On Authenticity and Satisfaction: Fitting In v. Belonging


The need for belonging is a fundamental drive of men, women, and children. That is, us humans.

There is some work to do in understanding belonging.  There exists a great distinction between fitting in (FI) and belonging.

Different variations exist but belonging comes down to the same basic challenge.  We often go about trying to satisfy belonging based on the attitude and values of FI. We climb the FI tree mistakenly thinking it's the belonging tree.  We hope to find fruits of belonging on the wrong branches.

If we are to truly enjoy the satisfaction and fruits of belonging, we must focus on the very different attitude and values associated with belonging. It sounds obvious once we've brought our attention to the matter.

So let's examine the underlying values and inner attitude of each more clearly to define the opportunity for #truechange.

Before we go there, I want to note it's a deep topic and it can sometimes hurt. If that happens in your case, I encourage you to see it as a healthy growing pain. It bears mentioning, I can only write about this topic because of my own challenges and ongoing practice with it. I remind us as always that making this shift requires the effort and patience associated with all true change practice. And as always, I offer this post with the hopes it helps create positive change for those who read it.

Fitting In


FI expresses an unhealthy dependency on the acceptance of others. The need for external validation and recognition/approval-seeking become fundamental motivations driving the personality. At the heart of FI, are defense mechanisms that lead us to create a more socially acceptable version of ourselves which hide our true thoughts and feelings.

We apply learned behavior to match our understanding of expected norms. Rather than being self-expressive and free, this behavior tends to be more calculative and culturally-biased. In this way, FI represents a loss of authenticity. For example, one may say thank you in a habitual way to appear polite rather than because of genuinely feeling appreciative and grateful.


Important Additional Details

(1) When we experience fear or insecurity or recognize FI in ourselves, we sometimes think it means there's something wrong with us. As if we shouldn't have that and we should be better. No, that's not true, it's very human. What distinguishes some people from others is whether they are willing to be honest with themselves and do something about it. Each in his/her own time.

It can be challenging, but also things are as they are at this moment and therefore it's a growth opportunity.  This is also a matter of attitude.

(2) FI connects to an underlying fear of being rejected and/or not being good enough. When others like how we show up, this fear is soothed and calmed. A vicious cycle is created as we think we will only be liked for the mask we present.  So, we orient our behavior towards obtaining that liking because this keeps uncomfortable feelings at bay. Or in other cases, we rebel against or escape from those fears, which we'll discuss further below.

In caving into the demands of fear, we remain on a superficial level of dealing with symptoms rather than going after the roots. We implicitly assume that there are no other options.  So we accept impermanent and unsatisfying solutions.

(3) FI can show up in certain life situations and not others. It can be more pronounced in some areas of our lives while not others. It can vary in degree.

(4) It may sound strange but true, but our behavior can even be oriented to earning the approval of a deceased parent. I know this from experience.


Everyday Symptoms, may include one or more of the following

  • People-pleasing behaviors that feel inauthentic

  • Comparison/competition, superiority/inferiority, measurement

  • Submissiveness/Aggressiveness

  • An ambitious drive to be the best or to have the answers, which creates restlessness

  • Insecurity

  • Being critical of others when they don't live up to your expected norms of behavior

  • Social anxiety

  • Guilt, self-doubt, inner criticism, and/or shame after interactions when you don't “perform” well

  • Living in the mind all day long

  • (not a comprehensive list...)


Deeper Symptoms, may include one or more of the following:

  • A vague sense that we are somehow fraudulent, or “impostor syndrome”

  • The desire and behavioral orientation towards being universally liked

  • Living a life that does not feel like your own

  • A misalignment between one's life and one's deeper values

  • Living extensively in the future

  • Internal harshness and demands on oneself

  • A life which looks good but does not feel good

  • Not really knowing what authentic self-expression means. For example, sometimes we hear the words just be yourself. And this sounds great. But what does it mean? It's not always so easy. And that's a big part of where FI comes from.

  • Fear of scarcity—sense of not being enough or having enough is a powerful glue holding one to the course of FI

  • A feeling of mediocrity even if one is outwardly successful

  • Connections remain shallow rather than deep

  • (not a comprehensive list…)


Possibilities of Change

The one who experiences FI identifies it and decides to do something about it primarily because of these symptoms and negative consequences. Only you can determine of course whether any of the symptoms applies in your case. Yet, even if one recognizes the symptoms, deciding to change is always of course absolutely a free choice. If you choose not to, then please make that choice with a maximum of self-compassion and a minimum of self-judgment.


Values expressed in FI

In Steven Covey's famous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he details an extensive review of success literature going back to 1776. For 150 years, the focus of success literature is a Character Ethic—fundamental, universal human values and virtues.

And after that? Primarily what he calls the Personality Ethic. Superficial quick fixes, techniques, and image-crafting.

Personality is clearly more superficial than character.  True change and inner strength derive from working on the level of character, which is deeper work. It's about cultivating the better qualities we possess.

FI expresses values connected to appearance-based success, short-term thinking, vanity, comparison. “Being normal” overrides authenticity.


The Underlying Attitude in FI

The deep, typically unconscious (possibly surprising) attitude is the false hope that if one redeems themselves enough in the eyes of others, they will perhaps redeem themselves in their own eyes. Fulfillment becomes an external chase for something, always in the distance, rather than an inner realization that happens moment-to-moment.

Part of the attitude connects to the inherent discomfort of fear.  Fear typically appears to be connected to an accurate perception of reality, but may in fact be irrational.  We don't manage to confront these fears of rejection or challenge the beliefs and our own mental narratives which sustain FI behavior patterns.


Implications and Encouragement

Fortunately, once we are aware of this, we can summon the courage to realize that on other side of fear, always, is more of who we are.

We can begin to realize the greatness connected to who we actually are in our own unique brilliance. Which is about belonging.





Belonging corresponds to healthy expression of the wish to contribute, exchange, and claim one's place in the world. One identifies their own values, their strengths and weaknesses, their unique gifts and talents and interests, and moves in the direction of increasing fulfillment and positive intentionality.

Rather than being dependent on external approval, one operates from a place of inner strength and self-trust.  At the heart of belonging is being responsible for one's own thoughts and emotions, rather than relying on how others see the situation.  While one is open to the opinions of others, one has let go of the dependency on others' thoughts and leans on his/her own best judgment. 

For example, one is willing to risk rejection in the name of what he/she stands for, but more often than not in a well-considered, balanced way. Because of the self-assurance and moral courage, he/she expresses who they are with measured confidence.  Others respond to this.  Natural connection, the sense of having something to share with others, and a sense of satisfaction and feeling energized go along with belonging. 

And in a world of 7 billion diverse viewpoints, one who belongs has let go of the need to try to appeal to all of them.  One recognizes deeply that they will be liked and disliked by some regardless of how they show up, so they might as well be themselves. 


Important additional details

(1) Risking rejection is not to be confused with rebellion. Rebellion is beholden to the same dynamics as FI but uses denial as a coping mechanism.  Rebellion makes believe it is beyond FI, but the inner motivations have the same roots.  In belonging, risking rejection comes with a sense of discernment and is not done for its own sake or appearances.

(2) Belonging isn't necessarily about being big or famous. One occupies a place from which they feel a powerful, satisfying sense of enoughness, which comes with gratitude and humility. What they do in the world and the people that are around them just feel like a natural fit.

(3) I can share that this is not a steady, ongoing state for me at this moment. I speak from periods, moments, and glimpses. I still am practicing the transition to Belonging and letting go of the old patterns of FI.

(4) Belonging is not black or white. It develops along a spectrum. As with FI, its degree can vary and it can show up differently in different areas of one's life.

(5) Escape is when takes an avoidant stance towards society and is neither about fitting in nor belonging.  It is beholden to the same dynamics as FI but chooses that the safest route is to step out altogether.  This is not to be mistaken with a healthy pause, sabbatical, learning quest, or gap year. 


The Underlying Attitude

One realizes at some moment that social masks and conformity will never take them to what they are trying to realize in their lives. More than outward success based on formulas and scripts, one looks to define success on one's own terms. He/she learns to accept the risk that goes with having a less pre-defined course of action. They become willing to find their own leadership and more embracing of the possibilities that come with uncertainty, even if that means facing a lot of fear. They look to become the author of their own lives rather than drifting along by the currents of society.

There is significant challenge that comes with letting go of the references one has been given by parents, society, school, and peers. Finding what is truthful and what is false in one's existing frame of reference for oneself is a work of discernment.  It can entail an extended period of transition.


Values expressed

Authenticity, character, moral courage, self-reliance, self-responsibility, integrity.



A client had told me she suffers from impostor syndrome, one of the symptoms I mention above. She described it more or less as the fear of being revealed as a fraud. She began to let go of calming and soothing that fear in the vein of fitting in.  She began to challenge herself to express more authentically. She began to face the narratives that would keep her dissatisfied and stuck in thinking the problems were external in the circumstances.

Her bosses and colleagues were blown away by the true wisdom, insight, and intelligence of her better self.  It ironically earned her loads of recognition.  FI had of course never earned that for her in that way. She claimed self-responsibility and her whole professional situation transformed around her (promotion, raise, new projects, meeting 1:1 with CEO). It was inspiring to see.

I know a fair number of people who have embraced what it takes to find belonging.  It takes vigilance to face oneself on ever deeper levels. Among those, I have sometimes heard complaints because of the challenges which naturally arise.  Ultimately, though I never heard a single person say they would prefer to go back to the lives they were previously living. I have never met a person like Cypher in the Matrix movie.

Whichever tree you decide to climb, do it by choice and know what the implications are.  Mangos will never grow on lemon trees.

Peace, Wealth, and The Marvelous Lesson of Warren Buffett and Nonstop You

Nonstop You.” ~Airline advertisement

You do things when the opportunities come along. I’ve had periods in my life when I’ve had a bundle of ideas come along, and I’ve had long dry spells. If I get an idea next week, I’ll do something. If not, I won’t do a damn thing.” ~Warren Buffett


Let's conduct a practical comparison of the wisdom embodied in each of the quotes above.

Nonstop you may be hip, but it isn't wise.

Stick with me as we keep this very basic for the time-being.

Followed literally, the slogan implies that rest is irrelevant. A cursory examination of basic evidence brings exactly the opposite conclusion.

Nighttime happens. Weekends happen. Vacations happen.

They are necessary. They recharge and rejuvenate us. Rest connects us to natural rhythms that are inescapable not to mention enjoyable elements of life.

It's just a simple marketing message and not at all a big deal of course. But it's interesting to consider what the underlying attitude is and the cultural implications that such a message is connected to.

Life is, for example, like seasons, or the ocean, or our own breath. For each of us, and everything in nature, it goes through cycles of expansion and contraction. When we learn to tune into that and see where we are in any given moment relative to those cycles, we learn to relax and move more in flow, more in alignment with ourselves. When we fight to be in expansionary mode all the time, it is a recipe for dissatisfaction and ineffectiveness.

This fight can also lead to the sense that we are doing something wrong and even a sense of despair. Yet of course a seed that sprouts in winter is doomed.

Given that it is a marketing message, it seeks resonance with its audience. And such a large company obviously does a lot of work and throws a lot of resources at defining such a message.

The message appeals to a frequency of stress and anxiety in the audience, which has learned to subconsciously believe perhaps that this is what makes someone important.

Generally speaking, we, our western culture, practice stress and anxiety on the way to arriving somewhere else.  When we arrive somewhere else, we think the outer conditions will remove the inner tone of our lives. But we perfect what we practice. The stress and anxiety won't go away because we reached some external milestone. We'll have fed stress and anxiety super-size meals and expect them to be skinny.

If we want to learn to be at peace, if we want to be happy, we need to learn to practice the art of being at peace, and learn to cultivate happiness step-by-step.  The long way is the short cut because it's the only way that works.

And that is in no way mutually exclusive of having meaningful external goals. The point is that they can go hand-in-hand and understanding and acting on that is a higher level of practice and habit.

If for some reason you don't find yourself seeking peace, then that's of course fine.  What we want is up to each of us.  But what I'd like to encourage is not giving into the trap of wanting to be at peace and then following a path that isn't going to take you there.


Now let's bring our attention to Warren Buffett's wisdom.

You know, I always heard he is super intelligent and wise, but I never really had much exposure to his thinking until recently. I came across a page with 107 of his quotes and I was impressed to see what a remarkable man he is in many respects. I don't know much about him, but I can definitely learn something from him.

The quote above indicates one of the great keys to his success, from what I can tell. What I read in this quote is self-trust. Self-trust is foundational in us doing anything meaningful, self-expressive, and powerful in our lives.

How often, with a message of nonstop you bombarding us in all sorts of ways from different angles, might we feel something is wrong if no ideas are naturally occurring to us? How often might we compensate by trying to effort a solution? How often is there fear that that slow moment is going to somehow become permanent? (Maybe my best days are behind me! As fingernails find teeth to help them become chewed.)

So we fight against it rather than flow with it. And instead of truly enjoying a natural opportunity to gather strength for the next moment of expansion, we waste it by feeding our fear, stress, and anxiety. It puts us in touch with our innate fear of inadequacy. Quality of life suffers and our own effectiveness is limited. Because we essentially insisted it be summer while the days were getting shorter and colder. And so we missed the chance to drink hot chocolate and get warm by the fire.

In our western culture, we tend to value material success over many other possible ways of relating to life. While studies confirm this emphasis is undue beyond $75k USD income/year, I don't condemn this choice in a general way.  I also like comfort and luxury, and to each his own anyway.  (We will go deeper into money in the future.)  What I suggest though, for me as well as you, whether we are after peace, wealth, both, or pretty much anything else for that matter—learn the Marvelous Lesson of Warren Buffett and Nonstop You. Because there are a lot of messages, noise, and paths that will take us places we didn't mean to go.

A Reminder About Winning

To me, the tale of the tortoise and the hare couldn't be more profound. Let's take a second look at this beloved classic and interpret it from a new angle.


Inside the hare, the underlying attitude:

I am willing to overestimate myself and underestimate others as a way of life.

I like to measure and judge. My self-esteem is based on who I am relative to others--competition and comparison. It is based primarily on what I accomplish, not who I simply am. That is, external accomplishments feature centrally in propping my identity up.

I focus on the destination and results, to which I am of course naturally entitled. Results may not be in my control but that's all that I really care about nonetheless. I look forward to the recognition I will earn.  I dream of it. I can almost taste it.

The tortoise cannot possibly match up to my prowess. My explosive talent alone will earn me victory. I believe talent alone matters. My talent merits my arrogance. My talent merits a poor work ethic.  The actual race is a formality.

I've joined this race motivated by vanity. I want one more victory, one more notch on my belt. Why not choose somebody who is so obviously way beneath me? My thoughts, words, and actions are about ARRIVING somewhere although perhaps I pay lip service to the cliché that success is about the journey and not the destination.


Values expressed include

Appearance-based success; talent over character; results; competition/comparison; short-term thinking



The hare represents the ego.

Perhaps with a bit more humility, he could harness his raw talent towards something truly beautiful. The hare can learn better ways of being like anyone else. He's not forever condemned for losing a race. I like to think the hare learned from his failure. Because especially the one in the video is pretty cute.



Inside the tortoise, the underlying attitude:

I focus on each step. It matters not how much the odds appear to be stacked against me. I focus on and take care of all that which is in my direct control. Anything outside that is irrelevant.  I am not the type to waste lots of energy with stress, anxiety, and nerves neglecting to notice that all that is really up to me is how I run the race.

My competition has no impact on how I conduct myself. I may not have been dealt the greatest hand, but I will play it to my utmost. I believe in myself. I back up my intentions with the full strength of my will and character.

There's no use in getting anxious about the results. I have nothing to lose anyway so I can be relaxed. People don't have very high expectations of what I am capable of in this situation, but I have a hunch I can win.

I can't predict the future. There are no guarantees. But I trust that hunch and I'd like to see where that leads me. I will do my part. I will keep showing up, focused and determined, step after step after step after step. It would be easy to count myself out and entertain negative attitudes, but something deeper in me propels me forward in the face of that resistance. I draw on that in me. I will live up to that as best I can and maybe I will even inspire others.

If nothing else, this is a learning experience and an experiment that will somehow enrich my life. I am motivated to live well and express who I am.


Values expressed include

Self-trust, perseverance/determination, focus, willingness to fail, wisdom



The tortoise represents the best in each of us, our hearts and souls.

We can let the tortoise be a reminder about winning.

Let's remember to let go of the need for instant gratification, appearance-based motivations, and undue focus on competition. Let's face our fears and resistance, and the perceived weaknesses in the hand we've been dealt. Simply putting forward the best of what's available to us step-by-step even if it seems painfully slow--great, unexpected things can happen. Our character can take us further than we thought otherwise possible.

But the biggest thing is that it requires listening to ourselves rather than getting so caught up with all the noise around us.

Gain Freedom and Power by Climbing the 5 rungs of Self-responsibility


Traffic. Long checkout lines. Difficult co-workers or bosses. Technology issues. A fly buzzing against the window nonstop. And so on.

It can be almost funny when we find ourselves in circumstances that don't match what we hoped. Sometimes the irritation feels intensely personal. It can become a referendum on our whole relationship with life. (Why are you doing this to me God!?)

How we perceive and relate to undesirable situations in our lives and work determines to a certain degree our effectiveness, happiness, and even our self-worth.

Climbing the ladder of self-responsibility advances our resilience and wherewithal in navigating such situations. Like any #truechange, it's a practice that slowly erodes entrenched thought patterns with the passage of time. Old narratives fade as we re-orient ourselves again and again towards healthier ways of seeing things. With vigilance.

Observing ourselves honestly but without unnecessary criticism reveals where the growth opportunities lie. I suggest the obvious, learning to enjoy the practice rather than feeding frustration because we think we should be further ahead.

It's likely that each of us shows up at different points along this ladder in different types of situations, depending on our own personal histories and where our trigger points lie. That's certainly true for me.  I am not a stranger to blame/reactivity or the other rungs.


1. Blame/Reactivity


Fighting to preserve one's own sense of innocence in the face of circumstances that didn't go according to plan. Something other than oneself is accountable. The defensive posture is habitual and automatic.

Simple Example

During a frustrated client's call, “it isn't my fault our business partner didn't deliver to you on time. It's their fault. You're being unfair.”

Underlying Attitude

If others see me at fault, that threatens me on some level.  I choose to hold others responsible for challenging or unfortunate circumstances because it calms the fear and emotional discomfort that I unconsciously associate with being "in the wrong".

A blind spot

I don't realize that others are more sympathetic and understanding when I take ownership of a situation that I have certainly in some way contributed to, even if other factors also play into consideration.

Value expressed

Importance of others recognizing I am free of fault.


There are infinite varieties of blame/reactivity. It is safe to say that ALL heated arguments can only occur in the presence of reactivity and absence of self-responsibility.


2. Resignation


Submitting to a set of circumstances that are unpleasant or even harmful to me in some way because of my perceived inability to relate to that situation more constructively.


“I stay in this job with a boss that abuses my self-esteem because I have young children at home and the security is too important.”

Underlying attitude

I see that I have a choice relative to my circumstances but ultimately my actions reveal I don't believe I am good enough to change the circumstances in a way that can create positive change. I resign myself to the circumstances I am experiencing. What my heart wants, my longing, is immature relative to my rational considerations. I have difficulty trusting that there's better out there for me and accepting that requires willingness to transition.

A blind spot

Acceptance of an unfortunate situation in the short-term can be necessary. But at the very least, an intermediate term plan for renewing or exiting these circumstances are what good health calls for. Limiting beliefs that detract from one's sense of personal empowerment are at play. Of course, the way an individual perceives the situation is what dictates their actions--the person has not been able to clearly consider and understand the realistic choices that are available to them.

Value expressed

In this particular example, security over self-worth. This is another way of saying fear over self-love.


3. Response-ability


Recognition that there is always(!) choice in how to respond to circumstances. We don't pay lip service to attitude being what is in our power, we truly acknowledge it. This awareness is where a greater sense of freedom and personal power emerges.


“The person I am picking up is running late and we are going to arrive late to the event as a result. I choose to stay and wait because I see this as more important than being on time. I recognize this is my choice. Given the circumstances, I respond to what life presents rather than fighting against what is happening. With the dignity of my better self.”

Underlying attitude

I choose not to indulge the common temptation to blame or feel our lateness is a great, permanent tragedy. I manage my emotions and mental narratives in ways that are reassuring and constructive.

I see that my ability to choose my attitude relative to any given set of circumstances gives me great freedom to align with the higher values of my better self. I accept that life naturally and regularly presents circumstances which I perceive to be less than ideal.

I choose to consciously use these circumstances to test the best of my capacity. I engage in self-observation to not pin my emotions on anyone else or circumstances. My emotions are not an inevitable and logical consequence of what happens outside regardless of how much it may appear to me that way. The emotions I experience are my own and I am on a path of learning how to relate to them with greater and greater skill over time.

Value expressed

Empowerment through internal locus of control.


I may of course decide to engage in healthy dialog to reach a greater shared understanding with my companion. If I choose to voice frustration or disappointment, I do so in a mature way that acknowledges the emotions I experience are my own. I realize my emotions are not an inevitable result of external circumstances.

Secondly, in this case, I don't consider or I actively don't believe the circumstances which arise are connected to me. These considerations become relevant with the 4th and 5th rungs.


4. Unconditional Self-responsibility


I consciously choose to perceive that I am responsible for whatever shows up in my life.

True Story Example

After 30 years of failure after failure, a failing body, a disappointed father, William James was depressed and on the brink of suicide. He chose to conduct an experiment. For one year, he would believe he was 100% responsible for everything that showed up in his life. This choice and what he learned in that first year is what formed the foundation for the rest of his life. It led him to become one of the most famous philosophers and psychologists in American history.

Underlying attitude

When I choose to take responsibility for absolutely EVERYTHING, then my life isn't about luck or chance anymore. This situation is here, I am responsible, and I am going to do the best I possibly can given the circumstances.

What is objectively true in life is nearly impossible for us to determine definitively. It's clear that any number of people can see a given situation, not to mention life itself, very differently. What William James and countless others have shown us is that what is powerful and empowering is taking unconditional responsibility for ourselves and our lives. We make this choice because of the practical benefit. We work out for ourselves what leads us to live better, more meaningful lives rather than relying on the dogma of anyone else.

Values expressed

Practicality, empowerment, open-mindedness.


Various people have spoken about the law of attraction. Whether you believe in that or not becomes less than relevant under this approach. If you do happen to believe in it, then you have even more ample reason to take responsibility for what shows up in your life.


5. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” ~Rumi


Everything that happens to me is favorable, comes for my highest good, if I am willing to practice seeing things that way--even the traditionally "bad" stuff.


“My friend ended up renting his house after all and I won't be able to get the rent-free and luxurious stay in Maui. Ok, well it's hard to imagine how paying rent and getting a smaller place is more desirable from my vantage point now. But what are all the possibilities of why something else might be better for me in the long run? What if a roommate becomes a lifelong friend? What if I am in the right place at the right time for something important because I was coming from a specific location that I wouldn't have been otherwise? Simple readily believable possibilities.”

The same type of thinking can go for missing a flight. Or anything we think of as "bad".

Also, what about people who got stuck in traffic on the way to the World Trade Center on 9/11?

And aside from this, what if the occurrences that are truly challenging grant us strength, resolve, and wisdom?

Underlying Attitude

Things will work out in a way in which my greater needs are served. Life is full of unpredictability. I can't possibly know all outcomes that will arise from this occurrence. I choose to believe that life is always friendly, even if my short-term outlook is skeptical.

Values Expressed

Practicality, faith, humility.


It's easy to see things like those mentioned in the example in the rearview. The trick is to think this way before you have the benefit of hindsight because it enables you to become less judgmental about what is good and what is bad. It allows you to navigate with the greatest possible happiness and from a place of greater acceptance and relaxation, greater effectiveness.


Experiment. Enjoy.


“We work on ourselves in order to help others, and also we help others in order to work on ourselves.” ~Pema Chodron

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." ~Steve Jobs

"You must dedicate your life towards mastering your skill." ~Jiro, Shokunin Master Sushi Chef of Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The True Change Blog is practical support on the art and science of realizing greater meaning, fulfillment, and effectiveness in our professional lives.  It acknowledges how much our lives are expressed through work, and that consciously engaging positive inner and outer change in the direction of our deeper human longing is a highly sensible act.  Facing our fears and limiting beliefs regarding security while nurturing self-trust is fundamental.

Coming Soon!