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Did you know there's an international friendship day? It's the first Sunday in August and the US Congress has declared it a holiday in 1935. Amazing, innit?

With all I've been writing about finding yourself and taking responsibility for your actions, I wanted to make sure that you know I wasn't advocating a life of solitude and sacrifice.

We define our sense of self in response to the image we see mirrored in others. Indeed, it'd be hard to say what we are and what we're not if we had nothing or nobody to compare ourselves to. Some of our ambitions might even grow out of wanting to out-do the Jones'. In a healthy adult, these comparisons don't turn into greed or jealousy, because they don't threaten the safety one feels about one's own image. Being secure in one's own skin is the best defense against prejudice and fear.

In my opinion, life is better with friends in it. They accept and love us for who we are, they stimulate our minds, they are generous with their affection and - if we're lucky - they are great sources of insight, constructive criticism and praise. They're a shoulder to cry on, the drinking buddy when we need one, and the keeper of our secrets.

The people we surround ourselves with also reflect back on us. Are your friends people you look up to and respect? Are they good role-models? Or are you sometimes embarrassed by the way they behave?

I invite you this week to think about your friends. When was the last time you told them how you felt about them? Is there maybe something you've always wanted to say but never found the words? Maybe it's even time to have a chat with old friends who don't fit the profile anymore.

The following still holds true: whatever hard times you're going through, you're the one in charge of making changes and finding your own solutions. But: you don't have to face it alone. Share with a friend, and though they may not know the answer, they'll be listening and supporting you.

(Re-post from the archives; first published in 2008.)




3 Reasons to be a little anti-social

playing youtube tnyThe generational divide when it comes to online or social media is astounding. Apparently, gone are the days where kids just play in the street and have an attention span longer than 2 minutes. Am I outing myself as one of those grumpy ones who say "when I was young, things were much better"?

Yeah... kind of. Seeing a toddler at a friend's house trying to get the magazine page to move as if it was a touchscreen tablet did send shivers down my spine. Still, as an expat I love and appreciate all the social media connections - they can make life much better. When handled with discretion.

The following is just my pithy opinion - if you're interested in actually learning something about Digital Cultures, check out this coursera course.

1. Health first: Don't forget to blink

If you're spending more than 8 hours in front of your screen, your eye-sight will be shot in no time. Blink, remember to look out the window, give your eye-muscles some exercise peering into the distance. And hey - if that view looks inviting, go take yourself closer and breathe some fresh air, frolicking through the neighborhood.

2. Old friends are great, but you need local ones, too

Ladies, are you with me on this one? Nothing like a face-to-face chat fest. And while you wouldn't want to miss once a week Skype with the hometown girlies, they're simply not just a quick walk or car ride away. Time zone differences can make a crisis seem worse, so finding a local back-up bestie is recommended. Not to mention they'll help you understand the culture and acclamate.

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3. I love Pinterest as much as the next person (have you seen my boards?), but it is true that I look much more than I actually take away and try in real life. Which reminds me of Billy Connolly's joke where he explains how useless reality TV is, where people are sitting on a couch watching people sitting on a couch. And I don't want to be disagreeing with Billy.

How about you? What would it take to get you away from the computer and back into dealing more with real-life people in your communities?


Making friends


Making friends

I've always been an outgoing person and have made many acquaintances and a couple of friends along the way, too. Looking back, however, I can't help but notice how much easier it was to make friends as a child compared to now. I was barely a teenager when we were on holidays in Italy, and I spent most of my days swimming, playing and exploring with a couple of Norwegian kids, having a total of maybe five minutes worth of dialogue between us due to language barriers. Still (or maybe that's why), we got on so well and had a great time together, while our parents stuck to smiling at each other, nodding their heads, and pointing at us kids, shrugging their shoulders.

Moving to Cologne as a high school graduate and beginning my apprenticeship was a different kettle of fish. There was rivalry amongst the girls in class, and cliques formed according to lifestyle preferences and socio-economic background. In the end, the friends I made that I'm still in contact with today are the expats who were there on international assignment, not so much my German classmates. Ha! Funny how that worked out.

I moved to Scotland aged 22. Now, being a student I loved. The atmosphere on campus, learning, partying, growing into our selves - what a great time. And so easy to find like-minded people to connect with! Sitting next to people in class, doing study groups, taking breaks in the library, not to mention the social activities - so many opportunities to start a chat and see where it leads. Scotland felt like home, I took on the accent and felt integrated into Scottish life with Scottish friends and a Scottish romance.

Fast forward to my late 20s in London this was not the case anymore, nor in Barcelona, and here's why I think that was: we got older. I got older, the people I wanted to make friends with were older, and by older I mean relationships and social circles had been established and there was little space for new additions.

I remember feeling excluded and on the margin of the Barcelona crowds, worrying I had become un-befriend-able, thinking they were closed off, and maybe even a little hostile towards Germans. Me missing Scotland and getting defensive when being called a tourist probably didn't help, either. After all, I wasn't just a tourist, I lived there! Not getting into a Catalan circle of friends bothered me for the longest time, so I connected with other expats. When in Scotland, I declined joining the German society on account of "if I'd wanted to hang out with Germans, I'd have stayed there!" Now, other Germans (and some Brits, wa hae) were my only contact.

Stepping into the shoes of a local Barcelones in his or her late 20s, it makes perfect sense not to invest too much time in friendships with foreigners. The Barcelones has lived there all their life, has childhood friends to go out with, is living with their parents, working on their careers, and saving money to get married and move into their own place. Expats stay for a few years, party on the beaches, and move on. What's the point?

Mobility and change are US American concepts that are not quite celebrated to the same extent in Europe. Given our different orientations to time and privacy, people from more long-term oriented cultures like some European and Asian ones may seem a little less welcoming and flexible than the US American counterparts. Remember the peach and the coconut? The tip here is persistence. When trying to make Catalan (or German, or Asian) friends - not giving up pays off eventually.

The questions I have for you today is, what's your definition of friendship, and how have your friendships changed over time? Especially among expats and other frequent movers, a large part of the social circle happens online via facebook nowadays.

As expats/movers, how much time do you spend trying to make new local friends and integrating into your new environment, and how much time staying in touch with old ones? If you're relocating as a couple / with family, are they enough for you, or do you still go to local gyms, chambers of commerce meetings, networking events, or groups to make new friends?

Here's a thought from the other side of the coin: you're enjoying your life as it is, you have your established circles and routines - how can you reach out to make someone new in your community feel welcome?

Til next time, have a good one!

Image by Vilhelm Gunnarsson, flickr, Creative Commons license




For the second time this year I have the great privilege and joy to travel the United States. This time, I've reached the far north-western beauty that is Seattle! Some might say the city's pearls are wasted on me (I don't like coffee, have little to do with information technology beyond consumer level interest, and wasn't even that much into grunge when it was in) but I'm having a whale of a time - just shy of actually being able to visit the magnificent creatures in their habitat in B.C. (Canada) due to my limited foresight and not bringing my passport.

My loving this trip in no short measure thanks to a) the dry climate (I don't mind the cold, you can put on a sweater for the cold, but rain? Rain is always dreary and depressing if you want to go outside and have to walk around in it.), b) comfortable shoes (I love walking around and downtown is very explorable on foot if you don't mind the odd hill), and c) my friend, who shall remain anonymous, but is a great pleasure to see, catch up, and have one of the locally brewed beers with. :-)

Since I'm on my way back to the Space Needle and exchange one of the T-Shirts I bought, let me leave you to your own endeavors of what I hope is a beautiful day with a couple of announcements: I'm working on a new website that should go live as soon as I'm able to figure out how to navigate my new web-hoster, and secondly, keep your eyes peeled for details of my next speaking engagement at the Families in Global Transition Conference. It's a great honor to be included in the ranks of participants, and I hope to see many of you international gallivanters there.

In case you've got some time to spare, I've been thoroughly enjoying Seth Godin's blog, especially this particular article here. He also has his new book available for audio-download on itunes; I hope to listen to it on my flight back to Texas. For now, do take care, count your blessings, and try something new!

Til next time, have a good one.



Friends, revisited

I've recently come back from a week's holiday in New York where I met up with two of my closest girlfriends. We get together once a year, and this was the first meeting in a town that was strange to all of us. A fact that probably contributed to the strained relationship we were experiencing, each in our own ways, combined with expectations and needs that weren't met, and different sightseeing schedules as well as differing general preferences of how to spend our limited time together. Eventually, the worst thing happened: we had a huge fight. On a boat no less.

As nobody got thrown overboard, the best thing happened: we actually talked about how weird it was for all of us not feeling like we usually feel when we're together. Misunderstandings were cleared up, and we were able to enjoy our remaining albeit short time together beautifully. So, for this week's post, I'd like to share with you what I've learned from this experience:

It's ok to talk to your friends, openly and honestly, about stuff that's on your mind. It's ok to ask for help when you don't feel you're getting enough of it. It's even ok to scream and shout at each other, as long as you keep in mind that it's coming from a place of love and a person who's close to you. Yes, comments may be painful or even damaging at first glance, especially when uttered by a person who's close to you.

However, with a little trust, it's ok to see this as an opportunity to look inside yourself and question whether the image your friends are mirroring back to you is, in fact, true. If it is and you don't like it, congratulations! You've just learned a lesson and probably grown a bit as a person, all thanks to a conversation with your pals. Now you're aware of what you want to change, you can do something about it! If you're still feeling misunderstood and the image you see in your friends' eyes is not who you are, it's still helpful to take the time and explain yourself in different ways, better ways, to your friends, so they understand where you're coming from. The friendship will be more solid for it, built on a more secure foundation.

Everything changes, and friendships are no different to relationships in that respect. People grow, learn stuff, experience hardship over time and become new people. Their core, what first attracted you to befriend them, may remain the same, but the frills around the edges add, combine and change over time. I invite you this week to reconnect to your friends, talk with them, keep in touch, re-introduce yourself to them, and see what happens. We're all on a wonderfully exciting journey, and sharing it with friends makes the ride magical.

Til next time, have a good one!

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Friends vs. Clients

Last week I talked about how great it is to have friends. Friends who are there for you, who'll alert you to the fact that your fly's undone, who share your burdens, who'll pass the bottle or the box of chocolates when you've had a rough day. Afterwards, I came across this article. The combination got me thinking about the relationship I have with my friends, and about the relationships I want to have with my clients.

Pretty early on in my training I realised that I shouldn't be coaching my friends, and that I shouldn't be friends with my clients, either. Before this offends anybody, let's have a look at this statement, shall we? At first glance, a friendship and a Coaching relationship isn't that different. There are two (or more) people involved, who respect and support each other while believing that the other holds the keys (answers) to their own set of doors (or windows! a.k.a. problems). They meet at regular intervals, they share the sometimes most intimate details, and they spend a good amount of quality time together. They trust each other, are secret-keepers, laugh and cry together.

This is probably where similarities end.

First of all, in a friendship, usually no money exchanges hands; friends aren't rented by the hour. Plus, the support is mutual and not one-sided, unless you're a Client who is happy to pay to hear about the day the Coach has had. (No? Didn't think so! :-) )

As a friend, I'll ask you tough questions and make comments when we discuss an issue and you invite my opinion. As a Coach, I'm able to be more effective and level-headed in helping you find your solutions, because I'm not as emotionally involved as I might be if you're a close friend. As a Coach, I'll have no reservations holding you responsible for your own decisions. As your friend, I'll be glad to slack off and spend a day at the spa with you, but as your Coach you can be sure I'm keeping you accountable as you take the necessary actions we discussed to follow through with your projects. Also, seeing that I'm available to an international clientèle, we might actually never meet, physically. There'll always be a degree of anonymity involved that can be beneficial for the Coaching process, since you as a Client might be more inclined to open up to a relative stranger. And hey, if you want to become friends after the Coaching process is concluded, I'm open for renegotiation on a case-by-case basis. ;-)

I've come to the conclusion that it's fair to say that the roles of friend and Coach, though similar, have some inherent and important differences. None is better than the other, but they are different enough not to be confused and intermingled. So, next time you wonder who to speak to about the issues in your life you're unclear about, I invite you to look inside what sort of assistance you're looking for. If it's a shoulder to cry on, call your friends, you'll feel all the better for it. If it's something you'd rather discuss with someone who has a proven track-record of helping people bring out their individual but possibly hidden resources, someone who won't tell anyone else, someone who won't shake their head or finger at you like a family member or a friend who's known you forever might, hiring a Coach is the way to go.

Til next time!

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