Are you struggling to belong?
A number of clients come to me because they are struggling with a life transition, such as a move from another country, adapting to a new career, or a change in personal circumstances, such as divorce. One thing they often say is that they are struggling to find a sense of belonging.
One of my own recent experiences helped me to explore more about what “belonging” means, and I’d like to share it with you. While preparing a family meal, I slipped with a very sharp knife and stabbed myself in the palm of my hand. I was sent to the hospital, where I sat for ages in the waiting room of the plastics unit with other bandaged unfortunates, many of whom had much worse things going on than I had. What was I doing there? I asked myself. I did not belong in this hospital and wanted to get out as soon as possible.
I was examined and then asked to come back for a surgical procedure the following week. When I returned, I was greeted by those I had met on my first visit. While going through the medical process, we started to get to know each other better; a funny kind of belonging started to emerge for me as we shared stories about favourite books, the unfashionable look of surgical gowns and the risks with taking stones out of avocados with sharp knives (health warning here!). I was starting to feel much more comfortable about being there, even though I was nervous.
As I waited to be rolled into surgery (and thinking as a coach), I began to wonder: how is it that a sense of belonging, this feeling of being at home, has been created for me here in the space of a couple of days? What was it that made me feel connected, when it can take years to feel part of other communities at work or at home?
Firstly, even though it wasn’t my choice to be at the hospital, it was the opportunity to connect with others. Secondly, it was the wonderful attitude of the staff; their friendliness, open smiles, respect and kindness. Thirdly, it was my own attitude – to open up and be curious about the staff, get to know their names and talk to them one on one, instead of remaining in my own nervous world.
So what can help you belong?
Create an opportunity to connect with others. This may be through joining a choir, using online tools that help you meet others (such as www.meetup.com, where you can meet people in your local community who share your interests), or even inviting a neighbour in for coffee. Courage and commitment may be needed to take the first step, but it can truly help you become part of something new.
When you meet people, open up and share a bit about yourself. This isn’t about telling your life story, but about making a connection (for example, talking a bit about the weather or your pets can actually open up a conversation). Gentle eye contact and smiling also help.
Ask people about themselves and really listen to what they say, without judgement. If you can, stop thinking about how you look/feel/are behaving, and get involved in their world for a bit. It can be amazing to find out how much you have in common once you start a conversation.
In a work situation, find ways to connect with people on a human level. This may consist of having coffee together, going for lunch or asking about the pictures they have on their desk.
A sense of belonging, feeling at home, connection, community. Whatever you call it, it is an important part of being human and is worth reaching for.
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