I’ll tell you a secret. If you’re not from Hawaii and you moved here recently, you probably feel like an outsider. You didn’t know this when you dreamed of moving to a tropical island. You didn’t expect it because Hawaii is a diverse, melting pot. How could you know that people who greet you with, “Aloha,” could also be bad mouthing you behind your back when everything you read told you the complete opposite of what you’re experiencing.

You won’t find the grueling truth in a Hawaii visitors post trying to attract you here. But I know this truth because I’ve lived in Hawaii all my life.

Why am I writing this?

I think belonging is essential to our survival as human beings. Feeling like an outsider can make you do uncharacteristic things. It can pull you from your dreams. It can make you settle for situations beneath you. It can silence your true nature.

Being an outsider doesn’t just happen when you’re a mainlander moving to an island, it happens to all of us. Our skin is not tan enough or white enough (depending what part of the country you’re in). Your accent isn’t distinct or it’s too distinct. You dress weird. Your too open or you’re not open enough.

Getting stuck in this feeling of sticking out prevents us from our dreams. It can make us defensive, leave us vulnerable and shield us from the sense of belonging we’re desperate for.

Surprisingly the key to fitting in is to not.

When I was growing up, I was teased for being “too Japanese.” Even though I’m from Hawaii, I was easily confused as being a Japanese tourist. Darkening my skin by damaging it from the sun was a way towards greater belonging. Talking “pidgin” was another way.

I eventually moved to the mainland and experienced another slap in the face. I was even more of an outcast there. In a brash move to get the students’ attention, my professor singled me out. She likened me to someone who is gay. “You’re the same because you’re both minorities,” she said.

What I realized then, is that people will define you the way they want. But you don’t have to live through their definition. If you want to belong, forget about the people who place you in boxes. Be yourself and you will find your tribe. Speak the truth and you will find people who are thirsting for it. Define yourself and it won’t matter how others see you.

This is how you grow strong. This is how you get closer to your dreams. This is how you truly belong.

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