One of the hardest parts of life is feeling the fear of not fitting in, whatever that means. As a kid I wished I could afford the ever-cool Guess jeans and Ked shoes instead of the $14.99 Jordache's and Payless Shoe Store wanna-be's that my mom bought. Later, my idea of fitting in would include wishing I'd start my period, need a bra, and kiss my first boyfriend when it seemed everyone else had already passed into the land of adulthood before me.
I can laugh now at the silliness that seemed so important at the time. It also causes me pause to consider what my Keds are now-- what feels important now but might look silly to me down the road?
Now I have been gifted with the maturity to realize that my value doesn't fluctuate on how others view me and that "in" means a thousand different things to different people. But to know I don't need to fit in everywhere doesn't mean I still don't want to. I blogged a couple years ago about how our greatest fear in life is rejection, and even just feeling the possibility of not belonging is enough to tap all our insecurities.
Sometimes my maturity is overridden by an insecure teenage girl that still just wants to fit in.
Do I Belong Here?
Yesterday, I was at a Women 2.0 Pitch Conference geared for female founders of tech start-ups. The irony isn't lost on me that a conference where I should feel like I fit in perfectly can still stir up all my little inner critical voices. Fear really isn't all that rational.
So in the spirit of transparency I'll admit I felt out-of-place. Yes I was a woman. Yes I had founded a start-up company. Yes it's doing well and growing. Yes it's in the space of technology. Yes by all intents-and-purposes I belonged there.
I've blogged before about how difficult conferences can be for many of us (Pushing Through the Nerves to Meet People and The Mistake that Cost Me a New Friendship) but it can be in any setting where we may not already know a lot of people, may have a lot to learn, and may be surrounded by lots of amazing people that cause us to question our own amazing-ness. There's a thin line between wanting to be inspired and called forward, and yet not feeling overwhelmed and incompetent! Put us in that place where we start wondering if we can reach our hoped-for-success and we're automatically in a very vulnerable place.
I was surrounded by people who had all earned MBA's. Seemingly all from Stanford. And suddenly I felt like I would never know the right people, be a part of the powerful network, or be able to learn fast enough everything they already seem to know. My insecure little girl kept whispering "let's just go back home where we feel safe and comfortable." You see, my expertise is in personal development, relational health, and spiritual growth-- not in funding rounds, code engineering, product shipping, user interface design, and market research. In some worlds my skill set could make me a rock star, in this one I was just very aware of everything I lacked.
And therein lies the challenge with fear--we'll never get where we want to without feeling it since it pops up anytime we leave our comfort zone. And obviously our comfort zone, while not scary, isn't bringing us want we value. We want to keep moving forward... but that always includes leaving our comfort zone. UGH!
For most of you in my female friendship community-- you crave deeper connections. But unfortunately that requires you to meet strangers first.
Then follow-up. And do it again. And wonder if they liked you too. And wonder if it's their turn or your turn to make the next move. And then you have to risk sharing pieces of you, getting vulnerable. And you have to find a new way of being with someone new. It's not without fear and insecurity that we walk that path.
Whether it's you wanting local meaningful friendships or me wanting to know how to best grow my company so that you can all make more friends-- we both will feel the fear of the unknown.
And we will eventually have to value the potential as greater than the fear we feel. We'll have to feed the dream, starve the fear. We'll have to weight the outcome as worthy of the path.
I Have to Believe I Do Belong.
At the conference yesterday they had a red chair there for the Sit With Me campaign designed to validate the role of women in the technology field. Men and women around the world are sitting in red chairs as their way of saying "we need to sit together, we want all voices and talents involved!"
On a form I was asked "Who are you sitting for today?" And while the obvious answer is for women in general, I specifically wrote that I was sitting for all those who weren't sure they belonged at the table, no matter their insecurity, perceived obstacle, greatest fear, hidden truth, or lack of credentials. I sat in that chair and whispered to myself "I do belong and so do thousands of others."
I sat in that chair and whispered that hope for you. That whatever chair you need to sit in-- that you would know you belong there. No one else has to tell you that you do. You just have to sit.
Kinda the way Rosa Parks belonged in the front of the bus.... Belonging can't be given to us, we just have to know it.
In some ways I was out of place, but in other ways I belong there and have much to offer that world in ways that no Stanford-MBA-serial-entrepreneur ever could. They're needed. And so am I. We all belong not because we're the same, but because the world needs all of us, contributing our best. Blessing the world in whatever way we each can.
If you're afraid of meeting at a ConnectingCircle or going to some event with strangers, I invite you to show up, sit in a chair (even if it's not red!) and remind yourself you're putting action behind what's important to you. There is room for you!
It's not without insecurity and doubt that we will contribute, step out, participate, engage, and sit-- in order to stand for what we believe in. It is even with those fears that we will do so.
And it's because of what we hope could be the outcome that will make the fear worth it.