3 Things to Do When You Feel Like You Don't Belong

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Occ med. What’s that?

I was feverishly looking up what that was. Isn’t that the name of one of Jeff Dunham’s ventriloquist dummies?

How do you build a culture of safety?

Does that mean an employee wears his safety goggles all the time and no one has lost a limb in the last year? Or are you creating a culture where it’s the norm to have tough conversations with the confidence that you’ll still have your job the next day? (Yep... I really asked that...)

As I looked around the room, I felt out of place... like I didn't belong. They were talking over my head. I didn’t have experience with wage analysis, offering a company car as an incentive, or hiring the perfect CFO.  And I’ve just been invited to lead this group of HR rock stars?

I had stepped into a space where I didn’t feel equipped. 

In situations where we feel like a fish out of water, our natural instinct is to try to fit in. We shape shift and posture our way to make sure people like us, get the group to accept us, and display our competency with bold statements. (Basically, bullshit our way through it.)

I know a bullshitter when I see one and that’s not how I wanted this situation to play out.

Instead of posturing and trying to prove myself in front of these people who were clearly smarter than I was in this arena, I decided to do three things: 

1. Take a posture of learning.

Contrary to popular belief, we don’t need to know everything. We don’t need to rise up and compete with the competency of others. We need to position ourselves to learn from them. Not knowing something is not a weakness. In fact, taking a posture of learning is a strength because it requires us to get curious. It demands that we ask better questions. It gives us an opportunity to gain wisdom and seek understanding.

Not to mention that growth and learning is one of my values; this is a perfect place for me to practice. 

2. Lean into my strengths.

Sometimes we have a ‘glass-is-half-empty’ perspective and we focus on what we’re lacking instead of leaning into what we do have. We see the deficiency in ourselves instead of giving credit to the gifts and talents we bring to the table.  Confidence isn’t being 100% certain that you can control the outcome. Confidence is knowing that you have what it takes to work through what you don’t know. Marie Forleo says that ‘everything is figureoutable’.  We figure it out by leaning into our strengths.

I might not be an HR expert (and I don’t have to be) but I know how to hold space… I know how to dig deeper with questions… I know how to bring a fresh perspective.

3. Get to know each person.

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown has a chapter titled ‘People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.’ She notes the disparity in our world where we judge people (and choose if we like them or dislike them) based on their right-wing or left-wing beliefs, their political affiliation, their race, gender, education/income level, etc. She says that we lump people together and make judgments about them as a group without moving in and building a connection with the individual. You can’t hate someone close up… when you’re invested in the relationship, you’re more willing to have the difficult conversation and view life through their lens.

Now I’m not saying that I’m getting ready for a mud-slinging hate fest… far from it. My intention is to get to know each person individually so I can better serve them. By ‘moving in’ and investing in the relationship, trust will be earned, value will be recognized, and connection will trump adversity.  

I’m giving myself permission to be uncomfortable as I step into the role of leading this group. When I take the lead and go first with vulnerability, it gives others the courage to do the same. I'm going to listen more than I talk, get curious, do my research, have a servant's heart, and make genuine connections. 

You may find yourself in a similar situation where you're just not sure if you can (or should) hustle for your worth. Maybe drop the armor, seek first to understand, recognize where you can use your strengths, and allow yourself to move into a new relationship. 

You don't have to change yourself to fit in. When you're confident in who you are, you can belong anywhere.