Swapping Identities As You Journey Through Life.

Each person has multiple identities: as a sister/brother, daughter/son, colleague/boss, neighbour, alumni/teacher, friend. With globalization, the flow of people crossing borders is increasing and our interactions are not only an emotional experience. It is also about having new cultural experience shaping our view of the world. As a result, most people have “fluid” identities – moulded by life experiences, interactions with a variety of people, overseas travelling, job changes, amongst others. You also would tend to tweak your “personal brand” to fit your new personal and professional goals as you go into a new phase of your life.

Every industry or workplace or country has its own norms and values which must be understood and embraced if you hope to be considered as being “one of them”. It does not necessarily mean that you have to be a completely new person.  Remaining true to your core values and at the same time being open to new possibilities is a century old challenge to anyone who embraces change.

In integrating a new environment, you will probably choose those elements that enable you to “fit in” and that are, at the same time, aligned with your core “self”. Keeping your own sense of “balance” requires a constant management of uncomfortable emotions coming from a sense of confusion, being misunderstood, harbouring contradictory beliefs and a feeling of being “out of place”. In those times, it is important to have access to some kind of social support where you can voice out your anxieties and feel heard. This is also where your problem solving skills can help you to directly address the sources of your discomfort. Remaining open to suggestions made by people who have been in your shoes is another means to successfully achieve this transition.

As you constantly renegotiate your identity over time, your relationships tend to change as well. Most people would use their own personal experiences to make assumptions and behave accordingly. As a result, you will sometimes be perceived differently from your own self image. It is important to bear in mind that no matter how much efforts you put into setting things right, the outcome is largely to the discretion of the other person.

Using an approach characterized by dialogue can sometimes dissolve the misunderstandings. Dialogue is not about having a number of conversations. It is about being fully conscious of your own personal bias and having an understanding of what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes at the same time. It is creating the necessary space so that the parties involved can freely express themselves and be “seen” in their own personalities. Such engagement would become possible when the parties involved perceive that “the stakes are high”. Engaging into this “dance” to reach common ground requires personal commitment and a level of self confidence. Only then, the relationship can continue to flourish and evolve in a way that is both mutually beneficial to both parties.

There is always an element of risk when you go into a new career/country/workplace.  You can actually end up valuing more what you have lost. However, being curious about other people’s views and experiences can only broaden your vision and improve your interactive skills. Going out of your comfort zone is actually healthy because it is good to know what lies beyond and to test your own sense of self. No matter the age gap or difference in cultural background and/or in their career path, people, having experienced similar life situations, have much more in common. You will eventually make new friends and widen your network.

It is important to be bear in mind that each encounter in your new environment is only a snapshot. People make up the very fabric of any environment and because people’s identities evolve,  making hasty conclusions can only validate your self doubts, strengthen your resistance to change and lead to self marginalization.

In the end, navigating through the twists and turns of your journey can only provide you with opportunities for personal growth and can help you develop a stronger sense of self.

About the Author

I work with business owners to help them reinforce their business sustainability . I coach and train professionals working in an international environment or being part of a multinational team.

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