with, it’s likely that you see elements of yourself reflected back to you in them…common core values, shared world views, similar life experiences and that spark that lets you know you’re with your right people. When this is missing, you’ll often feel that familiar sense of unease, of not fitting in, of not belonging.
* There’s a concept I’ve learned about since exploring my adoption called ‘mirroring’. It’s the sense you have of simply belonging to your birth family because you see yourself mirrored in the people around you – with similar features, mannerisms or personality traits. It’s how you know you belong – albeit this is usually an unconscious knowing. As an adoptee, you don’t have this – you don’t have that innate sense of belonging because the faces and people you see around you are different; they’re not mirrors or reflections of where/who you’ve come from.
So how do you know you belong?
When we were nomadic, we had to work really, really hard to meet new people. As introverts, it was a challenge to force ourselves out of our comfort zone to meet new folk – fellow travellers and locals alike.
And no matter how much integration we achieved, nor how much we lived like a local or how many fellow nomads/travellers we met, we never felt like we truly belonged. And as I explore this theme at a very personal level, here’s what I know now about belonging…
- It doesn’t come from just being in a certain village/town/city/country; in fact it’s rarely about the location at all.
- Some of it comes from a sense of other people, though this is only part of the equation and if you’re looking for belonging in/to other people…you’re not going to find it.
- It comes from a clear sense of self; as Brené Brown discovered, true belonging is about belonging to yourself first and foremost.
“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are” – Brené Brown
True belonging is not about fitting in. It’s not about searching for that one place on earth that feels like home. It’s not about moulding or changing yourself to suit others’ needs or perceptions of you. It’s not about finding your tribe, at home or abroad.
I’m learning to be location independent right here at home in the UK. I’m learning to grow some roots instead of constantly uprooting myself. I’m learning to be me, wherever I am, alone and with others.
Belonging is about being you, no changes required. And many of us can find that, wherever on earth we are. No travel required.