When I was younger, I fantasized about being a regular at a coffee shop—something about being recognized on sight and the warmth that came with that was super appealing to me. The same feeling applies when it comes to books and movies that emphasize the idea of “finding your people”—I loved mediums that described that perfect fit, where you finally find the organization/club/group of people that you know you’re meant to be in. Those kinds of stories instilled in me unrealistically high expectations for the day that I finally become The Regular: that I’d walk into the room and instantly find myself at home; that I’d know all the names to match the faces; that I’d never have to face that quiet, numbing feeling of distance when you’re with a group of people but not really with them.
Looking back, I realize I was chasing the idea of Belonging without considering the reality of how to actually find it. I’ve joined more clubs that I care to name, hoping to finally bask in the warm glow of yes, this is where I’m meant to be, only to stop showing up a month or a year later because hm, I guess this just wasn’t The One, I’ll have to keep looking. In my first year of university, I watched as my friends seemed to effortlessly find their people and fit into various campus associations while I—true to nature—joined a few groups, went a few times, and decided none of them had that elusive Belonging that I wanted. The cycle continued, and I indulged in sweet, sweet inertia; carried along by my own vague disappointment.
After having a couple conversations with some wise friends of mine, I’ve started thinking: maybe I’m going about this in all the wrong ways. Belonging might be something you have to cultivate. It failed to occur to me—for any club that I had quit in the past—that if only I had persevered and really tried to put myself in the thick of things, I could’ve had a shot at creating the Belonging I spent so long trying to seek out. Instead of imagining myself as a single puzzle piece trying to find a specific puzzle that I’d fit into, I should’ve accepted that I’d have to build the puzzle around myself. Some things in life don’t come pre-made, and maybe this is one of them.*
*Of course, there are exceptions. Also, I feel like that whole last paragraph was very Oprah-esque and maybe the Belonging that I’m seeking is something unattainable, and I should just lower my expectations a few notches?
When I put it this way, it seems like something that I should’ve known by now. In fact, I’m surprised my own metaphor didn’t give me a hint: to be a regular, you have to go into the coffee shop a lot—you can’t just walk in, expecting them to know who you are and what you like. Why would a new club or a new job be any different?