Wednesday, March 25, 2020

New Normals are Hard

Introduction to the cross-cultural mindset series…
In honor of completing ten years of working and living cross culturally I had dreamed about a monthly blog post reflecting on what we have learned and especially focusing on topics that we think would be applicable to others regardless of where you are, what you do, or if you ever plan on living cross-culturally.

What I didn’t plan for is that I would be writing this in one of the most turbulent times of my life in one of the craziest years yet. And I am sure that will certainly affect some of these topics, nevertheless, I would still love to share bits of hard earned understanding this year regardless of what is going on around us.

So I am starting with something that I think is relevant to most people, especially in areas hard hit by the novel coronavirus. Why new normals are so hard?

What happens when you are in a new culture? Especially in a different country with a different language? You know, when everything is new…? This is what happens when you first start working and living cross-culturally.

Often times one of the things you will find missionaries or expats getting trapped in is a routine. They find one place that has the food the like or one shop owner that helped them one time and they continue to go back to them, even when it ceases to make sense. I have seen missionaries ask a shop owner about government procedures instead of forming a new relationship with a person in that office. They, we, do this because every day in a new culture is well…new. And therefore tiring, so you look for shortcuts.I can still remember the many friends our first year who tried to fulfill new requests or ask questions which in reality they were not at all qualified to answer, yet they were all we had.

Today you wake up and it will be a joy and a surprise to find out what the five new words that you learned the day before can get you now that you could not get the day before. It can be amazing to experience the simple time and energy that it takes learning a new recipe and finding the ingredients all in the midst of forming new relationships and maintaining some semblance of productivity. And the biggest thing with all of this is simply how much energy it takes. I never slept more then my first year in Tanzania simply because of how much energy it takes to wake up to an ever adjusting normal, with a steep learning curve, seemingly no routine, new cultural rules, and a constant uncertainty of what is coming next. This is not a normal space for adults who often have routines, a basic understanding of cultural expectations, and several constants in life whether it is friends, family, work, or something else.

And all of that takes energy. If you want to break out, adapt to the new normal, thrive then it takes even more energy and not a little intentionality.

So, in this time of constant shift and change in the US and around the world I have some advice.
1)    Take a deep breath
2)    Get some extra sleep
3)    Don’t neglect your routine
4)    Don’t confuse anxiety and lack of energy (there is plenty of anxiety to go around, but sometimes all you need is rest)

This too shall pass and it will be okay. But obviously, and yet for many of us oddly enough, it does take a new normal to deal with a new normal. The missionaries who fail in the field are those who never adapt to their new normal, whether they are there three months or twenty years. So even if this is three weeks let us adjust, live into our new intentions, take on new roles by checking on loved ones and helping our neighbors, and live fully in this moment. If the past ten years is anything to go by when all of this is said and done we will have found ourselves different then we were before and that can be a very, very good thing.