6 Reasons Why You Feel Like You Don’t Belong Anywhere

‘Why don’t I belong?’ Sometimes we go through moments in our lives where we don’t fit in with a certain group or place.

For some of us, we might feel like we don’t belong anywhere most of the time.

AURORA (1)

AURORA AKSNES (1) | The Forum, Melbourne, Australia 2019

Either way when we don’t belong often that means we feel different. The feeling of not fitting in comes in different forms. For instance, we don’t get along with family and never seem to say much around our parents or siblings. Can’t identify with ‘where you are from’ or our heritage. Don’t get the latest trends or TV series everyone is so into.

In other words, our tastes, preferences, background, experiences and opinions could be very different from those around us.

Throughout my life I’ve felt like I never fit in on countless occasions. Never felt like I fit in at school as the bookish nerd who loved the library. Never felt a part of the writing classes I took at university to be a comedic journalist. Never felt welcomed as an introverted wearing bright colours standing alone in the corner at a party.

When you feel you don’t belong, why would that be? Why would you find it hard to relate to anything? Perhaps you don’t belong because of how others perceive you, and also because of the way you are.

AURORA (2)

AURORA (2)

Why you don’t fit in

1. Differences in cultural background

Today it’s a privilege to live in a multicultural world where there is a diverse mix of cultures, traditions, celebrations and beliefs. We can all learn from differences. The sad thing is not everyone is accepting of diversity and racism is very real. Racism, and poking fun at cultural nuances, makes many of us feel on the sidelines.

As an Asian Australian, my whole life I’ve straddled between being Chinese and being Australian. One day I might be more stereotypical Chinese and another day have a more Western mindset.

For instance, I could feel too Asian for wanting to share food in a restaurant when my white friends insist on having individual dishes to themselves. Too Asian for living with the Chinese-Malaysian folks when my white Australian friends moved out at 18 and wondered why I haven’t. Too Asian and clueless walking down the street as someone yells, ‘Go back to where you came from!’ in your face. Or ‘Ni hao’.

AURORA (3)

AURORA (3)

Too Australian to be Chinese when I don’t speak Chinese fluently and my Chinese-speaking relatives call me ‘that white girl’. Too Australian when I rather be alone relaxing than spending time with family and being called out by them for being selfish – facing racism within one’s own race and not fitting in ‘at home’.

Often ignorance and a lack of education is to blame for discrimination and making you feeling an outcast. That said, sometimes no matter how much you try to explain the nuances of your background, others simply might not get it or dismiss it – too foreign and unbelievable to them and they have a right to believe what they want to believe.

Or perhaps you’re too stubborn to assimilate and be open-minded about walking into another culture. You might stubbornly stand by your cultural values, wanting to preserve your heritage and feeling you have the right to be who you are. For Asian Australians and third culture kids, these conflicting worlds are what makes us wonder what it’s like to be fully a part of a culture.

AURORA (4)

AURORA (4)

2. Clash of personalities

Hard working vs party person. Shy vs social butterfly. Extrovert vs introvert. You might be the odd personality among a group of people. Others all might fit a certain character but you aren’t that type.

The world is arguably an extroverted one: if you want to get ahead at school or work, you have to network, speak out and put ourselves in the spotlight. Having fun is typically associated with socialising, traveling and painting the town red. I don’t relate to extroverted kinds. I could spend a whole month at home not talking to anyone in person or online, busying myself with my imagination and writing. In fact, in the past that was how I enjoyed my annual leave from work.

Turning down late night rendezvous invites is nothing new to me. Standing quietly in the corner with a glass of water surrounded by drunks at parties is also nothing new. Finishing things way before the deadline at work, yes that’s me.

It’s hard to change the way you are. As someone once said, changing your personality is kind of like building a new house. Studies have shown while your personality traits can change, they don’t change overnight. Different personalities come with steadfast individual quirks, quirks which can make each other frustrated, anxious, upset and left out. Some of us simply don’t gel with each other.

AURORA (5)

AURORA (5)

3. Different lifestyles

Single mingle vs settling down, routine homebody vs traveling nomad, vegan vs raw diet are just a few contrasting lifestyles. Different points in life speak of different wants and needs, expectations, priorities, schedules and interests. It can be hard understanding and relating to how someone lives their life – different things are important to each other.

These lifestyles are normally the ones accepted: climbing the corporate ladder. Going after that next big job to afford a luxurious life. Living each week hoping it’ll be Friday. Living the white picket fence life.

The things I stand for makes me feel on the outside at times: it’s okay to be a struggling artist living pay check to pay check or living in a van. It’s okay to be any part of the LGBTQI+ spectrum while not shooting down other faiths. It’s okay to be polygamous or living a life like Artemis. How it’s okay to have ten kids or absolutely none at all.

I’ve never pushed my life choices onto others. Don’t want to make others feel guilty of the lifestyle they choose; we find middle ground and are great friends. But as time goes on, your lifestyle might make it hard to stay in touch and old friendships become no friendships, and you wonder where you belong.

AURORA (6)

AURORA (6)

4. Mental illness

Not everyone will relate to living with mental illness. There are different forms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder and other conditions. Going through mental illness can be a dark time with conflicting voices in your head; you feel hopeless and so find it hard to make connections.

Similarly trauma, stressed out times, chronic illness and chronic pain can also make you feel on the sidelines and want to retreat. You might feel left out as you can’t go about an ordinary life, can’t live without pain of some sort.

At the height of my anxiety and chronic pain issues, I didn’t want to answer questions about if I was okay, let alone think about these issues. Keeping quiet and isolating was my way of coping. Also, mental illness is a taboo topic and often dismissed as weakness in Chinese cultures, all the more reason for feeling on the sidelines.

AURORA (7)

AURORA (7)

5. Lack of listening

People can talk, but that doesn’t mean they’ll listen. When someone doesn’t listen, it could be a one-sided conversation: one person’s thoughts dominate, your opinions not acknowledged. When your voice isn’t heard, it can feel like you don’t exist, except maybe as a dumping ground for someone else’s emotions. When no one listens, you feel like you’re not understood and not worthy of being appreciated.

Sometimes others don’t listen because they are intent on sticking with their mindsets. Or they could be quick to judge and talk over you. Maybe you are guilty of this too. Everyone wants to offer their opinion, everyone wants to help by offering suggestions to make things better, but sometimes it’s best to listen.

By listening, we learn what makes others tick. A study on psychology suggests feeling someone’s emotions comes from listening to their voices instead of reading facial expressions. Never the chatty one in a conversation, I like to listen. I’m quieter than most and sometimes people around me chat on and on about their thoughts and lives…at times not getting to the point. I might get to know them better…but they might not get to know me better.

AURORA (12)

AURORA (12)

6. Reluctant to change

Change is a constant in life. People switch jobs, travel, move away, get married, pass away and acquire new interests. Places where we once were get shut down and rebuilt.

Sometimes old habits die hard because some of us like routine for the sense of security it brings, and we resist adapting to what comes our way. When you get stuck in routine, you get stuck with people and stuck in ways that don’t serve us anymore. Life moves on and you wonder why you feel left out.

*  *  *

When you feel you don’t belong, these feelings can be all too familiar: loneliness, abandonment, alienated, confusion, sadness, resentment and misunderstood. You might even feel the world exists perfectly fine without you. There could come a point where you’ll question your place in the world, your purpose and even the meaning of life.

When you don’t  belong again and again, you learn to live with being a misfit. You find ways to cope with being the odd one out. You set no expectations to make solid friendships or relationships when hanging out with others. You take up quiet hobbies at home like writing and crafting. You talk to your cats for company. You get used to never agreeing with others, accepting how others live their lives and go down your own path.

AURORA (9)

AURORA (9)

Not fitting in isn’t all a bad thing. You could love being the odd one out, being proud of your unique personality and glad you aren’t another wallflower. Maybe because you’re so different, you embrace that, see the world in a different way and your life is much more exciting because of that. Maybe you like spending time with yourself so not being the popular one is something you don’t mind. Most importantly by spending time with yourself, you learn what you actually like and what truly matters to you, and who really has got your back.

Being a misfit has taught me how to be self-sufficient, independent and never to rely on anyone. It has taught me how to travel alone, be the realistic one in relationships, buy a half a million dollar house on a single income, eat alone at a restaurant knowing that’s normal and how time buys friends. In short, being a misfit can teach us important life skills.

We all want to belong, even the most introverted among us. Psychologists Roy Baymeiser and Mark Leary studied this phenomenon in their paper The Need To Belong, suggesting we all have the ‘need to belong’ is a fundamental human motivation; close relationships boost immune systems and when we feel close to each other their personalities rub off us. In his book The Painted Mind, behavioural science researcher Alfonso Troisi mentions humans evolve in groups that depend on close connections in order for survival. In short, we can’t help but want to belong to somewhere, someone.

AURORA (10)

AURORA (10)

While I’ve never had a problem being left out of things, it’s always nice to be a part of something. Nice and peaceful to walk down the street and not get yelled at for nothing. Nice to spend time with introverts whom don’t spend every second talking to you. Nice to hang out with others living a similar lifestyle so you don’t have to explain yourself. Nice to talk and be with someone who is just like you because they understand you.

At the end of the day, feeling a sense of belonging first starts with accepting yourself in your own skin. Accept yourself for who you are, be comfortable with who you are, own your life.

Are there moments when you don’t belong?

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222 thoughts on “6 Reasons Why You Feel Like You Don’t Belong Anywhere

  1. Hi Mabel, Having individual strengths and preferences makes us human. More unique and interesting. I really like your phrase “nuances of your background.” It speaks volumes. Interesting about mental illness and the Chinese culture. Thank you for your candor and sharing information on a sensitive subject. Awareness is always a step in the right direction. A very interesting post:)

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    • So lovely of you to stop by, Erica. Thank you so much. We’re really all unique and interesting in our own way no matter where we are from and what we’ve been through – and we’re all strong in our own ways. You said it – awareness is a step in the right direction 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As the saying goes “the imperfection in us makes it perfect”. I have never fit in. I’m the odd one out. The oddball. And I totally love that I am the strange funny girl in school. To others, “I do me and you do you.”

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  3. Sorry to be late to the party on this post. Full-on travel has turned me into a crap communicator
    Once again a very thoughtful post.
    You hit the nail on the head with Not fitting in isn’t all a bad thing.
    Totally agree. Standing out (as I like to call it) has taught me to build relationships, to shine in my chosen career, and to work up the courage to leave it all behind to sail around the world’ And when I felt isolated from the world I left behind on my sailing journey, I was blessed to make virtual friends in the blogging community (including a mischievous yet adorable sock monkey) that shared my sense of adventure and welcomed me with open arms when I arrived in their home ports
    And I can certainly appreciate not being too much or ‘not enough’ (feminine, Jewish, introverted extrovert, career woman, wanderer, etc) of whatever box others would like to define me. It takes work not to fall into the trap of feeling bad because we aren’t what others want us to be.
    I had hoped racism would be a thing of the past but it rearing its ugly head again. But who wants to be friends with those losers anyway? Not me.
    Have you thought of syndicating this post to other places (e.g Huffington Post, Forbes, etc). It is really good.
    Ahoy from Medellin!

    Like

  4. Sorry to be late to the party on this post. Full-on travel has turned me into a crap communicator. Once again a very thoughtful post.
    You hit the nail on the head with Not fitting in isn’t all a bad thing.
    Totally agree. Standing out (as I like to call it) has taught me to build relationships, to shine in my chosen career, and to work up the courage to leave it all behind to sail around the world’ And when I felt isolated from the world I left behind on my sailing journey, I was blessed to make virtual friends in the blogging community (including a mischievous yet adorable sock monkey) that shared my sense of adventure and welcomed me with open arms when I arrived in their home ports.
    And I can certainly appreciate not being too much or ‘not enough’ (feminine, Jewish, introverted extrovert, career woman, wanderer, etc) of whatever box others would like to define me. It takes work not to fall into the trap of feeling bad because we aren’t what others want us to be.
    I had hoped racism would be a thing of the past but it rearing its ugly head again. But who wants to be friends with those losers anyway? Not me.
    Have you thought of syndicating this post to other places (e.g Huffington Post, Forbes, etc). It is really good.
    Ahoy from Medellin!

    Like

    • Never too late to the party, Lisa. Always room for you here 🙂

      It sounds like you have had a lot of fun being a misfit and the odd one out. Not everyone is able to sail the world and you have done it. Being yourself is the first thing we need to do to feel comfortable – and through your posts I can see that this journey is yours to live. Mr Wobbles is confused as to why you called him a sock monkey but he takes it as a compliment 🙈🙉

      Funny how people like to put each other into boxes. We shouldn’t ever need to feel bad that we don’t fit a box. Those who will accept us for who we are will come along at some point. Haha, I’ve actually never entertained the thought of syndicating this post or my posts to other places. Thanks for the tip.

      Sail safe, and safe travels 🙂 💕

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Dear Mabel, just dropped in to see if there was a new post from you, Hope all is well with you where you are my friend.. I believe Spring is now springing where you are, something to look forward to as flowers bloom and birds frolic 🙂
    Thinking of you, and sending Love ❤

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  6. All the time. I’m French, born in Pakistan, raised in Africa, educated in the US, and living in Mexico. 🙂
    When asked I answer I am a cultural mongrel. 😉 We have the advantage of having unique insights into many cultures. Let’s live with that and make the most of it.
    Cheers.

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  7. So much thoughtful content here! I’m most grateful to you for normalizing the feeling of feeling like you don’t belong. I feel like that’s a more common emotion/experience than people think but there’s so much stigma in talking about loneliness, so thank you for sharing your experience.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Thomas. You said it, there is so much stigma in talking about loneliness. All of us will feel lonely at some point in our lives and this is something we should all talk about more, and help each other.

      Like

  8. Hi Mabel, great to here about such long hiatus and it was delight to read this wonderful topic and the way your navigated your thoughts. When we ask “where do I belong”, it is such a profound question and intriguingly it has no one answer or a simple answer, as so rightly elicited there are these various shades at play. The place we have been born and grown up, things change when we migrate to a different place for further study and work, we see a different hue to the same shade of color. The culture and tradition to customs and beliefs present an altogether different canvas to paint a new picture but we tend to hold onto the old one, and we suddenly land in a trouble spot. Right from the food we eat and to the things we see on screen, and there is a different taste and take on each of such aspects of life which hits us on a daily basis, we go out and eat with our diverse set of friends to colleagues where we have a dialogue on whether to be a vegan and those of us who love the meat have different argument placed on the table, and not always built into a healthy debate. The televised programme we see and the streaming of serials others are so obsessed in watching what we term as bit weird and quirky, and we just don’t relate that obsession and we instantly drawn the line but get precariously caught in the grey zone.

    Two other very important aspects that you have so deftly touched on i.e. of “listening” and that of “change”. So true many of us forgotten how to converse and why not it is not easy as good conversation is an art and it needs practice and we need to nurture and nourish that process to fructify. So much cacophony and such noise all around us, the voice is loud, and the talk is toxic and we go hammer and tongue on such parochial issues that we miss the wood for the trees. Listening is such a vital aspect of good conversation, I must say the pivotal aspect in building and sustaining good and healthy conversation. It is generally mistaken that talking is conversation and more we talk the better is the conversation, grossly distorted inference that is instantly drawn and drawn with brazen arrogance. It is time to provide that zone of comfort for the conversation to flourish and bring back the good old days where social conversation was driving the quality of life but today social media is diverting the quality of life and our lifestyles are entrapped in restricted zones of living our stressful life. Coming to change, it is not the change per se that is understandably important what has changed fundamentally is the pace of change, and it is so rapid and it is in such quick frequency we have left with little option but are deeply mired in such rapid pace of the game of change. Before we could relinquish one old habit more are knocking our doors at frantic pace and we are utterly confused and many times frustrated and we get vexed up and we just leave things as it is and get going but not easy and we get caught in a vortex of stormy weather.

    Where we belong is so much in our mind and the maturity that we develop that we can manage to transcend these narrow lanes and myopic way of looking at life and evaluating life and getting badly caught in such inconsequential things. Life is such a fascinating gift of god and we have so much to do and we are given such a small life span, and we have the whole universe to explore and enjoy. Life is not to get tied down between these blacks and white, and good and bad, success and failures, we need to recognize our own value positioning and let others try to make such value judgement, it has no meaningful consequence. The personality that we are and the way we love our life and wants to live life exclusively as ours own and others who have problem with us, we should leave them on the way side and take a different route and enjoy the journey of life and not waste such vital time and resources for such silly stuff.

    Thanks Mabel for such a lovely take on a subject that keeps haunting us and you have beautifully dissected and shown the rights ways and we need to choose our own means to get going.
    Always a pleasure…
    😀

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    • It is lovely to see you hear, Nihar. ‘Where do I belong’ is indeed a profound question and you are so right in saying that there is no simple answer to it. All our lives we change, change our personalities, change our cultures, and also the people around us come and go and they themselves change. So it’s no surprise that many of us will feel like we don’t belong at some point in our lives. You bring up great points there – the food we eat, our choice to be a carnivore, vegan or omnivore, the TV that we watch, all of these things can either contribute to us fitting in or not fitting in.

      ‘Listening is such a vital aspect of good conversation, I must say the pivotal aspect in building and sustaining good and healthy conversation.’ You said it. Listening is such a powerful thing. When you actually listen, you engage with the other person talking to you and then you can get along with each other – and the more each of us feels important to one another. Too much talking is no good; one person dominates the conversation or too much talk is talk of no relevance to all parties. Social media is interesting. It allows us to talk and keep in touch with each other more, but then there is also competition of getting more followers and more likes. Where we really belong in the abyss of social media is anyone’s guess.

      Agree with your point in the end, that we have so much to do in a small given life. The universe is indeed our playground to explore and enjoy, and to learn and be creative in our own very ways. Often we have to put others’ opinions aside to move on with our lives. We might not fit in but we can always create a space for ourselves in some small place where we can just be ourselves if we let ourselves just be. Always lovely chatting with you Nihar 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Mabel there is no such universal way to define the very aspect of change and the change itself changes our frame of mind and the way we are thinking undergoes a transformation. Change comes in multiple hues and different shades, not easy to always recognize and retrain ourselves to align with new trends and happenings in life.

        With this rapid spread of digital platform and the way social media is invading our private space we are are bounded and we are dancing to the tunes set by this social media. There is something termed as “Social Listening” and listening itself is subjected to such deep scrutinize in the social media platform. In a way all our activities in social media is on the radar and it is silently listening to what all we are talking and how we behave in the platform, all our choices, our preferences, our timing of connecting and the way we react or respond everything is being deeply examined. Our behaviors and our response are being stacked in parameters and patterns are being drawn and we are becoming subject of predictability and actions are being predicted quite accurately and we are becoming puppets in the hands of this digital technology.

        Our personality and our lifestyle and the way we want to lead our life are being highly influenced by the conversations we are having in the social media which earlier was so much limited to our close social circles…

        The joy of life is in the nature and the source of happiness is within. Unfortunately, we all have distanced ourselves from nature and immersed in this virtual space, and also we are searching for the elusive happiness outside of us whereas the real happiness is happily residing within us and we are exploring it in the wrong place.

        There are people that come our way as we journey our life, we cannot determine the type of people that will across us and there will definitely some set of people who just doesn’t fit into our scheme of things and the best thing is to avoid or ignore them rather than exhausting our energy and spoiling our mind for them which are futile in nature, we need to train our mind and channelize our energy in the right direction and makes things happen what matters to us, after all we are living our life for ourselves first and than comes for others, we should listen to our own inner voice first i.e. our conscience and if we are in sink than rest other things simply doesn’t matter and we needn’t lose our good night of sleep.

        Mabel, always a delight to have our wonderful conversations, and your incisive analysis makes it much more thought provoking…
        Hope you are having a great weekend.
        Take care!!!
        😀

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        • Again you said it, Nihar. Change changes our frame of mind over time. What we might agree with in one moment, we might not agree during another time. We don’t have to follow and be part of the new trends and happenings in life, but it is always good to know…because one day we might have to be a part of that.

          ‘Social listening’ sounds like an interesting concept. There are so many more voices on social media these days, and you have to wonder which one to really listen to. Also as you said, social media platforms are silently listening to us – catching data on what we like and what we comment on, and in turn who knows what that information is used for. A lot of the time this information is used for customisation, and if we visit another site, it might be presented to us in a certain way to suit our tastes and in a sense we feel comfortable and belonging. Funny how many of us surrender to this. I guess in return we try to seek validation about ourselves online, and also try to stay in touch with each other.

          ‘we cannot determine the type of people that will across us and there will definitely some set of people who just doesn’t fit into our scheme of things’ Again, spot on. We have to be careful not to exhaust ourselves with too many people and voices around us. Social media can be overwhelming, when people are continuously wanting to chat with you or tag you in things and you get the notification on your phone. It’s no surprise social media detox is something some of us like to do every now and then – shut off all the voices coming through the online realm, give ourselves some peace and quiet so we can listen to ourselves.

          It really is wonderful chatting with you, Nihar. Your engagement and deep-train of thought is second to none. Hope all is going well for you, and good weekend 😀

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes Mabel, this is such a fast changing space before we could sense on one thing something else is knocking our door…the window to this digital space is like a good movie, we are so immersed that we forget what is around us and when we are out it takes time to sync with the real world…the difference between the virtual and the real world is no more a small one, the pace of change in the virtual space is literally taking us for a jolly ride.

            As so rightly pointed out, it is sometime so overwhelming when we have suddenly flooded with so many notifications in our mobile, and this Whats-app is crazy, and how people manage to churn out so much stuff, and it gets shared to widely forwarded, and it is written text, to crafted images to videos…yes, some are worth seeing and does make a difference in the way we think and see but bulk of it is garbage and the challenge is how do we dispose of these waste…everything from the mobile storage to mind needs space and we need to keep cleaning and keep creating the space for newer and better things to take its place. This calls for prudence and restrains and to keep disconnecting from things that distract us but where we need to also be there when needed….we cannot completely cut off from this space, it is happening.

            So much is within us and we need to consciously tap that wealth of wisdom for that we need to be musing, we need to be reflecting, we need to be conversing not just communicating, for that we need to spend time with self and people and places that matter to us. So much to see and so in this beautiful world, and we get imprisoned in the prism of parochial thoughts and things that so are insignificant which otherwise have been just ignored but we get wrapped in its vicious cycle.

            As we step back and look ahead, we start seeing a different world in front us, and while we need to handle and to tackle our daily problems and the way we get treated, and the way where we belong is constantly questioned we need to quickly change lens and take different shot and we a different a different perspective…and we should thoroughly enjoy the way we are and what makes us happy doing is what matters, and it’s our life and we should live to hilt…

            Indeed Mabel always such a pleasure sharing thoughts with you as you bring such lovely dimensions to every topic and such depth in your analysis…it’s joy to be chatting with you.
            Take care and have lovely weekend.
            😀

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            • Another great quote from you, Nihar: ‘the window to this digital space is like a good movie, we are so immersed that we forget what is around us and when we are out it takes time to sync with the real world’. So well said. In this digital real, things change faster than we can keep up. Sometimes change even bypasses us. However digital is the norm these days and as time goes on, things are getting more and more digitised, and every day life is more immersed in the virtual.

              WhatsApp can really be crazy with not just one on one chats but friend group chats, family group chats, voice calls and so much more. A lot of the time when we check our phone screens, it is loaded with notifications like text messages, Messenger notifications and so many other social media app notifications, including those reminders reminding us to update our apps if they are not set to auto-update. So overwhelming and it takes discipline for us to make time in the digital world and the real world. Where we belong is, really really complex.

              There indeed needs to be time for musing and reflecting, and also conversing alongside communicating, and engaging. We can only achieve so much by seeing – making sense of what we see, finding problems that need to be solved and making others’ days a better days are other things altogether.

              Again, a pleasure to chat with you, Nihar. Your philosophical thoughts are second to none. Hope your week is going well 😀

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