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How to Stop Trying to Fit In and Finally Belong

Puzzle People

“Perhaps home is not a place, but simply an irrevocable condition.” ~James Baldwin

It’s normal, isn’t it?

Wanting to be accepted. Longing to feel at home. Hoping for that reassuring up-nod from the universe that says, “You’re one of us. And you get to stay.”

So you try to fit in wherever it feels right. You get the job everyone approves of. You marry the person you’re supposed to. You say yes most of the time. And you’re as good as you’re supposed to be.

You’ve jumped through every hoop and worn all the right masks, but it seems that all your efforts still aren’t good enough. You’re sick of trying to fit in. You just want to feel like you belong the way you truly are.

I know what it’s like to ache for belonging.

After six years in a convent as a teenager, I decided it was time to try life on my own. But when I stepped off the plane back home in Memphis, I didn’t feel like I was “home” at all. I was a complete stranger. Nothing seemed to fit.

I was no longer the girl of fourteen my parents had sent away. But I certainly wasn’t the competent woman in her twenties that I now appeared to be, either.

The convent where I had spent my youth never thought to give me a transition plan. They didn’t give me medical coverage. Nor did they give me a housing allowance or an education voucher. All they gave me was an orange sweater and a pair of jeans that were too big for me. I set out and had to wing it all on my own.

Nothing could prepare me to rejoin a world I had never lived in. But even though I was short on book smarts, I picked up pretty quickly on all I needed to know to fit in. I learned that people don’t like you using their stuff. I discovered that men like a woman who’s up for anything. And I found that I got prettier when I drank.

Acting how I thought I had to be only left me cheated and mistreated, with no friends and way too many hangovers.

All I wanted was for things to go back to the way they were. To land on something familiar. To get my bearings. To feel at home.

I had a long way to go . . . but I finally got there. Not to the address I left when I was fourteen, but at home with myself, which is where I always belonged.

What Does It Take to Truly Belong

Everybody tries to fit in because they desperately want to feel at home wherever they are. But fitting in will never get you home. Fitting in is about trying to adapt to a world that’s not your own. You don’t belong there.

Belonging is about inhabiting the world as the real you. And the hard reality is that you’ll never fit in where you don’t belong. Here’s what it actually takes to truly belong where you’re meant to be—even if you don’t seem to fit in anywhere.

1. You have to rock the boat.

For the longest time, I hid the fact that I’d been in a convent. It was a complete embarrassment to me. I thought I would never be accepted if I led off with, “Hi, I’m Anne. I was in a convent.” It was scary being the black sheep, so I kept it a secret.

But living like my whole life never happened became exhausting for me. I finally just rocked the boat and talked about it.

Nothing shocked me more than the reactions I got. People thought I was trying to convert them. Or worse, recruit them! They stopped using profanity every time they saw me. They retorted with stories about crusty, old nuns hitting them with rulers in school. One guy even told me, “You’ll never be nasty enough to be with me.”

When I rocked the boat, some people who were on board fell out. Surprisingly, though, the people who loved me never went away. And at last I felt completely at home in my own skin.

Trying to fit in only molds you into what you think other people want to see. Stop trying to force yourself into someone else’s skin. Only when you can truly be the person you enjoy being can you finally belong where you’re meant to be.

2. You have to build your dreams, not someone else’s.

My first job out of the convent was typesetting at a print shop for $7.25 an hour. I was ecstatic. But I quickly learned that career climbing the “right way” meant I had to make more money. So I settled for being an executive assistant, a biologist, an editor, a music teacher, an environmental educator, and a whole lot more besides. I was rich, but I wasn’t doing what I truly wanted to do.

I love to write. And inspire. And empower people. I can get a salary anywhere, but I don’t feel at home unless I’m doing what I love.

Fitting in makes you an expert at doing what other people want. Stop trying to be accepted where you’re not allowed to fulfill your own desires. Belonging is all about actualizing your potential. You will always belong where you can follow the dreams of your heart.

3. You have to forget the “cool people” and find your people.

I was a bit of a good-time girl when I got home from the convent. Not because I was having such a great time, but because I was trying to fit in with the ones who thought they were. They were the cool people, and the cool people needed me.

I felt worthwhile when they needed me to be their arm candy. I felt accepted when they needed me to bring the party favors. And I felt necessary when they needed me to be the designated driver.

Funny thing, though. They didn’t need me when I wanted to be alone. They didn’t need me when I hung out with insightful people. But more and more, the insightful people started feeling like my people. They didn’t want a thing from me. They didn’t need me.

They already treated me like I was important and acceptable. They convinced me that I was already necessary and worthwhile. They simply wanted me to grow and thrive. And I felt right at home with them.

When you try to fit in with everybody who wants a piece of you, you open the floodgates to drama and neediness and negativity. And that stuff consumes you. Stop hanging out with people who consume you. You belong where people support and nourish the better parts of you.

4. You have to make “me first” your mantra.

I started out as a crowd-pleaser. It was so much easier to follow along and tell people what they wanted to hear. I fit in best when I said, “You come first.” It was all about them—whatever they wanted to hear and whatever they wanted to do.

But fitting in with the crowd only made me lose myself. I finally got tired of bending over backwards for everybody else. I got sick of putting myself last.

I knew I had opinions. I knew I had a voice and my own preferences. I knew that I mattered. So I began living that way.

Fitting in makes you lose yourself to please the crowd. Stop putting everyone else before you. Belonging means that you matter just as much as anybody else does. Only when you know that you count enough to come first will you finally feel at home.

5. You have to know that you’re already okay.

When I got home from the convent, dating was a nightmare. I felt like I had to keep moving forward just to keep pace with everybody, like I was in some kind of race I never signed up for.

“You’ve got a boyfriend! When are you getting married?” So I got married.

Then it was, “You’ve been married three whole months! When are you having kids?” So I tried to have kids. But I couldn’t. Then all I heard was, “When are you visiting your doctor again?”

In reality, I was done. I wanted kids, but after six years of untreated health conditions I was unable to. And I was devastated by this. I felt like I should keep trying because everyone was pressuring me to. But living like everybody thought I should only made me believe that my life was empty.

So I decided to fill myself up with what I wanted. I mentored kids in foster care. I tutored young adults in math and science. I ran a music program for mentally challenged high-schoolers. After a while, I didn’t even need to get pregnant. There was no need to run that race. My life was full. I already had the prize.

When you try to fit in, you let imaginary standards measure when you’ve arrived. And you never, ever get there. Stop looking outside yourself to see if you’re pretty enough, smart enough, thin enough, or rich enough. You will always belong where you know that you already are enough.

Time to Feel Completely at Home

Want to know the truth about belonging?

It takes courage to belong. It takes bravery to show up in your own skin.

It’s easy to fit in. It’s easy to blend in and hide your outrageousness.

And it’s also the easiest way to lose the precious parts of you.

You deserve to be seen. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be known for the real deal that you are.

Stop taking the easy way out. Stop trying to fit in.

The best place in life is where you’re already okay.

Come home to you. It’s where you belong.

Puzzle people image via Shutterstock

About Anne Bechard

Anne Bechard is a firm believer that you can totally follow your passion and keep your day job. She's got a secret super power to turn dream-chasers into prosperous bloggers. Join her community and pick up your free copy of her Winning Tips That Make You a Profitable Blogger.

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  • bigdo

    “Forget the cool people and find YOUR people”…. Solid, solid piece of advice.

  • Glad you think so, too! Surrounding ourselves with people who build us up is one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves. Thanks for stopping by and weighing in today!

  • Jackie

    Thank you!!! Such a great article 🙂

  • So glad you enjoyed it, Jackie! I appreciate your comment today.

  • Aruna

    That helped me Anne…specifically rocking the boat part..I am in a similar situation where I have certain secrets..struggling to mingle with people as a result. your article was very insightful. Thank you so much for inspiring me

  • Hi Aruna. Yeah, rocking the boat just has to happen if you want to get real in your own skin. You might lose some of the cool people to mingle with, but you end up with the right ones for you. All the best!

  • Kissit_

    Wonderful article. Thanks so much for this

  • LaTrice Dowe

    My teenage years were the worst years that I ever had to go through. I couldn’t understand why some students had to be so cruel to other students-just because they’re different from everyone else, and was trying extremely hard to fit in. Unfortunately, I was one them.

    I knew that I was different from everyone else, and I didn’t care. Ever since my ex-best friend mistreated me, I had to end the friendship. She was being extremely judge mental and ignorant, so I started changing my inner circle of friends. My efforts paid off! I realized that it’s okay to be myself, and if no one likes it, that’s their problem.

    I cherish the friendships that I do have, and don’t take them for granted. Everyone has their own unique style. For instance, I LOVE school. Knowledge is my biggest weapon, and I’m NOT afraid to use it. A lot of people think that I’m weird that I love school, but at the end of the day, they’re not paying my tuition and textbooks. Besides, their opinions don’t matter to me.

  • What a story, LaTrice! Finding our own people can go such a long way at empowering us, huh? Way to put you first! I’m so glad you stopped by and shared your story. All the best with school and beyond!

  • I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by today!

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Thank you for writing this fantastic article, Anne. I had to gather my courage to talk about my personal experience with fitting in. It has been difficult. My ex-best friend from high school taught me that it’s okay to be comfortable in my own skin, so I decided to embrace it. I accepted the fact that we can NEVER be friends again, since we’re two different people from two different worlds.

  • Anne, I love this article. I think, as women, we are programmed to be nice and be self-sacrificing. Now, I realize how this kind of behavior slowly sucks the life out of us. When you’re a people pleaser, everyone is happy except for you LOL! Yes, great article, very enlightening.

  • It’s true, isn’t it Melissa? Anyone who grew up “playing nice” knows all about people pleasing. But yeah, it leaves everyone pleased but you. Well said!

  • Meri Sundar

    How do you find your people,or where you find such people when it seems like you don’t belong any where?When it seems like no one wants you,or cares for you?

  • Great question, Meri! One thing I learned is that like attracts like. When you get comfortable being yourself, you start to meet people who are just like you. Where do you meet them? In places where YOU like to go. Not places where you think you should go. But where you enjoy being yourself. If you haven’t found that yet, think about where you wish you could be. Then experiment with it and get to know people. All the best on the journey! So glad you stopped by today.

  • Mmmm, this is sweet music for Solo Souls! (myself included). So true! In my life, this theme has been repetitive, or spiral-like. First, belonging (or not) in the “normal” society. Then, belonging (or not) in multiple versions of outsider-groups. And even now, where I feel I have found home and a sense of belonging in the entire world, I keep on finding aspects where the journey continues… Thank you!

  • Very beautifully put, Halina! As we grow, our circle widens. Isn’t it wonderful to call the world home. 🙂

  • Meri Sundar

    Thank you Anne for the reply,and the advice.I’ll try to follow it,and hopefully one day reach that place where you finally belong.

  • Great post, Anne. Lovely writing and great advice. I really enjoyed it.

  • So glad you liked it, Cate! Always wonderful to see you.

  • dan

    I think there is lots of excellent advice here–except for the make “me first” your mantra. Of course we shouldn’t be a doormat for others to abuse, or chase a life based on what we think others will like. It’s when we give up our attachment to the opinion of others we can truly begin to be a source of happiness for ourselves and others. “Me first” is the source of all suffering there is in the world.

  • Interesting perspective, Dan. And I think we may be saying similar things, but in different ways. Pulling away from people pleasing is definitely a key element to our happiness and sense of belonging. It takes a strong sense of self-worth to do that. While putting yourself first can be taken in the wrong direction of a destructive vanity, it can also be a healthy direction when you expand your sense of self-worth to pull away from people pleasing. Putting “me first” before all the other people you’re tempted to please lets you make compassionate decisions about yourself and others, instead of decisions based on pleasing people — which can cause suffering in the world.

  • jen

    Thank you! Fantastic article. I really love the last paragraph in it you emphasise that all we really need is to be ourselves, to love ourselves and to appreciate what we are and have now. Just be you and the right people will stick around no matter what because they enjoy your presence!

  • Janet .

    The old saying of “you become like the people you hang around”, is also true. If you’re hanging around a rough party crowd without much of a moral code; dont be surprised if you start losing your moral code along the way too. So it makes sense to choose kind sensitive people who will inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Its easier to have the goodness of others rub off on you, than to hope your goodness will rub off on crummy types. Better to have the courage to stand alone till you find your people. And they will be the cool people!

  • You become like the people you hang around — well said, Janet!

  • Great point, Raeganc! It’s so true that if you spend a lot of time as someone else, it can be difficult to discover who you really are. Wonderful suggestion to slow down and just get still with yourself. I meditate like this for just 10 minutes every morning, and it makes such a difference in how I show up as my true self. Thanks for the insight!

  • Very true, Jen! Like definitely attracts like. It’s important that we be the person we want to surround ourselves with. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Smith

    Hi Anne, I really love this article and I am so happy for you that you were able to find where you belong. However, in this article you made it seem like being in a convent was a bad thing and that it was impossible to fit in and belong unless someone abided by ‘western’ values such as dating, drinking, etc. Can it not be that someone attends a religious practice and belong in this world? thanks

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    (How i got my husband back with the prayers of Dr Akim )I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was and what he was doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in mcy heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com).

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  • Most definitely. Belonging is about showing up in your life as the real you. If that involves embracing a religion, go for it! Many of the women I lived with in the convent are still there. And they’re as near and dear to me as the ones who left. Belonging isn’t about what you choose to embrace in your life. It’s about authentically embracing it if it’s the real you.

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  • Big Mike

    As someone with PTSD, depression, and anxiety, I haven’t been able to “fit in” since I separated the military 9 years ago. Just never feel like I belong. And I have done many of the same things like taking jobs for money and had success. But very little joy. I could do without the money if I knew I’d be happy. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Austin

    While I like the idea of being true to self, I’m not quite in on #4 there… Me myself first? I don’t want to overdo it there any more there than to be a stressed “people pleaser”. I’m thinking life has to be thought of in an “us” way. Take care of myself, sure; and taking care of everyone else too, but in a united way. What I’m talking about is very specific and isn’t stressful.

  • GodsChick

    “When you try to fit in with everybody who wants a piece of you, you open the floodgates to drama and neediness and negativity. And that stuff consumes you. Stop hanging out with people who consume you. You belong where people support and nourish the better parts of you.” I identified with the whole article, but this paragraph really stood out for me. Most of the times when I felt this inner desperation, I look back and see how dangerous that was. I needed to hold onto myself, stick up for myself, not mindlessly follow the crowd. Sometimes it means periods of being alone. I think this makes me a stronger person. I have only two close friends. But better two than many fare-weather friends.

  • Shirley Liu

    Thanks so much for sharing:) I have often struggled trying to find myself trying to figure out where I fit in. When I rock the boat, there times when it feels good to be myself and at other times I feel as if I’m just fighting a lost cause.

  • CorinaS

    You are a beautiful soul Anne! What would this world be if we were all succeeding at fitting in? Probably a sea of sameness. I really like the idea of finding your people. Thanks for the great post!

  • Dee

    Thanks for writing this awesome article. I definitely saw myself in this article. Best quote ever “You have to make “me first” your mantra. I have some work to do and Look forward to reading more of your article in the future. Take care!