Monday, July 17, 2006


Most people strive to reach a desired sense of belonging whether in their profession, their peer group, their circle of friends, their neighborhood, etc. But beneath that layer of belonging lies the more deeply rooted desire to feel a sense of belonging with oneself and in the world. I have heard many of my friends say that they feel like they don’t know where they belong, so it prompted to me to ponder what it means to truly belong.

Throughout every stage of life, I have had to adjust to feelings of trying to belong to something, somewhere, someone. In high school, social pressure urges teenagers to strive for belonging among their peers, be part of the “popular” crowd, get invited to the coolest parties and get noticed for accomplishments, sports, performance or aesthetic superiority. It’s a constant and conscious effort to find that position. Not many teenagers feel truly comfortable in their own skin, so belonging fills in the gaps, gives validation and infuses confidence. It can be a dangerous game to play because sometimes when teenagers don’t know who they are, they find themselves belonging to anything that recognizes them, which could set them walking down a path they do not want to walk. So much of what happens in high school molds us into who we are. It sets patterns and precedents for future situations, which is why it is vital to discover who we are and what we want to belong to. Of course, our ideas of belonging change over time as we get older, discover new interests and gain more confidence.

It is a grand misconception that adolescents are the only ones who suffer from this innate need to belong. Being a teenager is definitely a period of self-discovery, but it does not end the moment you exit the teens and enter the twenties. In fact, I would dare say that the twenties is a more tumultuous and uncertain time than even adolescence. As a twenty-something, you are faced with the challenges of emerging adulthood responsibilities, trying to find where you fit in the professional world and society in general. This is perhaps the time frame I feel I have the most experience with because I am still in it. As a 28-year-old, single female living in one of the greatest cities in the world, I can tell you that it hasn’t been an easy road to get to this point. It’s taken me a good 5 years to settle on a profession that suits my interests, has challenges and caters to my personality and style. It’s not a perfect job. It’s a job, but it’s a job I like that has potential. Do I still strive for a sense of belonging among my professional peers? Absolutely. Feelings of inadequacy usually cause us to feel as if we do not belong, but it is that inadequacy that drives us to challenge ourselves or seek out our own space and place.

So many twenty-somethings struggle with thoughts of “where do I belong?” In this day and age, we can go anywhere we want. We can get a job anywhere and do anything. We are hardly limited by geographic boundaries due to modern technology and the ease of transportation. I am not sure I believe in destiny or that people are “meant” to be somewhere or meet someone, but I do believe that happiness, although largely determined by our own will and attitude, is also conditional on where we are and what we are doing. We spend more time during the day working than doing anything else, at least in this city. Life is much too short and limited to spend the majority of it doing something you hate, so liking what you are doing is rather fundamental in one’s overall happiness. The second half of that is liking where you are. Certainly, anyone can decide to be happy wherever they are, but some places are definitely better than others. For example, for me, even the coolest job in Kentucky would not be ideal. Living in Newport Beach waiting tables or working at the Gap would not be ideal. Luckily for me, I live in New York City and have a job I like, so I have found an ideal balance. I have always felt like I belonged here regardless of the jobs I have had. Only now, I appreciate it more. I have lived a lot of places, and I feel more at home here than I have anywhere.

However, in a few more years, I will probably find myself seeking for a different sense of belonging amongst the thirty-somethings. Will I be married? Have a family? Will my great job continue to get better? Will I still love New York? It’s really just a series of concentric circles, each one encompassing the one before but forever moving outward. That is the beauty of humanity. There is no end to progression and growth. We will forever continue striving for the next level of belonging and accomplishment because it is human nature to be dissatisfied with static complacency. The grand masterpiece continues to come into focus. Smudges of color are taking shape, and I am reveling in the euphoric feeling of belonging.

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