The Reward Is Great

You are only free when you realize you belong no place- you belong every place- no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great- Maya Angelou

Dearest Wee Bee,

When I first read this quote by the phenomenal Maya Angelou, right at the beginning of Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest For True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, I didn’t know what to think. Much like Brene herself writes about how she didn’t know what to do with these words when she first heard Dr. Angelou speak them during an interview, I have to admit that I, too, have been wrestling with them for well over a year.

I have known these words are important– quite possibly the touchstone to hacking away at my new path– but still…they are words that take a great deal of reckoning.  Because they mean the difference between fitting in and belonging, something that I am, at 2 weeks shy of 40 years old, only just starting to really understand.

The only way I can think of to accurately describe what this fitting in thing really means is to go back to something I use all the time as a teacher.  We have this thing that we teachers do, when we’re trying to get students to picture what “X” (writers’ workshop or readers’ workshop or math conferences or…you get the idea) LOOKS LIKE, SOUNDS LIKE, and FEELS LIKE.  So, fitting in, for me, if I wrote it on a piece of chart paper and turned it into an anchor chart, would be:

*it looks like everything from wearing the uncomfortable “cool” pants instead of the snowpants to stay warm to starving yourself with an eating disorder to make your body, quite literally, fit in with the “ideal”

*it sounds like staying silent when every cell in your body is screaming at you to speak out and use your voice

*it feels like…one tiny step away from falling off the edge of the tiniest tight rope in the world…like anxious to the Nth degree, because you question every single move you make or word you say or emotion you feel or tear you cry, because it might mean the difference between fitting in or being excluded

But you know, when you write it out in an anchor chart, it looks and sounds and feels…really icky.  While you might, for a moment or two or seven, fit in with everyone else, you lose belonging to your own self.  Fitting in never actually feels good- it only serves as a distraction to who you really are: complicated, messy, beautifully human.

And so each day, I wrestle a bit more with what Maya’s words might mean, with how this idea of belonging everywhere and nowhere all at the same time might look if I can use it in my own life. Because, wee girl, what she really means is that once you belong to yourself, and nowhere else, you actually find that you DO belong everywhere, because once you’re your own, no matter where you are or who you’re with, you’re always your own- that doesn’t change.  You become your own anchor.  You become your own measure of worth, as you stop asking yourself: does this make me fit in?  And instead start asking yourself each day: does this “belong” with ME?

It is deep change, way down to my bones, peeling back layer after layer of fitting in as I figure out who I am, so I can truly belong.  For someone who spent the better part of her life trying to fit in, instead of truly belonging to myself first and foremost without wavering no matter what– this is HARD.

And yet, in the same breath, easy.

Because, my wee beauty, when you belong to yourself you get to wear the super comfortable overalls instead of the gorgeous but circulation-cutting-off dress pants.

And while it took me to almost 40 years of age to figure it out, I have found, once I am wearing overalls, that I can do pretty much anything, even the hard (and easy) work of just being myself.

And I know that you will find this same truth, too. Because, my sweet girl, you already are You, every single day.


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