True Belonging, Impostor Syndrome, and The Joy of Not Fitting In

Is Our Impostor Syndrome Telling Us Something?

True belonging starts within. Rather than something someone else will give us, belonging can only emerge when we first accept ourselves at the level of inner-being.

But what on earth does it mean to belong in this way?

“Let’s hear it for the weird people: poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadours, for they teach us to see the world through different eyes.” – Jacob Nordby

The Quest for True Belonging in Life's Wilderness

There’s a strange paradox at the heart of belonging, which Brené Brown refers to in Braving The Wilderness. It’s the idea that “the quest for true belonging” is underpinned by our “courage to stand alone”. In other words, we begin to experience a feeling of deep belonging when we stop trying to fit in. That sounds kind of scary.

In her earlier book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she defined belonging as “the innate human 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.”

True Belonging And Disconnection

True Belonging is the antidote to a crisis of disconnection. And this crisis is deepened when we fail to traverse that liminal space between groups. Braving the wilderness requires us to feel alone in the face of “uncertainty, vulnerability and criticism.” This is the definition of wilderness when the world feels hostile and “like a political and ideological combat zone”.

But this is important because we become tied to the need to fit in, gain approval, and do what the group needs of us. Which ignores this more resounding call for belonging that we all have. That “we’re connected by love and the human spirit. No matter how separated we are by what we think and believe, we are part of the same spiritual story.”

Belonging In The Wilderness

This reminds me of a story about a Welsh rugby player called John Taylor.

He became injured during the 1968 Lions tour of South Africa, the best team in the world at the time. Taylor couldn’t train but the doctors thought they heal his leg right before the series ended. So while he recovered he had time on his hands to explore the local towns and cities. “The more he saw” of the apartheid regime, “the more incensed he became”.

He chose to boycott future games against South Africa – home and away, for both Wales and The Lions.

This decision not to play had an impact on his career. He was looked down on by the rugby establishment and his fellow players at the time for bringing politics into rugby. Something they believed shouldn’t happen. He was very much braving the wilderness with the courage to stand alone in this way.

In a powerful documentary, Welsh rugby legend Gareth Edwards travels through the country, reliving those tours. He speaks with South Africans who were excluded from the team because of the colour of their skin and discovers that many people see Taylor as a true rugby hero during that time.

They talk about how Taylor chose to make huge personal sacrifices for something bigger than himself. He denied the voice of external authority that said, “just shut up and be a rugby player, prove you can be the best by beating the best”, and “politics is not for people like you, it’s for politicians, they can sort this”.

True Belonging Stands Out

When the British rugby unions finally decided not to play South Africa, it was a significant part of the vast sea change which eventually saw the end of apartheid. It was a huge wake-up call. As it turned out, Rugby could and DID play a part in politics. But it needed people to stand with courage and sacrificial bravery.

Taylor testified to a truth that he felt in his heart and knew he would need to stand alone in the wilderness to carry through. When you hear the people in South Africa who felt seen by Taylor saying that he was a true rugby legend and their rugby hero, you see the True Belonging that extends beyond the approval, fitting in. He might have acquired other gains from staying away from the wilderness and keeping his head down. But some things (and other people) feel too important for us to ignore.

“Once we belong thoroughly to ourselves and believe thoroughly in ourselves, true belonging is ours.” – Brené Brown

Self-Belief and True Belonging

An impostor is someone who intentionally acts to mislead others into believing they are someone they’re not. Usually to gain something from the situation. It requires enormous self-belief and confidence. It’s where we get the term “con-man”. The “Confidence Man” is someone who has the confidence to gain trust, belief, and confidence from the world around them.

At its basic level, the impostor is acutely aware of their alienation within the particular context. They deliberately act to encourage people’s trust in their in-authenticity. This is very different from impostor feelings we might experience in everyday life.

Impostor Syndrome and True Belonging

Impostor syndrome is the feeling that arises from the belief that we are not as competent as other people. Or we are not as capable as other people think we are. In other words, it’s the feeling that we don’t quite fit.

But as we’ve seen, fitting in is different from belonging. This is why impostor syndrome is a solution rather than a problem. It shows us something true for all of us.

We often seek to belong by asking how to fit in better. But what if we only find the freedom to belong by accepting that we can’t truly fit anywhere if we’re looking for it?

Becoming The Wilderness

Brené Brown says, “the special courage it takes to experience true belonging is not just about braving the wilderness, it’s about becoming the wilderness….” In the sense that once we disconnect from the heart of those things that separate us, we must become the heartland of connection with people who are different from us. She says, “we’re going to have to sign up, join and take a seat at the table. We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”

This is not easy. It requires enormous amounts of courage and vulnerability. To “get uncomfortable and learn how to be present with people — without sacrificing who we are.” These are the moments that change everything. It demands creativity, grace, and patience. To make it up as we go. Not to condone things we see causing harm. But like John Taylor, to stay in the arena, having the conversations, explaining why we refuse to go where we’re expected to go. To remain calm. And to forge a new path as we go. We can’t walk anyone else’s path to find our own.

If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” – Joseph Campbell

The reminder that “true belonging is not something you negotiate externally; it’s what you carry in your heart. It’s finding the sacredness in being a part of something. When we reach this place, even momentarily, we belong everywhere and nowhere. That seems absurd, but it’s true.”

Belonging and The Haven

The Haven is a community for gentle rebels and creative misfits. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, where you’re from, or what you believe. It’s a place built on a foundation of compassion, equality, and acceptance.

“Belonging” is one of the monthly themes we explore from different angles. We look at nine core areas of human flourishing each year. This gives us the space and rhythm for new seeds to take root and grow within, around, and between us.

Whether you need a short break from the noise of the world out there or you’re up for taking a long-term slow dive into the possibilities for your future, you’re welcome to join us. Learn more here.

Whether you need a short break from the noise of the world out there or you’re up for taking a long-term slow dive into the possibilities for your future, you’re welcome to join us. Learn more here.