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Outsiders & Belonging

Updated: Apr 2, 2022

I have always felt like an outsider. "Other' if you will. Like I didn't fully belong to whatever crowd I was then a part of. Or as Groucho Marx used to say "I would never belong to any club that would have me as a member."

I suppose the cause emanates from childhood, like so much of what comes to imprint us for the duration of our lives. The thing about causes, if you will, is that one will never know for sure, nature vs. nurture and all that; as the parent of an adopted child, in my experience it is a bit of both. So who knows where precisely this feeling of non-belonging first plunked its cap onto my head.

Perhaps it was growing up in a freewheeling, beachy community, where a pack of us loud, noisy, dirty neighborhood kids were pretty darn feral - if there was ever a grown-up around, it was the exception rather than the rule, and no one seemed to be in charge of our feeding or upkeep. I remember that, by the age of 11, I was hitchhiking solo up to a local stable to be around the horses I so loved but couldn't even dream of affording to ride much less own. Still, I was happy to work long days and clean stalls for a chance just to be around them, and on the rare occasion, to even ride one of the 'rejects' that no one else wanted to bother with.

Probably like a lot of grown ups, I can't help but look back on some of the incredibly stupid things I did with surprise at having survived - like jumping on a rarely ridden, barely tame horse in the no man's land of hilly 10 acre pasture, no saddle or bridle in sight, usually in the dark of night when the stable owners were drunk and asleep - these horses would inevitably gallop full speed straight down the rocky, steep mountainside and try to wipe me off on one of the oak trees near the barn. If I managed to stay on the horses' back, which I always did (falling off meant a definite injury), I would leap off the horse at the bottom of the hill, get ready to hike back up to the top and try my luck on the next horse that would let me close enough to jump onboard.

But even though I bonded with some of the other kids at the stable over our mutual love of horses, they all had parents that paid for riding lessons or even to own a horse of their own, they all had family cars that worked well enough to transport them to and from the stables, nether of which described me.

High school was when my sense of never belonging probably felt the most acute, and I know I am far from alone in this. I excelled academically and had some cool friends, but no matter, I still never felt like I belonged, despite going through the motions (people thought that I was happy and well adjusted and in reality I was neither). Looking back, it seems to me that this was a key inflection point, where if I had had the benefit of a mentor, a grown-up, even a wise peer, I might have come to understand that lots of people likely, as part of the human condition, shared my same sense of being an outsider. That we are, as a friend used to say, all alone in this together.

I was lucky in college and young adulthood to make some amazing lifelong friends that I now consider family (friends being the family we choose), and I have come to value these relationships more with every passing year.

And I must admit that the pundits were right, an increasing sense of wisdom does accompany one's increasing age. I have seen enough that I do not take for granted each passing day or month, and have seen too many friends fall away over the years, whether through unlucky health or poor choices or one of life's many other inexplicable circumstances. So although I have never been able to fully shake that sense of not belonging - exacerbated by a recent professional situation where bosses seemed to pride themselves on being casually cruel, playing blatant favorites, and valuing blind obedience and faux loyalty more than creativity or hard work, a scenario reminiscent more of the worst political actors than a creative company - my fallback has been the realization that lots of people, capable, gown up people - share this sense of 'other.'

So what I remind myself is that I belong to Me. That many if not most of the folks surrounding me at any given moment, whether it be industry executives, other mothers, or a roomful of strangers, likely share at least some of this very human trait. I belong to Me. This sounds overly simplistic but it works. So now, on a good day, I consider myself, though secure in the unconditional love of my friends, a happy party of one.

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