belong_ng pt. one : tennis

In 9th grade, I joined my school’s tennis team. We bussed to another school because our program was too small to establish our own squad. But my best friend Sam and I just wanted an excuse to play a sport together. There was a tennis court near our neighborhood and at first it was a place to take our sodas and candy and claim as a hangout. Well, we later found out via our parents, that tennis is actually a fun sport – so we went out for the team.

I remember the first day of Captain’s Practice. The captain took attendance and when he called my name, his eyes skimming the 20 or so boys for a “Karl Johnson”, my stomach twisted with guilt and I raised my hand.

“Oh, haha, you don’t look like a Karl at all.” He laughed casually.

Can you find me in this family Christmas photo?

I’ve had many accounts like this throughout my whole life. As an International Korean Adoptee growing up in a majority white community, school, and family, it’s easy to imagine the mixed bag of reactions I get. Things like: “Oh you don’t even seem Asian!” and “So, where are you really from?” are not uncommon for people like me.

The spirit these statements might be well-intended, or curious, but they all connect to the simple fact that: I am an other, and I do not fit in. 

The fact of the matter is that I’ve struggled to feel like I Belong in many aspects of my life. I’ve always had this displaced feeling. Like I’m not where or who I’m supposed to be, or that wherever I go, the “I do not belong here” shadow is always looming.

So this begs the questions:

What does it mean to Belong?

Where do we find Belonging?

Can we create a culture of Belonging?

That’s what this blog is set out to explore. 

Brené Brown has answered that belonging is the opposite of “fitting in.” These words are taken from her Netflix special “The Call to Courage.”

           “We’re hard wired for belonging, it’s in our DNA… The opposite of belonging, from the research, is fitting in. That’s the opposite of belonging. Fitting in is assessing and acclimating. Here’s what I should say, be, here’s what I shouldn’t say, here’s what I should avoid talking about, here’s what I should dress like, look like – that’s fitting in.

Belonging is belonging to yourself first. Speaking your truth, telling your story, and never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are, and that’s vulnerable.”  (Brown, 2019)

Until I started taking steps towards healing, it didn’t occur to me that my adoption was something that required it. I have always pit myself against others’ expectations of me, trying to measure up to an image that I would never be able to fill. With each interaction like I had going out for the tennis team, I had built up enough of an understanding that I would never be what people expected.

But, in turn, I’m now understanding that I don’t have to be. I’m starting to see how I Belong in every part of my own story. I hope readers are able to do this in their own narratives as well. Please comment your answers to questions asked in this post, or your own thoughts about belonging vs. fitting in.