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Five ways to feel a sense of belonging at work - instead of trying to fit in

Updated: Jun 2

I live in a town where diversity is celebrated. Where no one blinks an eyelid at men with beards wearing skirts. Women kissing. Non-binary people. The insanely rich and famous. The homeless. The hen nights. The elderly. And everyone in between.

A happy mix of all sorts of people living together, relatively peacefully.

It made me reflect on where I used to live before. In a tiny little rural village. One community shop. One pub. Lots of gardening. Green wax jackets.

We stood out like a sore thumb.

Here? Not so much.

We can breathe. We fit in, because we DON'T fit in. We're different. And everyone else is different too!

It reminded me of the book Braving the wilderness, by Brene Brown.

Her definition of belonging is this:

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

In other words, you can only feel you belong if you don't have to pretend to be someone else, if you don't have to act differently.

It's easier said than done. Especially in a work situation:

  • Where workplaces may not have been designed with a diversity of people in mind.

  • Where work cultures reflect the dominant group.

  • When there is a lack of trust, and you feel psychologically unsafe.

In contrast, I had a coaching session the other day. My client talked about the lack of trust she felt. That the first thing she looked for was signs of someone's potential back-stabbing intentions.

It's no way to live. It makes you live in fear. It does the opposite of helping you to breathe (literally) and expand (not literally).

Instead it made her look at how she could fit in. How she could display the least offensive behaviour. Rather than being her - usually positive and open - self.

It made me realise that Brene Brown has a point. Why NOT be your authentic self, instead of trying to fit in? Why not be open and trusting and being yourself, and maybe have a chance of finding that you DO belong?

But how do you know when you belong, rather than trying to make yourself fit in?

Here are my tips:

* Identify how you feel - Are you feeling fearful, angry, frustrated? Are YOU constantly on the look-out for signs that you don't belong, that people are out to get you? What's going on for you? Knowing what you're feeling, and being able to identify why is your very first step.

* Practise positive emotions - Knowing what's going on with you is one. To then turn it around and decide that you want to be happy is a big one. It requires practice. It requires your commitment. It also makes you a happier person, even if you're not in your ideal working environment (yet).

* Know yourself - You see, I was never going to be a gardener (I was. For a bit. Until caterpillars decimated our entire crop of Brussels sprouts. That killed any budding (ha!) gardening aspirations).

I was never going to wear wax jackets or be satisfied with the Bakelite museum as my only cultural outing.

If you know yourself you will KNOW what your strengths are. What you love, and what you don't. What values you hold. What's important to you. What you're willing to compromise on. What your MUST-HAVEs are.

Who your authentic best self actually is.

* Know where you thrive - Similarly you will have a picture of the environment that YOU thrive in. Where you do YOUR best work. Where you feel trusted and find a sense of belonging.

* Find your tribe - And finally, finding your tribe. By that I don't mean those people who are like you and look like you (for that, I only had to stay in that village for another 20 years, grow grey hairs and doggedly keep on growing my potatoes!).

No, it's about surrounding yourself with the people who support you. Who want the best for you. On your terms. Finding the place and the people that allow you to grow and breathe.

Fitting in, and belonging. They're two different things.

Fitting in is highly overrated. That's what I think!


Tineke Tammes is an ICF accredited Career Coach, who supports creative, multi-passionate, professional women in making successful career transitions! Besides that she is also a lifelong feminist, part-time portrait artist, never-only-read-one-book-at-any-time reader, and obsessive doodler. Oh, and she knows a bit about change management too.

Join her now in Pick 'n Mix - the FREE community for creative, multi-passionate women or sign up for her newsletter.

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