Built to Belong

Discovering the Power of Community Over Competition


By Natalie Franke

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$15.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 24, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

This fresh, inspiring call to community and connection from an entrepreneur and leader is perfect for anyone feeling alone and ready to set off on a journey to true belonging.

Many of us feel more alone than ever despite living in the most connected society in human history. We need to belong in the same way that we need oxygen–our physical bodies require it. We perform better and have greater successes as individuals when we are connected to the collective.

Join author Natalie Franke as she shares her story of longing for connection in the chaos and lessons learned on her journey to true belonging. Together we’ll uncover how to:
  • Kick scroll-induced jealousy to the curb and transform the way that social media makes you feel about yourself and others
  • Overcome loneliness by finding your people and cultivating true community in your personal and professional world
  • Strike the balance between camaraderie and competition so that you can live a deeply fulfilled and joyful life
Human beings are not highlight reels—we’re done fanning the flames of comparison, drowning in our insecurities, and being pitted against one another. We’re saying no to the endless rat race of getting ahead and goodbye to the narratives that leave us feeling left out and alone.

We are destined for something better. We’re made for so much more. Because knit into the fabric of our DNA, we were Built to Belong.




You don’t belong.

You are not enough.

You’re broken and alone.

They’re not your friend—they are a threat.

They don’t care about the struggles you face.

Their lives are perfect and yours is a mess.

You are falling behind and falling short.

You don’t have anything to offer.

Truthfully: writing those sentences above feels uncomfortable. Honestly, it hurts to read those words, let alone write them.

Why? Because these aren’t hypothetical phrases or a made-up list of potential narratives floating around in some theoretical person’s mind—these are actual thoughts that I’ve painfully navigated in my darkest moments.

We need to belong in the same way that we need oxygen—our physical bodies require it. It’s knitted into the very fabric of our being. Humans are wired to live alongside others, and not just in some sort of parallel landscape of coexistence.

We belong to one another before we are even born.

Through the blending of genetic blueprints, through the weaving together of two other human lives, our own being takes shape. We cannot exist without the existence of others. There is no me without you.

From that initial spark of life, that first biological blending of our inherited genealogy, we travel into the space that we call home for our first nine months. Nestled deep within our mother’s womb, we are connected to her through a lifeline that nurtures our every need. A cord that connects us in the darkness. A cord that remains with us until we meet the light.

Babies are a beautiful illustration of our biological interdependence.

However, connection doesn’t begin and end in our earliest moments. Belonging remains critical in every season of our lives. It is a part of each stepping-stone along our journey of becoming.

In childhood we create friendships in school, and as adults we search for relationships in the workplace. The groups that we are a part of change as we ourselves evolve and grow. People walk in and out of our lives—and some remain for the long haul. Belonging builds us and breaks us. It molds and shapes us. It transforms our understanding of ourselves and others. It is the foundation of the human experience.

Like tiles in a mosaic or musical notes in a symphony—we are separate parts of a collective masterpiece.

We are individual beings existing as a part of a group: a delicate dichotomy between our desire to be autonomous and our inextricable need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Within social groups, both humans and other animals battle with the delicate balance between cooperation and competition. The ability to operate as a group is critical to the survival of the species. However, the individual also has a vested interest in being the one to survive and pass on their genetics to the next generation.

Cooperation and competition are a delicate balancing act wired directly into our genetic code. We are built to belong, and yet we are also created to compete. We are constantly at war with ourselves, and it doesn’t take much for the balance of power to shift.

When I started my photography business, I dreamed of becoming the best photographer in my city. Years were spent honing my craft, building my brand, and nurturing a client base. I was a solopreneur competing at the top of my game; however, I wasn’t doing it alone.

My success was propelled by the success of others. I relied on other photographers to shoot alongside me at weddings. We also shared business opportunities, referring out new clients when one of us was booked. As the photography industry evolved—developing new shooting styles, editing techniques, and marketing strategies—knowledge was also shared, and the collective benefited too.

All photographers compete against one another for business. However, they also deeply rely upon one another. The balancing act between community and competition is a tightrope walk that we must navigate every day.

I have spent years unpacking the significance of this duality—the craving we have to compete and the calling we have for community. This book is my way of sharing what I have learned and elevating the stories of others who demonstrate that we truly can rise together in a competitive world.

For years I struggled to strike the proper balance myself. I wanted to achieve. I wanted my business to flourish. I also wanted to belong to a community whose members truly supported one another.

And I’m not talking about a shallow, superficial type of friendship.… I wanted the real thing. I longed for deeply authentic and selfless camaraderie. I yearned for radical kindness—people caring for other people without expecting anything in return. No hidden agendas, no tearing others down, no comparison monsters knocking on the door… I desperately wanted something different.

Yet there I was sitting in the darkness of my office alone—competing, comparing, and scrolling deeper into the void.

There was no single moment that brought me to my breaking point in my battle against loneliness. It was the culmination of smaller moments—times when I felt left out, less than, and unworthy that I carried with me on my shoulders until they brought me to my knees.

Can you relate? Have you ever done the midnight scroll and been left feeling depleted?

Have you ever struggled with comparison or felt like someone else’s accomplishments were simply evidence that you were falling behind or not measuring up? Has someone else’s prosperity ever caused you pain?

We have been told that in order to be successful, in order to live a life that makes an impact, we must prove ourselves and be the best at what we do. In our pursuit of being the best, we lose sight of being our best. Slowly we trade interdependence for independence, we choose personal successes over the collective good, and we begin to believe the narrative that it is us versus them.

It doesn’t have to be like this.


Loneliness is like a virus. Under the right conditions, a single molecule of loneliness can replicate, spread, and quickly threaten to destroy us.

A virus? How is loneliness a virus?

It is contagious—spreading through social groups from person to person. Its negative effects reach as far as three degrees of separation from the source. The topography of loneliness can be traced through communities, spreading in clusters and wreaking havoc.1

Greater sociability enhances brain health and the lack thereof threatens it. Increased rates of depression, cognitive decline, and dementia have been found among adults who are isolated.2 Researchers estimate that lacking human connection carries a risk that is comparable to smoking up to fifteen cigarettes per day.3 And many of the studies being done on social isolation are explicitly examining disease-related mortality and thus are not taking into account deaths due to suicide… which is also on the rise.4

Atul Gawande, a public-health researcher and contributor to the New Yorker, reports that long-distance solo sailors, who commit themselves to months at sea, endure an onslaught of terrors, including raging storms, soaring waves, leaks on board, and physical illness. Yet many recount that the single most overwhelming difficulty they experience is the absence of human connection. It is the unrelenting solitude that threatens to swallow them whole… not just the sea that surrounds them.5

Likewise, it is also well noted in scientific literature that the absence of human connection will drive a person to the psychological brink of insanity.

Psychologists have studied this at length by examining the effects of incarceration. In June of 2012, Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in a hearing on solitary confinement. With more than thirty years of research under his belt, he condemned this form of incarceration, stating that “solitary confinement precipitates a descent into madness.”

In his testimony, he noted that prisoners subjected to long-term solitary confinement endure psychological breakdowns from the lack of human contact. For many, this leads to irrevocable damage, including psychosis, mutilations, and—in severe cases—suicide.6

The late Senator John McCain shared about his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—with more than two of those years spent in complete isolation in a windowless ten-foot-by-ten-foot cell. McCain endured repeated torture at the hands of his captors, was denied medical treatment, and suffered from physical trauma ranging from broken bones to horrific bouts of dysentery.7

In an interview with Richard Kozar, McCain recounted: “It’s an awful thing, solitary.”

McCain went on: “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment. Having no one else to rely on, to share confidences with, to seek counsel from, you begin to doubt your judgement and your courage.”8

Numerous accounts from prisoners like McCain and others illuminate the horrific damage that occurs to the human psyche in extended periods of complete solitude. Void of any social interaction, we destruct from within.

The sustained stress of extreme isolation damages the part of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and spatial awareness called the hippocampus and leads to a decrease in the formation of new neurons. It also leads to increased activity in the amygdala—the area of the brain that mediates fear and anxiety.9

The absence of connection condemns the human mind to a fate that is the antithesis of our very existence. A life of solitude is a psychological path of destruction. We cannot thrive without one another.

We must value connection as though our life depends on it… because it does.

When we are emotionally isolated, lonely, and alienated from the world, we are at risk of losing everything. Social disconnection and perceived isolation is a pervasive problem. The battle for belonging is one waged within each of us, and we are in the fight of our lives.

As you already know, I’m not immune to struggling with this myself. If loneliness is an epidemic, then I am certainly one of the infected. I struggled for years with feeling completely alienated, unwanted, and unsure of how to connect.

Feelings of alienation and unworthiness tormented me… so I dedicated myself to solving this problem. I pivoted out of a successful small business and started building communities across the globe.

In trying to cure my own loneliness and cultivate community, I discovered why I had struggled with this from such a young age. Because the barrier that kept me from truly connecting, the obstacle that prevented me from engaging in meaningful relationships, the real reason I rarely felt seen in this world, was my own deeply rooted perception that I didn’t deserve to belong.

I felt alienated because I didn’t believe that I was worthy of connection. I felt alone because I didn’t feel deserving of friendship. So I went out looking for evidence of these painful perceptions, and I didn’t quit until I found it.

Solving loneliness in our lives isn’t as simple as joining a community. To truly solve it, we need to first change the way that we think about ourselves and our relationships with others, while truly believing that we are capable and worthy of belonging.

Loneliness isn’t merely an isolation problem; it is also a worthiness problem. We must truly believe that we are deserving of love and built for belonging before we are able to receive it.

So how do we get there? I told you that it isn’t as simple as building community, so what exactly is the solution?

We must challenge our culture of competition, the societal frameworks and narratives that pit us against one another. We need to stop mindlessly scrolling and start intentionally connecting, leveraging our devices to bring us closer together rather than driving us farther apart. We have to rewrite the relationship rule book together—one page at a time.


There is a better way. And you don’t have to do it alone. You can kick comparison to the curb, cultivate a deep sense of belonging, and grow a genuine community of dynamic human beings online and in person.

I’ve done it, and I’m going to show you how you can do it too.

I want you to finish this book feeling vastly different from the person who opened it. I want you to thrive in a community where you are deeply connected to yourself, others, and the opportunities that exist all around you.

You can carve out a path for your life unlike any other—one brimming with joy, connection, and wholeness. You can fight for others to experience that too.

You are welcome here. You are built for belonging. You are created for connection.

You don’t need to spend hours and days and months and years skillfully assembling your mask—creating facades to impress, hiding your scars, camouflaging your exceptionality, and blending in. These modern masks look like virtually curated feeds and perfectly crafted captions. They read like meticulously polished résumés that leave no room for uniqueness—only palatable homogeny in the pursuit of blending in. They are our shields against insecurity and our weapons against letting anyone get too close.

You don’t have to hustle, struggle, and strive in stifling isolation. You don’t have to carry the weight of the entire world on your shoulders without anyone to help you.

I am certain that this reality exists because I’ve lived it and witnessed it countless times. Over and over again, through loss, through illness, through uncertainty, I have been carried by my community. My life is a testament to what happens when we set aside our culture of cutthroat competition to seek a better way.

Now, I’m not going to say that this road is easy. Committing to changing your mindset and the way you operate is going to be hard. Raising your hand to live a life that puts people first and champions camaraderie means rowing against the current.

However, in order to truly change the way things are, we need to make waves. This doesn’t mean that we should eradicate our natural desire to strive for success, but rather ensure that we never seek the destruction of others in the process.

When you walk through the valleys of your life, it can be easy to lose sight of the outstretched arms around you. It can be hard to trust, to believe, to see the impact that investing in community can have when you’ve grown used to the isolation.

Something powerful happens when you open your heart to the pursuit of doing life with others. Suddenly those struggles that you face are a little less daunting. The weight on your shoulders becomes divided across the shoulders of your friends. They carry the burden alongside you, helping you to make it through each day.

For years and years, I couldn’t see the beauty of the relationships that awaited me on the other side of isolation and loneliness. I couldn’t hear the voices of thousands of others longing for connection in the chaos. I didn’t know that I would one day cofound the Rising Tide Society, a community of entrepreneurs who, just like me, were craving a better, more connected way to live. I didn’t know that our hashtag #communityovercompetition would turn into an international movement.…

This book is the evolution of six years spent cultivating communities around the globe. We’ve grown from a hashtag on social media to a community that is inspiring people around the world to reject narratives that pull us farther apart in favor of rising together.

All those years ago, I didn’t know how to overcome my insecurities and kick comparison to the curb. I felt alone. I felt unworthy… and it was destroying me.

I know that at some point you have felt that way too.

• Tired of competing and comparing yourself to others.

• Exhausted from the constant hustle to measure up.

• Longing for deep relationships in a shallow world.

This book is my entire heart spilled out onto the page. My learnings from friendships and hardships, from beauty and brokenness. It’s a quest filled with vulnerability and a long lesson in embracing my imperfections in order to live a more deeply rooted life with others.

As you experience this book, I’m inviting you to change the way things are. I’m asking you to challenge how you feel about yourself and others. I want you to discover that you too were built for belonging. I want you to walk into a room knowing that you are welcome and feeling empowered to create spaces for others to feel welcome too.

Are you with me?




Our modern world is a deeply isolating place. It is fair to assume that in picking up this book, you can relate to that… and that a part of you intuitively understands that this isn’t the way it is supposed to be.

We aren’t supposed to struggle in stifling isolation. We aren’t meant to carry our burdens in life alone. Human beings are created to live together—connected, interdependent, and as a group.

Our brains are built for belonging. We are wired to experience pleasure when we are socially accepted and to experience pain when we are rejected or are at risk of banishment from the group. That joy you feel when you’re invited to the party and that pain you experience when you see others gathering without you is all by design.

Why? Our ancestors lived or died based on whether they belonged. It wasn’t about happiness. It was about survival.

Community is our competitive advantage.

Our brain has evolved under social pressure to make us highly self-aware of where we fit and whether we belong. Social cognition and emotional intelligence are a distinct part of what makes us uniquely human—a consequence of our evolutionary past meant to ensure the survival of the species.1

This is no longer the world of early humanity. The way we live, gather, and connect has changed in immeasurable ways. Our neural hardware, however, has not.

The uncomfortable reality is that our brains are wired to thrive under a set of conditions that no longer exists. Our neural circuitry, built to keep Homo sapiens alive in early human existence, is now navigating unfamiliar territory that is changing at a faster and faster rate. The world our species once knew would be unrecognizable to all of us.

Think about it: We’ve traded stone tools for cell phones and slow-paced living for the unceasing rush of everyday life. Information was passed down by generations of oral tradition, whereas now a stream of news updates fills our every waking hour. We’ve shifted away from communal living into one-bedroom apartments in glass boxes towering into the sky.

The hardware hasn’t changed, but the software—the information we’re processing and the outputs required for our “mind machine” to operate in our modern world—is vastly different than it was from the outset.

It is important to acknowledge that we brought about these sweeping changes ourselves. Human curiosity led to exploration, innovation, and technological advances that shifted the foundations of society and ultimately changed the way we live and work today.

Technological and economic shifts redefined the household, from generational to nuclear, with more and more people living alone. Human beings went from living in tribal communities where everyone knew everyone to apartment buildings with twice as many people but where we don’t even know the person next door.

We used to know the farmer that picked our produce and the family that raised our meat. We would meander through aisles, holding eye contact and occasional conversations, on weekly trips to the market. Now we sit in darkened corners of our homes late at night, illuminated only by the glow of our screens. We choose groceries from an app and peek out of the window as it is delivered to our front porch. No contact needed. The only “connection” required is a strong Wi-Fi signal.

The structural points of interaction that humans relied upon for thousands of years, gone in a matter of decades.

Simultaneously, we’ve mastered the ability to out-innovate generations before us. Desiring a better life, we have created digital devices that cater to our every need. With proprietary algorithms designed to keep us scrolling and content catered to our individual liking, the world has slowly started to revolve around us.

Every piece of content is tailored to our liking based on previous data we’ve both intentionally and inadvertently provided. Each suggestion is made with our unique brand of interests in mind. Our social platforms know whether we are conservative or liberal or whether we even care about politics at all. Silicon Valley data analysts know what videos will keep us scrolling longer, so they shift algorithms to increase user retention, thereby driving ad revenues higher and making investors richer. We are too entertained to notice or perhaps too dependent to care.

We don’t need to go out into the world searching for happiness when it is hand-delivered to us on a digital platter, right?

This isn’t how it has to be. Scrolling in isolation isn’t what our brains were built for.

When we look to regions of the world where human beings live longer than anywhere else, we see a uniting set of factors that contributes to their longevity. Eating well and physical activity alone are not enough to sustain us far beyond the median age of survival. It is a sense of belonging and connection to a community that, in combination with a healthy lifestyle, fuels the world’s longest-lived people.

In Japan, Okinawans cultivate “moais”—devoted groups of five friends who commit to one another for life. In Italy, Sardinians center their lives around meals shared, often with wine and always with an emphasis on gathering as a family. The world’s longest-lived people prioritize connection and have cultivated healthy lifestyles built upon a foundation of belonging.2

Additionally, across 148 studies performed on more than 300,000 participants, researchers further revealed that greater social connection is associated with a 50 percent reduced risk of dying prematurely.3 Building relationships and being a part of a community plays a significant role in our physical health as well.

We understand the benefits of cultivating community and belonging—we know, without needing to see facts and figures, that these tenets are important for our well-being. So, understanding their importance, we try to instill these values from a young age, and yet our competitive culture finds a way to push us in a different direction.

Modernization led us away from the collectivistic ethos that we were created for. We moved away from pursuing communal societies into valuing radically self-centered ones. As a result, the undercurrent of the culture we consume promotes ideologies of scarcity, exclusion, comparison, tearing others down, and winning at all costs.

If we read between the lines in the guidebook to chasing after success, we can almost make out the mantra “every person for themselves.”

Just think back to your childhood. When we are young, we learn about taking turns, sharing, getting along, encouraging others, and being kind; however, as we grow older, a slight shift occurs and “winning” becomes more of a priority. We are no longer measured based on our merit as human beings but against metrics that serve to quantify our contributions and abilities.

Grades are given, and academic achievement becomes a gateway to a better future. The harder you study, the better you rank, the more of a chance you have at landing a spot in the next stage of schooling.

Sports teams go from giving everyone a chance to play to requiring players to try out just to make the team. Those who make the cut must still strive practice after practice to stay off the bench.

Cliques form. Classrooms where everyone once felt welcome transform to the mean girls table in the lunchroom. Lines are drawn, and groups are recategorized accordingly.

These early measurements of success, highly based on intelligence, popularity, and physical strength, are ingrained within us as key tenets to strive for. We are compared against our peers and ranked based on how we measure up. Whether directly or indirectly, we are encouraged from a very young age to see our worth and value not in contributions to the collective, but rather in individual performance.

Be the smartest.

Be the strongest.

Be the most popular.

In a culture that glorifies achievement, children are taught to be the best rather than their best. Slowly, we are pitted against one another as competitors rather than collaborators, as a threat instead of a friend, and in the long run we all suffer for it.

The values of individual performance and competition become more important than the building up of our colleagues and friends. Instead of sharing and collaborating, supporting and inviting, we learn to be suspicious of others, to distrust, and to guard our ideas and ourselves from the community around us. Envy and jealousy are normalized as #goals as we are reminded, almost daily, of who we are competing against.

Mindsets driven by fear and scarcity leave us feeling more and more isolated. We become disillusioned by the everyday grind that has us working harder than ever before but remain detached from what our hearts crave: true community and connection.

These internal narratives slowly weave their way into our daily interactions from these childhood experiences. As adults we long for belonging and simultaneously believe we are unworthy of it. We live our lives in the shallows just close enough to see the safety of the shore without wading out into the deep end.

When we are happy, we fear letting anyone come too close. When we are hurt, we choose to run rather than reconcile. We dodge eye contact and are more comfortable sending a text than making a phone call.

We sum up a person’s entire existence into a profile photograph and one hundred and forty characters. Rather than truly get to know someone, we create mental checklists of requirements and read through résumés. We swipe left and right to categorize our potential partners—a lifetime of connection determined by instantaneous judgment in less time than it takes to have a conversation.

And in our pursuit of success, we’ve become increasingly self-centered and out for ourselves. We rank individual achievement above collective advancement. Have we forgotten the ancestors whose shoulders we now stand on—the soldiers and suffragists, the civil rights warriors and pioneers of progression, the ones who sacrificed their lives for the betterment of the whole? Have we become so focused on ourselves that we fail to see our responsibility to one another?


  • "Natalie challenges us to change our perspectives on business and relationships. If you have a narrative in your head that the other person is your competition and not your friend, that soundtrack is going to encourage you to miss so many new opportunities. Natalie confronts the scarcity and competition mentality head on in a way that proves there’s plenty to go around."

    Jon Acuff, New York Times bestselling author of Soundtracks
  • "A call to arms—heart is always more valuable than hustle, and community is always more important than competition. Natalie inspires us to lean into vulnerability and paints a vision for how you can link arms in business and friendship."—Emily Ley, bestselling author of Growing Boldly
  • "A counter-cultural must-read! Business is all about relationships and yet, we are often in crazy, cutthroat competition with one another. Natalie reminds us that it doesn’t have to be that way! We can be successful women with drive and ambition and still make people our priority."

    Lindsay Teague Moreno, bestselling author of Boss Up!
  • “This message is one the world desperately needs right now. With a heart-on-sleeve style of storytelling, Natalie doesn't hold back—her words are raw, rich, and necessary for anyone who feels like they're wrestling with belonging. Natalie takes you by the hand to guide you with her wisdom and vulnerability. If you're longing for a shift in the way you see and find community, this book is a beautiful first step.”—Hannah Brencher, author of Fighting Forward
  • "Riveting. Relevant. Radical. In a world where people are challenged by the vicissitudes of life and the virus of loneliness, along comes a message in the bottle that simply says we belong.  Every organization that believes people are more important than profit should consider this book required reading. I am going to recommend it to every leader, individual, organization that I know. A timeless classic that has arrived in the nick of time."—Dr. Simon T. Bailey, Executive Coach, Author, and Thought Leader
  • "Natalie Franke is a champion of people—people over perfection, people over performance, people over competition. Built to Belong is both practical and inspirational—an important read for creatives and business leaders about why we should link arms, and the amazing gift of community over competition."—Jess Ekstrom, author of Chasing the Bright Side
  • "If you want to make a greater impact and find more meaning in life, don't do it alone. Tap into the power of the collective. Natalie's calls to action in Built to Belong are the perfect blueprint to widen and deepen your relationships so you can grow your community, business and heart."—Antonio Neves, author of Stop Living on Autopilot
  • “An engaging and inspiring read that makes plain the power that genuine human connection can have on our lives and businesses; a fact I’ve personally witnessed in Natalie’s work as Head of Community at HoneyBook | Rising Tide. The book is an important reminder that we can go further and reach our goals faster when we go together.”—Oz Alon, CEO of HoneyBook

On Sale
Aug 24, 2021
Page Count
256 pages
Worthy Books

Natalie Franke

About the Author

Natalie Franke is an author, entrepreneur, community builder, and mama bear for small business. She is also the Chief Evangelist at HoneyBook where she champions a community of over 100,000 independent business owners around the world. Natalie currently lives in Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two small children. When she isn’t writing, she can be found doodling, drinking more caffeine than is reasonably appropriate, and snuggled up on the front porch with her kids.

Learn more about this author