I’ve gotten used to being the new kid.
For the past four years, I’ve been the new kid at so many jobs and in so many situations because I keep signing fixed-term contracts and keep exploring. I decided to do an internship at the US Committee for Refugees and a immigrants for the duration of my senior year of college though I knew nothing about the refugee struggle. I joined AmeriCorps to “make a difference” not understanding what that difference would be. I hung out in Haverford, PA for seven weeks one summer supervising brilliant high school students. I moved to Connecticut for ten months for a JOB. I dated a lot of people who treated me horribly.
I’m currently writing this from Ohio where I’ve been since Sunday with eight students, some of whom are pilots and all of whom are here for, well, an airplane convention.
I know nothing about airplanes or the people who fly them, but when my boss asked me to advise this trip, my immediate reaction was “I mean why not?”
This isn’t a post about saying yes to things because frankly, throwing “yes” around at every opportunity is exhausting and doesn’t take nearly as much skill as picking and choosing your moments, opportunities, and adventures.
Rather, this is a commentary on belonging.
I think about belonging a lot because I’m often in motion and usually in places or moments that might make others question whether or not I “belong there.”
But the trick is, this whole concept of “belonging”? It’s quite possibly a lie. What if the bigger truth, the more powerful thing, was that belong anywhere and everywhere we may be.
I was on the phone with my parents before I left on this trip, laughing about how “out of place” I would seem for the next eight days, knowing nothing about airplanes while surrounded by people from all over the country who are studying this stuff to be able to do it for at least the foreseeable future, when I realized it:
Being “new” is an emotional trip for me sometimes, and I’m not always laughing, but for the most part, being out of place can be kind of fun.
I don’t like stumbling and I don’t like making mistakes because I’m a human who was raised in a country and a culture that ingrained messages of “failure is bad” and “proficiency is power” and “conventional ways of determining this are the only things that count.”
The thing about being “out of place” is that a lot of the expectation is removed. We aren’t expected to be perfect at whatever we’re there to do because we are brand new. We aren’t expected to know everything or speak intelligently or all of these other things we may feel ourselves held to in our everyday routines. We’re granted the permission to sit back, to ask questions, to learn.
Yesterday, I flew a simulated flight in an “aircraft” that most everyone on this team has drooled over at some point (please mentally picture me in a cockpit for a second for a giggle).
The people in the simulator with me were all pilots. I had never touched a yoke (aka airplane steering wheel). I asked a lot of questions, giggled along as I struggled to keep the plane in a straight line (THAT STUFF IS HARD DUDES!!!!), and high fived everyone when I landed the “plane” safely (albeit a bit roughly).
I left, shaking hands with a few seriously impressed people (I am, laughably, a natural), and realized that I’m tired of having to feel intimidated. Tired of our internal autopilots being set to “never enough”. Tired, especially, of giving space to the consideration that “we don’t belong here.”
So let me say it: YOU BELONG WHEREVER YOU ARE.
Whether that’s a tough graduate program, the 4.0 club/Dean’s list for the first time ever, a business meeting, at a new desk, at an old desk, in a strange state, living your parents’ house past the age you’d planned, holding a different opinion than usual… Anything. Anywhere. It’s your space. You are allowed to own it.
(And if you don’t like where you are, you are allowed to go somewhere else. And if you DO like where you are, you don’t have to feel bad for staying right there).
BTW, I have compiled a list of places and spaces and moments I “didn’t” or “don’t” belong (by regular standards or according to the doubt bugs in my head) but have been/am anyway, for your reading pleasure:
1. My current job (because someone somewhere thinks I should have a master’s to be qualified for this field)
2. An Airplane Convention (because I can’t stand up and identify that airplane that just landed on the runway)
3. Footbag World Championships (because up until 6 months before I went there, I had no idea what that sport was)
4. Honestly, most sporting events (because lets be real I don’t understand most sports)
5. A Networking Event (because I’m not driven and inspired by the things that most of these people are)
6. Working with refugees (because until eight months in, I had NO idea what these people had gone through)
7. Working at a homeless shelter (because I didn’t know what I was doing)
8. An engineering school (because my degree was in psychology)
9. A suicide advisory board (because I’m only peripherally in the field of mental health and don’t personally have a story that involves suicide)
10. Johns Hopkins University’s CTY summer program (because i had never worked in residence life before)
11. In a relationship (because I’ve ended those before)
12. Denmark, twice (because I don’t speak the language and am absolutely an outsider)
13. Standing up and speaking at the biggest Model UN conference in the US (because I didn’t grow up doing it, I knew none of the procedures or terms, i had never studied international policy, and had joined the team late solely because they had been given Denmark and I love that country)
14. A yoga studio (because I taught myself yoga and these places are pricey and touchy-feely/spiritual and I don’t know how to chant anything except for “om” and feel ridiculous in half the poses)
15. A Panel to talk About My Career Path (because I don’t have a career and I’m making my path as I go along)
But all of those “becauses” aren’t my reasoning. That’s the conventional “should.” I did/am doing these things because, well, I want to, and maybe just maybe… I can belong wherever I please.