As we roll on into the 89th and hopefully final month of 2020 I have been thinking and talking about belonging, with my clients, ex colleagues and my friends. Belonging, according to Karyn Hall in Psychology Today:
"means acceptance as a member or part. Such a simple word for huge concept. A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong is most important in seeing value in life and in coping with intensely painful emotions."
Fitting in, finding similarity, sharing common values, laughing at the same thing, playing the same sport, enjoying and revelling in a common goal, similar values, liking the same music, watching the same TV programmes... (go watch The Undoing, it was AMAZING!!) We are constantly looking for ways that we fit in and a part of something greater, we also want to feel seen and understood by others. It is a key factor in managing stress and anxiety and in building strength, confidence and resilience.
So how has this year affected your sense of belonging, regardless of where and how you have worked it will undoubtedly have been impacted?
If you usually work in an office and now work from home, your social contact with colleagues will have been reduced. Coffee chats, lunches, drinks after work, all curtailed and you may well be very isolated in your home office, spare bedroom or kitchen table! How much do you feel part of something bigger now, connected with others?
You may have been furloughed or made redundant, both having a huge impact on your identity and sense of belonging.
If you play team sports or are part of a group, yoga class or similar you may well have lost that camaraderie, shared activity.
You could have worked throughout, but feel more isolated because of masks, social distancing and your experience may have been at times very difficult, do others really understand you and your experience?
Social gatherings have been stopped or reduced. No weddings, family parties, big birthday celebrations, and sadly no comfort from remembering loved ones together at funerals and sharing grief.
Maybe you have also been affected by the huge splits in opinion that have affected just how much you feel comfortable in belonging. Polarising opinions have left me at times feeling that the country I live in, is more split than ever before, and in that I mean how my heart swelled with the huge support for #BlackLivesMatter and then broke with the protests against it. Then the racist reaction to Diversity's BLM tribute on Britain's Got Talent, and the reaction to the Sainsbury's Christmas advert left me sickened. Also the widely different attitudes to lockdown compliance, mask wearing and now vaccinations. Do I still mention Brexit?!
But let's also consider the flip side... if there is one thing we have all experienced ... across the globe ... it is this year, this pandemic! There is a sense of "we are in this together" that has been shared.
Thursday evenings clapping for carers, donating and applauding Captain Tom, baking banana bread, creating TikToks, whole new waves of belonging have begun!
We may have had time to pause and think about what is most important, and where we best belong!
In terms of working life, and belonging, I have to say I am a little worried about how companies are onboarding and welcoming new starters to ensure they feel that real sense of belonging and feel part of something, how culture is being communicated. I have seen some nice examples, but I would be worried, sat at home in my loungewear at how I would know if I truly do fit in with a team or organisation I had only met online.
Culture is the way things are done, how people behave, how decisions are made, the role modelling of thinking and doing, not being able to see that and absorb it in person has a huge impact on a sense of belonging for everyone in a company. Even the lack of Christmas parties and gatherings affects that team and culture building, I mean, how fantastic is it to all be merry and on the dance floor singing along to Slade?! Or are you glad that one will pass you by this year?!
Outside of work, family and friends have not been able to get together in the same way, some relationships have grown stronger, more necessary and valued, while others have drifted apart due to the separation. I am seeing and hearing how much pressure Christmas bubbles are putting on families in the UK and this is having a huge impact on emotions and that sense of belonging. Some of this is opening old wounds or creating new ones and it will be traumatic for some, and I do not use that word lightly.
I feel sad that I can't share my Christmas with my sister and the rest of the family, I have three little great nephews who I won't be able to cuddle this year, but I do feel a huge sense of belonging and purpose in that I am hosting my 86 year old mum and keeping her safe, with my daughter. It is necessary, and we are looking at loads of different ways of all connecting up as a family and sharing our Christmas and New Year together, but apart.
It is possible though, to belong, to connect deeply, as I think about my coaching clients ... some I have never met in person, and how with some thought, authenticity and openness, truly amazing connections have been formed, the sense of belonging is huge, being part of something together is powerful and realising my purpose in that, really helps. It is possible, and it can be outstanding.
So what can you do, to help you or those around you to feel a sense of belonging?
Be aware of what makes you feel like you fit, who are you with when you get that warm feeling of belonging... connect with that or them more, hey even consider telling them, I dare you, focus your time and energy on the stuff that makes you feel good this month - honestly, you deserve it
Look for facebook groups, linked in groups, people on insta that make you smile or are passionate about one of your causes and use social media to connect with those in similar circumstances to you, there are some amazing groups for those who have experienced redundancy, or for business owners, or for mums etc etc etc
What can you do to replace some of the stuff that usually connects, I think we got sick of Houseparty quickly and bored of Zoom quizzes, but is there anything else you can do to connect remotely, I'm having some virtual cocktail making lessons which is a fab idea, I'm also dressing up, although I have loved the lazy lockdown fashion it is time to get the lashes on and squeeze into a dress! I have heard of crafting, knitting and Pictionary parties. Decorate your desk competitions, christmas jumper days and more...
Connect with those who are struggling too, there are some brilliant charities that can connect you with isolated elderly people in the community, to have a chat with them, what an absolute buzz to be part of that! Help out, volunteer, get involved. Become a call companion through Reengage and help prevent isolation and loneliness in our older generation https://www.reengage.org.uk/volunteer/new-volunteers/
Most of all, talk about how you feel, like I said some people are finding this really tough, you sharing your experience will really help others to open up too, and bingo, a sense of belonging is created right there.
If you feel like you don't fit and need professional help there are lots of places to get some help:
📱To talk about anything that is upsetting you, you can contact Samaritans 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can call 116 123 (free from any phone), email firstname.lastname@example.org
📱If you're experiencing a mental health problem or supporting someone else, you can call SANEline on 0300 304 7000
📱The Mix. If you're under 25, 0808 808 4994
📱If you're under 35 Papyrus HOPELINEUK 0800 068 4141 email@example.com or text 07786 209 697.
📱If you identify as male CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or use their webchat service.
📱Nightline. If you're a student, you can look on the Nightline website to see if your university offers a night-time listening service
📱Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender 0300 330 0630
Rest assured, in terms of belonging, or finding where you fit, everyone has been affected this year, and everyone has some experience of questioning it, whether directly, or indirectly through a friend, family or colleague. This article is designed to just raise awareness of what is going on, possibly for you, or those around you, if you are a leader or business owner it could be food for thought for your team, or could offer you some ideas as an individual that may help.
If you need any support in thinking about where you belong, or how to foster belonging around you, please do get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org