All of us want to belong. We want to fit. Our craving to feel seen and accepted and understood, to feel that we are valued and that we have meaningful connections to the people who are important to us is at the heart of both our greatest joys in life and our greatest sorrows.
Those of us lucky enough to grow up in an environment with that kind of psychological (to say nothing of physical) safety can sometimes take this for granted as we move out into the world. Every teenage movie and TV series chronicles the shock and heartache of that journey, and regardless of how severe or mild a time any of us had, we all eventually had to start trying to figure out what matters to each of us when it comes to fitting.
I think the biggest surprises, however, are when you suddenly find yourself fitting where you didn't expect to, or not fitting where you always assumed you would. It's the latter I want to talk about today.
We all make choices -- what career we want, who to marry, where to live, what job to take, who our friends are -- based on what we think we know about ourselves and what we understand of the people and circumstances around us. It's very easy to mistake the high associated with trivial common ground as a gateway for a meaningful connection, only to realize later that you made a mistake.
Even harder sometimes is the other reality that frequently throws us off: people change. We change. Others change. And the common ground that used to anchor relationships and matter could turn into sifting sand beneath our feet, and leave us wondering how we found ourselves in situation that is so completely different from what we ever meant our lives to be.
And then what? Where is the line between honoring your commitment versus being true to yourself?
An old friend and mentor once told me, "Every good person is entitled to change their mind." I think about this a lot when faced with these kinds of moral dilemmas, and I like the sentiment, but I would probably phrase it differently.
Authenticity is something that our self-respect requires. Integrity is something that our relationships with others require. Sacrificing one for the other is almost always a choice we will come to regret. Our obligation to ourselves and the people in our lives is to balance those things with honesty and sincerity, be willing to have difficult conversations and make the best, most respectful choices we can.
Even more importantly, though, is to be graceful when others are doing the same. Especially when you don't like what it means for you.
Finding the right people and places in your life can be hard. Don't assume that other people find it any easier. Try to give the same grace you want to receive, and don't be casual in your interaction with other people's feelings.
Nothing feels better than knowing you are in the right place, at the right time with the right people. It rarely happens, and when it does we often find that we would do almost anything to hold onto it. But things do change. And most of those things, at some point, stop being as perfect a fit as they once were. It's ok to mourn that loss. And it's fair to ask yourself what changed, why and what you need next. And then it's fair to make a change. But being too desperate or impatient for the change can cause us to leave a lot of damage in our wake, and it's rare to do that and not regret it later.
The old saying (often, and inaccurately, attributed to Ghandi), "Be the change you wish to see in the world" is generally a reasonable piece of advice to apply to our actions. But I think applying that wisdom to how we make change is probably a pretty good idea, too.
I hope everyone had a great holiday season. As I mentioned in December, I'm delighted that Lawrence and I will be getting back to our weekly podcast of Grow or Die starting on January 19th. (Our first two seasons are all available on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes and Audible/Amazon.)