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Embracing Ambiguity


Embracing Ambiguity

Resilience in the face of adversity as well as patience in the face of uncertainty are two essential skills happy expats have in common.

How can you practice them if you're lacking in the latter department?  

I would suggest that your personality type preferences may play a role, and an awareness of them will enable you to specifically practice those skills.  

For instance, people with a preference for Judging (J) in their type code are known to delight in

  • closing projects,
  • finishing tasks, and
  • checking things off their to-do list,
  • before moving on to the next thing.

Particularly when combined with a sequential orientation to time (one thing after another - not multi-tasking) and a preference for methodical approach to managing projects, not knowing what's next may delay getting anything else even started!

I know this was definitely the case for me when we were in the Canary Islands and hubby started the application process to move to Mexico. Mercifully, things moved rather quickly and I wasn't left up in the metaphorical air for too long. 

People with a preference for Perceiving (P) in their type code are known to delight in

  • starting projects,
  • experiencing and brainstorming options, and
  • staying open to the information-gathering process,
  • before making a decision.

Particularly when combined with a synchronic orientation to time (many things can happen at the same time) and a preference for handling issues as they emerge, these lucky ones may not experience too much anxiety over uncertainty at all.

On the contrary, their anxiety may get triggered if things are moving too fast and decisions need to be made on the spot. During ambiguous phases of waiting, they most likely keep busy by exploring all the potentially interesting neighborhoods they could move to in the new country, new hobbies they can try out, new places they can go, or new people they can meet. 

As ever, it is important to honor your type preferences.

If uncertainty makes you anxious, see if you can break down the long list of things you don't know and find little items that you do know that you can act upon. For example, whether you know you're moving at the end of the month or not, start cleaning out your clothes closet and get rid of any items you no longer need. This will have to be done anyway if you move, and even if you don't, you'll feel like you accomplished something (plus you'll have space for a new pair of shoes you'll reward yourself with regardless).  

If you're handling the vagueness well and your superior uncertainty management skills annoy your J-loving spouse, be kind. Involve them in your exploration expeditions, and soothe them if they start to feel frazzled. Remind them that this phase, too, shall pass, and soon enough decisions will have to be made. 

Either way - remember you are a team. Ideally, your skill sets complement one another. If both of you are of the same persuasion, I challenge one of you to try on the other preference for a day. That way, you'll make sure to have all the bases covered. 

Image by Alexander Duret-Lutz, Flickr, Creative Commons License.



If you like to be on time and your partner likes to take their time

Pic Credit: Salvatore Vuono

Pic Credit: Salvatore Vuono

There is no way I can be generic in this post, so let's just put it out there:

I'm German, and I have a "J" in my Type preferences.  

My husband is Spanish, and he has a "P" in his Type code.  

Disaster waiting to happen, I hear you chuckle? You have no idea.  

A prominent German saying goes, 'don't put off til tomorrow what you can do today'. ("Was Du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen." - rhymes and everything.) 

Probably the most-used word in the Spanish language? "Mañana." (Tomorrow.) 

What do we know about people with Judging preferences?

They like to finish things, tick them off their to-do list, they generally have a keen sense of time,  tend to be early-starting in their projects, as well as punctual.  

What do we know about people with Perceiving preferences? 

They like to keep their options open, they enjoy the information-intake / data-gathering process a lot more than the decision-making one, they are energized by last-minute pressures, and may not always be punctual.  

Having said that, "P" does not necessarily stand for procrastinating, oh no: "J"s may also be late, because for them it's often a question of, "ooh, Just one more thing..." 

In preparing for an upcoming culture training, I recently asked my dear hubby how he would describe his sense of time-keeping. His answer:

"Well, when you say 'we need to leave at 8 o'clock', that's ambiguous to me. Because I don't know if it means we get ready to leave at 8, or we close the door at 8, or we are in the car at 8, or we leave the parking lot at 8... what does 8 o'clock mean?" 

This is where I'm screaming "HOW IS 8 O'CLOCK AMBIGUOUS???" in my head.  

"'We're leaving at 8' means we're closing the door behind us at 8, darling. Thanks for giving me a chance to clarify."

But ok, I wanted to dig deeper. 

"In business, when you have a meeting at 9.00 am and you show up at 9.05 am, don't you feel rushed? Or bad for making the other people wait?" 

"No, I guess I don't. Why? Because it's never really actually life-threatening if I'm a little late, and also - I don't mind being kept waiting, either. I've spend a lot of time waiting for others, and that's  fine." 

Huh. Interesting. When I'm kept waiting, I think it's quite rude and disrespectful. I still don't go as far as my mother and insist on having the whole week's grocery shopping done before 8.30 am on a Saturday, but still. Delays bug me. 

Obviously, not all Germans have Judging preferences, and not all Spaniards have Perceiving preferences - and in part, I blame the weather. There simply aren't that many good usable hours of sunlight up in the North, so we had to learn to manager our time much more efficiently, bringing in the harvest etc. Whereas in Spain - you can be pretty sure that the sun will shine again tomorrow, giving you time to relax today and finish your chores later.  

What do you think? 




3 Tips to Increase Your Happiness

Written into the Declaration of Independence, happiness is much pursued and seldom reached - for long. 

I read this article in the Times on the plane a few weeks ago and took some notes, so I thought I'd share them here.  

1. Try new things

Our happiness would be bred, instead of an almost adolescent restlessness, an itch to do the Next Big Thing. (...) That first moon landing - Apollo 11 - was a very big deal, something we had pursued like nothing else. But Apollo 12? Sort of a letdown.

This makes sense, doesn't it? First of all, in terms of age of country, the USA are in their adolescence. But you don't have to be US American to get excited about a new pair of shoes only to get bored by them a few days later. Your brain gets used to them, so all of us experience this phenomenon. Belle Beth Cooper writes about it here, and giving examples from her recent expatriation. 

So, while routine gives us stability and a sense of security, it may also get you down. Why not try new ways home from work, a new dish at the local restaurant, or - gasp - a new hairdo to flex your new-change muscles?  

2. Stay focused

In a recent research study,  

people operating under that so-called cognitive load showed reduced empathy reactions, with neural activity down across four different brain regions. People with uncluttered brains processed - and felt - things more deeply.

According to one of the researchers, "it's possible that being distracted may also reduce our own happiness." In other words - stop doing more than one thing at a time. Don't play Angry Birds while watching a movie, stop listening to an audiobook while baby-sitting, and for goodness' sake, if you're maxed out at work, don't schlepp your laptop into meetings and answer emails at the same time. It's not good for your health, not even to mention the cross-cultural messages you're sending to those who think it's rude. In the US, I know everybody does it, but in Germany it looks like "you're not important enough to have my full attention".  Have a chat with your team to set boundaries and see how you can fit your workload back into a realistic 40 hours. 

3. Appreciate what you've got

You've probably heard the thing where money doesn't buy happiness, or happiness levels don't increase much above a certain pay-grade. Sorry to bust that bubble: 

while happiness may not rise as quickly as income (doubling your salary from $75,000 to $150,000 will not make you twice as happy) there is no such thing as growing numb to money. (...) not only does subjective well-being rise along with income but in wealthy countries the slope is actually sharper than it is in poorer countries. 

What does this mean? If you make six figures but would like to make seven, your happiness isn't where it could be. If you continue comparing yourself to those who have more, you're not giving your happiness a chance to catch up.  

Click on the image up top to read the full article online, or buy the magazine for more interesting facts. For example, when asked "Which makes you happier?" 35 % of people said "Working toward a goal", and 59 % said, "Achieving a goal". Now, does that sound like a Perceiving and Judging preference, or what?!



MBTI® Background

Realizing the impact awareness of Jung's type theory could have on mankind, Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed a questionnaire in the first half of the 20th century that has been tested for validity and reliability since then. The MBTI® today is available in over 30 languages and is the world's most trusted personality type assessment. Guidelines of ethical use require the results to be facilitated by a certified professional.

The Step I questionnaire comprises 93 items, resulting in a four-letter Type out of a possible 16 combinations.

Step II questionnaire comprises 144 items, resulting in a four-letter Type out of a possible 16 combinations, as well as providing insights into five different facets on all attitudes and functions for how each person may differ from another of the same Type.

Please note:

The tool is not theory:

Your psychological type is more than a four-letter choice between two options. Your type is dynamic, there is a hierarchy to your functions, and the patterns described by your whole, best-fit type are much richer than what you see at first glance. Therefore, there is no "boxing in" of people, rather the MBTI offers a short-hand explanation of your preferences.

The tool has specific purpose:

MBTI results offer tremendous insight into how you approach life and work, and how you might structure your personal and professional development path. It is not suitable for personnel recruitment or match-making.

Don't force your answers:

If you think one side "sounds better", ask your facilitator to explain the Jungian meaning. For example, Thinking does not mean cold or unfeeling, and Perceiving is not the same as procrastinating.

Careful about "typing" others:

People are complex, and just because they behave one way at work does not mean that is their actual personality type preference. We all have access to all functions at all times, it's the order in which we prefer them that gives insight into our patterns.

Choose Individual MBTI® if you'd like to take the questionnaire or visit Process & Samples for more information.

If you'd like to take the assessment:

E-mail me



Step 3 - Stop judging, start loving

Over the next few months, I'll be basing my articles on this "12 Steps to Happiness" post.Martin Luther King said, "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."Albert Einstein said, "It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom." Mark Twain said, "You can't depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus."

What is your favorite quote or saying about judgment, and how are your actions reflecting it? We live in such a polarised society when it comes to judging, I'm really not quite sure where to begin trying to make sense of it all. It's so confusing to hear some outspoken Christians say God is the one reserving final judgment, when on earth those same people speak out violently against gays and followers of different religions. It is confusing to try and keep an open mind when interacting with people, hearing a horror story, then taking circumstances into account and seeing those clear black and white lines disappear. I have a friend who's a judge, and with his job comes such tremendous responsibility I am in awe every time I think about how he is listening to statements and then having to make life-changing decisions. What would life be like is Mme de Staël Corinne's phrase, "to know all is to forgive all" were reality?

I grew up in a small town and was taught not to point fingers, but at the same time there was always gossip about one person or another. Mistakes were nothing private or personal, nor were they regarded as learning opportunities; they were fodder for the over-the-fence brigades of righteous know-it-alls. Everybody was talking behind everybody's backs and of course the gossipers knew exactly what the gossipees should do to get their life in order. I learned there's a fine line between the helpful embrace of a tight-knit community, and the stranglehold of a place and people that disregard the right to privacy and show no mercy. It was refreshing when I experienced the indifference and freedom of life in a bigger city later on.

Being on the move for the last 14 years I'd like to think the different cultures I've lived in and all the people I have met so far have helped broaden my horizon and open my mind a little bit. In fact, I'm sure it has. However, I still find myself forming an opinion about things and people upon the initial glance. Now, is that judging in the bad sense, or just expressing an opinion or a preference?

In any case, judging isn't always a bad thing. It is human nature to assess a situation on the go and it is sometimes lifesaving to decide on the spot when a person or an alley doesn't look trustworthy. It becomes a problem when you think all persons and all alleys are bad, when you're generalising one specific experience across the board. I also think judgment and prejudice become a serious problem if you're not willing to review and reassess your opinion after finding out more about what or whom you've been judging. You look at a fat person and think, "How can they not know when to stop eating?", when you're the one not knowing they have a hormone imbalance or a thyroid problem. Not everybody is the same, but everybody has feelings, and you'll find that out when you take the time to talk to people.

My friend has to make his decisions after careful deliberation, and it would have been nice if folks from my hometown could have shown the same consideration at times. It's ok, though, if they don't, because at the end of the day, "When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself." (Wayne Dyer)

Til next time!


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