From where does your power come?

Not being in the driver’s seat

I currently live abroad and some things happen differently to how we’re use to them ‘back at home’.

For instance, being creative and implementing something new: ideas get thwarted, or at least they get blocked at lots of different levels.

Consequently, making any kind of progress can feel like hard work. And as with any process, it can feel like hard work if we don’t understand it.

Where I currently call home, ‘modern, western’ living has been overlaid relatively recently, but the cultural roots of the area are still very close to the surface. And so they should be! The loss of cultural traditions and values, as the world becomes more and more westernised, will be one of the greatest sadnesses to the sovereignty of any nation.

However, what we, as foreigners experience in this different culture is interesting.

The starkest difference that we note lies around decision making. It appears that decisions are made more ‘in the round’. No one person seems to be the decision maker – lots of talk, and lots of intricate social protocol to the unfolding of any venture – and so it appears, to us, that no one takes the responsibility for making a decision.

How this actually pans out is that there is somewhat a communication black-out. Just no comms.

Now from a western indoctorinated mind, this can be a challenge. One can feel rather lost (in the absence of a reply to umpteen emails, for example) and in the middle of no-man’s land. One neither knows whether one is coming or going when hanging on for a decision!

But you see, decision are made. Clearly! As things get ‘done’. Stuff happens.

It’s just that the process of getting there is very alien to us. Because of our indoctrination. And because we feel left in the dark for almost the entire process…!

So here’s the thing:

In the west, we like to see forward-moving process. We like to take the straight road to where we’re planning to go. And in our ever-expanding inboxes, we expect to be kept in the know about progress. We expect communication – we write an email, we expect a reply. We ask a question, we expect an answer. We make a complaint, we expect recourse. This is how we’ve unfolded our ways of working in western culture; we have laid down expectations about timely communication.

So when, as in the case in a different culture, the path isn’t wholly linear, but seemingly rather round-about and not particular overt communication-wise, initially this can feel incredibly frustrating.

Mostly, our reaction (which usually comes out anywhere between frustration and anger!?) is because we feel disempowered.

We don’t feel in the driving seat.

We’re used to a system of direct ask and reply, and it is this expectation that leaves us high and dry when we don’t receive it!

It doesn’t make the more-circular, more-tribal way wrong – of course it doesn’t – however, in the landscape of expecting what we assume to be particular standards of efficiency, it can be rather unsettling. Confusing, even.

When a way of being is so ingrained in our psyche, it’s hard to let it go overnight…

What are you learning in the passenger seat?

Having experienced this unsettling confusion a few times, the underlying observation is how it feels so disempowering when we’re not in the driving seat.

So the bigger question is how to learn from this. Now that I find myself in the passenger seat in someone else’s car, how do I navigate this journey, but without the frustrations?

Otherwise put, how can this experience be used as a place from which to grow rather than keep meeting and repeated the same situation in different guises? (Not least as we always meet our challenges for a reason…)

How do I use this repeated feeling to change something about my behaviour? (Or else, move! Hahaha, but actually I’m more interested in the former! Because it’s an opportunity to understand, and to expand. And, of course, when we deal with our own issues, there’s also an opportunity to have more compassion towards someone else’s situation : )

So I’ve thought about this for quite some time and the deeper issue is about our expectations.

Setting expectations and the rulebook

In our/my upbringing in the west induces an ‘I-can’ sense. It’s the ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ idea; this is phenomenally positive and has fuelled huge aspects of our history and current society:

I want to join a running club; I can.
I want to climb the Three Peaks; I can find a way to achieve this.
I want to organise a charity event; how can I go about this…? This is how, and off you go, you can / I can do it.
I want to build a business – here are the rules, but otherwise, off you go and realise your dreams.

Easy, right?

Ok, not easy…but possible. And this is the point.

And we’re conditioned by this concept. We’re becoming more conditioned by this concept – that the power is in our own hands. And it’s mostly good.

And yet, we then add expectations into the mix.

It is in the setting of expectations that can often lead to frustration, upset and as they say, ‘setting yourself up for a disappointment’.

It’ll be our expectations every time that floor us…not the actual unfolding process.

Because when we hold on to our expectations, we lose sight of the fact that everyone has a different ‘rulebook’. Everyone, actually, has a different rulebook for ‘what goes’.

And by ‘rulebook’, I’m not really referring to laws…but more, how we assimilate how it should be done in a slightly different way, according to our experiences (and our conditioning).

And in the case of living abroad, the whole culture has a slightly different rulebook!

It’s when we allow someone else’s rulebook, and their ‘rules’ to determine how we react to something, that’s when we set ourselves up for either frustration, or upset, or even anger.

Because we give away our power to someone else in those instances.

So, again back to the ‘living abroad’ scenario, in the case here where there may be unwritten procedures, the only real way to handle the ‘?!?’ moments, is to reassert your own power in your own space.

And really this is all we can all ever do! So it’s really a good lesson to be reminded of…

Our personal power and releasing attachment

We can only ever assert our power over the things that we have within our locus of control (within ourselves, essentially) This is the ‘change-the-things-that-I-can-and-accept-the-things-that-I-can’t’ idea…

Being able to focus on our locus of control (and sit within our personal power) stems from two places:

Firstly, relinquishing attachment to the outcome of the scenario… “Well, I put this out there, but if it comes to something – great – and if not, oh well. Try somewhere else…”

As we’re used to being in the western driving seat and forming expectations that our desired outcome will come to fruition, if we relinquish our attachment to the outcome, this enables us to retain power over how we feel about our situation. Because how we feel is directly linked to how we have reacted to something.

And the second place from where we can affect our own power is by asking – what is my personal motivation in this scenario?

When we understand our real motivator, we can start to see the situation from a slightly different perspective…”ah, I reacted to what she said, because really, I wanted x,y & z to happen….” Or something along those lines. (This takes insight, and being humble enough to accept where we’re truly coming from…)

Everything is easier when we have some understanding (or even some education, in the case of living abroad!) to the ins and outs of a different approach, and when we know and accept our real motivations.

And you can extrapolate this out to everything! From office politics to neighbourly disputes.

Because then we can choose to shift our perspective on the matter. And when we choose, we retain our power. And we can choose to detach ourselves from challenging, or emotional responses, we have re-located the personal power within…not given it away without.

(If we allow ourselves to feel rubbish about something…and blame someone else in the process, that’s it – again, we’ve given away our power.)

(We decide how we feel…always. Not someone else.)

We don’t always have to like what comes our way, but if we choose to accept it…it can make the journey so much easier for everyone (whether we’re driving the car or not…!)

Expectations, motivation, attachment and personal power are intrinsically linked…