I recently finished Michelle Miller's book Belonging: A Daughter's Search for Identity Through Loss and Love.  It is a powerful memoir and it got me thinking about my own sense of belonging, or lack thereof.  It got me thinking that probably ALL of us are looking for that sense of belonging.

As a child, Michelle doesn't fit into any neat category.  Do any of us?  There must be someone out there who does, or who feels as though they do.  I never felt like I fit in.  (Honest revelation:  I still don't feel that I do.)  I think as a child I was cute, but not THAT cute.  I was "chubby," a term/group that no one wants to belong to. (I can still feel the sting of the elementary school "bully" who made fun of me when I wore my orange parka.)  I was smart, but didn't belong to the group of really smart students and when I ended up in "advanced" classes in high school, I never felt like I completely belonged.  I was part of the music program, but did I really belong?  I wasn't a good musician, I was mediocre.  I was involved in the drama club, but I didn't belong to the "elite" group that were cast in the big lead roles of the musicals.  (Which were "THE" thing.")

I tried to belong at college.  I went to a small college that was comfortable for me.  I started out as nursing major; I definitely didn't belong there.  I ended up as a communications major.  I did "okay" there, but I never felt a part of the communications department.  My advisors didn't really "know" me.  I sort of fit in with the drama department (I minored in drama and probably should have double majored).  I had some sense of belonging there, but not completely.  Those who really belonged (at least in my eyes) were in the work study program.  I fit, but I didn't necessarily belong.

Even all these years later (more years than I care to admit), both in high school and in college, I never felt like I belonged when I went to the cafeteria.  Who could you sit with?  What if your friends weren't there?  How could I manage being alone?  I should have brought a book and sat at some small corner table.  Maybe I did?  I know there were times when I passed up regular meals at the dining hall because of my fear of being unwelcome; of not belonging.  (But I never gave up has always been there to comfort me when I felt like I didn't belong.)

While searching for a college for my son, I made sure we visited the campuses of the schools he was interested in because I felt (and still do) that a sense of belonging was as important as academics.  I wanted him to find a school that fit his academic needs as well as his personality.  It appears that we have found that in Wagner College. Of course only time will tell, but I feel a sense of belonging and being a part of a community (academic or otherwise) is key to a "successful" (or at least happy) 4 years of higher education.

As an adult, I think I have done many things, for better or worse, to try to belong to a group or organization.  I suppose I do fit in some places, but do I truly belong?  I still feel like an imposter in many situations.  In others, I wonder if I've done enough.  What do people think?  Do they know that I do not belong?  Yes, as a 50+ year old woman, I am still figuring out where I belong.

I'm guessing (hoping?) that I am not the only one who is still trying to figure out how and where they belong.  Maybe that's all part of our life long journey?  At least it feels like it will continue to be part of mine.


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