A Coaching Power Tool created by Els Poot
(Career/Expat Coach, CZECH REPUBLIC)
The dual concept of superficiality and depth is a recurrent one in an expatriate environment. Expat life today in our globally interconnected, cross-cultural world is fast, frenetic and highly mobile. When exposed to both the constant changes and the cross-cultural aspects of an expat life, there is a risk of not engaging others in their life.
On the other hand, for many expats, it is easier to make friends abroad because they are part of an expat community made up of people who have similar experiences and can identify with them and their life.
A recent experience in my weekly yoga lesson, exposed this duality very clearly. I attend an English speaking yoga class in Prague, where I live as an expat wife. I discovered yoga when I lived in China for four years. It is a great way to keep my body and mind in balance. A young Dutch mother of two joined our group for a trial session. The teacher was keeping a close eye on her in order to check whether she was executing the exercises in the correct way. Half way through the lesson, the lady suddenly burst into tears and couldn’t stop crying. On top of that, she made a wrong movement, which blocked her neck. The teacher brought her to a small room where she could lay down and called a physiotherapist in order to help her with the physical problem.
As I am also native Dutch speaking, I decided to introduce myself and to inform how she was doing. Even though this was the first time I met her, she shared very personal emotions with me. She was clearly overwhelmed by her recent move to Prague (with two small children and an extremely hard working husband) and the problems with her family in her home country. She was trying so hard to take care of everybody around her, that she completely forgot to take care of herself. Although she attended already social events in order to find friends, these contacts had been very superficial. She had difficulties to find people with whom she could connect on a deeper level, with whom she could share her doubts. But the people she met with (until that moment) did not seem to be like-minded. As she expressed it : “she needed more than coffee!” She needed a real friend to be able to share her emotions with.
We talked for more then an hour. It was obvious that the deep breathing during the yoga lesson had released the emotions she had pushed away for several months. Finally she had found the depth she had missed during the first months with only superficial contacts. She was relieved she could finally connect with people who where seeking the same depth as her.
What is superficiality?
Superficiality is what is obvious, familiar and lies on the surface.
We look at the outside and form a quick opinion. Often our judgment is based on standards that have been taught by our education and environment or on many years of experience in a given situation. Superficiality might even go so far that we apply it to people and their behavior.
A superficial person is often content with the first impressions and snap judgments. He fails to meet and communicate on a deep and important level so necessary to create lasting relationships.
Western society is often referred to as materialistic and superficial. A growing number of people think they can find happiness in materialistic possessions and they loose themselves in an artificial way of living with too much attention to material welfare.
But there is also a group of people (definitely in the expatriate world), who keep their relationships on a superficial level because they want to protect themselves from getting too close. They keep others at an emotional distance in order to avoid the pain when they have to say goodbye to their friends. They keep their relationships superficial and do not allow others to get close enough to know the ‘real’ person.
What is depth?
According to the dictionary, depth is a profound or intense state, the state of being complete or thorough.
If you are looking for depth, you take the effort to search for things hidden at the bottom of a subject. You show a real interest and try to find a connection. You are looking at the why or the motivation. You look at the different influences there are and how they occur. But you can also go so in depth that you can’t see what happens on the surface.
Expat friendships are friendships in a pressure cooker: it must be fast because time together might be limited. Therefore these friendships can be very intense and can go deep really quickly. The absence of family and home based support networks means that these friends quickly become each others support network.
Going to a deeper level in relationships requires opening up and sharing the good, the bad and the ugly. It means that you have to dare to be vulnerable, even to someone you do not know for a very long time. This can be frightening for some people. On the other hand these friendships will make you feel connected and will help to regain confidence.
- Are there area’s in your life where you could use more depth?
- Are there area’s in your life where superficiality could serve you?
- Have you been in a situation where you had the choice between superficial and depth?
- What was the outcome?
- How could adding more depth in an area of your life change the relationships in that area?
- Think of a time where you felt superficial but where you were able to shift to a deeper level?
- How did that happen?
- How did that make you feel?