If you are a misfit, don’t give up! Find your gang

Agne Nainyte
July 19, 2021

Can you remember that feeling when you visited your prospective parents-in-law’s house for the very first time? How did it feel? I guess you didn’t feel at home immediately. Maybe you were looking around comparing things with your own parents’ home. You probably felt a bit shy, cautious and alien. No matter what you tried to do, that sense of belonging was missing!

And that’s normal because it was your first time visiting a completely different place, so comfortable for others – after all, it’s their home – but not yours. However, in many cases, as you visit the same place and interact with the same people over and over again, you get to know them better, so you’re no longer an alien anymore. After a while you get so comfortable that it feels like home. Voila! You belong and it feels great!

But this doesn’t always happen. You simply don’t get that at-home feeling and always feel like a guest – conscious of your surroundings. After a while, naturally, you are less inclined to spend time there and start looking for excuses to stay somewhere else – a place which feels cozier to your soul.

You recognize this same experience in a company if you are a new recruit or sometimes if you’ve been working there for a while but still feel like a misfit.

Why is belonging so important to us?

Humans are social creatures. We need interaction with each other. Although different people have diverse needs in social relations, we all crave to connect with other people. This explains why it’s important for us to have a feeling of belonging in a new place. It makes us feel more comfortable and open.

In Uganda most people belong to a certain group. Members support each other when it's necessary.

This becomes especially important at workplaces because we want our employees to feel secure. This releases the creative freedom to express themselves and showcase their talents. In other words, we want our employees to feel trusted and happy where they are and with what they do. Happy employees create happy customers, which is highly motivating for top management. Typically, that trust takes root once your employees feel at home – but this can take a while.

The lonely ONLY ONE there problem

Often it’s hard for us to feel like we belong to a group, not because the environment is not right, but because we are the ONLY ONE like that. The only woman among men or vice versa – the only man among women. The only foreigner, muslim, homosexual…

If you are in a group where you are the only one, it’s way harder to have a feeling of belonging. You are also more likely to be faced with microaggressions. These are small remarks, questions or actions which are often intended as a joke, but are taken to heart by the other person. It’s like a “death by a thousand paper cuts.” For example, a Chinese student receives a remark, “Your English is so good. You aren’t Chinese, right?” and wonders whether they are being patronizing or sarcastic.

The biggest problem with microaggressions is that sometimes they are so small that people are not even aware they are offending someone. If you are that only one – that weirdo constantly walking around the office, or the only one with those far-out views, it’s natural that sometimes you want to leave everything behind and simply run away. But are you sure somewhere else will really be different? The running away option, in a way, is the easiest route but not always the most effective. So what can you do instead?

If you feel lonely and a misfit where you are, explore your surroundings and find your tribe.

Invest time to find your gang

Just think of how you feel when you enter a conference room where an event is about to start in 30 minutes. So this is the so-called “networking time.” But what do you do first? Think for a second… Typically you look around and try to find a person who maybe you already know. If that’s missing, then you start looking for people with whom you could naturally relate. Maybe it’s the same gender, nationality or a person coming from a similar company. Finally, finding this easily relatable person makes your encounter with the new place so much more comforting.

So, if you feel you are currently a misfit in your organization, don’t be disheartened. Invest time in finding your like-minded gang! These are the people who will accept you the way you are, so you can truly be authentic – no need to wear a mask. In most cases your colleagues will not wear tags, so you will have to use your natural instincts to decide whether they can become your gang members or not. Stay curious, patient and never give up searching for like-minded people who will help you feel at home at your workplace. Good luck!

Originally this article was published at nainyte.com website.

Written by
Agne Nainyte
Digital Transformation Consultant, Schuberg Philis
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