Dear Harlan: I feel like I don’t belong and I don’t matter. I can’t shake this feeling; I’ve always felt this way. Fitting in has never been easy for me. I’m in my late teens, and I thought this would change once I started college. Do you have any suggestions? — Don’t Belong
Dear Don’t Belong: I have a wife I love, children I adore and a life filled with meaning. Despite all those things, I still struggle with feeling like I belong. It’s especially hard for me to find close male friends – I’ve never been good at male bonding. It’s always been this way for me. Outside my family, I’m constantly searching for connection. It’s why I do what I do. See, searching for connection is where I found meaning. It’s where I met people I never imagined meeting. It’s where I discovered stories that moved me. It’s how I came to the realization that most people are seeking belonging and meaning, too. Not belonging has connected me to more people than I ever imagined. This is what connects me to you, and it’s what connects so many of us. We are everywhere. It’s hard to believe so many people feel the same way when we are bombarded with images of people constantly connecting with others via social media, but it’s true. Instead of fighting the feeling, lean into it. Search for meaning by having new experiences.
Commit to doing one thing you love for a year, and do it with people who love doing the same thing. Don’t expect these people to do anything for you; instead, simply seek meaning in the experience of doing. It can be a class, activity or a spiritual journey. For example, I found improv comedy. Doing improv gave me meaning. I discovered that many improvisers, like me, are misfits of society who long for a sense of belonging. Another experience that gave me meaning was running the Chicago Marathon. I trained with strangers as part of a program anyone could join. While I didn’t make lifelong friends, I found profound meaning and life lessons that I carry with me to this day. I realized that I can do anything. No one can take this away from me. You are a beautiful person with a life filled with meaning. In addition to searching for experiences, talk to a doctor or therapist. There could be some other issues affecting how you interact and see the world. Stay in touch. I want to hear about what you discover.