Belonging is important to us. It goes back to our hunter gatherer ancestors. When you were part of a tribe you were protected and provided for. You also had purpose by helping contribute your skills to the success of your tribe: by being a great hunter, toolmaker, medicine woman, leader. Outside the protection of the tribe, you might be vulnerable to the various threats of cold, hunger, predators… loneliness.

Nowadays we need to worry less about cave lions and mountain wolves. But the need for acceptance and safety persists. Daily life can still present subtle ‘threats’ that cause significant emotional stress; money worries, family problems, health issues, friendship failures… and we respond with our instinctive stress reaction, of needing the protection and support of those loved ones around you.

Having been severely bullied in school as a child, I have always had a keen sense of whether I ‘fit in’ with those around me. It means I constantly compare myself to others, measuring myself by some indefinable standard that makes no sense to me. It can be debilitating, and exhausting. I felt this acutely at the eXXpedition Summit back in October. I found myself surrounded by all these incredible, charismatic and accomplished women who had already done amazing things in their lives in the fight against plastic pollution. Despite being warmly welcomed by them all with open arms, I still had the voice in my head asking, ‘why am I here?’ and ‘surely there has been some mistake?’

Hilary and fellow crewmembers sorting microplastics onboard (Photo credit: eXXpedition)

Someone has coined the term ‘imposter syndrome’ for this, and it is commonly experienced by women. It usually means that, despite all evidence to the contrary, someone feels that they don’t have the right to be in a position of honour or to receive a certain accolade.

I felt it again when I joined my crew for Leg 6 of eXXpedition. I had been given a golden opportunity to join 13 inspiring women on this remarkable journey, yet I still found myself saying ’I don’t deserve this’, ‘everyone else here is so much better than me’, and ‘I don’t belong here’. So much so that it was threatening to damage my whole experience. On the first day Sasha said something wise, which I realised echoed my own philosophy: ‘If I’m doing something, at least I’m not doing nothing’. So, I decided to apply that to my own emotional conflict. By opening up about this and talking it through with my fellow crew, I realised we all experience this in some form or other. I accepted that I got here on the same merits as everyone else, and I couldn’t deny that.

Then Stefanie said something beautiful: “Instead of saying I don’t belong, why not ask, why do we all belong?” By simply flipping it over she helped me see it from a positive perspective, which changed my whole outlook.

This is what eXXpedition is all about: finding our SHiFT, that lightbulb moment that helps us see the unseen. And I am so grateful to my tribe of ocean sisters for helping me find it.