After my youngest son was born, I made the decision to stop working. I had a wonderful career and was preparing for the next steps, but I knew that it was time to walk away and focus on my family. I had worked with an awesome team of coworkers who had been with me through some of the craziest experiences (if I ever write a book, people wouldn’t believe some of the things we had to endure). After a few months of sitting at home with a newborn, I signed up for two international “Mom” groups because I was hoping to meet other moms who were looking for connection as well. Let me tell you my experience in one group was H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E. The sheer level of “mean girl” behavior and outright exclusion was spirit-breaking. When I returned to work part-time for our church, the leader of the group made sure to constantly remind the group that it “may not be the best place for working Moms.” I stayed in that group for WAY too long - probably partially out of spite, but mostly because I *did* connect with a few moms, though we were definitely not part of the “inner circle” by that point. Looking back, I probably could have walked away a lot sooner - but I was in a strange place. I didn’t know the Moms in my older son's grade because as the late pick-up Mom (and by late pick up I mean “one of the last kids in after school care” pick up). My daughter had just started school and most of the Moms were older, sending their last kid off to school and working full time. I was craving connection like we all do, and since we are wired for connection, at times that can leave us attaching to the wrong people.
When I’m working with clients who have found themselves in sticky relationships or bad friendships, they usually start with the same story: “at first they seemed so nice” or “they weren’t always like this.” The truth is, they probably *were* always like that, but we turn a blind eye to those things when are trying our best to belong.
The crazy part of belonging is that I think we often confuse it with “fitting in.” Fitting in is when we have to change ourselves and step outside our values and boundaries in order to be accepted and included by a certain group or person. Belonging is when those around us accept us wholeheartedly for exactly who we truly are, flaws and all.
I wanted to fit in with the ladies of the Moms group because I was isolated at home. In hindsight, some of them would not have been people I would have *ever* sought out, mostly because our values just weren’t aligned. Compromising my values to be a part of the group left me with many uncomfortable feelings, including some pretty strong anger.
When we are not aligned with our values, we create discomfort in ourselves because at our core we know this is not who we are. Think about a time when you agreed to hang out with someone but you really weren’t feeling it - and how uncomfortable that interaction was. I think Dr. Seuss said it best: “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” We are not made to all be the same, and if we were it would be boring. Our values guide us and are what keeps us in balance, so before you sign up for a Moms club or invite someone into your inner circle, I encourage you to ask yourself this:
1) Does this person respect my boundaries?
2) Do our values align? 3) Do I walk away from interactions with them feeling rejuvenated?
If the answer is no to ANY of these questions, then you know you have entered the danger zone and you are not in congruence with yourself. If we approach each situation with our “Values and Boundaries Check” and make sure we are walking into new friendships, relationships, and ventures with our values first, we will always be moving toward more wholehearted and authentic experiences. And aren’t those the experiences we all crave when we are reaching out to connect?