On a recent trip to India, I had the opportunity to sit down for conversations with a few teenagers in Gorakhpur, a city in Uttar Pradesh. I peppered the students with questions, eager to learn about their experiences, what they love to do, and what they are learning about. When I asked them if they had questions for me, several asked, ‘Where do you belong?’. The question caught me off-guard at first, and I stammered a bit, before answering: New York City. I later asked others whether this was a question that is often used – I learned that it was likely something missed in translation, but it didn’t matter to me. I loved the question.
Where do you belong? It’s powerful right? It has certainly made me think and reflect over the past few weeks since I first heard the question. Yes, a part of me does belong to New York City – and always will, no matter where I might live. But a part of me also belongs to Massachusetts, and the small towns I grew up in. Other parts belong in Italy, where my ancestors are from, and in Brazil, where my in-laws live. And other parts still belong in my work, at the conferences I go to, and with the people I connect with. Can I belong everywhere at the same time? And does that result in me belonging no-where at all? This is the question I’ve been pondering for weeks.
What does it mean to belong? The definitions vary, and some result in defining the term through ownership, some through social systems, and some through membership. I think the synonyms do a better job of explaining: exist, harmonize, become. The meaning behind these words are beautiful and powerful. What does it look like to exist in the world? To harmonize with those around you, as well as the planet? What does it mean to become?
So where do I belong? Or better yet – who do I want to become? How do I want to exist and harmonize? By focusing first on that, I believe it will allow me – or you – to belong anywhere and exactly in the right place. Of course, I would be remiss not to to point out the fact that structures exist in this world that prevent people from belonging in certain places or in certain groups. I acknowledge and will continue to spend my life working to stop that, in any way I can. But as more of us reflect and understand where we belong and who we want to become – we will begin to be able to break down barriers, and create a world that all people can exist and thrive in.
I might be stretching the initial question a bit far, but I recently read that writing is not about the product – it is about the process of learning and discovering, which is something that resonates deeply with me. So again – where do I belong? These are the four questions I will be asking myself.
What do I want my life to look like?
Who do I need to become to create that life?
How will that life be of service to others?
What can I start doing today to realize that life?
I challenge you to do the same. What do you want your life to look like? Who must you become to achieve that vision? Will what you’re doing support others? And most importantly, what small actions can you take today to start. As I go through this process, I will share – and I would love for you to do the same. Please reach out as you ask yourself these questions and seek the answers that reside within. Once we answer those questions, I think we’ll be closer to answering the fundamental question – where do you belong?