On Belonging

latin america Apr 25, 2019

What kind of people decide to leave their "normal" life, take their work on the road, and travel with a group of strangers to a different country every month for one year? 

While living in Santiago, Chile this month, a fellow Remote Year participant answered this question by saying that all of us on the program are either running away from something or running toward something. I prefer to reframe it as we all want to create something. And that something is a sense of belonging. Belonging within ourselves and with others.

In the book, Belong, by Radha Agrawal, she defines belonging as "a feeling of deep relatedness and acceptance; a feeling of "I would rather be here than anywhere else."  I believe that this sense of acceptance needs to start with the self before it can be followed by that from others. 

When we can acknowledge that we have more self-acceptance to actualize, we create a healthy dissatisfaction with our lives. 

When we're brave enough to admit that we want something more/different/new, we also realize that we don't have it yet - an unfulfilled desire.   And the people on this Remote Year program are bold enough to have made the decision to try to fulfill that desire. 

So, while we may all have had different motivations to start this journey, what makes our Polaris group already feel like a family in month 2 is our, perhaps unconscious, but collective desire to belong.

As the actor, Zach Braff, says in the movie Garden State, "...maybe that’s all family really is: a group of people that miss the same imaginary place."  That imaginary place is our sense of community, our sense of home. 

When we were younger, and if we were lucky enough to have a healthy childhood, we didn't think about consciously building or becoming part of a community.  Community was built into our everyday lives.  It was our family, our classmates at school, our soccer team, and the girl scouts. 

When we're older, we have to consciously create or join a community based on shared values and interests and where we experience a sense of belonging. 

According to Abraham Maslow, belonging is essential, just after physical safety, when it comes to humans' hierarchy of needs on our way to self-actualization. 

It doesn't matter how old we are, our profession, our gender, or how introverted or extroverted we may be, we all need to feel a sense of love and belonging.

One of my most powerful feelings of belonging this month came on the Jewish holiday of Passover.  Being far away from immediate family during this time isn't easy so my new Jewish friend, Abby, and I decided to create the holiday experience for ourselves and for the other 30+ members of our tramily (travel + family).

We cooked a traditional meal, created and printed a fun and educational program (Haggadah) to explain the order (Seder) of the dinner and all the traditions, sang songs, and played games. 

Passover is all about inclusivity and we encouraged everyone to ask questions and participate in helping us put it all together and create an amazing collective experience. 

What was so heart-warming is that what started with Abby and me wanting to feel a sense of belonging in a foreign city turned into everyone feeling that way as well. 

Some friends told us it was one of their favorite nights on the trip so far - that the traditions were beautiful, that they felt included, that they felt a sense of being part of a community. 

And while none of them are Jewish, it wasn't really about that - it was a feeling of acceptance - a feeling of "I'd rather be here than anywhere else" - a feeling of "I belong". 

Knowing that people left the night feeling like that, well, it is matzo ball soup for the soul.

 

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