We all know the loneliness of not fitting in. Before the world opens up and people really begin to gather once again, make yourself a call list of people who energize you. This guide is the last in a series of Four Quick-And-Dirty Lists you can make to help you get out of a funk. Please be sure to check out the first, second, and third in the series here. Please also subscribe to my email list to get more tips.
A mother and daughter not fitting in
Years ago, just as I was gearing up to deliver an important talk, my daughter went through a rough patch with a friend at school. At the time, I didn’t know that my nervousness about giving a keynote address and her working through her anger and disappointment had anything in common other than bad timing. But as I look back, both stemmed from a very common, uncomfortable feeling.
She and I were both afraid of not fitting in. We struggled to avoid feeling left out.
For me, the keynote speech was making me nervous not only due to the size of the audience but because of who they were–female executives in a major financial services company. They succeeded in a male-dominated field that was not always friendly to women. They were now helping other women to similarly survive and thrive.
I admired them and wanted them to like me. I felt like an imposter and questioned whether I had something to offer them and if they would listen to me.
Meanwhile, my daughter was in a squabble typical for 8- and 9-year-old girls. What caught the attention of her peers, parents and teachers, however, was that this incident took place online. My daughter and a friend had received not-so-kind messages from other friends through a children’s online social gaming site. Teachers and parents swiftly took action. In the end, little harm was done.
The message itself didn’t seem to bother my daughter as much as the fact was one of two that received them. She didn’t know what she did to deserve it.
She was afraid she no longer fit in and was being pushed out of her group of friends.
Wanting to avoid feeling left out is universal
What amazes me is how yearning to fit in:
- starts early,
- is a strong emotion that persists over time and
- seems unavoidable to everyone.
This is the irony: We all have moments when we feel we don’t fit in, yet we think we’re all alone and thus start to feel uneasy. At this point, we have a choice. We can let our negative feelings overcome us. Or, we can recognize we are not alone and do something constructive to avoid feeling left out.
In my time of self-doubt, I drew answers from one of my richest resources: my clients. I remembered two things:
- My talk resulted from key ideas I had obtained from working with clients, interviewing respondents for my research and talking to many other women and parents. I wasn’t standing on the stage alone; I was representing many other voices.
- As I had learned from my clients, everyone feels judged and wants to be accepted as they are right now.
Thus, fitting in isn’t what we really want. What we really want are true connections. In Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection*, she calls this “belonging.” As she says,
“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.”
What you can do now
A “quick-and-dirty” way to nurture your connections and even build new ones is to create a call list. Stop for a just a moment and think of people who…
- Give you energy when you talk to them,
- Allow you to be vulnerable because they are willing to be, or
- Are good at something you wish you could do.
Write their names down or keep a digital list in a place you’ll remember.
Then, take pick up the phone and call someone right now.
After the call, put the date next to their name. The next time you feel “schlumpy” or in a funk or need to avoid feeling left out, look at the list and call someone.
Whenever you make a call, write the date down. While not necessary, you could also write what you last spoke about.
Whenever you think of someone you’d like to call, add the name to the list.
The beauty of this list is that over time, you’ll learn the best people to call in certain situations. To make the list even more effective, try making your list as diverse as possible.
So, who will be your first call?
An older version of this article first appeared in March 2013. This also is the last in a series of Four Quick-And-Dirty Lists you can make to help you get out of a funk. Please be sure to check out the first, second, and third in the series here.
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