What Burning Man Taught Me About Belonging

 The man burns in 336 days, might be time for a comeback. Photo: me and my lovelies

The man burns in 336 days, might be time for a comeback. Photo: me and my lovelies

I was always the new kid, the transplant growing up because my Father was good at his job, a fixer. A JCPenney Department Store needed to be turned around, and so he would be promoted, he did this for his 40-year career there, and thus our family moved to many new places.

It is one of the things that made me the extrovert I am today.

I would roll into town and get ready for the first day of school show, the razzle-dazzle to make them, someone, anyone like me so I didn’t feel alone. Being fearless and not knowing any better helped but also I honed my comedy/here’s Heather routine over and over so I would fit in. I did this five times growing up, finally landing in Wheaton, IL for high school where I got to spend all four years after my formative upbringing in the Midwestern states of Indiana and Michigan.

I always seemed to be friendly with everyone, the buzzing bee cross-pollinator of all the groups. I still do that today. However, it wasn’t until college until I felt I truly belonged somewhere when I found my theatre community at the University of Washington School of Drama.

It doesn’t matter what community you are in; there are always cliques, which is unfortunate but true. And those cliques aren’t always welcoming, or they seem to be, but they truly are not. You can try and try but then never break through, and if people can’t see your worth, you are better off without them.

There are always groups and people who will welcome you and ask you to be a part, just keep asking, and you will find the one or many that will, sometimes it takes time, but we all find our people. And hopefully one never feels alone, but I will tell you my truth — with the thousands of people I know, I do feel that way sometimes. Aloneness isn’t always a bad thing. Learning to sit in it make us less co-dependent and lessens the need for attention and affirmation from others. Learning to love oneself and being your own good reflection is a huge life challenge.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned about belonging is from my Burning Man Community. I am a burner, and burners always, always take care of each other on the Playa (what we call the space where the event happens) and in the default world (when you are not at Burning Man). At least this has been my experience.

On the Playa, as you can, of course, wander alone, I do this, and it’s terrific, usually a daytime activity for me. At night you go around with your group, and there is something about standing together with each other watching, hearing, feeling, dancing, tasting magical moments happen together. There is nothing like it. The group think and sync are why we find the people we have common ground with in the world and that feeling is so very human and good.

The other piece of this is that you never leave someone behind when you are roaming around as a group. No matter how long it would take to find them, you make sure you have everyone and go to the next spot, art, dance club, and next cool thing, trips to the honey buckets as a group can be illuminating. Or you check in to see if they want to stay. It is a pretty simple thing to do. This small act is part of the practice of belonging.

Yes, Radical Self-Reliance is one of the ten principals of Burning Man but so is Radical Inclusion.

Every party or gathering at my home when my burner friends are there, my place is always cleaned up and not trashed, because people make that part of the ritual of how we are together on the playa and the world. Rock it out, but leave no trace.

One year a dear friend wore a hat that had L-wire on it and he became our beacon for finding each other, whether he wanted to or not he became our light in the dark. (the G-Force Galaxi Fez).

If you’ve ever been left behind at a party or event or from even going to lunch, you know how it feels to be forgotten or left out. It feels like people don’t care enough about you to make sure you are okay, want to come along, aren’t left in a bad situation, with a bunch of people you don’t know, or hungry. All those things make you feel like you don’t belong.

Unfortunately, as a woman, I also think about these things a little bit more and appreciate when folks in my group have an eye on me, making sure that I’m not in a bad situation or are left in a bad situation. Getting home safe is something I think about for myself and others, I make it a point of knowing that about that and many of us appreciate that more than you might know. It might seem a little too mothering — it is probably my Cancerian nature to nurture and my event planner brain to know where the emergency exits are but the words safe and safety first, not third, are a part of my DNA. In the world we live in today this is important.

I have no problems meeting people; a button was picked out for me from our Diversity Superpower Wall at the Microsoft Ignite Conference this week that says Networking Ninja - which is accurate. I make it a point to meet people, introduce myself, make new acquaintances and all that. But many people are shy, introverted and don’t have that mechanism. I make it a point to include people, introduce them to others and ask them to come along. And I value that so much in others and do notice when people aren’t that way (with the understanding that everyone has their levels of meeting new people that they are comfortable with) though I do think how one thinks about how they include people or not is something to consider.

Belonging is when others take the time to know you, take care about you and include you for all the things you are. It is also being welcoming, open and inclusionary.

Being left out happens to all of us whether you are shy and introverted or the most popular person or connected person. You are shunned sometimes because you maybe don’t speak up or ask to be included, some times people simply aren’t aware or looking out for those cues, or giant egos, jealousy and toxic behavior get in the way. It happens to everyone.

My point is that we all, me included can be better about this. The thing is, is that all of us are seeking to fit in, to feel wanted, to be cared for, to be liked, to be noticed just as I was on that playground, being the new kid, hoping that someone would see me, truly see me and say, “hey, what’s your name, want to come along?”

Nothing like it, to feel that belonging.

It is magic.

And something we all need to do for each other. Full stop.


Written by Head Maven & CEO, Heather (hedda) Newman, Creative Maven

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