I want to tell you a little about my life experience—and more to the point, the emotional wounds of my childhood. I know it’s a bit strange to offer this up in a professional context, but my body of work is built on the idea that if you are here to cause a transformation for a group of people, that group of people (your tribe) share your wound. Not necessarily the details of what happened to you, but the pattern of wounding you developed. For example, the experience of abandonment, betrayal, or exile can shape a person’s life in ways their tribe can relate to. ’ It’s why you know and understand your tribe at such a deep level, and it’s your shared experience that causes the “know, like, trust” factor, which is the root of all great relationships. When you’re really called to affect change and provide transformation, it’s essential that you understand your personal wounding as the training program —I call this your “Life PhD”—for your life’s work.

So, I’d like to share a little bit about how my life gave me a “Life PhD” in belonging and connection.

I grew up in a conservative Dutch immigrant community in Western Michigan with a puritanical lineage that valued living a simple, austere, gray on gray life. When I was eight, my family moved from Dutch Calvinism to a branch of Evangelical Christianity that preached about the end times and eternal damnation for sinners who didn’t get ‘saved.’

“My path as an outsider showing the way has made me feel very alone at times, and it has created a deep craving for community and belonging.

My heart and soul was technicolor from day one. I’ve always been a curious, creative person who never really fit into the norm. I questioned things, and many of the rules of society just didn’t make sense to me, especially when I was told “this is just how we do it.”

When I was 12 I realized that I’m gay. I was devastated.  I had always felt different than the people in my community, but being gay meant total alienation. I was filled with deep shame and incredible fear, knowing that I was now for sure one of those sinners the preacher spoke about who was condemned to eternal damnation. I spent years in my basement bedroom, fighting with God to make me straight, hoping that I could somehow change and belong to Heaven.

I hid my secret from everyone around me for nearly a decade. I had lots of friends and was very active socially, but felt painfully alone in private, knowing that I wasn’t sharing the whole truth about who I was.

I now know that I was never designed to fit in. I’m meant to be an innovative, visionary leader showing the way to society’s new form. I need to see the world differently to do the work I’m called to do in the world. In fact, the world needs me to be different.

But my path as an outsider showing the way has made me feel very alone at times, and it has created a deep craving for community and belonging.

I know that those very feelings were also part of my training program – my ‘Life PhD’ designed to help me know the journey from feeling alone and fearing ostracization to a life of deep connectivity and belonging. That experience has equipped me to work with others who must risk their sense of belonging in order to truly be themselves. People who, like me, are challenged by the fear that they will face rejection or alienation if they are honest with the world about who they are and what they are here on Earth to do. And I know that, like me, you have your own ‘Life PhD’ that will show you the way to your tribe and outline the transformational journey you are meant to take them on.