We were at the middle school lunch table. I was listening to some girls making plans to hang out that night. They didn’t invite me then, but a few glanced over at me as I took a bite of sandwich. I tried to avoid eye contact. It was awkward. Thoughts raced through my mind about how to be included …

Do I invite myself?

Do I sit here and pretend I didn’t hear?

Do I offer some bit of advice or a funny comment that makes them remember I’m even sitting here?

I went with the “nothing” option.

That night I waited by the phone. The next day, I listened to the replay of the evening, and probably chimed in a time or two – to be funny, to be remembered, I’m sure of it – but at this point, I don’t remember the details.

What I do remember is how I felt. The racing thoughts and navigating the steps I should take to receive an invitation next time.

This feeling has plagued me almost my entire life.

I have spent a lot of time and energy on figuring out how to be included. A part of me has always been that teenage girl, trying to be a member of the cool girls’ club.

That’s the funny thing about formative experiences in childhood; they never leave. They shape us into the adults we are today, but they never leave.

That girl still lives inside me, still longs for the phone to ring, and it never does because that time is now gone.

Chasing acceptance from others and finding it within

Knowing that I don’t have a time machine, I have put efforts into making Band-Aids for this:

  • joining a sorority
  • moving around the country
  • trying out for every sports team (why, God, why?!)
  • doing every club
  • reaching for all the goals and exclusive groups
  • all the friends I’ve made and tried to keep

And you know what? All this effort has really gotten me nowhere because I was chasing something that wasn’t meant to be.

I was letting the past become my present, and I was missing out on everything that was happening right in front of me.

Furthermore, I was bending myself into all these contortions that were actually preventing me from feeling the inclusiveness I already had.

I already belong.

First of all, I belong to myself. And I belong to my family. (They can’t get rid of me, no matter how hard they try!) I belong to our whole human family.

I have experienced the unconditional love of a child, and of friends who no matter how long it’s been, we pick up where we left off.

There will always be people here to pour into me, and there always has been. Just as there will always be the people who never call, no matter how long I stare at the phone.

Graduating from middle school

It has taken a lot of time, but I am slowly realizing that I don’t need to bring anything specific to the table to be invited to eat.

I am already enough.

I can invite myself and people will say YES. I can do cool things because I want to, and regardless of what others think. It may close some doors or relationships, but you know what, that’s not a tragedy. More doors open, and more people are waiting on the other side who need me.

You know what is a tragedy though? Convincing myself that I have nothing to offer and then hiding behind excuses (like my children) so I don’t have to deal with the rejection. Whether people reject me or not, I have a lot to offer and I am good at things and people need me.

These lessons are meant to be learned in middle school, but instead, we often get stuck still dealing with them decades later.

Okay, yes, it’s usually poor etiquette to invite yourself over to a friend’s house. Plus, you’ll likely feel even more awkward now that you’re there and perhaps not supposed to be.

However, this advice often gets taken too far and we feel like if we don’t get an explicit invitation then we aren’t invited ANYWHERE. And this is simply not true.

All this to say, you belong. You’re invited. You are enough, and we need you.

Get involved in your community and share your talents with the world. Be changed; not into someone else, but into the person you already are because that’s all you’ll ever be and what the world needs.

What talents are you holding in? Take that first brave step forward and share with us below!

Kara Hoholik is a socially conscious impact entrepreneur and serves female-owned businesses through her work at a tech startup. She can usually be found drinking coffee, writing articles, and traveling the world whenever she’s not chasing her three muddy children and husband around their 14-acre farm in West Michigan. You can connect with Kara on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or her website myeducatedstyle.com