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I was looking for something to read last week on my vacation. I happened upon Brene  Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness. I first heard of Brene through her TED talk on October 6, 2010 on the power of vulnerability. I liked what I heard.

Her book intrigued me. The third chapter was titled “The Quest for True Belonging.” In it she defines Belonging as “the innate desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

While Brene indicates this definition has stood the test of time, she also says the definition of “true belonging” is incomplete. “Being ourselves means sometimes having to find the courage to stand alone, totally alone. …it became clear that it’s not something we achieve or accomplish with others; it’s something we carry in our heart.”

The conversation and her own story helped me reflect on my own “quest” or “journey” to true belonging. I share my story as a way to encourage your own.

The stories of true belonging seem to have some common threads. Many start with the principals looking “out there” for answers to their belonging, rather than looking “in here.” My story is no different.

From the time I was very young, I viewed my father’s ‘corrections’ as an indication that I wasn’t good enough. So I tried harder. This ‘trying harder’ translated into the philosophy I would live by for the next 30 years. I thought doing things for others would mean they would like me more. I suppose at some level I was striving for perfection, not realizing at the time what an unattainable goal that was.

My ‘philosophy’ continued into my teenage years of dating, and into my 20’s. I was a ‘nice guy.’ The kind of boy you’d want to bring home to meet your parents. I spent a lot of time meeting other people’s needs without a full understanding of my own. I also spent a lot of time trying to hide my ‘dark side’ from others for fear they wouldn’t like me if they saw my temper or my judgmental side.

By the time I got married at 25 I had done enough ‘inner work’ to have an inkling of who I was, but had yet to develop the courage to create the space I needed to fully grow into that person. It would be another 10 years until a marriage counselor told me that I was “terribly over functioning in my marriage.”

By that time I had a three-year old who was such a huge part of my world. I wanted to be the best father ever. We had a great time. I was a great playmate. I also created an unhealthy dependency for her on me to be her playmate. The ‘uncoupling’ of this side of our relationship would be painful.

After the counselor said what she did, I spent a lot of time ‘unpacking’ the origin of my ‘doing for’ behavior. I realized that what it had gotten me was working harder than others at my relationships. It’s not easy to come face to face with your life’s philosophy and realize that parts of it were a ‘crock.’

Then I began the process of ‘reclaiming’ me. The first thing I needed to learn how to do was to say ‘no.’ I was pretty sure that the earth would shake when I did that. It was difficult, but it was the first step. Then, there was the soul-searching of who I wanted to be, and why I was here. I was so used to deferring to others. I had to find my ‘voice.’

I next had to be willing to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge my darkness; at one time this was my worst fear. One little secret. Those that knew me, already had seen that side. I wasn’t hiding anything. This was a very hard part of the journey, as opportunities to be vulnerable and accept all of me were difficult. I had wired myself to believe that the ‘dark’ side of me was not okay. It took perseverance and a willingness to reveal those parts of me. While I didn’t like that side of me, I came to realize they were part of me, just as the ‘light’ was. In exchange for my willingness to be vulnerable around my dark side, I experienced deeper relationships. There was a new richness to the fabric of my life.

At the beginning of this journey I don’t believe I knew to call it my ‘true belonging,’ nor would I have known it was a journey to find me. I did sense, however, that it was a journey long overdue, and that it would determine a lot about the quality and happiness of the remainder of my life.

I am writing this over 28 years from the genesis of my journey home to me. I smile as I review the myriad of pictures of my life since the beginning of that journey. Remarriage, blended family, community of close friends, job success, struggles with children, children graduating from high school, the girls from college, loss of my job, prostate cancer, starting a company, care of my elderly father, birth of my first grandchild, and then the second, the marriage of my son, death of my father, marriage of a daughter, birth of a third grandchild, many dinners together, 25 years of a beautiful marriage… doing life as me.

I can’t say exactly when I arrived ‘home.’ I’m sure there was some sort of ’embrace,’ likely some tears, and a sense of relief that the land of good intentions was far behind me. Today, I recognize me in many of my client’s stories about their journeys. I know that the journey to true belonging is the journey to greater happiness, peace, and genuine joy. Authenticity takes courage. It takes a desire to know your ‘true’ self and be okay with others knowing all of you. It is what the world begs to see from us. In the grand scheme, it is the ‘who’ we are intended to be. Many blessings to those of you still on your journey to your true self. May you find your way ‘home.’

To a better you…