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Where do you belong?

We all need to belong. We crave acceptance. We want it from others but even more importantly we need it from ourselves.

In today’s atmosphere of self-love and self-care, the above statement may seem obvious. For me, the innate need to belong didn’t begin to crystalize in my mind until the day I bought a Jeep Wrangler. In the blink of an eye, I went from an existence of relative obscurity to having an entire group of friends. I was suddenly part of a three-quarters-of-a-century-old club whose only condition was driving a specific vehicle. Every time I passed another Jeep Wrangler I was automatically accepted by countless people in the opposing lane of traffic. This club sort of atmosphere in the Jeep world can be traced back to World War II. The Jeep Wave, as it is now known, has been called, “An honor bestowed upon those drivers with the superior intelligence, taste, class, and discomfort tolerance to own the ultimate vehicle — the Jeep.”

It’s a wonderful feeling, belonging. You are driving along and someone acknowledges you. Engages you with a simple wave. Why don’t other types of automobile owners wave to each other?

I can still remember the first Jeep I passed after learning I belonged in this group. Imagine, if you can, I see a Wrangler coming toward me. I’m nervous that my wave won’t be as cool or nonchalant as other’s seem. As the vehicle nears, my anticipation of the ‘wave’ builds. I position my hands for a casual, off-handed wave of one who’s ‘in the know.’

Alas, that is not how it played out. The driver in the opposing lane of traffic passed me and I erupted into a broadly smiling, crazy-waving woman. Both hands shot up in the air. Fairly certain one of my daughters was with me and I caught my inner self saying, “Settle. You can stop now. You are so far beyond cool and casual. Lesslee, put your hands back on the wheel.”

Now I’m torn between these two groups — cool jeep person and responsible mother. It is amazing how quickly the mind can resolve a situational question and answer. This complex function can end before it feels it begun. Instantly I knew I could be both the silly cool driver and a responsible fun mother.

What clubs do you belong to? Do all the faces of you represented by these groups get along? Are they complementary? Are there pieces of you not fed by socializing with other like-minded individuals? Now take it a step further, who are you to you? Isn’t this the question that can often plague individuals as they mature? We used to hear of people going off to find themselves, as if they were lost, when the truth is right before us. All we need to do is create who we want to be. Being comfortable in our own skin, with our chosen social groups and in our surroundings is key to an inner calm.

We all belong to numerous clubs. According to Baumeister and Leary, two noted social psychologists, the belongingness theory suggests that human beings have an almost universal need to form and maintain at least some degree of interpersonal relationships with other humans. The true beauty of these social groups may be the freedom with which we can add and remove them from our lives. As we grow our associations must adapt with us.

Some groups we choose — a vocation, social groups, eating style, personal habits and living environment. Others are chosen for us — biological gender, country of birth, skin color, illness/disease. All these groups or designations serve a purpose to help define us, not limit us. They help us grow if we manage them. However, if we don’t change our associations as we grow we can easily become stagnant and no longer in control of our path.

The beauty of all these identities-of-self is that we have the power to alter most of them and thereby constantly create and recreate our own identity. Our approach to life, whether positive or negative, is reflected back to us tenfold. So if you have, for example, suffered a great loss or been diagnosed with an illness, how you approach these new classifications is entirely up to you.

The knowledge that we each hold the power to be more than our labels should liberate, not restrict. Break the stereotypical molds and find the good in each piece of yourself. Don’t waste another moment in the wrong group. We each desire the soul-soothing feeling of peace we experience when in the right place, group, or situation. Take control of you and be with others who understand your pieces. In this way we can all be whole.

Lesslee Dort, an Alpena native, is a board certified patient advocate who firmly believes knowledge is power when it comes to being in control of one’s health. She spends her days helping others navigate their healthcare and her free time exploring. Reach Lesslee via email lesslee@friendstogethermi.org. Read her here the third Thursday of each month.