How Do You Know You Belong?

How Do You Know You Belong?

Unlike many digital nomads, we didn’t become nomadic because we wanted to be, we kept moving because we were searching for a place to call home. Of course, we never found one and ended up 3+ years later right back where we started in the UK ?

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.

What happened when we stopped travelling…

What happened when we stopped travelling…

Google “What happens when you stop travelling?” and you’ll find numerous posts about fellow digital nomads and location independent folk who’ve enjoyed the live and work from anywhere lifestyle for a few years and then settled back home, with all the adjustments that that requires.

It’s almost inevitable and I’m always curious what folk get up to when they stop travelling since their blog posts dry up as their lives seemingly become more settled and – according to them – less interesting.

I know that we kept on living the nomadic lifestyle for at least a year more than I really wanted to because I was afraid of what others would think. But what actually happened when we stopped travelling turned out to be infinitely more interesting than when we were…

Settling back into Dullsville…

When you’ve built up a business/community/audience around your travelling nomadic lifestyle, it’s scary to consider stopping – will you be going back to a dull-as-dishwater life, confined to taking photos of the food you eat ‘cos life’s not that interesting living in the back of beyond?

In fact, one of my biggest worries back in 2008, having unexpectedly found out I was pregnant, was “Shit, what if we can’t travel and be location independent anymore?”. Never mind the small matter of a rapidly growing bump on my stomach, nor the impact it was going to have once born – nope, I was worried we might have to stop travelling and how that would look to everyone else. ?

The answer though was pretty simple* and yet I was still so hung up on travelling as a lifestyle that we took off when our daughter was 4 months old and spent a year traipsing round the likes of Thailand, Turkey, Dubai and Edinburgh until I finally admitted to myself that I’d had enough and wanted nothing more than to come back home.

The rigours of nomadism and extended travel are well documented; it’s no secret that staying in one place is often a far easier choice. And easy is exactly what I wanted, and for the most part, still do.

I’m settled back into the little house I’ve owned since before I first became location independent and appreciate the many, many benefits of the small town I once felt was restrictive. It may not be right forever, but it’s right for right now.

* Being location independent did and does not mean having to be nomadic, it simply means having the ability to live and work from anywhere. That doesn’t mean you have to travel anywhere at all, if you don’t want to. 

Shaking up relationships…

When you finally stop moving (running?), you have time and space to face whatever it is you were avoiding before you left. Back then, I didn’t even know what it was that I didn’t want to face but fast forward 8 years and life today looks very, very different…

Jonathan and I are divorced, we co-parent equally and home educate our kids (Mali is now 8 and Samson is 4). I’m in a new, same-sex relationship with one of my best friends, who also has 2 children of the same age.

While travel can paper over the cracks and provide the thrills and spills that a stagnating relationship no longer can, it can also put pressure on an already strained relationship. Travel didn’t really strain our relationship but it certainly kept us busy enough to not have to look at the things that weren’t working for either of us.

While living in a dream cottage in the English countryside, my epiphany came one morning in the bedroom when I realised I was way, way, waaaaay off the life path I actually wanted to be living – and fundamentally wasn’t in a relationship I wanted to be in any more, though it was far from bad.

I set a very specific intention – literally listing to myself exactly what I wanted – which came to fruition barely 6 months later, with the start of a new relationship that is everything I asked for. Jonathan and I separated amicably after 22 years together, and continue to work hard to create a relationship that still benefits our children, and each other.

Finding yourself, wherever you are…

I’m currently exploring what it means to be adopted, a journey I’ve resisted for 39 years. It’s painful, emotional, challenging and enlightening. But I also now know why and how location independence fits into my story…

Being adopted – as I’m learning – typically comes with a set of very specific emotional issues: Abandonment, rejection and separation. There are other themes including choice, belonging, control, trust and more. (If you want to read more details about my own personal adoption journey, I write about it here).

It’s now abundantly clear how some of these have played out in my own life, especially around the theme of location independence:

  • I have no real concept of what it means to belong anywhere – to a place, a country, a city, a person, or even myself – because adoption is all about not belonging and also about choice. My nomadic stint to search for somewhere to call ‘home’ was a quest for that sense of belonging, though in hindsight I had no idea what it was I was looking for.
  • I’ve always been afraid of putting down too many (any?) roots in any one place because making those kinds of connections requires trust and vulnerability; and I’ve liked the sense of being able to up sticks and leave should I choose (which is also why minimalism is an important thing for me – nothing to tie me down, nothing to hold me back and nothing to have a connection to). Being location independent meets this need very nicely, thank you very much!

But when you stop travelling something strange and mystical can happen…you have the time and the space to think more, to do more and to be more; and in some respects, what you discover can be far more exciting than anything that happens on the road 😉

It’s why I can finally – 7 years after I stopped writing on this blog – start creating here again. Because even though I’m no longer nomadic, I am still location independent.

And I’ve realised my search is not for the right place to call home or for the excitement of a life of a travel, but is for something much, much deeper and is a journey I think many of us are on.

A Reboot & What It Means To Belong

A Reboot & What It Means To Belong

After several years of neglect – not to mention a divorce, a new same-sex relationship and beginning to explore a dark, hidden part of my past which I’ve denied for years – it’s time to reboot this website!

There are themes I want to explore and things I want to create – for myself and for others. Some of them are themes that are raw, difficult and unknown to me because I have no clear sense of them.

One of these themes is on Belonging…

As someone who was adopted from birth, interracially, and outside of the country of my genetic origin – and then raised halfway round the world – I have no clear sense of belonging. I’m not sure I have ever had a clear sense of what it means to belong…

  • I have always kept myself on the edges of social groups – flitting in, not fitting in.
  • I have never really felt a sense of ‘home’ anywhere.
  • I hate the question “Where do you come from?”

Despite being pretty good with words, I can’t actually describe what it means to belong and as my therapist paraphrased for me “I wouldn’t know belonging if it hit me in the face”!!!

What does this have to do with location independence?

This website – the project, the theme, the lifestyle – has been a major part of my life and story so far. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I went on a multi-year quest to find a ‘home’ only to end up back where I started!!!

Nor do I think it’s a coincidence that this sense of belonging is a sensitive topic for many people drawn to the location independent lifestyle – the apparent freedom, choice and the ‘no strings/no attachments’ mindset.

I suspect that belonging is a sense, a feeling, that many of us crave and have found elusive in our journeys so far. Part of the reboot is an ongoing quest to explore what belonging means. And to create it for myself and others.

When More Is Not More

When More Is Not More

This is the view from my garden as I sit and type this post. It’s my current ‘home’ – a 300-year old cottage, in the English countryside, complete with a paddock, an orchard, an allotment and its own private stream. We are living the dream. Except it’s not our dream, and it never has been.

our-country-home

When the opportunity to rent this place came out of the blue last summer, we jumped at it – after years (in fact, pretty much a whole lifetime) of living within spitting distance of a city or town, we were curious about what it feels like to live in the countryside and be surrounded by nature in all its glory.

The purchase of our first car in 15+ years was a big catalyst – we were no longer tied to public transport and living a 25-minute drive from the nearest town would no longer mean a 1-hour bus journey. And so we moved…for the third time in about 2 years.

And here I sit today, 5 weeks before our next move back to the comparatively tiny, 2-bedroom house with no garden whatsoever, but that we own and that sits within spitting distance of the local town.

“Wait what, are you crazy?”

“Don’t you think you’ll find it a bit small? Do you regret moving there?” – questions from family members who – though used to our moving tendencies – are clearly still wondering when, if ever, we’ll just settle down in one place for longer than a year!

And no. We won’t find it small, since we’re used to small, compact and functional. This place feels like an extravagance and we’re not extravagant people. It feels ostentatious, and we’re not ostentatious people.

And no, we absolutely don’t regret moving here. How many people get the chance to live in a dream countryside cottage, with 2 acres of land, a ride-on lawn mower and more space than we could ever need?

We’ve given ourselves the most amazing experience, living in a beautiful house, learning how to use all manner of power tools, and getting to feel what it’s like when you have oodles of space, both inside and out. Why on earth would we regret that? Life is an adventure to be lived, right?

When More = Less

But this kind of lifestyle is not for us (currently), and what’s more…we’ve learned that more doesn’t always mean more. For us, this experience has meant:

  • More rooms = more mess = more tidying = LESS time to play with the kids.
  • More garden = more work = LESS time to work on our business.
  • More storage space = more room for stuff = more purchases = LESS money to spend on experiences.
  • More house = more stuff to go wrong = more hassle = LESS energy to spend on the things that matter most = LESS travel because we never know what’s going to have broken when we get back!

The mores in this instance have most definitely meant less to us. So instead we’re choosing less so we can have more of what matters most to us…time, energy, and freedom.

And this is exactly what location independence is for us: The freedom to choose the location and the lifestyle for us that works at a particular point in our lives.