Throughout my life, I never felt like I belonged. I constantly pursued new careers and places and social groups looking for people that understood me. And I never found it.
When I took the LSAT because I was considering law school, and I aced it, I thought – finally. Law school must be where I find my people, the people that think like me. But I felt just as isolated there, if not more in fact due to the competitive and judgmental nature of the law school culture.
Then I went to Tanzania, in Africa, to volunteer as a law clerk for the United Nations. Surely, that must be where “my people” are. I tried to get as specific as possible in my career and passions, to find people that would think like me and understand me, but no matter how specific I got or how aligned something felt, I still felt like an outsider everywhere I went.
Years later, I ended up being drawn to a school of shamanism. After a couple of intro courses, I dove head first into their first level, intensive four month program. Surrounded by misfits and outsiders with similar spiritual views, held in a safe and loving container by amazing teachers who never judged me, I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I had finally found my tribe.
Yet, halfway into the first intensive weekend, we were asked to perform an exercise to feel another person’s energy field. After the exercise, the teacher asked if anyone didn’t feel anything, and I raised my hand. I was confident and didn’t mind being vulnerable. I was sure I wasn’t the only one. But over 40 beginners in this class were here with me and as I looked around, I realized not a single other hand was raised. My cheeks flushed. Was I the least gifted person here? Was I not capable of sensing energy like everyone else? Was I coming in dead last in this class? And the most important one – did I not belong here?
We carried on into other teachings and transitioned into another part of the curriculum. But the entire time, I could feel emotion rising within me. And a voice in my head that said, I don’t belong. I’m not good enough. I’m not meant to be here.
Finally, the emotion had grown so strong that in the middle of the lecture, I dashed out of the room in a hurry, running outside into the brisk, fall air, and couldn’t hold back the sobs.
I sobbed as I leaned my back against the building, shoulders hunched over my chest, sliding down the brick wall until my butt hit the ground, curling up against the tops of my thighs, my hands covering my wet face, and I felt so small. So insignificant. If I couldn’t fit in here, with the misfits and outsiders, where would I ever fit in? My chest heaved with shame and embarrassment, rivers streaming down my cheeks. I prayed that they couldn’t hear me inside as I held back the wails that wanted to come screeching out in utter desperation.
Why was I never good enough? Why couldn’t I find my place? How could I be last? I felt the last three decades of “not good enough”s come rising to the surface, placing me in that hot, wounded, feeling of shame, that familiar feeling like a knife to my gut. And I continued to sob.
And then I realized, I wasn’t just ashamed to be last, I was ashamed that I wasn’t first. I had thought that I would be first. I had expected to discover that I was significantly gifted. In fact, I expected to be at the very top of the class. As I realized this, I thought – am I that arrogant? The inquiry brought the sobbing to a pause, as I looked up at the sky with drenched eyes and explored this question.
It made complete sense. This is when I discovered how little self-worth I had, even though somehow I never even knew I had an issue with worthiness.
You see, I was born into a controlling, foreign religion, to parents who did the best they could but had significant struggles ongoing throughout my childhood. I experienced a sense of not fitting in and abandonment in multiple forms at a young age. Every child reacts differently to feeling like they aren’t good enough, but I discovered as a child that I could obtain the validation and attention I so craved by being really good at everything. So, I was. I became the best in school, the best at singing, the best behaved child in the house, the best older sister, the best confidante to my parents. I graduated with high honors in high school and college. I went to an ivy league law school.
In this way, being the best became my validation of self-worth. In fact, it became the entirety of my self-worth. It even turned arrogance into an integral part of my self-worth bandaid. So that not being the best, not being inherently good at something, not being recognized and reassured of my gifted-ness left me feeling totally and utterly worthless.
And because this became my meter for my own version of self-worth, I was constantly comparing myself to others. And I was silently judging them. Judging their self-worth because that was the only way I knew to validate mine.
You can imagine, if the only way you can feel worthy is by comparing and convincing yourself that you’re better than everyone around you in some way, even though you don’t want to judge others but because any other possibility would mean that you are utterly worthless, how can you ever feel like you belong?
If we feel unworthy because life has been harder for us than it has been for others, because we get less parental support or we have less money or we have to work harder for what others receive effortlessly, then a strong coping mechanism is to believe that we are special. That we are stronger for it and we are meant for great things. Which can be true, but if that belief is where our self-worth lies and it stems from constantly comparing our story to others, then it will serve to isolate us from others our entire life.
This is how I learned that I was the only person creating my own isolation. I was the only person stopping me from feeling like I belonged. And the truth all along was that I did belong. I belonged in every social group I ever spent time with and in every room I ever stood in. I belonged at law school and I belonged at that school of shamanism. We all belong. There is nothing separating us other than our own projections and illusions.
And yes, we may choose not to spend time in certain groups or not to stay in certain rooms because we don’t enjoy the presence of certain people, we need to place boundaries, we get triggered, or we don’t feel comfortable, sure. But that is our choice stemming from our desires. Not from a lack of self worth and belonging.
Because we always belong. We are always worthy. No. Matter. What. We are not isolated unless we create that isolation. And there is no need to use external factors to validate our worthiness. We can be failing at every turn, and still, we are so worthy.