The joy of supporting someone through their journey of playing to their highest potential is unparalleled. As a coach, I challenge myself to make this journey fun-filled, light hearted and spirited. But why should it be a challenge? Shouldn’t exploring ones’ potential be a buoyant, euphoric and carefree process anyway? Well it should, but most of the time, it isn’t. Why it isn’t what it should be is a question that has taken me to interesting places. It is such a beautiful feeling to arrive at the right time, at the right place to discover that missing piece of the jig saw puzzle that you have been looking for all along. This is exactly how I felt when I attended Jennifer’s session on “Belonging” last Saturday.
Saturday morning Jennifer walked in, gently with the kind of quiet confidence that I so deeply appreciate. It is heartening to see women who refuse to dilute the essence of who they are. Jennifer Manchikanti, manages Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at E&Y. She is soft spoken and gentle – someone who has embraced her feminine values and stands by them. She believes in the power of authenticity and I could see it in action. She conducted an engaging session on “Belonging” speaking in a soft and gentle manner – not once did she give up on her natural, inherent way of speaking and yet captured everyone’s attention!
Jennifer took us through an interesting journey of what “belonging” truly means. “Belonging” is one of our most primal psychological needs. It is most evident at stages of human life, when we are most “vulnerable” – infancy and old age. As infants, we are literally born “connected” physiologically to our mothers with the umbilical cord. This connection nourishes us through the time we spend in the womb. As we enter the world, ready to take on this interesting journey of life, while the physiological connection no longer exists, the psychological and emotional connection with the mother and the rest of the family, ensures that our needs are met and that we feel safe. We know, we “belong” and that “belonging” is unconditional. A heavy diaper, a running nose or drool – nothing comes in the way of a baby being cuddled and adored. The baby never says “Don’t look at me, I look messy”! We are allowed to just “be”. No one can tell an infant or a baby, that they need to be a specific way to “fit into the family”. Likewise, old age, once again gets us back in touch with “high vulnerability”. We are frail and dependent – looking for our loved ones to support us through the final phase of our journey. Most seniors want to be at home during the last days of their journey instead of a hospital or an elderly care facility, because they want to feel “belonged”.
Between the onset and end of life, our need to “belong” doesn’t go away. It is a constant quest as we expand the circle of our exposure to explore our potential. We are continuously looking for safe spaces where we can make ourselves vulnerable and therefore authentic. A space where we feel we absolutely need to change ourselves so that we are similar to everyone else, robs us of our uniqueness, our identity. The need to “hide” because norms allow a very narrow space to be our true selves consumes us. It doesn’t allow us to be who we truly are. Worrying about who we need to be eats into our mental space which we would have otherwise utilized to work on our craft, our passion, our purpose.
“Belonging” is the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle I was looking to solve! It is the answer to why most people are unable to pursue their potential in a way that is fun and inspiring – it is because a lot of their energy goes into trying to “fit in” to what is the norm within society, communities, the work place and sometimes even within family! The moment we can allow ourselves to be who we truly are, magic happens.
The Magical Circle of Vulnerability-Authenticity-Belonging :
Vulnerability, as Dr Brene Brown defines it, is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is courage – its is about showing up and being seen. To be seen, we need to lift off the shield that covers parts of us which we feel are “weak”. But “weakness” is what makes us real! It is what makes people connect with us because it gives them a chance to support us and make us feel “belonged”! Superheroines and Superheroes with weaknesses are loved and adored because it is their weakness that makes them relatable.
Authenticity is the relentless practice of bravely and unapologetically being who we are instead of trying to be who we think we are supposed to be or expected to be. The courage to be authentic, creates space for us to wholeheartedly embrace, relish and share our unique gifts with the world. It helps us discover our passion and purpose. Being seen for who we are helps us create the tribe of those who accept and appreciate us for who we truly are. We cannot be authentic until we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable because it is a choice to take the risk to be “real” and it is being “real” that opens the doors for genuine and strong connections.
Belonging, our primal need to be a part of a community, a tribe, a movement towards a larger cause and yet retain our individuality is quite like a tightrope walk. It may sometimes seem like a constant push and pull – to be a part of something larger and “belong”, we are tempted to “fit it” and the moment we try to “fit in” we begin to lose our uniqueness. To me, it seems like what opens us up for that connection which forges true “belonging” with the outer world begins with what goes on in our inner world. When we create a safe space for ourselves within our inner world by accepting ourselves for who we are and loving ourselves unconditionally, we connect with ourselves deeply. This healthy relationship with oneself, needs one to be vulnerable in ones’ own presence and be “authentic” with oneself and therefore wholeheartedly “belong” to our own self. It is this unconditional self acceptance, self love and connection with ourselves that opens us up to muster the courage to be vulnerable to the world outside, to be our authentic selves and to respect the vulnerability and authenticity of the person in front of us! It is a two way street.
It is amazing how this concept holds good to various scenarios – successful teams that bond as one unit and achieve the seemingly impossible or those unique Thought Leaders who believe in themselves and therefore make themselves vulnerable and take the risk of being laughed at, rejected and dismissed before people fall in love with who they truly are!
It is this magical Circle of Vulnerability-Authenticity-Belonging that creates space for us to enjoy the pursuit of our potential with childlike enthusiasm and lightness of being and in the process connect with ourselves and others so deeply that we build bonds that last a lifetime. It is this circle that creates an inner world within that makes us feel “belonged” and connected to every space, every where, all the time in the outer world!