My Imaginary Studio: You MUST Belong To Yourself

How well do you trust yourself? Like, really know that in a whirlwind of adversity you will stay true to yourself? If we are to use Dr. Brené Brown's Anatomy of Trust to frame that question a little more thoroughly that means:

  1. You set appropriate boundaries for yourself. 
  2. You are reliable in the face of conflicting priorities.
  3. You are accountable to yourself.
  4. You keep confidence when other people share with you.
  5. You "choose courage over comfort, what's right over what's fun, fast or easy, and you practice your value," to borrow directly from Dr. Brown. In other words, you have integrity.
  6. You ask for what you need without judging yourself.
  7. You are generous with yourself.

Last night, as I lay in bed next to my adorable, co-sleeping, almost 2-year-old son. I realized I'm at a pivotable moment in my life. In my 20's I endeavored, for the first time, to belong fully to myself. At this moment, it is essential for me to re-establish that priority, so that I may create a safe place for my son to learn true belonging, as well. What I learned when I was younger is that it can be done, even if you didn't grow up in a way that made you feel safe or truly seen. But I know how hard it was and how many times I went astray. I want to give Vorian the gift of belonging from the beginning.

I can remember the exact moment and the precise decision I made that took me away from myself most recently. In all other things, I feel as though I've been able to trust myself. Yet I aligned myself in relationship with a person that I couldn't fully trust. I remember the moment of him standing in the doorway and me laying on the bed when I realized that trust didn't exist between us. I chose to stay anyway. 

Except I can't stay anymore. I have a son. He needs to learn to belong to himself and he needs an example of how to accomplish that feat. He needs an example of a human who has planted the roots of her values, stood firmly and said "I shall not be moved." He needs to watch as I belong to myself and the world assails me as it will surely to do. He needs to see that the world is savage to anyone who has the courage to belong first and foremost to his or herself instead of trying to fit in. He needs to see me, drawing energy from the ground up, through my core, opening through a soft heart to call for the people who would stand beside me in belonging. 

As so many mothers before, I'm faced with the inevitability that "fear will lead us astray and arrogance is even more dangerous," another astute observation from Dr. Brown. So in this season of turning away and turning in, I find I must be brave. It takes courage to turn yourself out into "the wilderness."

There are three categories of people: those too young to belong to anyone but their caretakers, people who don't trust themselves and don't belong to themselves, and people who do. For me the choice to be a part of the latter category is a way of life. It is life. It was the difference between my destruction and survival. I think, if we are being honest with one another, that choice is the same zero sum outcome for all of us.

The path forward into true belonging is as clear as the work you put in to understand yourself and your core values. That work will almost never be easy once you choose to embark upon your path. Money and power will challenge your integrity. People will tell you lies about yourself. You WILL make mistakes. To be alive is to grow. The only way to grow is to be rooted. The only firm ground upon which to sow the seeds of true belonging and a life-time of growth is to trust yourself. Know yourself, have the courage to lean in, trust.


I shall not be moved.

In Virginia tobacco fields, 
leaning into the curve
of Steinway
pianos, along Arkansas roads, 
in the red hills of Georgia, 
into the palms of her chained hands, she
cried against calamity, 
You have tried to destroy me
and though I perish daily,

I shall not be moved.


No angel stretched protecting wings
above the heads of her children, 
fluttering and urging the winds of reason
into the confusions of their lives. 
The sprouted like young weeds, 
but she could not shield their growth
from the grinding blades of ignorance, nor
shape them into symbolic topiaries. 
She sent them away, 
underground, overland, in coaches and

When you learn, teach. 
When you get, give. 
As for me,

I shall not be moved.

- Our Grandmothers, Maya Angelou