I am a gypsy.
For decades, I have packed and unpacked suitcases and boxes with professional efficiency. We are a military family and live in a state of constant motion.
Our assignments average three years, and it takes at least 18 months to get settled, to find a hairstylist who can handle my curls, to discover a few friends who can overlook my quirks and to learn the back roads of a city. It takes almost the whole three years to understand the local culture and customs of a new town.
My last residence is a 56-hour drive from my current one, and America — a vast, multi-layered enigma — entices me to evolve so I can belong in each new community that I call home.
I moved from nature-loving, locally-sourced, diverse Seattle to the panhandle of Florida, where I live at the intersection of beach hippie, slightly redneck and Southern proper. I have loved both cultures for very different reasons. As I write, I am preparing to move my family to Washington D.C., where personalities are intense, as the overachievers of all overachievers congregate around our Nation’s capital in not-so-subtle attempts to take over the world.
As I write this, I am anxious about starting life over again. I am intimidated. I have already lived in Washington D.C. and I am fully aware of the importance education and career play in that social scene. My resume leaves much to be desired and I don’t have the D.C. wardrobe to blend in either. Somewhere between being Sleepless in Seattle with a newborn and Sweating It Out Richard Simmons-style in Destin, I’ve lost my dress clothes. Flip-flops and faux-UGG’s have replaced my stilettos. Well-fitting jeans have been replaced with flowy cotton clothes conducive to a mom body, sticky kid hands and Florida’s humidity.
I am undecided if the fashion or culinary palette is more diverse from state to state. I grew up in New York eating pizza and bagels. I and have since learned how to love huckleberries, quinoa and flax seeds like my friends in the Northwest, and savor sweet tea, barbecue and enjoy low-country boils like my friends in the Southeast., Andy’s frozen custard and “Chinese” Cashew chicken from the Midwest always call my name, and I am already craving a Maryland blue crab cake sandwich with bacon and avocado from a mom- and- pop spot in the Mid-Atlantic. I LOVE food and acquire recipes as souvenirs to remind me of the people and places I love and have left behind.
I love the adventure and learning from people along the way, but I am never a true local. I am ever the outsider and always the student. I never feel like I fully belong, but then I see the sign in our home that has served as our mantra: “Home Is Where The Military Sends Us” and remember that I belong with my family.
Like a chameleon changes colors, I can change my home, my wardrobe, my hairstyle, my menu and my hobbies. And, with more talent than I possess, I could theoretically change my accent, too. But these are merely illusions that could help me blend in. Superficial changes will never make me belong.
I adapt and make the most of every opportunity, because life is short and I am blessed with great adventures. But, in the depths of my soul is the voice of an insecure, junior high girl that wants to fit in with the cool kids. This nagging little voice says ‘I don’t belong anywhere’, and ‘if I died tomorrow, no one would know where to bury me.’
But this is all just a lie. The Imposter Lie.
After hundreds of hours of introspection, self-discovery and qualitative research with subjects all over America, I have come to realize something profound:
Nobody ever feels like they belong completely.
I recently attended a book club with several high-achieving, very put-together women of various ages and we agreed to become vulnerable with one another. As our lunch progressed, I discovered that every single woman in the room was wrestling with the question of belonging. Whether we are 13 or 30 years old, I believe we all wonder if we are just imposters trying too hard to fit in. We think a certain degree, career, spouse, baby, house, pant size, etc. will help us fit in. But none of these will fulfill you completely. They are just superficial symptoms of a heart condition: the Imposter Lie. Which is just that—a lie.
It is MY life. I am not an imposter. I am not faking anything. I am living and living it fully. I belong with my family. Wherever my family is together, I belong there. When I am with friends, new or old, I belong there. Wherever the military sends us, I belong there. I do not choose our destinations, but I believe I have a purpose wherever we are sent.
I have another sign in my ever-changing home that hangs above my daughter’s bed: “Know that you were formed by God’s hands, dreamed up in His heart and placed in this world for a purpose.“ I hope it is one of the first things she reads each morning, so it guides her thoughts and actions throughout each day. And I pray it is one of the last things she reads before drifting off to sleep, so the message sinks deep into her soul and smothers out the Imposter Lie. She belongs here.
My place will change. My position will change. My appearance will change. My tribe will change, too. But I can walk confidently into new situations, because my purpose will always be the same: to love God and love people. I choose to use the energy, time and money I could spend trying to fit in with others to welcome people into my life and home. Instead of buying a new outfit that could make me look like I belong to a certain group, I can buy extra food and invite new friends over for a meal. Instead of waiting for people to welcome me into their circles, I can initiate a friendship and introduce myself confidently.
As a gypsy, I have learned not to wait for others to notice me. Most people are preoccupied. I think we become more socially awkward as we age! I was at a social event recently and every adult in the room played on their phone to avoid initiating conversation with strangers. As the girl who is always “the stranger,” I beg you to put your phone down and introduce yourself.
As a gypsy, I have learned to embrace the saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend.” (Pro tip! I have found that a really good cookie recipe can work wonders as an icebreaker!)
As a gypsy, I have learned insecurity is a waste of energy. Insecurity is self-centered thinking disguised as humility. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do or why you don’t belong, channel that energy into building up others. Stop thinking about yourself and make others feel they belong with you. Make sure your circle of friends is always accepting new members. Live a life without pretense.
And most of all, as a gypsy, I have learned to be brave. It takes courage to live life without pretense.
It takes bravery to be vulnerable with people, but sincerity cultivates the most beautiful relationships.
My greatest treasure from this 33 year journey are the friends I have made along the way. They are spread across this country like stars across the night sky, but I cherish each and every one. They are SOO different from one another, but they have made me better: more empathetic, kinder, funnier, stronger and most of all, braver.
Kara Floyd is an accidental stay-at-home mom and self-proclaimed gypsy. She is addicted to adventure and loves long road-trips with her husband and two kids. She currently resides in Destin, Florida and can be frequently found at the beach regaining her sanity by the sea.