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EP12: Fitting In vs. Belonging

Sometimes you may look the part in a crowd but still feel like an outsider. Dressing or acting a certain way to fit in isn’t necessarily wrong, but it can be problematic when you stop developing your own interests to mirror the people around you. Suzanne is an international mindset coach who transforms bodies and minds​,​​ helping clients deal with negative patterns of behaviour​​,​​ over-giving​,​ building confidence and creating lasting change. She discusses how the fear of rejection and imposter syndrome play into our desire to fit in at all costs, and how honouring ourselves and what works best for us may actually benefit the group.

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Victoria: Have you ever been in a room full of people yet felt completely lonely or felt like you had to dress or act a certain way to fit in with a group that you still feel like you didn’t truly belong? It’s quite common for many people to experience this feeling in their lives. And there is a real difference between fitting in and belonging.

So to help us explain the difference is my guest coach who returns to another wonderful conversation on Hello CoachCast, Suzanne. Suzanne is an expert in transforming bodies by transforming minds. She’s had great success in helping clients deal with negative patterns of behaviour: shedding kilos, building confidence and really creating lasting change.

I would like to mention, in addition to her years of experience and qualifications as a coach, she has a bachelor of medical science, a Cert III and IV in fitness and she’s personally experienced her own incredible body transformation whilst working with a mindset coach, and this was actually the happy outcome that led her to become and train as a coach to help others.

So today I’m always excited to have Suzanne join our conversation. So welcome, Suzanne.

Suzanne: Thank you Victoria.

Victoria: This is such a topical conversation, and I know we started to dive in before we actually introduced the podcast this morning. Fitting in and belonging. This is a systemic problem. It isn’t exclusive for adults. It starts at a young age from toddlers to when they go through childcare daycare, school, and university.

And it’s a topic that I would love to explore with you together. In your experience, how you would define, firstly, the problems or the challenges that display or come up in people’s lives when they have this conflict between fitting in and belonging because there is a very big difference, yet we know they’re so closely connected.

So what are some of the issues that your clients that you work with come to you with when they’ve got this?

Suzanne: It’s a great question. So think to start with like fitting in is an external thing. So you can go somewhere and everyone else is wearing jeans and you’re wearing a suit and you have that moment. It’s like, do I fit in here? Or just little things, as you said; it can start at a young age. Everybody’s playing with Barbie and you’ve got My Little Pony, like, you know, I don’t fit in and we can often change ourselves.

And the things that we’re doing to fit in, I’m not saying it’s always a problem, but where it becomes a problem is what is considered cool or relevant today can change tomorrow. If we’re always changing ourselves to mirror what’s happening externally in the world, we never get to develop our own identity or, or meet our own wants or needs, or even acknowledge what they are, because it’s like, okay, you know, as a young child, it’s My Little Pony. I need to go and get rid of it.

Or it’s this TV show or that singer. And it can be very expensive on our parents having to deal with whatever it is, but it also doesn’t let us evolve and look at the things that we actually are interested in of ourselves because we don’t want to risk being rejected. Like, fear of being rejected is, I think, universal.

Victoria: I have a saying with many clients that I’ve coached over the last couple of decades, that we now live in an – excuse the pun here – but we live in the Tinder society. You don’t like it. You swipe left. You get rid of it and you go onto the next shiny bright thing. And what this obviously sets up is a lifetime of disappointment, a lifetime of really negative destructive belief processes that will then define your world and how you operate in that world and how you see yourself in that world, rather than encouraging you to take a stance for what you believe in, and it’s, It’s tricky when you’re a teenager or even a young kid comparing the Barbie to the pony, you know?

And where do you want to sit on that fence? And essentially we all are hardwired for connection. We’re hardwired to engage. We’re hardwired to love and give and receive love.

So when at any point that that is threatened, that’s a big conflict. If you don’t know where you stand within yourself with your own values. And I know obviously you’re also a parent and how do you navigate your children through that – I know they’re young. How do you parent, and I don’t want to deviate too much from the topic, but it’s quite relevant because how can we support our young children and our young adults to feel that it’s actually not a conflict that they need to battle with every day?

Suzanne: It’s a great question. I actually would say I’ve learned belonging mostly from my son. He is what would be considered socially different. He likes to paint his nails. He likes to gel his hair. And it’s always been … I want to encourage him to be truly him, but I don’t want him to get picked on or teased or that sort of thing.

But too, he likes to paint his nails and he would go to daycare and people would say to him, "but you’re a boy". And he was like, I don’t care. I look fabulous. And then the next day, all the other boys would have their nails painted. I’ve never seen anything like it, he’s the one who’s not afraid to stand alone. And when it came to going to school, he’s attended school this year, he wanted to wear the school dress. Cause he couldn’t understand why boys couldn’t wear dresses. And in that case I felt I had to step in as the parent and hold the line. Not that I wanted to discourage him not to be him, but that would be too far of a leap I think. And I didn’t want to have him be rejected.

So we had a discussion and basically, I’m like this year you wear the boys’ uniform. If you still want to wear the dress next year, I’ll a hundred per cent support you. And now we’re in term four and he’s like, oh, I’d never wear a dress, but I’m really glad I didn’t tell him that he couldn’t or make it bad that he wanted to.

I was like, that’s just, you know, we’ll do one year of school and then we’ll see … because I think sometimes we, when we base who we are on what other people tell us, then we never really develop a sense of who we are and we’re always questioning. Is this okay? Is that okay? Like, even, for example, for this podcast topic, when you, um, approached me and said, what do you want to talk about, and I suggested it.

I was like, it’s not really like corporate or it’s not really, you know, whatever. So there’s a sense that you might like reject and go "This is terrible. Let’s talk about this instead", but it’s like, what do we want to talk about? What lights us up as opposed to, you know, the things we might be good at, but aren’t necessarily our jam so to speak?

Victoria: I think this goes into another part of belonging and fitting in is really having an honest look at the masks that we wear. So going into our roles as an adult, not so much as children, a child, going into corporate, there are so many corporate leaders and executives that wear masks and they do that to fit in and belong even though for some of them, it goes against the grain of who they are, but they feel this immense pressure.

This is how I should be. This is how I should act rather than how I want to act or how I would like to lead. And again, this is decades of conditioning that we, you know, gosh, love media. You know, we’re not good enough. There’s constant comparison going on, you see these, and this is not the first time that someone has raised this by any means, but there is a constant barrage on Instagram and Facebook of, you know, their happy lives.

And it’s not real. It’s not authentic yet. We are flooding our whole neuropsychology with this is what you have to aspire to because that’s the happy place. But in fact, being brave –using Brenae brown – it’s being brave and being courageous and owning who you are and what your boundaries are for you.

That helps you thrive. And it’s not even having resilience. It’s just choosing to embrace all of who you are and not deny any part of who you are. Doesn’t matter in relationships or in corporate life. So the topic that we’re talking about today, I think it absolutely relates to corporate. Not that all of our conversations are corporate-related.

This is about life. This is about the challenges that people face on all walks of the cycle of life. No matter what age you are. But there is, there is a bigger question at play here of how can we support … what are some of the tips and strategies that we can share to help make a slight pivot onto a lane that honours who you are without completely blowing up your world?

I’m sure there must be a step-by-step process that you have specifically guided your clients through of why they work.

Suzanne: Yes, totally. So the biggest point that I would make is belonging isn’t dependent on others. So it’s that willingness to stand alone. And to take ownership of your life. So it’s not that you don’t consider the needs of others. I’m not saying that, but it’s not dependent on that. So for example, I’m a very time-sensitive person.

I like to start my sessions on time. I like to finish them on time and some of my clients don’t always turn up on time, but I don’t want them to come stressed. Like people who are a bit late, if they’re rushing, cause like "Sue’s likes to start on time" and I can sense that stress from them. So the discussion we have is I will finish on time.

Like our session finishes at the end of the hour old half an hour, however long it is. But you know, if you come a bit late, I’d rather them take that 2, 3, 5 minutes to be really ready than to turn up flustered, have no water and be not really present because it’s their coaching session. And I want them to get the most out of it.

So if they don’t mind, it’s a few minutes shorter so they can get the most out of it. And that works for them. That’s great. Both of our belongings are being met: my need to start on time to finish on time, but like I’m there and their need to take that bit longer. Um, another example would be so at the moment, a lot of us are still working from home.

My husband has a corporate job and we actually prefer if he could take the kids to school. So he just floated the idea. He’s like, do you guys mind if I shift my morning tea back so I can do the school run? Cause he starts quite early and then everyone’s like, that’s such a great idea. We want to do that too.

So it just takes that one person. I’m not saying that whatever idea you float will necessarily be accepted, but often we’ve just done things a certain way. Because that’s the way they’ve always been done. And people are often open to new ideas if we suggest them or, um, they can be tweaked and made, you know, like a win-win, but often when we sit on stuff and just fit in and do it this way, even though it inconveniences us and chances are, it might inconvenience the other person too.

So now, like almost everybody in his team does the school drop-off. They get more time in connection with their children and they’ve just shifted their morning tea break back by 45 minutes. It’s not that big of a deal.

Victoria: I think that’s such a wonderful example of the power of speaking up and in that honest way that no, I mean, not every idea is going to stick. However, this is part of defusing, the conflict that you may have arising within who you are when you want to fit in. Yet, you also want to honour what is true for you and what you need in your life to thrive in a family dynamic, in a relationship, and as well as being able to bring your best self to the work

Frontline as well, because it does not just extend to obviously our corporate roles, but I’ve, you know, coached enough people over the years where their desire to belong and fit in can go so deeply into the relationship sense where they are almost not speaking up and not. Being brave in that moment to honour who they are, that they would prefer to fly under the radar, though, with what the value systems or the opinions are of the other person to avoid the fear of rejection or avoid the fear of being of not fitting in and then the ramifications of that, of what that would mean.

And surely I think in many respects of where we’ve journeyed over the last 18 months to two years with this extraordinary virus and how it’s all impacted us is we have had an opportunity and we continue and we’ll continue to have an opportunity to really reset and revalue and reignite. How do we want to live our lives?

Do we want to continue to belong at the expense of who we are? And diminishing who we are, or have we learnt enough to understand that there is such fragility in our world and in our existence, our extraordinary existence, being a human being that we are also entitled, and this is not being, you know, ra-ra, you’re entitled and all the rest of it.

This is just like, you have the choice to create a life that you love. And. Part of that starts with our belief systems around what doesn’t serve us and why we behave in certain ways before we actually dive into more solutions. I’d love you to share. With clients that have come to you with this very specific problem that they are in deep conflict, that they do have theory around speaking up and they’re choosing to belong rather than be brave and speak up like your husband?

We love your husband. How does that manifest in your client’s world that you know, that they’re in some level of discomfort?

Suzanne: That’s a great question because when we stay silent to keep the peace, we started war within ourselves. And for the majority of my clients that shows up in some way as overconsuming, whether that be food, alcohol, social media scrolling. And then we get back to the comparison you were talking about before, because you have this war going on in your mind and you’re feeling really unhappy.

And like, people don’t really like you for you, but all they like you, but they don’t love you because they don’t really know who you are because you haven’t let them see. So you have all this stuff going on in your head and your doom scrolling on Facebook or Instagram, and then you eat like the trifecta.

We’ve got Netflix on in the background and then it’s like, I’ll start again. And it brings in this all-or-nothing, black-or-white kind of dynamic. And there’s so much fear in there that we, we try and change everything tomorrow. It’s gonna be tomorrow. Um, and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves and not just on ourselves, on our family, um, can get snippy at our kids at our, at our partner.

And it’s just a matter of, we can turn into the victim archetype. It’s my husband’s fault. He brings the chocolate home. It’s my work’s fault. They have the treats they’re everybody else’s fault. And it’s like really taking the time to step back and understand that belonging is internal. Like it comes from within and needs to take shape inside to be unapologetically you and know that there’s a place for you in this world that isn’t dependent on whether other people accept you, um, and that you can be vulnerable without shame and that doesn’t happen in one session or overnight, it takes time and it’s not a once and done. Unfortunately, healing is, you know, a repeated thing. But when you know the things that show up for you that, you know, you may be slipping back into old behaviours.

When you truly belong, you no longer shame yourself and guilt yourself and say, I’m going to start detoxing tomorrow, but you’re like, oh, hang on. What’s got to change here and be like really self kind, rather than beating yourself up about another thing that you’re not doing right.

Victoria: I’m totally putting you on the spot here. What’s been the number one strategy that you have seen has had a dramatic impact that has helped pivot a client from behaviour that doesn’t serve them? Maybe the underneath driver is that yes, they’re wanting to fit in, but that can also be, as we know an excuse or a coverup.

To also potentially avoid really what’s going on underneath the surface. I know you’ve been a coach for such a long time, Suzanne, what has been the most profound solution? And I know I should’ve maybe prepped you before this podcast that you, that you have seen has had of really systemic transformational impact on the clients that you have worked with and that seek you out for help.

Suzanne: Without a doubt, like you don’t need to prep me for this, it’d be journaling. And without a doubt, people will resist it and not want to do it. So it’s interesting. I’ve coached for many years and I’d often give people like action items. I don’t like the word homework at the end of the session reminds me too much of school and it would be suggested journal prompts.

And like 99 times out of a hundred, they wouldn’t do it. And I’m never attached. There’s no judgment here. So I would, if I’m being truly honest here and radical honesty is part of belonging, I would feel guilty for having people journal in a session with me because I was like, they’re paying me money. I’m like, I should, I felt I should be imparting some wisdom or something.

But the true thing is when you sit down with your thoughts and let them come onto the paper and write them down. You get to separate them from yourself because a lot of people go, oh, I know me, my head, generally my head, I think it out … but you don’t truly see it until it’s on the paper in front of you.

Because when it’s written you can look at it. Yeah. That’s a bad word. That’s not necessarily true. Like you can question it cause it’s separate from you. Um, I always recommend writing it like actual handwriting. Nobody’s gonna read it. Nobody’s gonna grade it. But if you really are not a writing person, you can type, or you could voice note like using one of the voice note apps, but when you journal it down, then you can question it.

You can’t question it when it’s still inside. So, journaling, without a doubt. And it’s something I still struggle with this to this day. So they say you teach what you most need to know. And, um, yeah, it’s kind of like going to the gym beforehand. You’re like, I’m too tired. Can’t be bothered. And then afterwards you’re like, I’ve got the I core of the gods in my veins. I’m amazing. I’ve solved the world’s problems. But it seems so simple that so many people don’t do it.

Victoria: I have another name for it, which is similar called a brain dump. And I know it’s a, it’s a cerebral exercise where over the years, clients have got an exercise that I absolutely swear by personally. And it helps diffuse the emotional trigger that will then obviously push you towards – cause we’re talking about body transformation – will push you towards the search and the cravings for sugary foods and carbs. And you know often say that when we are lacking sweetness and joy in our life, we’re going to go for those quick hit foods that give us a quick serotonin pickup that we, you know, we feel good about ourselves, but then we carry the kilos later.

So going back to this brain dump, it’s a simple exercise where clients get an exercise book and doesn’t matter whether it’s in the morning or the night. Yes. It’s setting a routine, but it gives them an outlet where they can write down and dump. Get the words dumped down in a written form, not a computer pen and paper, their fears, their anxieties, their feelings.

And it gives them an outlet that what you’re saying, it actually gives it an open door from the brain to then extract what’s circulating in the brain. And I say to my clients, it’s like you’re your thoughts. And we have, something ridiculous, and there are so many different stats but let’s call it 40,000 thousand thoughts in the day and 39,999 are the same thoughts from the day before.

And they’re going to be the identical thoughts for the next day after, until you actually stop. And release the thoughts and some of the programming on too. I know it sounds simple. Onto a piece of paper and it releases the incessant transactions that are going on between your mind and body, moving away from your thoughts being stuck on a spin cycle with no pause button and what brain dumping does as well as journaling, it gives you an outlet so you can expel, or you can go and work out and do a punching bag. But I think that there’s real power in connecting to what am I feeling right now? I mean, you’re the body expert here. I’m coming from a different general space of coaching, right? That, what am I feeling here? If I go to the fridge and open up the fridge, really?

What am I actually trying to avoid by squashing food, into my mouth, being graphic, but essentially that’s what we’re doing as opposed to giving our emotions, words, and language a place to go. Ah, okay. I’ve got to own that one. Now I’ve got a choice. Me standing at the fridge. I can continue to suppress, or I can, what you said before, be kind and compassionate and make a different choice and you can make choice when you have awareness.

And that’s what I love about coaching – you help your clients directly join the dots and it gives them not only awareness but a map out of that frustration or that pain point. Otherwise, they’re left standing at the fridge.

Suzanne: Yeah. And that’s something you could do if you’ve got a coach and you have the conversation with them about how you’re working. Like, my clients will often send me snippets or parts, and then I’ll suggest the journaling prompts that they can take, they can take to it. So a really good one, for a lot of my clients is what am I truly hungry for like in this moment, what am I truly hungry for? And the biggest theme is freedom and escape. And it’s like, am I going to get this from the food in the moment? Yes, potentially. So then the next question is, is this good for me now? Yes, I’m stressed. I’m frustrated. I’m going to yell at somebody, you know.

Is this good for me later? No. So what would be good for me now? And later, if you get a yes, yes. You can do it, if it’s a yes, no, it’s not saying you can’t do it, but it’s, as you said, that awareness in the moment that we’re in a past habit, we have no awareness, which is acting out conditioning, maybe years or decades of conditioning.

But when you start to bring awareness to it, you think of it like a tabletop. If we’re trying to break a table by pushing down on it, it’s firmly on four legs. What the journaling, or as you said, the brain dump will do, it’s kind of like sawing off one of the legs. It’s a little bit wobbly. And once you have that wobble, then it’s much easier to collapse.

But if you’re just pushing on something it’s really, really sturdy, it’s not going anywhere. And then it’s like more evidence for why this doesn’t work. So you’re just trying to look for a little wobble, a little Inn, and I loved how you said brain dump. Another way too, we shower daily for our physical body, journaling is like a shower for our mental, our emotional body.

Um, we need to clean that up as well. So for people who are really resistant, I can see that it’s like, we don’t do anything for our physical, mental body. And that’s what journaling does.

Victoria: So that was your top number, your top tip. What would be your second, your second profound transformational tool in your coaching toolkit that pushes people towards a path of freedom and choice without destruction on their physical bodies?

Suzanne: Is actually to try new things because often we have a fear, like if I speak up or if I do this and not saying, do the biggest one, like you might want to make a list of all the things that you’d like to change. Once again, that kind of leads back to journaling, but try it because often we’re afraid of overstepping somebody’s boundaries or overstepping our own boundaries.

They can’t grow and expand if we don’t test them, if we don’t see what they are. So it’s kind of like, kind of this way of doing things has, has led to the life that I’m living right now. So I need to live another way. What can I actually try? And when, I mean, try, don’t try it once, then go "It didn’t work". And then go back to the other thing.

You don’t quit unless you stop. So if you like, back to my husband’s example of he’d asked for the morning tea thing to be shifted so he could do the school run, and they said no. What was he really looking for? Honestly, was more connection time with our children. Where could he fit that in?

Like, maybe he could have asked, can we do the afternoon so I can do the pickup? Like, sometimes we get so attached to, ‘it has to be this way’ that we don’t see any other way. Like with my clients a lot, it’s about exercise and they, like, they want to do the biggest calorie killer, like the spin class or the CrossFit, if you’re largely overweight and very unfit, that could be dangerous.

Because, you know, snapping, injuring, that kind of thing, but they’re like, ‘Well, walking or swimming or yoga, like, what’s the point of that?’ It doesn’t burn enough calories, but the exercise that you do trumps the best thing that you maybe do once a month. So next thing would be, you know, what new thing do you want to try and be open to tweaking or changing because you don’t know, you don’t know until you try it. We make all these stories in our head. And sometimes as in my husband’s example, it was like, yeah, sure. That’s a great idea. And everyone loved it. And other times you do risk that Brene Brown being in the wilderness. Cause everyone’s like, no. And you have that fear.

Like, I really don’t, I don’t belong here, but if you’ve got your own back and you’re willing to stand alone, then you can find another way to get your needs met that perhaps wouldn’t be open to you until the first one didn’t go as you’d hoped.

Victoria: So here’s a question on the spot again. What do you think drives someone’s belief system in your experience from coaching on imposter syndrome? I couldn’t, I couldn’t ignore what you just said around really, ‘Is this me, am I entitled to be here and all the rest of the stories’, but I’m curious in your experience from coaching, what do you believe is the common denominator that drives someone with this imposter syndrome mindset?

And maybe we should have a completely different podcast conversation on imposter syndrome because it’s, such a great topic to talk about, and it’s quite common.

Suzanne: Yeah, totally. I think it’s that the imposter syndrome – like being totally off the spot and no prep time – stems from a lack of radical honesty and integrity, because we see a moment in time on Facebook or Instagram. We see a snapshot like I did this last week. Kids are being a bit rowdy. I pulled the phone out.

They’re instantly smiling. I snap the picture and everyone’s like I must’ve been two weeks ago. They’re like, oh, four months into lockdown. You’re making it look good. And I’m like, because I captured a moment in time. Whereas if I’d written or if I’d done a video or being like really honest, like we are hanging on by a thread here, um, it’s that we are making an assumption on such either a snippet or a photograph or post, um, that we don’t see, like behind the scenes.

So another quick way, um, for imposter syndrome, I do, burlesque dancing on zoom as a client. I don’t teach it or anything, and I’ve got a performance after this, actually. And when we’re doing the rehearsal earlier, I’ve put on a few COVID kilos. My costume doesn’t fit as well as it did four months ago.

And the absolute shock from people. Cause they were like the fact that you were so upfront, like aren’t you worried that people won’t want to work with you or anything like that? I’m like, no, people love me even more for the fact that I’m so honest rather than, you know, sucking in. Cause I never, if it’s uncomfortable or I have to sucking my belly, it doesn’t happen.

Don’t wear any stomach holding underwear or anything like that. I’m totally me. You know, whereas if I was in imposter syndrome, I either would have had to chase up the next size dress or say I have to do a different act. Cause you know, but I think radical honesty is the cure for it. And I’m not saying that deliberately being nefarious or lying, but because of their own fear of being rejected or their own shame, they won’t be truly honest. And that, um, that makes it worse.

Victoria: I love those tips. So to summarize in short, how we can move out of the conflict between belonging and fitting in. I just love what you just said there, and it’s radical honesty through that last half-hour conversation it’s choosing in that moment to be radically honest with yourself. First and foremost, and then you have the gift of them being able to speak up and share that honesty with others for a second.

But you need to come first in that process and being able to harness and understand where you are feeling in conflict and your fears around belonging or not belonging or fitting in and not fitting in and to use journaling as a way to tap into some of your emotional states that are most likely driving.

Some behaviours such as hanging out at the fridge door a little bit too long give you an opportunity to increase your awareness, to be kind and compassionate in that moment to make a different choice.

Victoria: That was a good summary.

Suzanne: Have to do that. Lucky recorded.

Victoria: Twenty years of being a coach, we get really good at summarizing. This is, this is the beautiful thing. You can have all the insights in the world, but then it’s being able to okay, what does it, what does it translate to? What’s the, what’s the map out of here? What’s the plan? What are the steps? Because there is so much great content out there and in books and online with this is the thing.

I know that, you know, this is a coaching conversation that I’m just reiterating the power of coaching because it rocks and it allows you to work with a coach such as yourself and put really, really practical steps in place that aren’t airy-fairy, that aren’t hippie that are really… you can go away and they don’t cost a lot of money a lot of them are free that you can integrate.

And it’s just helping you create new decisions around understanding why you were making certain decisions in the first place that were not supporting you. That then filters into that imposter syndrome to then move you into a space of freedom and choice. So Thank you. so much. I loved that conversation.

Suzanne: Thank you, Victoria.

Victoria: I always love our chats. Um, and I absolutely look forward to having you back on and yes, definitely diving into more of that imposter syndrome and having a conversation around how we can, how we can be more radically honest with ourselves and what the steps are and the conversations that we can be having with ourselves in that moment.

To then move towards more freedom and choice. So a lot more things to chat about. So I thank you again. I love that great summary, great tips. And if you would like to work with Suzanne, obviously, yes, you just pop over to hello-coach.com and you will find Suzanne on our platform. So thank you very much, Suzanne, for being here again for another amazing conversation and I look forward to having you back very soon.

Suzanne: Thank you.

Victoria: Thanks.

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