The feeling of belonging is the quiet kryptonite of human nature. It’s what draws us together and binds us to each other. Belonging gives purpose and strength; we are weaker without it, so we crave to have it. It gives a sense of passion and drive as well as security. It’s the foundational power of ‘family’ – Belonging to a loving family makes us stronger than on our own. It’s instinctive to seek belonging for survival.
Belonging is a powerful force for sure, and like all powerful forces it can quite often be a torturous blend of ‘good and evil’ at the same time. Good if what you belong to is positive and provides you purpose and direction. Evil if it binds you so tight that you fear losing it, and as a result you reject opportunities to grow beyond what you know and where you are comfortable.
Personally, I’m about to embark on a new exciting chapter with my partner that takes me away from a group of people and a place I currently belong to. A place I love and people I consider family. So the choice to accept a new adventure and leave is a little torturous. But long ago I learned never to let belonging hold me back and I promised myself it never would…
Listen to this story and you’ll know why I made that promise…
A few years ago I traveled home for Christmas to see my family in the small Midwest town I grew up in. I was out with my sister at a local pub for a beer when I ran into an old high school mate. We didn’t speak much in high school for no other reason than we didn’t hang in the same circles.
But he came up and sat down next to me anyway and said, ‘Hey I hear you live in New Zealand now! Wow what’s that like? It’s so far away. You’re really lucky. I wish my life had turned out different and I could do something cool like that.’
I starred at him for a moment while I tried to process his thinking. He was less than 30 years old, what did he mean by ‘wish my life would have turned out different?’ He was still so young. His life was far from over. As I could see it, it’d only just begun! I just couldn’t wrap my head around why he saw his ambitions and dreams as ghosts? To me that was so incredibly sad.
So I said it… ‘You still have lots of life left, you can do anything you want! Live where you want. Gain a new skill. What’s stopping you?’
He replied with a little laugh and a smile that said to me you don’t understand before taking a sip of his beer. ‘Oh I can’t. It’s too late. I’m stuck here.’ He said.
‘You’re never stuck!’ I replied sharply, trying to shake him out of this depressive view of his young life.
‘Yes I am. This is where I belong. It’s complicated. Everything I know is here. My friends, family, work, memories…’
‘But so are mine!’, I rebutted. ‘Other than my work we’ve got the rest in common…That’s why I’m confused. If you envy my lifestyle why do you allow our childhood home to hold you hostage? What are you afraid of.’
He just starred at me for what felt like 5 long minutes though I’m sure it was only about 30 seconds as he processed this fact we shared… I thought for a moment there was a glimmer if hope in his eyes. I imagined a smile lifting his checks and brightening this face. His posture growing 10 feet taller, boundless passion energizing his expression and some new-found gumption overtaking him completely! Magnificent!
Alas, I was dreaming…
He broke his stare, took another sip and said ‘ah nah I’m not as brave as you I guess. I’m comfortable here.’
I went home that night feeling a little deflated. I love my family, friends and hometown don’t get me wrong. Not a day goes by I don’t battle my guilt for living my life elsewhere. But the thought of living without ambition or dreams is far more depressing to me than the feeling of guilt. What would I be doing to make the world a better place if I let the fear of leaving and possibly losing what I belonged to hold me back. What kind of sadness would it be like to think my time to make a difference had already passed me by even though I was still alive.
That’s when I realized some truths about belonging.
1. Belonging can be a powerful force potentially leading you to happiness, but if you let the fear of not having it hold you back from living, it can leave you dangerously unhappy.
2. Don’t be confined by your own comfort, for comfort can steal your dreams.
3. You have a choice. You can either choose to believe your opportunity to live your dreams in life has passed you by even though you’re still breathing. Or you can choose to dream and achieve until you die.
So love whatever you belong to and who you belong with, but never let it hold you hostage. Enjoy it but don’t fear losing it. For if you truly belong you’ll always belong in someway. Live fearless. Live with purpose. Live your dreams.
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