By passport and birth, I am Romanian. By soul, I am a citizen of the world. I’ve always been fascinated by cultures, traditions, mentalities, and different ways of doing things and perceiving the world. So when I got my first working contract in Sweden twelve years ago, I embraced it with tremendous joy.
Five years later I took one of the biggest steps in my life and moved to Shanghai. I was an Eastern-European woman leading a Chinese team, in an entirely new environment, so different from anything I had experienced before. After Shanghai, life brought me to South Korea and Mexico for other four exciting years. Today, I am sharing these insights from my current home in Dubai.
Looking back on my life, I know I used to expect others to behave in specific predefined ways, and I stereotyped people based on their country of origin. For example, I assumed that all Italians would speak a lot and loudly. All Swedish would be blond and shy. All Greeks would be cheese lovers, and all Chinese were supposed to eat dog meat.
The truth is, I was putting labels on people and seeing the world in black and white. As if I was the only one holding the absolute truth and the “right” way of perceiving the world, and anything else was either strange or abnormal.
Cognitive distortions like labeling or stereotyping separate us and shut us down. When I was meeting the world with a “my way or no way” approach, I was stuck on my ego. My mind was too busy judging, so it had no time to listen or understand other points of view, and everything outside my comfort zone scared me.
The real shift happened the day I decided to meet new people with the eyes of a child, with curiosity and a genuine interest to know them and connect with them, from the heart. I started to ask questions, like: “What makes you say this?” “What makes you do that?” or “I’m not sure I understand. Can you tell me more about that?”
New insights and new perspectives came to life that I’d like to share with you today:
1. Beauty is subjective.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I believe this is true. Knowing this helped me stop judging the Chinese, South Korean, or Japanese for hiding themselves under big umbrellas during summer.
As an Eastern-European woman, I was raised to believe “summer beauty” was all about getting a nice, sexy chocolate-like complexion. However, during my stay in Asia, I was always complimented on my “gorgeous white skin” because here beautiful often means “white.” So if you visit this part of the world, don’t get surprised to see lots of whitening products in beauty shops.
Each time you think you’re not beautiful enough, your nose is too long, or your hips are too big, remember that beauty is a norm, shaped by societies and cultures. Spend your precious time by finding your own kind of beauty. You are what you believe. Decide you are gorgeous and see what happens.
2. Feedback is just an opinion.
If you are concerned with what other people think about you, know this and set yourself free: if they find you intelligent, stupid, ugly, or average, that has nothing to do with you. It’s all about them and what they see in you after they evaluate you through their standards and expectations.
Take my example: a Swedish colleague once told me I was “scary”—“too emotional, too talkative, and too intense.” I wanted to know more about myself, so I asked colleagues from Romania what they thought about that feedback. They found it funny: “What? You, scary? You, intense? Who told you that? You must be kidding!”
To them, I was normal. Showing vulnerability and expressing emotions at work was not common in Sweden, but it was normal to me.
That’s where the differences came from. It wasn’t right or wrong; it was just different. Every time people tell you that you are “too little of this” or “too much of that,” know that it has nothing to do with you. It’s about how they’re reacting to you, so don’t take it personally.
3. We are all influenced by cultural values.
Every culture holds a set of primary values that influence the way we act and think. In Sweden, for example, I learned the word “lagom” (meaning “not too much”), which is an expression of humbleness.
In other words, one should not stick out and be too much out of anything, or believe they are “some kind of special.” On the opposite side, if you were raised in a country that puts a high focus on acknowledging and praising your individuality, acting and thinking “lagom” about yourself might be hard.
Countries such as China or South Korea value harmony: let us all agree and collaborate, so it’s a win-win for everybody, and no one has to lose. Kind of “me happy, you happy.” So don’t get surprised if people tell you they agree with you when, in fact, they don’t. It’s all about avoiding conflict and “keeping face,” for the sake of the collective harmony.
Knowing the cultural values in a given country is another way to understand why people behave differently. We all have our own historical, social background, but diversity doesn’t have to be scary. Imagine how boring life would be if everyone thought the same: no learning from each other, no brainstorming of new ideas, no evolution and growth.
It is essential that we embrace our differences with compassion and accept diversity as a reality of the world we all live in. Souls don’t hold a passport. In spirit, there’s no separation, no nationality or religion. Those have been assigned to each of us at birth.
Hurting you is hurting myself. Loving you is loving myself. We are all One. – Sara Fabian (Click to Tweet!)
Sara Fabian is a Women’s Empowerment & Career Coach and inspirational speaker, on a mission to help professional women to discover their unique strengths, gifts and talents, boost their confidence, find their calling and live a meaningful life of purpose. For weekly inspiration, subscribe to her free newsletter at www.sarafabiancoaching.com or follow her on Facebook.
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