Tag Archives: awareness

Reclaim Your Power in Toxic Situations

By Christopher Littlefield, Founder of Acknowledgment Works & Friend of Simple Intentions

[NOTE: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn]

Few things seem to have the ability to drain our energy more than dealing with toxic people. In the workplace, we may have to frequently interact with a co-worker, manager, or direct report who seems to constantly be releasing negative or “toxic” energy. I’ve created five simple steps to help us take responsibility, create accountability, and reclaim our power in any unpleasant situation with a “toxic” colleague.

The first step is to stop associating the colleague with toxicity. How we talk, speak, and think about an individual or a situation dictates how we relate and react to it. If I believe someone is “toxic”, even a simple invitation from them to lunch starts to appear suspicious and malicious. Shift the associations and you’ll start to shift your experience of how you view this person.

Second, ask yourself, “What have I decided is true about this person?” Often, we may write someone off the first time they do something we do not agree with. The disagreement could have happened months ago, but since then we have been gathering evidence that they are a jerk. Acknowledge to yourself when and what YOU decided was true about them. They were not born toxic, it was a label that was given to them.

The third step is to try listening to the person from a different angle. In the book, The Art of Facilitation, Dale Hunter suggests listening for the motivation or “hidden commitment” behind an unpleasant interaction. As an example, after an important meeting your boss says, “I can’t believe you said that it front of our client, that was so stupid!”

Possible hidden commitments that may have caused your boss to use “toxic” rhetoric include:

  • They may be committed to the outcome of the project.
  • They may be committed to your growth.
  • They may be committed to doing what they feel is perfect work.
  • They may be committed to the client.
  • They may be committed to a promotion to help support their family.
  • They may be committed to not making a mistake.

The fourth step is to simply remember that this person, consciously or unconsciously, is doing what they think is best. Assuming positive intent can make all the difference in diffusing a toxic situation.

Finally, the last step to overcoming toxicity is to write your colleague’s name on a piece of paper and take 5 minutes to write a list of things you appreciate, admire, and have learned about/from them.

When we shift our relationships to “toxic” co-workers, we gain the power to understand the deeper meaning beyond difficult communication, stay present, and shift the atmosphere of the situation to calmer waters. When we are in alignment, we are able to set the boundaries of what kind of communication is acceptable in the future.

I find that even in the most difficult situations, once we show a colleague that we can see through their fire to what fuels them (their commitments), we are able to gain their respect and gain their partnership.

Now go reclaim your power.

 

Christopher Littlefield is the founder of AcknowledgmentWorks. He trains leaders around the world in the Art of Acknowledgment and Engagement. His work revolves around the understanding that at the heart of all of our relationships is the experience of feeling valued. Watch Chris as he shares his research at TEDx Beirut.

 

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Straight Talk

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[NOTE: This post originally appeared in the April 2017 print issue of Mindful Magazine]

Rear view of man gesturing with hand while standing against defocused group of people sitting at the chairs in front of him

I’ve developed a theory that the biggest driver of mindlessness at work comes from lack of communication. Most times, this is connected to the conversations we’re not having about our values, or about the boundaries we set (or don’t set) around how we live, honor, or uphold these values at work. You know the type of conversation I am talking about: the really uncomfortable one, where you know what you need to say is going to be awkward and might displease or disappoint another person.

Each day we encounter situations where we halfway communicate what we want to express, request, or need. In many cases, we do this because we fear being judged. Think about it: Have you ever edited a response because you felt uncomfortable revealing yourself and your thoughts concerning a certain topic?

  • Not sharing that you don’t agree that the redesign plan is the best choice.
  • Going along with the excitement around a new initiative even though you have serious doubts about its visibility.
  • Keeping silent about how uncomfortable it makes you that your boss brings her dog to the office every day — and it ends up in your space most of the time even though you really don’t like dogs.

So we halfway share, putting off the conversation we know is coming at some point. And, of course, the longer we avoid having it, the more uncomfortable the conversation can become.
The collective impact from having uncomfortable conversations can be truly transformational. Its effect goes beyond communication in the workplace; it can transform communication in every situation.

The path to navigating this territory with ease starts with awareness. Begin to notice when you are withholding, closing down, or not speaking up. Write about it in a private journal if that’s helpful. Then, with that awareness, begin to experiment with expressing your thoughts, needs, and desires one conversation at a time using the following tips to push through the discomfort.

Offer Context
It isn’t just about assigning blame. It is about creating dialogue around toxic and disruptive issues, so all involved can feel heard and choose to create a different reality. Offer context as to what the issue is, in a nonjudgmental way, this kind of sharing builds compassion and allows everyone to get on the same page. It’s when we don’t offer context that the discomfort grows.

Invite Options
If someone is making a request that isn’t possible, say so and invite a conversation about what is possible. It’s important to ask how that might work for the person making the request. Explaining, offering another solution, and inviting dialogue increases the sense of sharing and collaboration.

Be Sincere
Say what you mean with grace, respect, and as much authenticity as possible. When you speak from the heart, even if others don’t like or agree with the message, the energy behind the intention comes through. Odds are strong that your honesty will help things to shift.

With this in mind, what is one uncomfortable conversation you are willing to have today?

 

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Breaking the Cycle

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Program & Marketing Manager

033017_BreaktheCycleThe term ‘vicious cycle’ has always peaked my linguistic interest, both attracting and repelling me. I find more and more that there is a callous reality to the phrase that exists in my day to day world. It reflects a biological concept I learned in high school – a social translation of positive feedback. To pull straight from the textbook (since I got a C in that class), this process is characterized by “the enhancement or amplification of an effect by its own influence on the process that gives rise to it”. In other words, it’s a system or cycle that intensifies by creating a stimulus which triggers an effect that causes more stimulus which triggers a greater effect and so on.

In biology, positive and negative don’t translate to good and bad. Positive feedback just means that a cycle continues to grow by feeding and stimulating itself until it reaches its peak. An example in nature is the process of childbirth: a laboring mother releases the hormone oxytocin which stimulates contractions which causes more oxytocin to be released until the baby is born.

Recently, I can’t help but apply the concept of positive feedback to social systems around me. When cycles, whether internal thought patterns, workplace practices or societal systems, feed on themselves, enhancing and amplifying in the process, it can make a good thing better and a bad thing worse.

Our lives are surrounded by systems and cycles, some that benefit society and others that do not. The latter I’ll label as unhealthy positive feedback and takes the form of damaging systems or detrimental cycles in our world. Some recent acclaimed examples in American media include the still embedded justice systems that promote sex and gender discrimination that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to in her book, My Own Words, as well as Academy Award nominated documentary 13TH which addresses systemic racism through mass incarceration. On a smaller scale, a workplace example that comes to mind is the system of rewarding employees who work long hours. This reward system often encourages employees to work longer hours and more frequently, which offers more rewards, etc…

How then do we break out of a cycle that’s not serving us personally or that isn’t serving a certain group or society as a whole? This question can feel daunting on the best of days. A sense of helplessness may swell at the thought of how to incite change in an unhealthy system, especially when it has been in place for a long time. Luckily, the first step is relatively simple.

I believe, truly, that the first and I’d argue most important step towards changing a cycle is to simply be aware. Really, just that. When we cultivate awareness around what unhealthy cycles or systems are around us, we start to shine a light on them, however dim that light might feel at first. This may be as simple as keeping up with current events, reading the written works of someone who inspires you, or asking your hard-working co-worker how she’s feeling with the never ending long hours. Collect data on the impact of the system in question – who does it negatively impact? Who does it positively impact? Do the benefits outweigh the cons? There’s no action to take – simply become aware of what cycles are around you and if they benefit or harm you, and if they benefit or harm others.

Once a basic awareness foundation is laid, the next step is to expand it. Go beyond the effect of the cycle and determine what your part is in the system or cycle in question. Acknowledge, without judgement, the ways in which you might feed the cycle. Did you give a shout out to your co-worker who’s been working 12 hour days at your last meeting? Explore all corners openly and honestly – and recognize that the cycle may very well be needed right now. Perhaps this is the busiest time of the year and long work days are currently needed. Just maintain awareness. If 6 months go by and the norm is still a 60-hour work week for your team, it’s time to reassess if this is a system that is still serving you and is still serving the whole.

To stress a point, creating awareness does not mean to blame (others or self). The purpose here is to become acutely (maybe uncomfortably) aware of what the cycle is, who the cycle impacts, and how we personally fit in the cycle. With that knowledge in place, we can make an informed decision on how to proceed to the next step. This step is still simple but at last requires some action: simply, to make a choice. It’s time to choose to either continue moving with the cycle or to make a new choice, even if small, that may help disrupt it. Perhaps in the next team meeting, you still give your co-worker a shout out for her hard work – and then start a discussion around team capacity and how to create sustainable success going forward. The smallest of choices may inspire others to do the same, creating its own positive feedback system – one whose results are more desirable.

Positive feedback in nature is extremely important and many of our social systems are incredibly needed. But it is up to us to determine when an internal thought cycle is damaging. When a workplace system is no longer sustainable. When an ingrained societal cycle is, well, vicious. And when it is not. It is up to us to first cultivate our awareness and shine a light on an unhealthy system. Something as small as that may start its own domino effect – and eventually break the cycle.

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States of Being

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thrive Global]

032217_States of BeingNever underestimate the impact you have on other people. It is almost impossible to fully understand how your behavior (actions and words) has impacted others in the span of your life. Think for a moment about someone who has impacted you greatly in your lifetime. Do they even know it? Do you think their impact was intentional? Aware or not, your behavior has an impact on every single person you meet each day (including yourself). It is therefore interesting to think about why many of us keep choosing the same behaviors, words and actions day after day — effectively creating a future that is the same as our past.

Why do we keep doing what we are doing when we know what we are doing is not working? Some of the answers can be found in the field of neuroscience, which studies interactions of the brain with its environment. Right now we are sharing a reality that is made up of whatever you are touching, smelling, and hearing — that includes the voice in your head (the one wondering when I’m going to get to my point). The great news is we all have a voice in our head — (if you have more than one — this likely isn’t the right content for you!). You can think of the voice in your head as the voice of awareness. And, as neuroscience tells us, our actions are linked with our senses: smell, taste, feel/touch, seeing, and hearing. This includes the internal conversations we have in our head.

In other words, our actions (behavior and words) are linked with our senses and our internal dialogue. And the only way you can really shift your reality — is to shift the voice in your head. To do that you first have to hear the voice — THEN ask yourself if what you are saying is true. Think about all the weird stuff that pops in your head throughout an average day — some of it is not true or based on old stories or old values that you may no longer have. It is possible that we continue to repeat the past because we listen to the same internal conversations over and over again.

Harnessing the power of the impact of your behavior is as simple as changing the dialogue in your head. If you alter the dialogue in your head, your behavior will begin to change as well. You can change what you are experiencing by changing the conversations you have with yourself. How you see the world, and the conversations you have in your head about it, make up how you relate to the world and the energy which you bring to your reality. This can be referred to as your state of being.

There are two primary states of being: disempowered and empowered. You have likely heard of these concepts before — optimist/pessimist, at-risk/at-stake, abundance/scarcity, victim/non-victim. The idea is the same behind disempowered and empowered states of being.

A disempowered state of being is one in which you feel overstressed and as if there is never enough time. Your life might feel like a house of cards — if one card falls, the house will crumble. You might feel anxious, as though you have to defend yourself and the status of your work at all times. You tend to feel as if it’s all yours to lose and both resources and support are scarce. In other words, you operate from a place of fear. You will most likely approach interactions with others from this perception, this energy or way of being.

An empowered state of being is a feeling of having purpose. You most likely have a feeling of clear direction and connection to your internal world and the world around you. You likely feel energized and absorbed in what you are doing and feel the value of achieving what you are committed to. If you are functioning in this state, you feel empowered, as though you have something (or everything) to gain: It is a place of abundance and love. You will most likely approach interactions with others from this perception, this energy or way of being.

One state of being is not more right than the other — we all will move through many stages of life and states of being where we feel empowered and disempowered. The learning here is to recognize the state of being you are experiencing and know that shifting that state begins with shifting the internal dialogue in your head. It is true that some people are “wired” to be more empowered or disempowered. It’s also true that regardless of how you are wired, shifting states is as simple as shifting your thoughts.

You’ve likely heard the phrase: ‘you bring about what you think about’ — this is what we are talking about here. If you think you will have a bad time, you will; and if you think you will have a good time, you will. Your thoughts are directly correlated to your behavior and the impact of your energy and actions.

Even more powerful is that when you shift how you experience and think about your personal or professional worlds, the behavior of others around you will also experience a shift. Your behavior has an impact whether you are aware of it or not. It’s the same principle as “a smile is contagious.” Think about it — most times you can tell if a person is happy or sad, excited or angry even if you don’t know them or what is happening with their internal dialogue. Their state of being, just like yours, is having an impact.

When it comes to reflecting on your state of being there are a few important questions to consider:

Do you operate more from an empowered or disempowered state of being? There is no right or wrong answer, just focus on building awareness. Begin to tune into your thoughts and see if they are mostly empowered or disempowered — no need to try and alter any thoughts at this point — just notice your default state of being.

What state of being is more common among your family? If you work — what state of being is more common among your teammates or in your company? This may shift from team to team and family member to family member — again the action here is just to notice.

What are you willing to do to shift your state of being when you feel disempowered? Are you ready to have awareness around noticing when you feel disempowered? Are you ready to listen to your internal dialogue? Ready to question it? To shift it?

How do you know when you are in an empowered state of being? What does it feel like in your body? Next time you’re feeling empowered — notice it — record how (and where) you feel it so you can recall that feeling to help you shift from disempowered to empowered in the future.

As you reflect on your answers, begin to become aware of where your behaviors are supporting you and where they are sabotaging you. Notice the choices you make, notice when you feel in balance, notice when you feel out of balance. Then make the necessary shift.

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Slowing Down

By Melisa Portela, Simple Intentions Lead Consultant: LATAM Region

Some years ago, I was in a coaching session, taking the role of the coachee, when my coach stopped me and said: “Let me interrupt you for a second. I want you to look at the speed of your speech. What does that say to you? What would happen if the rhythm was much slower?”

I was left speechless… and then I realized that, in my hurry, I was not allowing space for things to happen – both in the present coaching conversation and across my life.

I began to become aware that whenever I ran errands, the speed of my pace was incredibly fast. It was as if I thought someone was trying to catch me, and I had to prevent that from happening. I started taking an inventory of the speed in all areas of my life: work (not leaving even a minute to pause, because, I would say to myself, that is what they pay me for. To work!); gym (jumping, non-stop, from one exercise to the next); personal time (fragmented and inconsistent).

It was as if I was watching a movie of my life, with the same ending time and time again – one where I was racing to complete the “shoulds” in my life. I was so afraid of what could happen to me if I allowed space and put my guard down, that I suddenly was aware that I had become my own prisoner. That realization came as quite a shock, but, however uncomfortable, it was also a relief to understand. I knew the power was in me and the choice was mine to change my movie, to change my life.

I knew I needed a shift, so, little by little, I started to gain awareness on the choices I was making and how I was living my life, allowing space for things to flow, letting go of the need to control. It wasn’t easy at first, because old habits and conditioned behaviors always find a backdoor to let their way in, but, with enhanced awareness, you can catch them… and tell them they are not welcome anymore.

It is incredible all the things we can perceive when we slow down the pace. We notice other people´s expressions, recognize the feelings they are experiencing; witness a full range of colors previously unnoticed; become aware of the clouds reflecting on the glass buildings; hear the unspoken words; even hear the sound of our own breathing.

Now that I have slowed down, I am conscious of the camera recording my movie. I’ve finally slowed down enough to create the space to fully see myself and my actions. And I know that my movie is continuing to change as I become more aware, more connected with every slow, deliberate step I take.

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Cultivate Awareness to Manage Your Attention

By Carson Tate, Founder of Working Simply and Friend of Simple Intentions

There are certain work or career beliefs that we’ve convinced ourselves are true.

Things like:

  • – Work-life balance will always be a struggle.
  • – You get ahead or you get noticed by replying to each and every email.
  • – The loudest or most-often-heard vaoice in the meeting is best-suited for a leadership role.

These beliefs are just not true. But office politics, water cooler chat, and even pop culture have shown us otherwise, which is why it’s sometimes hard to get out of these belief cycles.

There is no better time than NOW to debunk these so-called truths and embrace a new work belief:

We have more control than we realize.

For some this is a bold, new truth that calls us to muster up a lot of confidence, courage, initiative or moxie. (All of which we are completely capable of.) We will all eventually get to that place, I promise. In the meantime, there is an easy, strategic place to start with launching this new belief. We can start by becoming more aware of what we pay attention to and how we pay attention.

Our brain’s wiring lends itself towards being distracted. Just think about how many times a day you find yourself checking your email, your favorite social media feed or just staring off into space. If we want to strengthen our voluntary attention–the attention we have direct control over—we must improve our focus and ability to proactively complete our work.

The first step in this process involves cultivating awareness. Learning to do this begins with a simple but surprisingly powerful exercise—the attention awareness exercise. Select a span of four hours, either during the workweek or on a weekend, as your tracking period for this exercise. Then choose an attention tracking tool that works for you: pen and paper, the notes feature on a smart phone, or a dictation device. Every time your attention wanders, you lose focus, or you are interrupted either by others or yourself, make a note on your attention tracking tool.

You may want to devise different symbols to refer to your own personal “distractors.” For example, I have had clients use hash marks to denote the number of times their attention wandered and create abbreviations for the people, things, ideas and emotions involved – for example, P = person, F = feeling, C = child, E = email, W = web surfing, and S = social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on).

And, yes, the exercise itself is also diverting your attention. However, there is a method to the process. The attention awareness exercise enables us to see, literally in black and white, how often our attention wanders and the triggers that cause this to happen. We must notice that our attention has wandered in order to do something about it. I would suggest to repeat the attention exercise multiple times during a workweek and at different times of the day – we want to have enough data to thoroughly analyze our attention awareness trends.

Now that we have our attention data, we can start the path towards change. Review the data and notice any trends or themes:

  • Was it more difficult to focus right before lunch time or dinner time?
  • Was it difficult to focus after a long meeting or a difficult conversation with a family member?
  • Was it easier to focus after a walk or a workout at the gym?
  • Were there specific time periods during the four hours that it was easier to focus?
  • Were there specific projects or types of tasks that you could focus on for longer periods of time?

Keep notes on the trends and themes that emerge.

The second step to strengthening our voluntary attention involves optimizing the physiological conditions necessary for ideal attention management. It is ideal to create an environment that supports unique attention management needs and minimizes the impact of the hardwiring of your brain. When we are tired, hungry, or stressed, we are fighting an uphill battle with our attention. Guess who is always going to win – your brain! If you are up late the night before finishing a project, you may not have the ability to focus on a complex task at eight the next morning. If you’ve just had a very difficult conversation with a colleague or spent an hour consoling an upset friend, be aware and plan accordingly; your voluntary attention muscle is already fatigued due to this interaction.

Plan your self-management activities with all of these factors in mind. Keep packets of nuts, granola bars, or dried fruit in your office drawer, pocket book, briefcase, and/or glove compartment of your car to stay properly fueled for maximum focus. Create a playlist of soothing and energizing music to help you relax or recharge after stressful interactions and conversations. Keep comfortable shoes in your desk drawer or in your car or work bag so you can go for a quick walk up and down the halls of your office building or outside your office building. Physical movement is one of the most effective ways to mentally reset and discharge negative energy. And you do not have to walk long to benefit – ten minutes is all it takes.

When TV hostess and media mogul Martha Stewart was asked how she manages to accomplish so much during a day, she responded by saying, “I used to get tired before I started working out on a daily basis. Even a half hour makes a huge difference to the body’s energy level over the course of a day. Eating healthy, fresh foods is essential. With nutritious diet and exercise, I can get a lot done in a day.”

By optimizing the physiological conditions required to manage attention, boosting our sense of focus is completely attainable.

The third and final step requires that we retrain our brains using a “brain reboot”. Refocusing is hard because we have trained our brains to work on a variety of things simultaneously. How common is it to check email during a conference call? Or to feed a child breakfast, unloaded the dishwasher, and pack lunches all at the same time? Multi-tasking habits does not improve productivity; instead, it undermines our ability to focus.

In order to refocus, visualize a reset button in your brain and say, “I need to hit reboot and get back on track.” According to Dr. Srini Pillay, clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, this takes the spotlight off the distraction and puts it on redirection—the refocusing of the task. By frequently rebooting the brain, it is being rewired for optimal functioning.

Another approach to brain rebooting is the use of breathing to restore focus. Try taking a deep inhalation breath, pushing out your navel, and then powerfully expelling the air by slightly bringing in your stomach. Repeat this breath five to seven times and observe how the tension and mental chatter in your mind dissipates. Another breath that also short circuits the mental chatter is to place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and blow out as if you were blowing out candles on a birthday cake. As you blow out, count to seven. You can now regain your focus.

Someone once told me, – whatever it is you think or believe, it’s true; meaning that if I believe I will always struggle with work-life balance, it’s true; or if I believe someone else deserves a promotion more than me, that’s true, too.

The same goes for the control we think we have or don’t have – if we believe we don’t have control over our choices in a situation, we won’t. But that’s simply not true. We have more control than we realize.

So, start with practice – begin with cultivating awareness to pay better attention. Once the belief exists that we can control how or what we pay attention to, we can start to take bigger steps towards exercising more control and debunking work truths that simply aren’t true.

 

Carson Tate is a productivity consultant and the founder of Working Simply, Inc. She is the author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style and serves as a coach, trainer and consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies including AbbVie, Deloitte, Wells Fargo and United Technologies.

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Hospitality in the Eyes of an Outsider

By Joanna Fuller, Friend of Simple Intentions

ubeth (002)In 1992, shortly after the end of the Gulf War, I had the opportunity to spend a month in the West Bank, in the Palestinian territories. A relatively new college graduate with an English literature degree, I was there—ostensibly—to contribute to English classes at the University of Bethlehem.

But in the first class I visited, I opened the door to students jumping around the room and onto tables, staging a failed coup against Prospero in a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was clear they had a much better handle on the material than I did. I didn’t have much to teach them about the play, and instead found myself sitting back, enjoying their banter (all in English, rather than Arabic), amazed at how learned these students were, and how much they had to teach me about English literature.

I don’t remember much more about that class, to be honest.  But what I do remember vividly is how one of the students, Fatima, approached me, introduced herself, and insisted that I visit her home for lunch that afternoon. She told me to bring along all of my American girlfriends.

A few hours later, six young women from America joined six young Palestinian women in Fatima’s home. Fatima’s mother had gone next door to ‘borrow a chicken,’ which she magically transformed into platters of shawarma, accompanied by stacks of warm pita bread, mounds of deliciously sour labneh, and overflowing plates of saffron rice. After lunch, in the privacy of her home, Fatima and her friends removed their hijabs, tied them around their (and our) hips, turned on the music and taught us to dance. They told us that all their neighbors would consider it an honor that we’d chosen to be guests in their home.

I was surprised, to say the least. Not only that someone would go to all that trouble for us, but without hesitation, or planning. That summer was the first time I’d traveled outside the West, and I hadn’t yet learned what hospitality can look like in other parts of the world. It was the first time I’d heard the belief that many Middle Easterners share: that you must always treat strangers well, especially those traveling from foreign lands, because they could very well be ‘angels sent by God.’ It was a wonderful new way of experiencing hospitality.

Twenty-two years later, arriving as a newly sworn-in Peace Corps volunteer in Mongolia, I experienced a different but equally surprising reception. I laughed and in truth, bristled a little, when I first heard how the people in my community referred to me: as манай Америк хүн (pronounced manai Amerik hun, meaning ‘our American’). Fellow volunteers across the country shared the same experience, and none of us were sure how we felt about it. It was both flattering and slightly off-putting to feel like a town status symbol, along with the Land Cruisers and modern apartments owned by the wealthier families.

Hidden in that designation, though, is something I failed to realize at first: манай Америк хүн wasn’t so much an expression of possession, but of responsibility. I’d chosen to come live in their community and my Mongolian hosts considered it their duty to take care of me and to make sure I had what I needed to survive—be it a bed, a pair of winter boots, or enough meat in my freezer.

Just like in Palestine, it wasn’t always easy to be an outsider in Mongolia. But if there was one luxury I came to appreciate, it was the special status my American-ness afforded me – one of acceptance.  I could be completely different from the people around me, and it was not only OK, it was expected. There was a reason that explained all the ways in which I diverged from the crowd, and rather than causing people to reject or distance themselves from me, it instead somehow drew them in, and motivated them to take an interest in my well-being.

Today, it’s hard to believe I’ve been home from Mongolia for nearly six months. Since I’ve returned, people have continued to ask me how re-entry’s going. For the most part, I’d actually say it’s been amazing. (The WiFi! The paved roads! The bagels!) But it’s also been fascinating to find that I’ve been using the cultural integration tools taught to me during my Peace Corps training just as much here in America as I did during my time abroad.

In order to join the Peace Corps three years ago, I left a job of nearly twenty years and with it, the comfort of working at a place where I knew the ropes, and where my colleagues trusted and respected me. Looking to forge a different path upon my return home to the U.S., I took a new job in a new organization, with its own unique culture and systems and lingo and social dynamics.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been the ‘new girl’ in an organization. I don’t always know what I’m doing, and often have to muddle through first being bad at things (and people seeing that) before getting good at them. I’ve shown up, ready to dive in and get to work, only to first find out how much I don’t know and how much I need to learn from others. I’ve had to rely on people to show me how to do the simplest tasks, including how to make coffee and how to operate the copy machine.  I’ve gotten lost trying to find the restroom. I’ve had to remember what it feels like to have people make assumptions about me based on my appearance, my age and my title. Not because they’re not enlightened or evolved—but because they’re human and that’s what humans do. I’ve had to catch and stop myself doing the same to others.

The biggest difference is that, here in America, I don’t get the benefit of the mini-celebrity status I enjoyed in Mongolia and the Middle East, the status that made people want to drop what they were doing and take shared ownership in my well-being. In America, people have a lot going on, which means that often, I’m left to my own devices, and to learning by trial-and-error. Some days it feels like much more error than trial, and that’s when I have to remind myself to:

  1. Take time to listen and observe; resist the urge to act immediately and instead focus on truly understanding the situation and how I can best be of service.
  2. Anticipate that in the beginning, anything I try will take three times as long as I think it should, and likely be twice as expensive. Remember this is normal.
  3. Be gentle with and extend myself grace when things don’t go according to plan.
  4. Avoid being an island; while my natural instinct might be to withdraw or turn inward to hide my mistakes or feelings of vulnerability, continuing to reach out to others is the key to survival.

And while it seems sometimes as if every single person in America is time-starved and under pressure, I’ve been so grateful for those who’ve surprised me by their willingness to stop, take the time to connect in a meaningful way, and extend a hand to someone trying to fit into their new surroundings. Our American culture isn’t one that always allows for spontaneous afternoon lunches or dance parties, but there are at least a few hospitality angels out there doing their best. I’ve come to appreciate what a gift they are.

More than that, I’ve realized how important it is to be one of them, and what a difference it can make to another human when you’re able to show up, unhurried, and offer them your time and presence.

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