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Step 2 - Accept Myself (again)

Picture credit plbmak To add the type and culture perspective to what I had written 5 years ago, I'm still working on accepting that my mannerisms actually come across a lot harsher than I want them to.

Interaction Style teaches that ENFJ fall into the "In-Charge" style, with a directing rather than informing communication style. Looking at straightforward speech through the culture lens, it makes perfect sense to me to tell it like it is. That saves time, everybody knows what they're supposed to do, leaving little room for misunderstandings. Organizations like Toastmasters help me practice finding a balance between the two styles; directing when called upon to do so, and informing when I care about all group members and wish to motivate and inspire.

All types have inherent strengths and all cultural preferences have their natural habitat. Cultural behaviors evolved because they were the best response to the environment's situation, securing survival of the species and adaptation to the surroundings. I know it is impossible to be liked or respected by all, to fit in everywhere, and to always do the right thing in any given situation. But there's still a little voice inside of me that says, "why not try, though?" Very stressful.

So, self-acceptance: work in progress. Here's a great inspiration I heard at a recent Toastmasters meeting: 12 words that will change your life.

Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.

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Top 3 Challenges of Belonging

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Top 3 Challenges of Belonging

Human beings are wired for connection. Even a hermit needs a crowd to get away from. Why can it be so difficult then to find the place we belong? Especially expats may be struggling with this question on a regular basis.

We don't want to offend anyone. When we arrive in a new country, we learn about customs, the language, and where not to put our hands or feet. It's a miracle when we find a local we get on with, and who likes us, too.

Brené Brown says,

True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.

The first challenge is being yourself. When you have to contort who you are, you might fit in. Like when you learn a new language or remember not to grab food with your left hand or show the soles of your shoes in some countries. It's hard enough standing up for what you believe in in your native land. Outside of your own culture, when you're depending on other peoples' good will, there are more variables at play. Adapting to different practices may help you fit in, but fitting in isn't the same as belonging.

Sometimes, even fitting in isn't an option. As my 6-foot blonde German friend and I discovered when we joined about 20 Indians at a birthday party. We literally and figuratively stood out. If you look different, it's easy to expect differences. If you look like everyone else, it becomes more difficult to explain our cultural differences.

The second challenge is taking your self-worth off the table. Whether you learn that language or not, you are still a person worth of love and belonging. Just because you put your foot in your mouth (figuratively speaking) doesn't mean you have no right to be there. Everybody makes mistakes, and yes, as expats, some mistakes cost us dearly. You always have the choice to learn from the mistake and move on, try to do better next time. I'm willing to bet you're not the first nor the last one to make mistakes. You are still worthy of love and belonging.

The third challenge is knowing why we want to belong. Why are you wanting to fit in with this family, group, or organization? Are you maybe hoping to gain something other than the group is offering? Knowing why you want to belong can be helpful to understand what you're expecting to gain from the group, and what you are willing to contribute in return. If the best part of cooking class is getting to eat in the end, you don't need a group. Invite some friends, find recipes online, and try them at home.

Dr. Brown says that fitting in is the primary barrier to belonging, because generally, you have to change something about yourself to make yourself fit. I think in the case of expats, there's a lot to be said to appreciate and respect other cultures, and make an effort to learn. But as I hope these three challenges illustrate, your self-worth should never be on the line.

Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

If you're new around here, welcome. If you're an expat, know that you belong to the exquisite phenomenal outstandingly awesome club that is made up of millions of other expats, going through the same change process. You're not alone.

Image by Aussigall, Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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The Self


The Self

I noticed in my blog statistics recently that a number of search engines pointed people towards one specific article I wrote back in January, called "Step 2 - Accept myself". I think it's great that you guys are looking up information about self-acceptance, because in my opinion accepting oneself is the basis for creating peaceful relationships with others around us. Let me take this opportunity then and talk some more about "the self" - what it could mean, how it might work, and some questions you can answer for yourself to support your definition.

In that article from January I mentioned the importance of accepting one's body, facing weight issues, and educating oneself as well as the next generation to make sure we can grow up and grow old in good health. When it comes to your self, there's more to you than just your body though. There's your mind, your reason, your feelings, your personality, your behavior, your beliefs, your values, some people even believe in a soul or essence. As part of an exercise I did with my own coach a few years ago, I gathered a number of words and concepts dealing with the self and my perception of it. I'll share some of them as an example and invite you to see what ideas you have of them and what other words you can think of. They are, in no particular order: self-confidence, self-reliance, self-pity, self-employed, self-explanatory, self-doubt, self-display, self-adjusting, self-conscious, self-imposed.

I read an article about how to be your authentic self in Psychology Today's issue of June 2008. It talks of self-recognition, self-esteem, self-awareness, amongst others, and core self. If offers explanations according to leading psychologists and eight tips on how to live with authenticity.

There's a step that comes before authenticity though, because how can you be authentic if you're not sure who you are, what values and beliefs you are being authentic to? But at the same time, you also have to look outward, because how can you accept yourself for who you are when you're not sure where to draw the lines of what is unacceptable? Who gets to decide about what fits in those lines, anyway? Therein lies the beauty and frustration, my dears, since we're all such unique individuals, we all have a different take on things. Finding the balance between what we want and need to do in order to be happy and live fully, while respecting our friends and neighbors is the name of the game.

I'm still finding my way as I go and have come to terms with that. No need to know it all in advance, there's room for improvisation if needed. I'm happy believing that every single person has the power to decide who they want to be by adjusting their attitude, their mindset, and their behavior. I also believe that if you find yourself surrounded by people who do not share your beliefs and values, you are free to make a choice and move, take yourself out of a negative environment. In an ideal world, it's anybody's call to choose between living up to someone else's expectation or define their life for themselves. You have everything you need inside of you. This, by the way, is one reason why I love coaching: I don't advise people, I accompany them on their journey to find out what works for them.

So, can you be authentic if you follow someone else's advice? And how authentic is our life really when most of us consume the same cola-brand, use the same phone, listen to the same CDs, and watch the same movies?

I don't know, what do YOU think?

Til next time, have a good week!

Image by Flower's. Lover, Flickr, Creative Commons License.



Perceptions and feedback

I am writing to you today from my old hometown in Germany. I´m visiting my family after having taken part in a very interesting Coaching seminar last week. This was the first seminar of the kind I took part in, and let me tell you, spending five 14-hour-days with 21 other Coaches is no mean feat. Imagine a suitcase, if you will, that on the way there is well packed and spacious, but on the way back you´re having difficulty fitting all the items you´ve acquired into it, to the point that you have to sit on it so it´ll even close. That´s what my head felt like, and I wouldn´t have it any other way. The certificate mentions a number of psychological tools I´ve learned how to use, but the experience and lessons in self-awareness simply don´t fit on one page. And that is something I´d like to share with you all today.

When you walk into a meeting room full of your colleagues, or into a bar full of strange faces, do you know what impression you give? Not meaning to scare you or anything, but chances are, it´s not the impression you have of yourself. You may feel nervous, but you may be perceived as being in control, or aloof, or even arrogant. Dito the perception you have of other people, they may not be as timid as you think they are. So how can you bring those two images a bit closer?

The starting point can only be "know thyself". Ask yourself what your motivators are, what behaviour in others makes you nervous, which triggers make you react in a calm, sad, offended or aggressive manner. A lot of self-awareness work is in retrospect, when you´re thinking about a conversation you had that didn´t go the way you planned it and you´re wondering where things started going downhill. Replaying the facts and fictions in your mind is a good way to look for clues of your own making. Why did you say this or react like that? Only you can know these things!

Once you know what makes you tick, I´d like to suggest to keep the following in mind: we´ve been programmed and hard-wired since our childhood, as discussed in earlier posts. Whenever you get negative or unpleasant impressions of other people, give yourself a minute to figure out if those might be the result of a projection of yours. For example, I know someone who has worked all his life. He gets angry and disappointed at his partner for sleeping in late on a weekend. Keeping in mind the concept of projection, it is reasonable to believe my friend is angry at his partner for doing something he would love to do, but doesn´t dare to due to his programming. Do you see what I mean? "What isn´t in ourselves, doesn´t make us angry" is a loose translation of a German saying coined by Hermann Hesse. This may mean someone´s doing what you would like to do, and seeing it makes you angry. Or someone´s doing something that reminds you of a part of yourself you would like to get rid of.

Byron Katie is using this knowledge in the "turn-around" part of her concept "The Work". In the seminar we used it after receiving negative feedback from members of the group. That way, we did get valuable feedback about how we appear to others, definitely something to keep in mind, and at the same time the others learned something about themselves.

In the extreme, the theory of projection may be abused to fend off any criticism of ourselves, saying "it´s all in their imagination". Faithful readers know that that´s not what I´m about. The thought I want to leave you with this week is the following: the more you accept yourself, and are at peace with yourself, the less others will be able to put you off balance.

Til next time!