There's No One Way to Belong

By: Alyssa Fechner, Regular Contributor

In about the second grade I started feeling like I didn’t have a place to fit in— I didn’t have a friend group, per se. I had lots of friends, and some really great friends, but I didn’t fit into any group at large. When I spent time with my friends in group settings, they always had the inside track— they had all just come from cheerleading practice (a team which I was not a part of), or they all watched Celebrity Deathmatch on MTV last night, and had caught coverage of the Aaliyah plane crash (I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV). It had always seemed like these other kids had something to latch onto; they had something by which to identify themselves.

I, on the other hand, was not a gymnast. I was not a bookworm. I was not a teacher’s pet. I was not a miniature artist. I was everything, all at once. I had friends from each of these areas of my personality, because I didn’t subscribe to just one. I wasn’t the perfect piece to fit just one friend group, but one that would fit into many— a Swiss Army knife.

That took a long time to figure out though. It was a very long time before I understood that instead of feeling like I didn’t belong, I should feel that I rather belong everywhere, that belonging is a matter of deciding to, and that at any moment I have that capability to be whatever and whomever I choose. In fact, in high school, when I played on the varsity volleyball team, I ran into this same feeling again. In order to progress in volleyball, I had to devote myself, all year round, to the sport of volleyball and to my team. I just wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t want to give up my off-season sleepovers with my friends from my AP courses. And I was not about to give up my spot on the 4x1 relay team. I didn’t like the idea that in order to embrace one part of my life and identity, I had to deny another. 


This past weekend, I got married. I have been living with my now husband for over a year, and when we made it official, my parents asked if we felt different. We both replied that we did not: the same as you do not wake up on the morning of your birthday feeling one year older. When I asked the same of them though, my dad told us that he did feel different. “You used to belong to only me. You were just my daughter.” 

What I replied was that I didn’t and don’t “belong” to anyone, unless of course I “belong” to everyone and everything relationally (ie: I am Travis’s wife; I am Mark’s daughter; I am Yetta’s student; I am the nail salon’s client; I am my brothers’ sister; I am the lemon tree’s caretaker; etc.).  And following that provision, belonging to one of these categories of identity or being has no impact on another. I can be as much a sister now, as I was before I was also a wife. In the same vein, I am just as much a daughter as I was before, too. 

When we are open up to all our unique facets of being, and we don’t become so entrenched in trying to define ourselves unilaterally, there is so much in each of us to discover. If I had only embraced my volleyball player self in high school, I would never have discovered that I was the fastest female sprinter my school had yet seen. If I only devoted myself to being a scholar, I wouldn’t have found my sisters through I AM THAT GIRL. If we don’t branch out and fill up all of the curious and wonderful spaces of ourselves, we’ll never know how much awesome we can hold. 

My advice? Fill up. Fill up until you are bursting with light. 

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There are so many ways to belong and find your identities. Open yourself up to all opportunities for connection and experience and enjoy where the journey takes you!

About Alyssa

alyssa.jpgAlyssa grew up on a diet of grilled cheese, books, and ice cream with books predominating. She recently graduated with a Master’s degree in English and lives in her favorite place with her favorite fiancé (she only has one). Post-graduation, her plans are to start a new women’s magazine that leaves women feeling GREAT about who they are, and to open a publishing house for untapped talent.


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