Sometimes we feel out of place, like we just don’t belong. Even introverts like me need to be part of group. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, belonging is right in the middle. Acceptance into a group (or many groups) helps us become fully actualized humans.

But who decides if we belong? Is it based on our own judgement or the reaction of others?

Four Seasons living room

Mr. HalfFull reads a magazine in our suite at the Four Seasons.

Living the High Life

As a result of a live auction fundraiser and my dad’s generosity, Mr. HalfFull and I had the opportunity to spend the weekend at the Four Seasons in DC.  I felt a bit strange about staying there.  Under normal circumstances, I would never book a room at the Four Seasons; it’s for rich people!

By many measures, Mr. HalfFull and I are well-off. We own our home and cars. We go out to dinner. We travel. Money is not a daily stressor.

Our suite at the Four Seasons cost $2,595!

Our suite at the Four Seasons cost $2,595!

But we are certainly not the 1%. Our home is not a mansion. Our cars are not of the Ferrari or Bentley variety. We certainly wouldn’t spend $2,600 on a suite at the Four Seasons!

…but that was the price posted in our room.

So it was a rare treat, but I felt out of my element. I watched the other guests and wondered if this was normal for them. Many had children. Many were from far away places. How did they afford it?

Did I look like an imposter? Did it seem like I was trying too hard to fit in? Did anyone even notice?

Out of Place

Apparently, this is not an uncommon feeling. A few weeks later, I was listening to a This American Life podcast with a similar theme. The episode was called “Three Miles” and described a program to bring together public and private school kids in New York City.

private school

Some private schools are reminiscent of castles.

When one student from a public school in the South Bronx went to visit the expensive private school just three miles away, she had an extreme reaction and fled. Years later, the student described how she felt that day:

When we went there, we looked like a bunch of hooligans. I would say we looked like the Goonies walking in a Wall Street building. I felt like you knew we weren’t from there– like, oh, who are these ghetto kids walking in?

We knew we didn’t fit in. We didn’t look like the rest of the students.

(Obviously, the story on This American Life was more about educational inequality, but the point about feeling different resonated as well.)

Embrace Differences

Mr. HalfFull graduates

Congratulations to Mr. HalfFull, the graduate!

Last month, Mr. HalfFull graduated with his second Masters degree. The commencement address was delivered by CNN Anchor and Correspondent Hala Gorani. She told the graduates to embrace what makes them different:

Perhaps the most important thing to know right out of college is that whatever makes you different today, whatever is the root cause of some insecurities and questions you may have… all those things — and believe me on this one — end up becoming your strength.

When I started out in journalism, the probability that with a name and background and not so placeable accent like mine would be an asset on an American news network didn’t even seem possible. But I realized soon that not only was it possible, it’s what helped me become a better journalist. Different was good. Different means you are not forgettable. It means you are your own unique individual with your own personal blueprint.

At some point you realize, your difference is in fact your biggest strength. Please cultivate it and be proud of it.

Belong or Don’t

We all want to belong — to fit in and be accepted. But as Gorani reminded us, it’s okay to be different. Perhaps it’s even more than okay.


  • When have you felt like you didn’t belong? 
  • Do you think belonging is more of an internal feeling, or is it based on the reactions of others?
  • What differences have you embraced in yourself?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!