“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”
After I read the paragraphs ending with this sentence I said aloud “Yes!” See for months I’ve been having some form of the following dialogue with my boss.
Me: It has definitely been a challenge for me to fit into the culture and feel like part of the team here.
My Boss: No it hasn’t. You are a great fit. You are loved by the team. They all really respect your work.
Me: I know that, but it has still been a struggle to feel like I belong.
My Boss: <crickets>
The problem is that we are talking about two different things. Three important things strike me about fitting in vs. belonging.
1) We all need to understand this because we are in groups and relationships all the time. We often assume that everyone feels like they belong simply because everyone is getting along or even has fun together. If we are trying to create community we need to understand the difference between belonging and fitting in and strive for the former. Lives aren’t often changed by fitting in…but lives are transformed by belonging.
2) Most groups also have a dynamic around the rules to fitting in…even if they are unspoken. In corporations we often call this “company culture.” Really those are just buzz words for “what it takes to fit in and thrive around here.” And that is not bad…it’s just not the same as belonging. Belonging has an element of flexibility and change. Belonging shifts and leaves room for the people who belong to change, grow, hurt, and stretch themselves that fitting in doesn’t have much tolerance for.
3) As individuals we need to know that it is okay to have places where we fit in but don’t belong…and belong but don’t fit in. Sometimes belonging might take time, or a shift in dynamics, or quite frankly a shift in people. And sometimes it never happens but you can achieve your goals, make an impact, and add value by being yourself, fitting in, and finding other places to BELONG. 😉
3a) If someone says “We need your style and personality to come in and help us shake things up a bit here. We need your influence.”…you likely have a long lonely road ahead of you. Just sayin’ 😉