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It’s a feeling. One that’s difficult to explain, yet unmistakable when you experience it yourself. Invisible, powerful, kind of like gravity — it grounds you where you are, and you absolutely know if you lack it.
It’s the sensation of having someone to “love you so well.” Not in a romantic sense but in a community setting. And as expats, especially those of us with multiple relocations, we hunger for that sense of belonging that takes us from stranger to feeling like part of a family.
But guess what? There’s a recipe for how to create this for someone else. Its key ingredients include: 1) A perception of being seen, 2) Acceptance just as they are, 3) Not mentioning excluding traits, 4) Spending time together, and 5) No secrets.
My special guest this week, Karen Tan, knows firsthand the positive and negative implications that frequent transitions can have on a psyche. Right from infancy, Karen’s family moved every four years.
Karen is a multicultural trainer and leadership coach, the founder of Think Impact, and a soon-to-be Ph.D. Today, she joins us for a raw discussion on expat vulnerabilities, and to generously share her story so we can learn how to love others in our community “so well” too.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Whole-body compassion
- Friendships with an expiration date
- The Neutral Zone theory by William Bridges
- Our warped expectation of excellence
- Living too much from your chin up
Listen to the Full Episode
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Featured on the Show:
Need more proof that iron sharpens iron? For adapt.succeed.together, FIVE very different coaches combined their best strategies to develop ONE master program. Create a clear plan, gain traction, grow your confidence, make new friends, and get your vim and vigor back. Sign up right here because the fun starts next week.
- Join Expats on Fire right here.
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Sundae’s Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
- Karen Tan from Think Impact and her podcast: Circles
- Burnout: the secret to solving the stress cycle by Emily & Amelia Nagoski
- Dr. Martha Beck
- Finding Your Own North Star – Martha Beck
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 2:00 am in New York, 9:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 2:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
You know that saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” I know how tempting it can be to think like that right now. And I know you’re sick of hearing the words, “These are unprecedented times,” right? But I know deep down every one of us has thought, “Yeah, I don’t even have a chance of doing the things that I normally want to do. So I’m just going to put it all out the window.” That sounds like a recipe for disaster because if I just let myself go there I’d probably just put my hands in the air and let them land on the nearest bottle of Raka. And for those of you who don’t know Raka, it is my absolute favorite wine in South Africa.
So listen, if you remember our last episode, episode 215: The Pandemic Wall, we talked about how so many of us are feeling like we hit it and you might be saying, “Thank you for naming it. But now what?” Beyond the strategies that I mentioned in that episode, I wanted to go one step further. I want us to reimagine what resilience can look like. I want us to take a fresh perspective on the topic because when we’ve talked about resilience in the past, it was never in this current context. And remember, we can’t apply old concepts to new contexts because they don’t always translate.
So to help us do that. I’ve invited someone very special who has been building resilience since birth. Karen Tan is an intercultural trainer, a leadership coach, and founder of Think Impact. Born in Vietnam, Karen moved with her family around Asia every few years before moving to the US. And as Chinese diaspora continued, Karen grew up speaking Cantonese at home, while speaking English at school and picking up the local languages wherever she lived as a way to build connections with others. After her nomadic genes brought Karen back to Asia in 2007, she’s lived in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia, training Chinese cross-cultural workers in cross-cultural leadership in communication and international team building. I mean, wow! That is a lot to do with resilience.
Karen is also now pursuing a Doctoral Degree in Member Care.
Sundae: It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Karen Tan to Expat Happy Hour. Welcome Karen!
Karen: Thank you, Sundae. So excited to be here. I almost couldn’t sleep yesterday night.
Sundae: I usually would be asleep right now but because of our differences I had a ginger tea so I could stay awake.
Karen: Thank you. Thank you for accommodating me.
Sundae: It’s so wonderful. So I want to dive right in Karen. I really respect both your personal and your professional journey, especially when it comes to the topic of crossing cultures and resilience. So I’d love to dive into both today. But let’s start, before we dive into any of the personal journey, I want to hear like tell me why you do what you do.
Karen: Wow, that’s the profound question. Well, I actually was a UX designer after I graduated from my college because I love arts and I love design and I always had always dreamed to be a designer. And so right after I graduated from college somehow I landed on a job as a designer and I did that happily for about eight years. Unfortunately the internet bubble burst during that time. Actually started the UX design even when Yahoo! couldn’t host an image. Can you imagine how early was that? Yeah, so that kind of exposed my age for a little bit but when the internet bubble burst and I sat there and I asked myself, “What do I need to do?” Because I grew up in so many different countries and so I realized that perhaps I could do something in culture, with culture. So I took a break, I go to study theology for a few years. And then after that I do nonprofit. I went back to Asia to train for a nonprofit organization training expats and cross-cultural workers. And I really loved that. And after that I realized that coaching is a really powerful tool so I started to explore coaching and that’s where it links me to where I am today.
Sundae: I’m not even going to pretend like I know what UX design is but I have a hunch is it something to do with computers and graphic design?
Karen: Yes. Yes, so it was an online media design so UX design is really like an interface design for web pages and online media.
Sundae: Well, it doesn’t surprise me that you say that because you’re such a culture crosser that you go from online media to theology, to coaching. Like that already says so much about you Karen, and the way in which I’m guessing you’ve grown up just being able to make meaning of many things no matter how different they are.
Karen: Thank you. Thank you for being so kind.
Sundae: Tell me how this all started. Do you mind sharing a little bit about your personal journey? I’ve only shared with the audience the highlights of the countries, but I’d love to hear from your perspective.
Karen: Yeah. So I was born in Vietnam. My parents, my great grandparents moved from China to Vietnam in search for opportunities and so my grandparents and my parents were born in Vietnam, but we are ethnically Chinese. And after I was born, when I was a 1 year old, we moved from Vietnam to Hong Kong because there was an impending war. The war already started so my parents, hoping to avoid the world, we moved to Hong Kong. But because my dad was a businessman so we essentially moved around Asian countries whenever there is a business opportunity, he will bring the whole family with him. And so we moved to Taiwan, when I was seven years old we moved to Taiwan. After two years, we went back to Hong Kong and then later we’ll move back to Singapore. So I would say on average over every four years our family moved. So yeah.
Sundae: That’s a lot. And did you go to international schools or did you go to local schools?
Karen: I never had the privilege to go to international school. I always get to go to the local school.
Sundae: Wow, so that is like another layer.
Karen: It was really challenging. It was really challenging, I’ll have to say. because the education system and the language, even the language used are different in Hong Kong as I attended an English language school. But in Taiwan, it was mainly Chinese so it is kind of ridiculous for me now to think back on it because when I go from Hong Kong to Taiwan, I have to lower a grade. Say if I’m at grade two already then I have to become grade one when I go to Taiwan. And every time we move from a country, I have to lower a grade. So I spent a lot of time in school.
Sundae: So what does that do to you as a kid, to constantly have to adapt yeah languages and then I would even guess psychologically? I know my kids, if they go back to Switzerland, they have to go back a year because just because the age difference is there not because they weren’t performing but they would have to. But psychologically I know that would be hard for my kids.
Karen: It was very difficult.
Sundae: How did you manage when you were so young?
Karen: I cry a lot. You know because back in those days we didn’t have email. We didn’t have social media. So once we left the country I could not get in touch with my friends. When I was older I was able to write letters but I remember I always cry whenever we leave a country. And I felt like I always lose friends no matter where I go. And every time I go to a new place, I always try my effort to quickly make friends and this actually trying ups my ability to really relate to others. So I build relationships very quickly with people because that’s how I survived. But I also only stay at a certain level. Cause I know that eventually, you know, I’m gonna lose these friends again. So that was really difficult for me. I become what we say, “Superficial,” per se but I also long to have deep relationships. And to a point which I mentioned in the TCK’s of Asia Forum, that to a point I really doubt my ability to connect deeply with others because I never got a chance to connect deeply with other people.
Sundae: What did it take for you to come to that realization?
Karen: Oh, I think that I realized I was a longing inside me to have a deep friendship, but it almost seems like it could never happen because once I get to know people better it’s time for us to leave again. So that was quite painful actually, right?
Sundae: Well, it’s almost safer to not connect deeply if you know you’re going to leave because then you tell yourself the story that will hurt less when you go.
Karen: Yes. Yes. That’s my survival skill, I would say.
Sundae: Hmm. Hmm that’s intense, especially at that age. And I’m guessing your parents didn’t have literature by their side to guide them. They might not have known what a TCK was. Where did you get support?
Karen: I did not have much. I have to say oh my parents are good parents, but you know Chinese for us, we’re not that emotionally oriented, they are more traditional parents too. So as long as we have food, as long as our grades are good in school, as long as we don’t have any weird behaviors, I think our parents would think that, “Well, our kids are fine. They’re doing well in school and they look healthy.”
Sundae: Right. Right. Fair enough.
Karen: Yeah. Yeah, and to me I always feel like I’m an outsider to every group that I am in because I’m not from Hong Kong, I’m not from Taiwan, I’m not from Singapore. And there is always a part of me feel like I don’t belong there. So I always struggle in my self acceptance in that sense. Not only that I don’t have deep relationships but I also feel like I am the weirdo, no matter where I go and that was really painful for me.
Sundae: Right? So how in the world did you transform? I mean we’re talking about resilience. How did you transform that pain to the ability to connect with people from all over the world? And support them through their own journeys of belonging.
Karen: Hmm. That is a long long long journey because I think for me the first time I discovered I was able to connect was when I moved to Singapore. When I moved to Singapore when I was 16 years old and and I have already been used to and not connecting with people deeply but there’s always a longing beside me to feel, belong, to connect deeply. And someone took me to a church and I attended the youth fellowship there and this group of people, they love me so well and one of them actually even spoke with me and she said that, “You know Karen, I understand your struggle.” Because she shared with me, I shared with her about my story and she said that, “I understand your struggle, but you know, if you never let yourself practicing connecting with other people deeply, you will never know what loving deeply and being loved is like.” What she said really touched me. And I started learning to open up to them and they loved me so well that I felt, “Wow, finally, I feel I belong here.” And that’s when the healing began.
Sundae: That phrase that you just said, “To love me so well,” that is what caught my attention when you were a panelist for the TCK’s of Asia Belonging Summit and I just am holding these words longing and belonging and how they’re so close together.
Karen: Yes. Yes.
Sundae: And when I’m listening to you, you use the word “superficial” before and there was something inside of me that rejected it because you’re so full of depth.
Karen: Oh, thank you.
Sundae: I can’t like, I can’t put the word “superficial” and you together. I’m wondering, I just want to play for a second. I have, and this might surprise people who are listening and it might surprise you, I don’t know, but I have gotten feedback from friends years ago that I was guarded.
Karen: Yes. That’s a great word. Yes.
Sundae: So guarded like we will connect but I will let you in a little but I won’t let you in that far.
Karen: Hmm. That’s a great word. Thank you. I love that. That’s an appropriate one. Absolutely.
Sundae: It’s like, how do you drop your guard so people can love you well?
Karen: Mmm-hmm. That’s a great word. Thank you Sundae. Thank you. I was really guarded because I feel like there’s always a part of me that people don’t understand and they judge based on their cultural experience and cultural lance. Right? And I hate that and that hurt and that hurts a lot. So I was always guarded and I don’t let myself connect deeply because I know I’ll lose eventually, right? The love and the friendship. But when I was in that Church Fellowship, they loved me so well because when I opened they were able to accept me. I am not a Singaporean, but now I always tell people I’m half a Singaporean because the fact that I open up to them, the way they love, the way they share with each other, the way they live their lives have impacted me so much that part of me has changed because of them. So yeah that love really shaped me in a huge way. Yeah.
Sundae: So I just kind of want a recipe for how do you love well? Right? Not a romantic partner. People in your community, right? How do you love someone well in your community? What are some of the things you think they did well?
Karen: I think a few things for me particularly stand out. One is for me to be seen. I think everyone needs to be seen, to be acknowledged. So even though I don’t know anything about culture during then, you know, they saw me, they accepted me. They treated me no different from any of them. They never mentioned that I’m not Singaporean. Perhaps they mentioned, I can’t remember so probably that’s not important. And we’re teenagers. We’re late teenagers. So we just hang out together. We did a lot of things together and there’s no secret among the whole community. The whole Youth Fellowship, we share deeply, everyone treats everyone just like a family. So that was almost like a family relationship to me during that time. Yeah.
Sundae: Sounds like there was a lot of trust and vulnerability.
Karen: Yes a lot of it. Yeah, yeah.
Sundae: Yeah. Wow that I mean I just have like this something exploding in my chest right now when I’m hearing about that. A huge pivotal moment. So how do you bring that gift that you got from them into your work?
Karen: Wow. Yeah. So after that we moved to the US In the 1990s and I found a church to attend in New York, and we lived in New York. And because of my experience in Singapore, I was also looking for a church community that was open, that was welcoming. And actually I was blessed. I found a church community in New York that almost similar to the community in Singapore. And during that time I continued to grow and I realized that while there’s the resilience slowly growing in me, I start to understand myself more, as I mature more. And I realized that there’s a lot of things in me that can actually identify with people who are going through a lot of changes, a lot of struggles because I struggled so much in my growing up years. There’s so much pain. And a lot of times when people share their struggle with me, I actually can understand exactly what it feels like. It’s not just cognitively understand the theory, “Oh, why this happens,” but actually I know how that feels. And so I was able to empathize, have compassion in many ways.
Sundae: With your whole body.
Karen: Yeah. Yeah, with my whole self. Hmm.
Sundae: Man. There’s so many layers to this. Empathy is important. That having lived through hard things is important. So when you talk about resilience, this is something I was actually really curious to talk to you about, people who’ve gone through hard things, I think have resilience because they’ve gone through hard things. How do you support people who haven’t yet gone through hard things, develop resilience?
Karen: Hmm. Oh, wow. This is a difficult question. Well to me, I think resilience has two parts. One part is to go through challenges and be able to stand back at your feet. The ability to rebound from difficulties and challenges, and trials. And the other part is really to take advantage of change and being able to transform through the change. Like being creative as we go through change and transitions.
Not everyone goes through a very difficult time, but I’m sure everyone has gone through change or transitions. Whether it be difficult challenges. So I think that for those who have not gone through very difficult or trying times, I think they can always learn how to tap into that creativity, through the transition process. I would say.
Sundae: Hmmm. Yeah. Okay. So I’m hearing 2 parts of your definition of resilience are rebounding from challenges, and working through the change or the transformation. Is there something that I’m missing?
Karen: For me to rebound from difficulties and being able to stand back on our feet after a crisis or after challenges, that will be one part. I was just discussing with my group coaching fellow learners just now that, you know William Bridges the book Transitions? A lot of times just going through that neutral zone itself is a challenge. So I think for me the other part of resilience is really learning how to take advantage of that neutral zone.
Sundae: So the neutral zone, for those who aren’t listening or who aren’t familiar with the book and that are listening. Can you explain what the neutral zone is for them?
Karen: Absolutely, so William Bridges is the author who defines the process of transition and what he said is that there is an ending where we let go of the old stages of things. And before we move to the new beginning there is a zone where we actually go through a lot of doubts, uncertainty and struggle and that’s what he calls it the neutral zone.
Sundae: Martha Beck calls that, “death and rebirth,” So, it’s when something happens and you don’t know yet what will be next. You don’t have the dream yet. You’re not doing the hard work, you’re in death and rebirth because something old, it has ended but nothing has been reborn yet. And it’s that discomfort. And I always tell my clients, “No square skipping.” You can’t, you can’t just skip that square. You have to stay in the discomfort. And I think that is, if I’m just going to go off of your definition of resilience, I would suggest for those who have not been raised with challenges like you have or been through adversity for decades before they went into their adult life, that sitting in that discomfort is a really important skill. And I have wanted to not have that. I have wanted to jump out of that square. I have wanted to distract myself with something else. But I’ve also learned there’s a ton of value in sitting in that. I think the neutral zone a lot sounds a lot better than death and rebirth so I’ll just let people go with that. Less scary.
Karen: Well, it’s a hard place to be, I have to say. It’s a hard place to be.
Sundae: Right. But it’s so worth it.
Karen: It is. It is. It is.
Sundae: So I look at resilience from a little bit of a different perspective. And I’m curious because you work with teams. I know you work with leaders. I want to hear what you think of it, and I’m not, I’m not saying it’s a different definition, I’m saying this is just a lens that I take on the topic of recent events. I feel like when I work with expats and when I work with especially top performers, directors, leaders, I feel like people mix up the word resilience and endurance. What they’re doing is endurance, they are enduring but endurance leads to depletion and resilience to rejuvenation. And I think that there’s a danger especially in the expat community where a lot of people feel like they have to do it all on their own because sometimes they are alone. Or they don’t want to look like they don’t know, especially if they’re the only person in a community that’s different from everybody else. They just feel like they have to keep persevering or enduring but the danger is that they will burn out.
Karen: Yes. Yes. I love that differentiation. So true. Yes. Yes. Well coming from a Chinese background, I especially can identify the difference between endurance and resilience.
Sundae: I’m from an American background, and seriously, I didn’t even know like 2 weeks vacation felt luxurious and then I went traveling to Europe and I was like, “Why do you guys have four weeks vacation?” Making me crazy! Like, what do you do with all that time? I was raised thinking you just work, right? You just get it done. My father was a farmer and would work from before dawn till after dusk. And my mom would be finishing the dishes at 11:30 at night and would flop into bed and get up at 6:00 the next morning. I didn’t know how to replenish my energy, right?
Karen: I see. Wow.
Sundae: I didn’t know that either.
Karen: Hmm. That work ethic is very similar to the Chinese work ethics, I think. Yeah.
Sundae: And it’s taken me a decade to realize how to be productive and do well without ignoring my body.
Karen: Hmm. Wow, that’s full of wisdom. Thank you for sharing. Learning from the best.
Sundae: Stop it, you’re going to make me blush! I’m just reflecting on the hard things that I’ve had to learn along the way. And I am resistant to learning. It took me a decade or more to learn that lesson.
Karen: And sometimes we consider endurance a virtue because we see how our parents do it. It almost seems like we are slacking or something if we treat ourselves well with self-compassion, I think.
Sundae: So tell me more about self-compassion. I know that’s part of your work. What does self-compassion have to do with resilience?
Karen: I think self-compassion directly increases our ability to be resilient. I think that self-compassion is really to allow ourselves to be who we are when we need to slow down. We allow ourselves to slow down and when we are ready to push, we allow ourselves to push through things. And I think self-compassion is really just self-acceptance and treating ourselves, like listen to our body, listen to our heart, listen to who we are. And I am a Christian so I listen to God too. And so just being me holistically, healthy to the best of my ability.
Sundae:. All right. So how do you create space for all of that listening when you’ve got all these demands on your time and energy and attention?
Karen: I don’t know if you heard of the term Sabbath is a Jewish practice but a lot of Catholic and Christians also practice it so I try my best to keep the Sabbath every Saturday or every Sunday. On that day, I will go for a hike. I will listen, I will read, I’ll pray, and I’ll really spend time journaling and just to reflect back on the weekend. So I ask myself like, “How am I doing? Okay. What do I need?” Really I tend to my body and to my heart and to my soul so that’s very good.
Sundae: Have you been doing that for a long time?
Karen: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve been practicing that for a long time. Sometimes I’m too busy, I wouldn’t be able to do it in a whole day. But I always learn to take time. And actually every end of the year, I’ll take a few days, I’ll just have my by myself a silent retreat and I will just journal and reflect back through the year and project what I’m going to do next year. So that helps a lot. Yeah.
When I do my Sabbath, I feel like, “Oh, I’m really tired,” and then I can adjust my rhythm based on what I sense about myself. Yeah.
Sundae: There’s going to be people who are listening and they’re like, “That sounds delicious. I would love to make time for my body, my heart and my soul.” I think intuitively a lot of people know that’s nourishing. But there’s others here who are probably listening and going, “I don’t have time for that. Are you kidding me? I got a job, I gotta homeschool, I got kids.” What would you say when you really want to support people in their journey for resilience? What would you say to them? Even when they have a lot going on? It’s happening these days with COVID and the extra demands.
Karen: Yeah, well if I may invite them to start small and you know, I have a full plate. I have a mom who has Alzheimer’s, I need to take care of her on weekends. I’m doing a PhD program. I’m writing my dissertation now and I have my work, coaching. And also I’m actually doing work for a non-profit. So people listen to me and they are just like, “How do you do it?” But I do think that if we are wanting to explore, I think it’s always possible to have time. And it really taps into our creativity and resourcefulness. Which I think as a coach, I always challenge my clients to consider whatever they think is impossible, actually it is possible if they put their intention into it. So I would invite them to start small. Perhaps just a few hours one day within a week and start small to see. Once they get the rhythm of it, probably they can expend that time slot into a longer period of time, I would say.
Sundae: I completely agree with that. I mean everybody knows who listens to Expat Happy Hour that I call myself a recovering perfectionist. I would say I think I’m a perfectionist in remission. I really think I’ve nailed it. I really don’t think I’m going to go back to that. But I spent years of I would say, “living from my chin up,” like always in my head, very academic, very cognitive. And only thanks to my coaching practice, did I even experiment with the mind-body connection. Like, “Oh, I got something below my chin.” Allowing that in.
Karen: I love how you say that, “I got something below my chin.”
Sundae: The only reason I did these assignments on like body awareness is because I was a good student and wanted to do what my teacher told me to do. And then a good scientist was like, “Oh that’s good evidence.” Like I noticed the results, right? I was holding on tight to old patterns. And just recently I’ve added meditation into my regular routine and it is unbelievable the great ideas that I’ve had. I take three hours out of my week, out of my work hours to meditate. And I consider it working hours because it’s been about my business and my creativity and my clients.
Karen: I love that.
Sundae: And it completely pays off because I like getting downloads from the universe for these meditations and It’s so good for the soul. So that’s it. I wholeheartedly stand beside what you said around making time. Even when you think you’re busy. I work full-time. I’ve got two boys, you know we have a lot to do too. And for those who have even more overwhelming loads on their shoulders, I love your idea of small steps.
Karen: Hmm. So can I ask a question? What quality of difference have you noticed in your work now that you are taking time just to meditate versus before when you were perfectionist, but you know, but you’re doing excellent work because you were perfectionist. Have you noticed any quality difference?
Sundae: In my work? I think it’s way more connected. Way more embodied. I think if I’m going back to 10 years ago, 15 years ago, very, very cognitive. Right? And good ideas that sort of thing, convincing, but not embodied. I don’t know if people who’ve been on the journey with me, you know, people have been listening to my podcast for the last five years or have been my client for years, if they’ve noticed anything, but I think there’s a level. And it goes back to what we were talking about before about guarded and dropping your guard. And I think when you do that you let people in. Big surprise.
Karen: Hmm. I love that. Wow.
Sundae: So I think there’s something subtle, maybe no one can see it from the outside. But I think there is a quality there. Quality of life, for sure in terms of slowing down and being more present with myself or for others. And just allow myself to have more of the full range of the human experience. Like sitting in the hard stuff right? Sitting in the discomfort, but also really sitting in the joy. I think that has been an impact.
Karen: Wow, thank you. That itself is resilience there. Yeah.
Sundae: So, is that? If we’re on this call together to talk about, how can we reimagine resilience, Karen, what would that look like now that you and I have talked about your definition and my definition and we’ve shared some stories. Like what’s new that’s emerging for us?
Karen: Hmm. For me the fact that you describe just taking this time to remain quiet. To give to yourself, to open up yourself, to a lot of other things, essentially you’re embracing life. You’re letting people in. I think that itself is really enlarging your circle, enlarging your understanding of this world. And I think that itself is increasing your risk resilience to a new level because I think that resilience is really going against something that is adverse to us, I would say. And if you enlarge your circle of comfort and enlarge relationships, enlarge things, that I think that you build a bigger capacity to embrace things. And I think that itself increases resilience.
Sundae: I love that, that’s new for me. This idea of capacity. I think about some of the hard things that we went through in Burkina Faso and how that prepared me for other crisis situations that came down the road. The capacity. So resilience isn’t just rebounding. It’s actually building more volume, more capacity for other life events. I’m also hearing from you, what I’m taking away is this idea about how I don’t always put resilience and self-compassion in the same bucket, but I love how you bring self-compassion in there.
Karen: Hmm. Yeah, I I think that it is essentially similar to what you said really to give yourself space so that you enlarge the volume, increase the capacity of yourself, and take in. And I think self-compassion is really to allow yourself to be more vulnerable to be who you are in order to embrace things that are around you.
Sundae: I think self-compassion is really hard for people.
Karen: Hmm. It is especially for leaders. I realized that yes, that’s why they become leaders because they continue to push themselves. So that’s where they are now, I always tell my clients. But I read a research, actually they say that self-compassion actually helps your leadership to become better.
Sundae: Yeah, because you see the humanity. If you finally see the humanity in yourself, you can then see the humanity in the people that you support.
Karen:. Yeah, always. Always. Yeah self-acceptance always increases others’ acceptance. I would say.
Sundae: So I read one of your articles before we hopped on the call and you talked about, I’m putting in my words now, it’s not your words, but for me, it was almost like a mirror of how accepting are you of other people? And are you accepting of yourself?
Karen: Hmm? Yes. Yes.
Sundae: I think it’s a really important question for people to ask themselves. And if you’re more accepting of others, why don’t you include yourself?
Karen: Yes. I always ask my clients like, ”You have so much empathy towards others. Do you have any towards yourself?”
Sundae: Why do you think people are so hard to have self-compassion?
Karen: Hmm. That’s a great question. I don’t know. I think that for us what I have been hearing is, “If I let myself go then I wouldn’t be good enough. If I let myself go then I wouldn’t continue to push myself to excellence,” something like that. So it’s almost like gaining excellence is exclusive to self-compassion. I think that’s what people think.
Sundae: And like excellence is the only way I can say that I have worth and that is such a dangerous concept, right?
Karen: That’s a good way to put it.
Sundae: And it actually takes away the definition of excellence. Excellence is beyond value that we would expect.
Karen: Hmm. That’s profound. I need to go back and digest that a little bit. Yes. That’s really profound. That’s correct. As a new definition of what excellence is.
Sundae: We set ourselves up for failure.
Sundae: Or the only definition of success is something that will lead to endurance and burnout. I think it comes full circle there.
Karen: Hmm. Yeah.
Sundae: What about, and I’m going to be really honest, there have been times, now that I’ve been doing this for a long time and I also teach this, I really try to watch my, what I call “red flags” around being not in a resilience mode but endurance mode. And watch out for times when I’m depleting myself. And I say there are still things I don’t catch. Do you have to watch yourself like when you’re not exercising self-compassion? Or when you’re not operating from a place that’s building your capacity for resilience?
Karen: Yes. Yes. When I get too busy, you know, I really have a lot of things on my plate. So sometimes when I’m in the mode of finishing them, when I’m in a mode of, “I need to do more to prove that I’m worthy.” As a coach. I’m worthy to work for the nonprofit. I’m worthy of something. A good daughter. Worthy of taking care of my mom sometimes when I try to prove myself, that’s where I probably don’t catch myself that I’m running into depletion mode. And it always comes through my reaction to people, sometimes I’m a bit short-tempered. I won’t snap at people but I would probably withdraw. Some thoughts running in my mind is like, “Okay, enough is enough,” something like that. And so those are the times when I catch myself, that “Okay, something is not good here.” And so I will look at my schedule and then I’ll plan out sometime maybe going hiking, exercise is a great way for me to release a lot of stress and tension. And I’m thankful that I have good friends around me to check in on me and to hold me accountable on whether I’m pushing myself too much. Yeah. Yeah, so those ways are helpful.
Sundae: I just want to tie back to two other podcasts one is last week we talked about research that we know from completing the stress cycle. So exercise is a great way to complete the stress cycle, that goes back to what we learned from the book I reference in the last episode called Burnout. And the other thing that I’ve been harping on for a long time is that resilience is actually built in community.
Karen: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.
Sundae: And that’s exactly what you just said. So a reminder to our listeners of, if you want to work on your resilience, are you taking care of your body? Are you doing this and community? Are you making space for your heart and your soul, right? And even for those people, as people, heart and soul isn’t fluffy stuff. It’s like really important stuff that impacts people’s quality of life and their performance.
Karen: Mmm-hmm. Yes. Yes, community is important. So I’m single and so I have to be intentional in connecting with other people to keep myself healthy and build my resilience.
Sundae: No, yeah. So any last words that you have for those who are listening when you reflect back on all of your work with people and your own experiences with building resilience?
Karen: Yeah. Well when we talk about resilience, the image comes is like to be tough or to endure. It is always tied to an image of strength, of toughness for you to be able to go through or pull through the challenges or go through the changes. But I do think that we can also consider the soft part, that humanity part of it. Actually, we don’t need to be tough to go for resilience. I think that self-compassion, the connecting to the community, connecting to our humanity, increasing our volume, actually is a great way to go through challenges and build resilience. So I thought for me, this concept changes as I age and it’s a new concept to me. So I just encourage the audience to not just think of toughness or you know, building muscle or something like that. That’s only one aspect of resilience.
Sundae: And as you say that I have chills that go all the way up my arms. I really feel like that’s what we need right now. Especially after this long, drawn-out pandemic. Self-compassion and community. So thank you for adding that to the discussion. It’s been wonderful. I wish I had 10 more hours to discuss. But before we go, can you help people understand where they can find you?
Karen: Oh, I have a website and my company is called thinkimpact.co not .com, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org so welcome.
Karen: So great to be here. Thank you so much, Sundae. Such an honor.
Sundae: Thank you so much for coming Karen. It’s been amazing. I’m sitting back and thinking, reflecting on what Karen had to share. We agreed we were just going to hop on the call and share as people and as practitioners what happens when we talk about resilience and what’s new.
And I’m taking away what’s new is definitely that idea of self-compassion as an area of resilience that I don’t often think of, even though I understand deep in my body how that has a positive impact on one’s resilience. So that’s what I’m definitely taking away from today.
I want to just say thank you for listening to Expat Happy Hour. I’m happy that you’re here. You’ve been listening to Sundae Bean. And I’ll leave you with the words from Jaeda Dewalt: “When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience.”
[…] EP 216: Always the New Girl with Karen Tan […]