For most of my life, I haven’t really felt a strong sense of belonging.
I moved around a lot and spent my teenage years in Germany, but in a distinct environment rather than immersed in German culture and schooling. In my twenties, I was barely in one place for more than a year with a career that required travel and then a time looking to settle with a partner that didn’t go as well as I hoped. My thirties held initial promise but then I had a mental breakdown and divorce. My parents divorced a couple of years before I did and lived in very different parts of the country – neither of them in a place that had meaning for me.
As of today, I’ve been in the city of Sheffield for nearing two years and it does feel like home. I associate with its perceived identity and expressed values. My partner and I have been together over six years and have fought through a number of battles together and, without meaning to, against each other. When we disagree, we can explore why and we want to resolve the differences.
Life’s events and my reflection on them, have developed my character and I’ve consciously worked to forge it into something I’m proud of – so I feel much more rooted in myself than I did in previous decades. I’m still very much a work in progress, of course.
Anyone who doesn’t feel a sense of belonging, I’d encourage to look closely at what matters to them.
I still feel broadly out of step with society, but I am proud to be. Belonging is not being accepted on someone else’s terms, especially a group’s terms, but a sense of feeling you are in good company (which you can choose) and valued for who you are (which is hugely important). It is being able to give back to that circle with love, care and attention, without feeling it was merely a transaction.
Belonging doesn’t mean there will always be agreement, but there will always be care and concern.