Why We Feel Like We Don't Belong


The first time I felt like I didn’t belong was in fourth grade.

Up until that point, I never questioned whether I belonged. If there was a sleepover, I was going. Talent show? There. Class project? I was leading the effort with gusto.

I was THE girl. I was chatty and confident and knew exactly who I was. 

And if one of the other kids didn’t like me, that was on them. Not me.

My younger self was surprisingly wise.

But in fourth grade, my family moved to a different town.

I was no longer THE girl. I was just A girl. 

One who was awkwardly quiet and insecure and wore baggy clothing in an attempt to shrink myself invisible.

From the outside looking in, nothing was different. 

There was no dramatic “you don’t belong here” adaptation. If anything, I had ensured I went wholly unnoticed.

But something had fundamentally changed.


The change was internal.

My thoughts about myself and who I was in comparison to the world and to others had shifted. Drastically.

I went from believing I belonged without question to questioning who I was and whether I actually belonged anywhere.

Our need to feel like we belong is etched into our nature as humans. 

Long ago, if we didn’t “belong” and were outcast, that meant we lost the safety of our tribe. The odds of our survival were not in our favor.

In short, we needed to belong so we didn’t die.

That is no longer the case. But our unevolved brains don’t know that. Our brains still want to protect us from threats. 

And our brains perceive unacceptance as a very real threat to our survival. 

That’s why when we feel unaccepted, it’s a feeling akin to panic. We feel anxious and devasted and lost.

And a little bit like we might die.

But here’s the thing.

We believe that belonging is dictated by what others think about us. We are wrong.

Belonging isn’t externally driven. It isn’t established by others. Not by our classmates, coworkers, bosses, neighbors, friends, family, or anyone else at all.

Belonging is an internal choice.

We “belong” when we choose to belong.

When we choose to believe that we are valuable and worthy and enough.

When we choose to tell ourselves that we belong in the room, or at the table, or on the stage.

We only feel unworthy and unaccepted when we start believing we aren’t smart enough or successful enough or well-versed enough.

No one else dictates whether we are accepted.

It’s up to us to show up and decide that we belong.

And when we do that, the world opens up.

Imagine what you could accomplish? Who you could be? Where you could go? 

If you just made the choice to belong in any and every opportunity you come across.

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