Belonging vs. Fitting in.

Belonging vs. Fitting in.

Excerpt from Elisha Catts.

Have you walked into a room and suddenly felt like you don’t fit in? Perhaps you’ve been the only woman in a male-dominated field, or the only guy wearing a suit while everyone is in jeans. Perhaps the difference has been internal rather than external—a subtle feeling that everyone else is connecting and you don’t quite “click.”

These experiences can make you question whether you belong—in your workplace, among your friends, in a room of strangers, and even in your own home. They can leave you feeling empty, hurt, and even questioning your purpose in life.

The missing link in situations like these is having a sense of belonging—knowing that there is space for you, the real you, in every place you walk into.

World-renowned author and researcher, Brene Brown, says this about belonging:

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” —Brene Brown.[1]

Belonging is an intrinsic need for all humanity. Without a confident sense of belonging, we stumble around and end up settling for something far more dangerous to our well-being, acceptance.

Fitting in to find acceptance

The greatest imitator of belonging is acceptance. It is easy to believe that if people accept you and your lifestyle that equals belonging. This simply isn’t true. Belonging, despite its name, isn’t found in an external location. Belonging and acceptance are two entirely separate entities.

Acceptance is pursued through the act of “fitting in”—choosing to act the way others would expect, want, or even need you to act. Acceptance-seeking can only be satisfied when the desired response of the people you are trying to fit-in with is achieved. The challenge that comes from acceptance-seeking is that you end up on a roller coaster of emotions, dictated by another person’s approval.

Not only is this unhealthy because you are compromising or burying your very own identity, but it is dangerous because you have no control over the approval of others. You are putting your entire well-being into the fickle whims of other humans.

The major division between acceptance and belonging is that belonging doesn’t come from without, it begins from within.

Author Parker Palmer writes, “Long before community assumes external shape and form, it must exist within you.”

Before community, and that elusive sense of belonging can exist, it must take shape inside you. I’ve heard it said that one must find belonging within oneself, but I believe it is far more than that.

First, you have to find your self.

The first step on the journey of belonging is to discover who you are, and stop believing that belonging is given to you by somebody else or something else.

Find your “onlyness”

An author on TEDideas wrote that belonging is found when we discover our “onlyness”—the very things that make us unique. Onlyness is the sum of your personality, your history, your hopes, your loves, and all that you are; it is the essence of you.

Finding your onlyness is a journey, not a destination. A person doesn’t wake up and suddenly know the beginning, end and in-between of their self. It takes time, and a multitude of experiences, good and bad, that begin to shape the unique facets of your soul. And honestly, the journey isn’t always easy or pleasant.

Sometimes it requires that you learn some harsh realities of life. Other times, it might mean you need to stop sabotaging yourself and get out of your own way.

Brene Brown describes this process as walking through a wilderness. It’s wild and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable.

“Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness–an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.” —Brené Brown

What is belonging?

Brene Brown is an expert on the subject of belonging. She describes it as, “the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” But it extends beyond that to something internal as well. It is the willingness to bravely acknowledge we belong to something greater than ourselves, and that our belonging isn’t dependent on our actions or the approval of others. It simply is our human right.

Belonging is in direct contrast to fitting in. It has roots that go deep and are unshakeable, whereas acceptance is shallow and fickle. Belonging brings emotional security, but acceptance-seeking is undependable ground that is constantly shifting beneath you.

A true sense of belonging comes when you can be unapologetically you, and know there is a place for you in the world that isn’t dependent on whether people accept you or reject you. It is also a place where growth happens—because you can be vulnerable about your own weaknesses, without shame, and choose to learn from others and improve in those areas.

When you walk confidently and humbly in this way, you build trust in your relationships because the people in your life are secure in knowing the truth of who you are. This establishes strong bonds within your relationships. If you are simply trying to fit in, it compromises your own personal integrity and erodes trust and emotional connections.

Belonging is not dependent on others

A common misconception is that it is up to other people to make you feel like you belong. Belonging begins with the willingness to stand alone and take ownership of your own life and decisions.

Does this mean you should never take into account the thoughts and feelings of others? Of course not. But believing that you have to be someone else to belong will never work.

The reality is no one is perfect. While you’re berating yourself for having a messy house, just remember, there’s someone breathing a sigh of relief, because their house is messy too—and you just reminded them that we’re all imperfect, together.

Despite our greatest desires, other humans have a great BS detector. When we attempt to project ourselves as someone that we’re not, it will be known, even if it’s intangible. True relationships and belonging cannot be built on a lie.

Belonging can be developed

To overcome the desire to settle for acceptance, we all must push past years of conditioning by our peers and the world around us. We are constantly told that we need some product, some look, something, to make us who the world wants us to be; when all we really need is to be ourselves.

However, we can use this to our advantage by recognizing that everyone else feels the way we do. Everyone is afraid of being rejected. Everyone is afraid of not fitting in. Turn this upside down. Accept everyone. Treat everyone like you would want to be treated. Invite them to belong as their true selves.

Even if you don’t feel like you belong yet, you can practice by inviting others to belong. You can accept others for who they are, in every different situation you walk into. While belonging starts with taking a deep look at who you are, it also takes form as you make space for other people to really be themselves too. The more you make space for others’ unique-ness, the easier it becomes for you to hold space for yourself.

You belong

Regardless of where you start, searching for a sense of belonging is a natural human experience. It is integral to our lives and is part of everything we do. So whether you start by helping others or diving into personal introspection, remember that belonging is already yours. You belong just as you are. Right where you are. You don’t need anyone or anything else to give you a sense of belonging.

Did you know that there are over 7 billion people in the world?  But there is only one you. You have a place on this earth that no one can take away. You have experiences and knowledge that are uniquely yours. All of who you are—your onlyness—cannot be replicated. Whether others choose to accept you or not, you can bring yourself to the table with the confidence that you belong, right where you are and just as you are, simply because you are.

So walk out into the world, your workplace, and your relationships with the confidence of knowing that you belong. Because you really do.

[1] Brené Brown (2010). “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”, p.40, Simon and Schuster

[2]Mother Teresa (2010). “Where There Is Love, There Is God: A Path to Closer Union with God and Greater Love for Others”, p.329

About Super-Agers.

About Super-Agers.

Most elderly individuals’ brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.

  • “Super-agers” seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
  • New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
  • It’s not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.

At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.

As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can’t always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That’s part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.

But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old “super-agers” perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.

Just as sharp as the whippersnappers

To find out what’s behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.

First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants’ brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.

The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we’re not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one’s self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.

The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item “sticks out”). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.

How to ensure brain health in old age

While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how “gracefully” the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. “We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager,” said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. “It’s not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That’s one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to.”

To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of “use it or lose it” appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it’s unlikely to help you keep your edge.

Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There’s also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.

For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don’t have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.

ABy Matt Davis @BigThink

The Power of Not Knowing.

The Power of Not Knowing.

There is freedom in admitting that you don’t know something, as that allows for a new learning experience to emerge.

There is wisdom in not knowing, and it is a wise person who can say, “I don’t know.” For no one knows everything. There are many types of wisdom – from intellectual to emotional to physical intelligence. Yet, even deemed experts in their fields do not know all there is to know about mathematics, yoga, literature, psychology, or art. It is a true master who professes ignorance, for only an empty vessel can be filled.

There are many things in life that we don’t know, and there are many things we may have no interest in finding out. There is freedom in saying “I don’t know.” When we admit that we don’t know something, we can then open ourselves up to the opportunity to learn. And there is power in that. We can’t possibly know everything. And when we think we do, we limit ourselves from growing and learning more than what we already do know.

A person who can admit to not knowing tends to be more intellectually and emotionally confident than someone who pretends to know everything. They also tend to be more comfortable with who they are and don’t feel the need to bluff or cover up any perceived ignorance. People can actually end up appearing more foolish when they act as if they know something that they don’t.

We would be wise to respect people who freely admit when they don’t know something. They are being honest, with us and with themselves. And we, too, should feel no shame in saying, “I don’t know.” In doing so, we open ourselves up to the unknown. We can then discover what lies beyond our current levels of understanding.

It is the wise person in life that answers questions with a question and inspires the pursuit of internal answers with a funny face, a shrug, and a comical, “I don’t know.”
Saying YES to the Universe.

Saying YES to the Universe.

By Madisyn Taylor

Saying Yes to the universe opens the gate to receiving what your soul really wants.

The hardest thing about saying yes to the universe is that it means accepting everything life puts in front of us. Most of us have a habit of going through our days saying no to the things we don’t like and yes to the things we do, and yet, everything we encounter is our life.

We may be afraid that if we say yes to the things we don’t like, we will be stuck with them forever, but really, it is only through acknowledging the existence of what’s not working for us that we can begin the process of change. So saying yes doesn’t mean indiscriminately accepting things that don’t work for us. It means conversing with the universe, and starting the conversation with a very powerful word–yes.

When we say yes to the universe, we enter into a state of trust that whatever our situation is, we can work with it. We express confidence in ourselves, and the universe, and we also express a willingness to learn from whatever comes our way, rather than running and hiding when we don’t like what we see.

The question we might ask ourselves is what it will take for us to get to the point of saying yes. For some of us, it takes coming up against something we can’t ignore, escape, or deny, and so we are left no choice but to say yes. For others, it just seems a natural progression of events that leads us to making the decision to say yes to life.

The first step to saying yes is realizing that in the end it is so much easier than the alternative. Once we understand this, we can begin examining the moments when we resist what is happening, and experiment with occasionally saying yes instead.

It might be scary at first, and even painful at times, but if we continue to say yes to every moment through the process, we will discover the joy of being in a positive conversation with a force much bigger than ourselves.
Unlearning & Relearning.

Unlearning & Relearning.

By Deb Geyer | Chief Responsibility Officer, Stanley Black & Decker

The benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) draw closer. They’re starting to feel real, almost within reach, promising greater value that extends across the business community and touches all levels of society. Which means we’re at the point where we could take them for granted and miss out entirely. Fully realizing the potential of 4IR will require a more inventive, inclusive approach to talent development, and some serious unlearning of outmoded ways, paired with learning contemporary methods. Today, even as 10 million global manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to gaps in skills and education – gaps that will only widen as Industry 4.0 technologies advance – the 4IR future requires all of us to unlearn and relearn in order to create new paths forward.

As you think about the changes your organization will need to make to compete and grow in this shifting environment, here are a few insights based on our own journey.

Make unlearning and relearning part of your talent roadmap

Any upskilling roadmap today must build human capital through personalized learning and continual development. Learning needs to be ubiquitous, part of the job. In our case, the learning mix includes advanced vocational training, STEAM education, a certification programme specifically designed for our workforce, and new maker spaces – hands-on innovation environments that offer a wide range of equipment for training, upskilling and hackathons.

But we have found the paired “unlearning and relearning” opportunities we are creating are in some aspects more powerful, and are accelerating overall growth in unexpected ways. For example, at our Lighthouse Facility in Jackson, Tennessee, we are pairing people who are early in their career with experienced employees to accelerate mutual unlearning and relearning in areas such as human-machine interfaces, connecting digital and engineering disciplines across generations. It’s a collaborative model worthy of replication in the 4IR future.

The multiplier effect from such an intensified focus on development is clear. A shop-floor operator named Lana, who works in a different area of the Jackson facility, stands out in this regard. Lana not only embraced her training, she also began training the other operators in her area. She also took it upon herself to optimize the way all of the machines were set up.

Imagine collaborative co-mentoring models and employees like Lana emerging at scale, and you begin to see how an unlearning-inspired talent roadmap could empower 10 million makers and creators to thrive in the 2030 economy.

Align development efforts with next-generation curricula

As the pace of change accelerates, organizations will increasingly need to invest more learning and development resources not only in their own workforces but in the broader labour markets and surrounding communities – and do so for the long term. Partnerships with public and private organizations offer compelling solutions that both strengthen today’s workforce and reshape curricula for the next generation of students.

For example, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a partnership model designed by IBM in 2011, provides local high school students with an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a vocational field. Students graduate with both a high school degree, a no-cost, industry-recognized associate degree, and relevant experience they can immediately apply in a high-paying “new-collar” job.

By investing both in the current workforce and in tomorrow’s, organizations can ensure that we are strengthening the talent pipeline and our communities for the long run.

The coming decade will be a pivotal time for organizations to establish successful 4IR trajectories. This requires a willingness to unlearn, learn and relearn the concept of accountability.

The way we think about our own 4IR prospects is best expressed by our new 2030 corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, which specifically aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and represents the most material issues for our organization.

Pursuing that strategy on a global enterprise scale has required us to develop a rigorous governance structure and process, and keep improving it. For the past two years, our CSR strategy has been supported by multiple levels of oversight across the company, all the way up to the executive steering committee, which includes the CEO, CFO and senior vice-president of HR; it is also championed by the corporate governance committee of the board of directors.

Now we’ve taken another step, adding an external advisory panel consisting of expert stakeholders who advise on CSR strategy. The enhanced governance structure provides board-level rigour and best-practice guidance to ensure that the company continues to meet its stated goals not only in terms of product and environment, but also from the standpoint of talent and governance. While we are in the early stages of rolling out this new structure, we believe that organizations will need to continue to raise the governance bar and take a more comprehensive approach to ensure accountability.

On the path to 2030

I sometimes think about this process of unlearning, learning and relearning as a kind of cook book – a living repository of successful recipes to transform business models in collaborative ways.

The ambitious goals of 2030, combined with the unmet societal needs we encounter every day, favour such an approach. You cannot progress and succeed in the 4IR without advancing the people who brought you there. The next decade, and the many innovations it holds, will come at us fast. We must be bold and seize this moment, both with a willingness to invest in talent and in our communities in completely novel ways, and with a recognition that greater governance is not a check on progress but a catalyst for positive change.

From self-confidence to self-acceptance.

From self-confidence to self-acceptance.

By  Agapi Stassinopoulos

Part of us grow up and master careers and professional lives, and we become accomplished, but how do we deal with the parts of us that are uncertain? For example, sometimes there are certain things you want in your life, but you can’t seem to move forward — whether in relationships, finances, career, weight loss — and you feel stuck in one place. Instead of trying to look confident, like you imagine everyone else is, own the fact that in this part of your life, you feel insecure, vulnerable, and uncertain. If you allow that feeling to be OK, and not judge it, and if you accept it and embrace it, you might find that you relax into it. And you’ll find that you can actually experience yourself beyond those feelings, as a result of you not denying them.

The paradox is that you can feel confident in the unknown — in the imperfections of your life. We wait for everything to be perfect before we feel confident. We need more than a confidence boost; we need a self-acceptance boost! Don’t be deceived by appearances. Beneath the surface of others’ confidence, they might be hiding insecurities that they don’t want anybody to see. That creates a discrepancy. If you make the leap to accepting all parts of yourself — accepting, embracing, and not judging them — you might be surprised how much courage you’ll finally have to say what you want to say, voice your feelings, ask for support, have a sense of humor about your inadequacies, and tell yourself, “Relax. I am a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time — and God isn’t finished with me yet.” 

What we call our insecurities and the places where we’re lacking are the very things that can be endearing about us. Think of a child growing up, and how many things they have yet to learn — and yet you would never judge them as lacking in anything. You just nurture them to learn new skills and shower them with acceptance of who they are, and encourage them along the way. Why are we any different toward ourselves? When did we give up our tender, nurturing voice to ourselves, and instead became a task master?

Look at the areas of your life where you are rejecting yourself, because you’re not living up to your level of confidence. It’s time to give yourself a break from the self-imposed ideas about how you should be that are keeping you stuck, and open up the field of self-acceptance. 

Re-storying my career.

Re-storying my career.

By Rebecca Muller, Thrive Global

Everyone has an evolving career story: the narrative we tell ourselves, and the people around us, about where we stand on our professional paths, and how we got there. But when you’ve been at your job for a long time, it’s easy to get comfortable in your current narrative — and over time, that comfort can spiral into a routine that feels repetitive and un-motivating.

Getting stuck in one chapter of your story can be stressful, and if you sense that you’re ready for something new, it may be time to “re-story” — a term that psychologists now use to refer to making a pivot when you’ve exhausted your current narrative. Starting that rewrite can be a daunting step. “Making a big career change can be scary,” Alan Benson, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, tells Thrive.

Making a change depends on your individual story, but if you become too complacent, you miss out on the benefits that can come from beginning a new chapter. Here are some tips to help you get started.

Your story: You’ve been at the same job for many years, and you’re ready for something new.

How to re-story: Allow yourself to accept change. 

With the rise of online networking, remote work, and side hustles, the workforce looks vastly different than it once did — and when it comes to starting over, that can be a great thing. “Fifty years ago, it was common to graduate from school, land a job at a big company, and work there your entire career,” Benson notes. “Today, the Census Bureau estimates that people have ten jobs by the time they’re forty.” Shifting from job to job has become normal, he explains, so it’s important to let go of preconceived notions you may have about a traditional career path. There’s no shame in changing jobs, especially if it might ease your stress and help you feel sustained meaning in your work. 

Your story: You want to pivot to a new field, but it’s not what you went to school for.

How to re-story: Use the evergreen skills you learned to propel you forward. 

You may not be an expert in the industry you’re interested in, but Benson notes that your existing knowledge and your toolkit of career experience may well be enough to take the leap. Having a diversified background might actually give you a leg up a new job, he points out. And even if you do ultimately need more education to make the switch, it’s worth confirming that first, rather than letting it hold you back from trying at all. 

Your story: You’ve hit your goal, and now you’re struggling to stay motivated.

How to re-story: Take on microsteps to help you make small changes in your workflow. 

Sometimes, achieving a goal we’ve worked hard to get to can end up making us lose motivation, because we let go of the positive changes we initially made to reach that goal in the first place. In fact, research tells us that if we see our goals as a destination we’ve already arrived at, we’re unlikely to stay motivated to keep going afterward. If you’ve reached your goal, consider taking on small microsteps to help you make lasting changes. Thinking of your goal attainment as a journey  instead of a destination can help you stay motivated long after you hit your target.

Your story: You’re feeling fatigued by your job, but you have no clue what your next step would look like.

How to re-story: Reach out to your support system.

You know you’re itching for a new job, but you’re scared and hesitant about what that new opportunity looks like. When you’re struggling to take that next step, Benson suggests reaching out to a trusted mentor or a loved one for a supportive hand. Whether you’re looking for concrete advice about your next move, or you just need a listening ear, talking through your vision can help with your decision-making, and allow you to gain a clearer sense of direction.