The pressure to be productive can go right out the window this week. I realized after a stressful meeting where I felt distant and walked away not feeling like I belonged, that questioning my sense of belonging decreases my desire for productivity. If I feel as though I belong, I am more invested and the weight of my efforts, aka, work, holds greater importance. When I know I belong I’m more eager to show up and be seen. It’s easy to think that belonging comes from other people and the environments in which we work, but belonging comes from being our true selves.
Without a sense of belonging we can begin to feel discouraged, depressed and alone. A work for example, if we hear others have inside jokes or seem to be better friends with the boss, we can start feeling like an outsider and our ability to complete tasks will be hindered by the “aloneness” we feel. We might start to wonder if we are doing a good job or if we will get a bad review at the end of the year. We can start to believe the stories we are telling ourselves. These stories might be that we don’t belong and that others in the office are creating this problem for us. We can then start to live these stories into reality and actually start doing a bad job.
I’ve seen this play out in the workplace. Let’s say we have a coworker who has become increasingly grumpy and makes comments about “being left out”. Let’s call this coworker Jane. Jane used to contribute to the team. Now, she makes life miserable for everyone. She is late most days, seems to leave early because no one will tell her not to and does just enough work to get by. She goes out of her way to avoid the group dynamics. Decisions get made without her because she has “something more important” during scheduled staff meetings or chooses to finish a project at the same time as group huddles happen. Although Jane’s lack of productivity is annoying to the team, and the boss isn’t addressing it, the lack of team participation is the factor driving the frustration. The coworkers know they can’t, and honestly don’t want to, help improve her sense of belonging and she outwardly blames the team for pushing her out because “I don’t feel like I belong”.
Other factors can play into the lack of belonging in the workplace. Personal health and wellbeing can also be parts of it as well. If we are struggling at home, work can begin to bear the same issues. Difficult seasons, like a pandemic, can add to the feeling of isolation. More people are working from home. This can be isolating and create a lack of belonging just because there are different demands. In one of my own previous work experiences if I wasn’t always around the boss I would feel forgotten. Someone else could quickly get the boss’ full attention. If this is your experience, working from home would only exemplify this. You can’t just pop over to the boss’ office mid-afternoon to check-in. I expected my boss to solidify my feelings of “belonging”.
This week I went to my favorite Brené Brown to learn more about belonging. I found this amazing YouTube Podcast: Brené Brown SECRETS For HEALING YOURSELF & Making An IMPACT In The World |Lewis Howes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbsRU-crgsc, last viewed 02/04/2021). The conversation Brown and Howes has is about true belonging and not about trying to fit in. Brené says belonging “never asks us to change who we are, it demands that we be who we are”. Fitting in is “betraying self for other people and that’s not sustainable,” said Brené Brown.
The podcast goes on to talk about vulnerability and courage. To be who we are we must find belonging in ourselves, and then share this with the people around us. This is courage. To work in a group environment, to be willing to own our mistakes and to go back to work the next day takes guts. It takes resiliency. It takes vulnerability. The coworker who makes work life miserable or the boss who seems disconnected can be a road block to our sense of belonging. If we wait for the team to show up before we show up we are depriving ourselves of finding our own belonging. It might be easier to just get by, to just do what we need to do for a good review, but we will feel exhausted at the end of every day. It will become increasingly hard to go back to work every day.
Allowing ourselves the grace to belong without needing external circumstances gives us permission to show up. Showing up can give us that sense of belonging we long for. This perspective and practice takes greater courage than checking a box on the to-do list. It is work which can lead us to job satisfaction, and gives meaning over content with the work we produce. Whether we are noticed for our productivity or not, being willing to show up and be ourselves will energize us. It will help us find our best selves.
May you rest this weekend and show up on Monday with a new sense of belonging.