What we all know for sure is that many things are changing, along multiple vectors. This kind of change rattles most of us. We like predictability. We like to know what to expect. It’s clear that our new American political administration is in flux and affecting each of us, regardless of political affiliation or even political interest. Unless we’re living on the hilltops without contact, we are being affected directly and indirectly.
What I know for sure is that each of us can choose what we take in from the outside world. Each of us has a choice to filter our world and create a life of our choice. We are not without control.
As a coach, I find it a compelling time to be a person in the United States. We are each compelled to consciously choose our thoughts and actions. It’s hard to stand on the sidelines. It’s a time when we each are called to choose. What footprints do we choose to leave in these times? That calling can be frightening to many of us who’ve gone along with the flow of things.
In these times, I choose to be the BEST I can be. To offer the BEST of who I am, at this very moment. I don’t know what’s going to come next. We never really know. So I take in the NOW, and be the BEST I can be, NOW.
As an immigrant child who came to the States when I was 6, with professionally-educated parents who had $500 to their name and knew only my uncle’s family in this new country, I know firsthand what it felt like to have that deep yearning to BELONG. I also know the luxury I’ve had to choose to nurture my BEST SELF. Had I been born in my China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, this notion of BEST SELF would not have been afforded to me.
I was lucky to learn about unconditional BELONGING at a young age. I will love NYC forever because in Washington Heights, kids of all colors, ethnicities and languages befriended me when I couldn’t speak English, when I didn’t know how to ask to go to the bathroom in school. They were the ones who helped me feel BELONGING everyday. I will always be in gratitude for these classmates’ and teachers’ kindness. Yes, there were bullies who traumatized my brother (who was older and took the brunt of the harassment). But the majority were so kind. That is what I choose to remember. My memory of my childhood in the racially diverse neighborhood of Washington Heights was one of acceptance and BELONGING.
Thus I come to this point in our country, befuddled by the rancor and division. For me, the cacophony of languages, differing kitchen smells in my friends’ kitchens and warmth of welcoming families are what I hold dear to the concept of the United States. That was my childhood. Those people and interactions define the United States of America to me.
I was welcomed when I knew little. Others held my hand when I was lost. They sat with me when I needed comfort. They protected me when the bullies came along. Over time, I blossomed. I laughed. The concrete city of New York became home. The values of freedom, liberty, creativity, human rights, and acceptance became imbued in me.
Isn’t that journey toward a self-identity, as one who is uniquely “like-no-one-else” yet fully connected to everyone else who is different from me, the essentialness of the United States?
So my mission is to celebrate the two essential Yin-Yang parts that make our United States uniquely branded as a country in the world. BEST SELF and BELONGING.
In our wonderful country, we have the luxury to BE OUR BEST SELF. I can think however I want. I can say what I believe. I can live to my potential. Do we know what an impossibility that is for many people, especially the women, of this world? We get to live out our life in a way that fulfills our hopes and dreams? Do we know what that a gift that is?
So when I see government actions that may strip away at that potentiality for all people who live in our great United States, I am moved to tears, because I know this is one of the greatest gifts of our country. It is not a concept. I have bore witness to this gift.
My grandmother, born in the Qing dynasty in 1898, was told whom to marry, how many children to have, where to live, who to be. Her words were always muted so as not to stir the pot. In the next generation, after escaping China to Taiwan, my mother evolved our female line. She fought her older brother who told her she didn’t need to get a college education because it should be left for her younger brother. My grandmother quietly allowed her live in another city to get a free college education (because she passed exams to be a nurse and didn’t need money from her brother). My mother was freed from the shackles of her childhood in China, when her grandmother scolded her, that as a girl from a wealth family, she was not “girl-like enough” and brought shame to the family because she liked to climb trees and ride bicycles with her brothers and male cousins.
And so when it came to me, as a girl growing up in the US, my mother and father let me be who I wanted to be. I was a tomboy, I was chubby, I laughed loudly like a boy. They never said a thing. I made friends with everyone who didn’t look like me. My parents invited them to our home. I was a gleeful child. I was allowed to be my BEST SELF because I wasn’t shackled by the old culture expectations of a “girl” from a well-educated family. And so I was free to live my life and find my potential. This is the gift of being an American.
Do we know what gold that is for so many of us, who could have had another path in life? I know this intimately. This is the beauty of our United States of America.
So I urge each of you to dare to live your BEST SELF. It is a gift of our great country. Breathe it in. Live it voraciously. Let no one trespass on that potentiality. FLY. Because in this country, we, especially we of otherness, can fly.
Fly, I say, to the heights of your Best Self. You are limitless.
At 51, having lost my sage-like father too early, yet having the luxury of my mother’s presence at 83, a soul-mate husband whom I’ve known for over 30 years and two healthy, happy children, I’ve seen the arc of a fortunate life. More than ever, I know I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve had the opportunity to choose a life of richness and meaning. It is not a life offered to many.
I have thrived not just because I exercised my BEST SELF. I thrived because I have had a community that has supported me through the highest and lowest points of my life. I have never been left to dangle alone. I have always felt a sense of BELONGING.
Whether I pore through research papers or simply witness life through my eyes, I know that our Best Self is never enough. We only thrive when we are in the company of others who welcome us, who embrace us to BELONG.
Research tells us babies don’t grow well unless they are held, children thrive when they are given opportunities to stretch while emotionally encouraged, professionals grow with positive psychology, the elderly stay healthier if they are simply touched by another human being. We are beings who need others to thrive. Our sense of BELONGING is as important to thriving as food and water are to surviving.
Luckily for those of us who read this (which excludes too many others), we are given the opportunity to THRIVE, not just survive in the United States.
What would our country look like if everyone was in a COMMUNITY OF BELONGING that allowed each of us to thrive?
I’ve seen too many clients who possessed their Best Self but who worked in an environment that simply didn’t nurture the talent of that person, so they survived; they went about their business, but never really thrived. Thriving isn’t just about getting the best projects and visibility, which we think make the path to success. It is as much about feeling true BELONGING. Simple gestures by a boss – asking about their kids’ big event this past weekend, getting a cup of coffee together, popping in to ask about a situation that seems unsolvable. That’s the kind of BELONGING I’m talking about.
Workplace engagement studies clearly show the link between a feeling of belonging and practical, bottom-line productivity.
What I love about the notion of BELONGING is that it is not a zero sum game. If you belong and I belong, we both thrive. If you win and I win, be both win.
We are at a tipping point in our country. Who shall Belong? Who shall Thrive? If we become a nation that only certain types of individuals BELONG, we are setting us toward a path of degradation. Forget about the notion of core values. Just the practical outcome like productivity and output will nose dive. This is not politics, this is about human dynamics. This is about the unique branded asset of the United States.
My immigrant parents, educated as they were, came to the US with broken English and a lack of awareness of how to live in this culture. When our parents bought a house, their neighbor taught them how to garden in the classical US way. My mother’s co-workers helped correct her patient reports when it was riddled with misspellings. One of my dad’s managers bought him a gift every Christmas and thanked him for his diligence. Those moments, simple as they may seem, were such acts of kindness. And in those moments, my parents felt like this country was theirs. I saw it through the eyes of an immigrant child.
So I ask you, what do you think about BELONGING? What acts of belonging can you engender? For yourself? For your co-workers? For your neighbors? Will you ask someone you don’t know out for a coffee run? Will you bring a cake to a new neighbor who seems culturally different from you? Will you stop and offer help to the person in the hijab who looks confused? Will you step forward or pass her by? These simple moments are choices — “shall I embrace Belonging?” In the end, we must all ask the simple question, “if I were him/her/they, how would I wish to be treated?” Simple, isn’t it?
As an immigrant American, a very hardworking and fortunate American, I have shed many tears since January 20, 2017.
In these uncertain times, we are each called to be and to do what matters most.
I wish to call upon you to:
LIVE YOUR BEST SELF – because it is the luxury so few have in this world
BE A PERSON OFFERING BELONGING – because it is a win-win in the end, for we thrive only in community with one another.
And so this is my charge, my mission: To engender the BEST SELF and BELONGING in as many people as I can.
I turn to you: What is your charge, in these times?