BELONGING V. MAKING CHANGE
Less than ten years ago, I was living in a completely different world.
My fellow social justice colleagues and I were advocating for reproductive rights.
There was no question that everyone around me was committed to advancing women’s rights. (If they happened to not identify as feminist it wasn’t because they were too conservative but because they felt the term feminist was too mainstream, too white, too co-opted).
Basically? I had found my people. I felt like I belonged.
If you’d told me back then that I’d end up doing life coaching on the internet, I would have laughed my ass off.
And I’ve found that to be true for most of my coaching colleagues – some are former physicians, one used to be an occupational therapist, and one even did sales presentations for utensils and appliances at big box stores.
But despite our very diverse backgrounds, my coaching colleagues and I agree that we would not have had the impact we have if we’d stayed in those former lives.
Stepping into the places where everyone didn’t think like us or believe the same things we did has allowed us to create change on a level none of us ever imagined possible.
And that is why it’s so important to explore the tension between belonging and making change.
In my former life, identifying as a feminist was a given for anyone doing the type of work I was doing.
But when I stepped into the coaching world, there was a vast array of different takes on being a feminist.
I would say most didn’t identify as feminists at all.
But now several years down the road, even coaches who didn’t let the word feminist cross their lips are teaching their clients to think critically about what they’ve been taught and what they believe now, because they have been socialized as women.
Now, I’m not taking full credit for this shift, of course, but I’ve had several coaches reach out to me to let me know how the feminist lens of my coaching work has influenced theirs.
And I attribute that to being willing to go into this whole new space with all these new people who didn’t necessarily already agree with me, who were different from me, and to present this concept of feminist mindset.
If I’d been intent on seeking out more belonging, I never would have left my social justice world.
So, what is belonging, really?
We might like to believe that belonging is a circumstance, but it’s really just a thought we like to have – I’m just like these people. I fit in. We have a lot in common. I belong.
And those thoughts can create a feeling of belonging that each of us identify in a slightly different way.
Belonging can feel like connection and safety. Or even love.
But to reiterate: it’s a thought, not a circumstance, that creates the feeling of belonging we want to have.
When you enter into a new space, with new people, and new beliefs, you may not be able to create those feelings of belonging right away.
But there can be benefits to being willing to strike out on your own anyway.
Think about it. If you only ever hang out in groups where you 100% belong, you’re really just committing to being the same as everyone around you.
If everyone already thinks like you, the level of change you can make is actually pretty low.
So, if your goal is to make change – whatever kind of change it is – the price of making it is to lose the full belonging and the full agreement you usually enjoy in your comfort zone.
In order to change hearts and minds, you have to go find hearts and minds that may not always agree with you.
Let that sink in.
Especially for those of us in the change making business, we may always feel the tension of wanting to change lives and change the world and also never wanting to feel rejected while we do it.
We want to feel safe and accepted even while we’re working to change people’s beliefs. But those two things just don’t go together.
Even if you’re not a politician or social justice lawyer, or a life coach, there will always be places in your life where you want to change people’s minds. Where you want to persuade others to see your side or support a cause you care about.
And yet, you don’t want to feel rejected or different or disconnected, and you don’t want other people to disagree or disapprove of you.
Consider this your invitation to explore how seeking out belonging and creating change doesn’t really work as a set of priorities.
Now, that’s not to say that everyone needs to be out trying to create change every second of every day, either.
Maybe you’re just not interested in making change (which is fine!).
Or maybe you’re part of a marginalized group where there can be great risks, even to your physical safety, to standing out and placing yourself in a situation where you’re interacting with others who may have never spoken to or spent time around someone like you.
But if you are someone who feels called to have a different conversation on a different stage with a different group of people, think about the cost of trying to maintain belonging and shared identity above what you may be called to do or create.
If I had remained attached to the identity of a social justice advocate and just stayed in that world, I’m sure I would’ve done satisfying and important work. But I don’t think I would’ve had the impact I’m having now.
You have the opportunity to create belonging wherever you go, but you have to be willing to step out of it first.
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