Fitting in at a job is great. It probably means that you don’t mind chatting to your work colleagues, chilling in for birthday presents and going for the odd work drink after hours.

But ask people if they feel like they ’belong’ to their job and you’ll probably get a completely different answer. When we think of belonging, it conjures up images of something homely, deep and connected.

Do you really feel like that when you’re asked to stay and do over-time in a job you’re not stoked to do for the 23874392nd week in a row?

When we feel like we belong, we’re stronger, more resilient and happier. Digging deep and rummaging around in the roots of who you really are can help to make yourself more open to others and easier for them to accept the ‘real’ you too.

Fitting In

Compromising on who we are, what we like and how we appear is a form of fitting in. We all do it to some degree and it’s a good idea in quite a few contexts. Not a lot of people will want to see your new cover versions of Mariah’s greatest hits in the quiet carriage of your train…unless you’re actually Mariah.

But when we think about ‘fitting in’ and conforming in environments where it’s not a necessity for you to do so, it begs the question, why do it? Feeling like you need to wear the sharpest designer suit, buy the best makeup (or both) isn’t something you have to do, you just think you do.

Saying things we don’t mean or agree with in conversations to impress someone can make us feel unfulfilled, guilty and like we’re going against our principles.

This could be joining in on a gossip session about the new person at work just because it makes you feel like you fit in…but don’t be that person!

Brene Brown is a behavioral psychology expert, focusing on courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. What’s she found in her extensive research? “Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging.” And she uses a great analogy – basically fitting in means turning yourself into a ‘human pretzel’ and twisting and changing yourself to fit certain situations and people. When we do this, we start to lose a sense of our true self.

Fitting in can feel like the easier option, but does it challenge us to do new things and grow as people? Probably not and the price you pay for that is never truly connecting with your authentic self.

Starting to Belong

How do we know when we belong? It’s a tough question and one that doesn’t always have an answer, but the easiest way to think about it is achieving a sense of comfort and contentment.

Being in situations and around people like yourself, where you’re unapologetically you is a good start.

That could mean that you wear the clothes that you actually feel comfortable and yourself in. Or chat with people about the topics that really interest you…and it could be walking away when people start to gossip about that new kid again.

It’s about being brave.

And you can apply this to all sorts of areas of your life. Find a company that you’re truly passionate about our work on that side-hustle that brings other like-minded folks together…sort of like your very own version of the Avengers.

To kick things off, you need to soul search and think about what interests you, makes you feel at ease and gives you that inner joy that comes from being your authentic badass self.

An even easier way to do this is to make a list of all the crappy stuff that makes you feel bad, anxious and unfulfilled too.

Work out the action you’d take if you were completely free to be who you really are. What would your day look like? Heck, what would you look like? You don’t have to completely roll with all your wacky ideas, but you can compromise and try and get as close as you feel comfortable, to these goals.

But make sure your actions don’t have a negative impact on others and you’re not putting yourself in harm’s way.

It won’t be an easy journey either. Changing your outlook and trying to belong can mean you lose some people along the way or have to answer some tough questions. It can feel a bit isolating and you might wonder why you’re doing this at all.

But doing more of the things that interest you and make you happy will draw you towards other people that feel the same and belong. And being someone that feels as if they belong will make you much more confident about finding your people and making new connections.

Don’t live your life defined by others and limit yourself because of their expectations for you and your life.

Join that new class, start another hobby, ask that person out for coffee. Start belonging and start living.