Leading in a Global Mosaic Part VIII: Living my Beliefs, A Feeling of Coming Home


A Minority Everywhere I Go: Leading in a Global Mosaic Part VIII

Living My Beliefs, A Feeling of Coming Home

By Lucy Shenouda

Originally published in Global Living Magazine – Issue 21 | Nov/Dec 2015

I live life the only way I know how, one mosaic piece at a time. One surprise at a time. One decision at a time. One adventure at a time. One moment at a time. The people I befriend, the beliefs I form, the questions I ponder are a mystery until they are revealed to me and then to the world. I have been and continue to be on a journey of self-discovery; and I do cherish mysteries, even my own life mystery!

Over the past year, I’ve reflected on significant seasons in my life, shaped by landmark decisions, experiences and adventures. Each story is a reflection on being a minority everywhere I go, while leading in a global mosaic. Through reflecting on these milestones, I have learned a deeply enriching lesson: Living my deeply-rooted beliefs gives me a feeling of coming home.

Henry David Thoreau, American author, poet, philosopher and historian said, “Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.”

Living my beliefs has turned my world around to leading a life lived to the fullest, to choosing a feeling of coming home.

Life has been full of surprises, changes and adventures. A minority everywhere I go, my background, choices and mindset; my beliefs, values and imaginations live within me. I witness my world as a spectacular portrait of life choices, each mosaic piece fitting snugly in multicolor and light shining from within.

A magic talisman to my imaginations has been a strong and enduring belief in the unknown. With the absence of proof and evidence, adventure draws my attention. A fascination with culture and differences compels me to do new things, to be curious and bold. Culture and differences interest me, drawing me into their world.

Jimmy Carter said, “We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

Leading in a global mosaic affords us the experience of being with different people, with different views, cravings, aspirations and visions. With a shift in perspective, an openness to new and different ways of living and working emerges.

How do we steady ourselves for change?

Do we seek change or does change seek us?

I wonder.

At a time when my family, career and life had reached a crossroads, change chose us. We contemplated a move from Canada to Egypt. This joint family deliberation was taken with a great deal of introspection. Three years worth of confusion turned to curious conversations of, “What ifs?” leading to an unexpected turn of, “Let’s do it!”

Once the decision was made, I experienced a rush of adrenaline and excitement. Yet, faced with vocal objections from those closest to me, our move was challenged by those who did not want me to leave. The perspective that helped me leap into the unknown was a mindset shift from “You’re leaving your life behind,” to “I am going towards a new life, a new adventure.” I felt a strong belief in the sureness of my choice for adventure. This mindset shift began deep within me first, months before I made the decision. I made a conscious and mindful shift from resistance to curiosity, from denial to contemplation. Faced with opposition, I firmly stood my ground.

The move back to Canada was equally a choice made through much reflection, of going forward into the next phase in our life, yet another adventure. The move also came with a disconcerting experience of reverse culture shock. After nearly 13 years away, we noticed how much we had changed, for the better, and forever.

Three years into our move back, I recall a weekend retreat. I woke up to an early morning fog during my favorite time of the year – the season of fall, also known as autumn. It’s a season that I sorely missed for over a decade while living in the Middle East region. I felt delight with the sights and smells, and I felt a familiar feeling of disorientation, of slipping, nearly falling and finding my balance in time. An actual experience of my feet slipping on the wet dew-lined floor mirrored my emotional sense of confusion and disorientation. As my senses took in the scenes of nature, I noticed a solitary canoe surrounded by the early morning fog floating over the still water.

Being a witness to the stillness of nature, a metaphor of life choices inspired my imaginations. I envisioned myself in that moment sitting in the canoe. The fog before me masked the way. In that moment, the choices were clear even if the destination was not. I could stroke right, left, forward, back, one stroke at a time… or just stay still. In my imagination, I took a moment to stay still, to be present, breathing in the cool fresh air. Time stretched and I stayed still, content to contemplate the questions within, allowing myself to be alright with confusion, while leaving the answers to come over time. Those present moment experiences have served me well over the years. Being present to the mysteries that enrich my life allowed the inspiration that comes to emerge naturally and in good time.

Being a global nomad, I crave multicultural experiences. I love to travel, see new places, meet new people, to cross the chasm of hard-won victories. I’ve been fortunate to have had opportunities to work on and lead challenging and rewarding projects.

At the height of my career while living and working in Egypt, I took the lead in an especially challenging account. Hard work and long hours led my team and I to a gratifying opportunity to travel to Nigeria, Indonesia and the Philippines over a single three-week period. Professional challenges conquered and a rewarding opportunity realized, I faced the inevitable personal challenge of what’s expected of my culture, gender and role as an expat Egyptian wife and mother.

Breathing deep within me was the conviction to live with the adventures to come, to live my beliefs, and have stories to tell rather than to give up in the face of difficulties. Once again, I shifted from defending myself to taking a stand for going on a three-week adventure of a lifetime. After unsuccessful attempts at talking about the opportunity, speaking with defensiveness rather than calm, I turned to self-reflection and writing my thoughts. I wrote a letter to my husband. In actuality, the letter was to myself. The pure act of challenging myself to write my perspectives and expectations led me to find the words, the beliefs and values that enlightened my influence on me, my husband and my family. With courage and conviction as my allies, family conversations took a different tone – calmer, gentler, respectful. I was supported. I go. Accompanied by my colleagues, we visited our client’s offices and learned about the market, culture and branding challenges and successes in Lagos, Jakarta and Makati City.

I also chose adventure in the face of what seemed to be, at the time, imminent danger. I was contemplating traveling during times of global conflict, epidemics and uncertainty. Yet, that is the way of the world today. I feel extremely fortunate to have felt safe. I experienced sights, sounds and tastes that I could only experience through a once-in-a-lifetime cultural adventure. I gained insight on the people, diversity and culture, and an expanded appreciation for the courage and conviction reflected in our shared global mosaic.

I have noticed that choosing adventure is very much in my genes. My courageous and adventurous mother and father influenced my choices. Whether I was aware of this influence at the time or not, I am very much aware of their influence now. Global travels are intricately woven in the tapestry of our culture.

I have vivid memories of being eight years old, observing our move from Asmara to Toronto with fascination and confusion at the same time. As a child, I had little knowledge of why we were moving, where we were moving and how we would live. It was in those early days that I began to wonder about the uncertainty of change. I recall feeling lost, seeking a place to belong, eager to learn and persistent in my pursuit to understand my world. I felt fascination with the unfolding mystery, hopeful that the pieces in my global mosaic would fit into place.

Vaclav Havel, Czech writer and philosopher, said: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

I have experienced many such moments of hope, of sureness in the face of uncertainty. A visceral experience from head to toe. In those moments of introspection, I’ve connected to the most paradoxical of experiences. The feeling of sureness I’m exactly where I’m meant to be and of longing for meaning and purpose. I know and I don’t know.

Trusting in the wisdom of the unknown has been a lifetime challenge and achievement. I have learned to trust and appreciate the gifts that eventually come and live with the paradox of knowing and not knowing. With my love of mystery, it’s no wonder I have a knack for living in the questions while listening deeply to my inner signals. The subtle messages signaling from my head, heart and gut. I listen. I observe.

Undeterred by being different, choosing different has expanded my world. I have chanced the imperfect, the uncertain… surrendering into the unknown future, with trust and belief in divergent choices, through navigating a mosaic-lined path of challenges and successes. The irony is that just when I felt the gifts, the comfort and rewards from being tolerant to change, life sent me on yet another adventure. In the midst of the victories, we lived through the tragedies. The memories unrealized with loved ones near and far, lost to us through the distance and through a twist of fate. Through it all, I found hope; I found family in friends and strangers.

Leading in a global mosaic while living my beliefs trained me to adapt, to make the best of the twists and turns, beyond my choices and towards my beliefs and values. For me, learning has been one of the greatest gifts of leading in a global mosaic. Learning about myself, others, and the world beyond acquiring knowledge. I have learned to listen, observe and connect to diverse people, ideas, thoughts and patterns. I have learned to adapt, to shift perspectives, to hope and, most of all, to choose the feeling of coming home. And so I live my beliefs with conviction, courage and curiosity, living the only way I know how, one mosaic piece at a time.

Lessons Learned

  1. Mindset shifts impact: The intangibles qualities exemplified in effective leaders are the ones that matter the most. Global leadership calls for us to go on a quest for knowledge, a mindset of: curiosity, courage, conviction, tolerance, self-assurance, influence and a thirst for learning. The openness to different cultures, mindsets, ideas that come through taking a stance of deep curiosity, asking questions on a pursuit to bridge understanding and forge relationships.

The mindset of global nomads primes us for leader challenges, and it is our inner strength, the light that shines from within, that amps the impact on our world.

  1. Confusion precedes inspiration: Over the years, experience has taught me that shifting from living in the confusion to living in the questions was healing, a way to focus forward. Natural curiosity infused my approach to facing confusing and often edgy situations. Facing unknowns is part of the human condition, a fact of life.

I have learned to allow myself to be in the confusion, to gradually feel the shift to revelation through a blend of self-belief, wondrous curiosity and the courage to live in the questions.

  1. Self-reflection activates influence: Taking the time to self-reflect, to journal struggles and tribulations for the purpose of finding the words, the expressions of influence make a difference. The difference begins by activating courage and conviction, to foster constructive conversations and a way forward.

As a global nomad, global trekking is a lifetime aspiration and passion. With that comes the courage to be bold, to capture the opportunity, bridge the challenge and live fully the unpredictable journey of life.”

  1. Adventure takes risk: Global experiences have come with taking risks, doing new things, visiting diverse cultures and living adventures across the globe. These adventures bring shadow and light, mystery and discovery. In traveling and standing still on life’s path, our inner light marks the way forward.

With each experience, Ive learned to cherish the fullness and stillness of life. The adventure feeds my soul with purpose, insight and a feeling of belonging.

  1. Uncertainty bears gifts: Leading through uncertainty affords gifts that come with the sureness of walking an unknown path. I know and I don’t know. I let go of what is supposed to be; I am rooted in the present moment. I chance the imperfect and the uncertain. I peek around the bend and keep walking forward, living the only way I know how, one step at a time.

Conviction, sureness and curiosity partner with my intuition to embrace my fascination with the unknown the uncertain thats both terrifying and exciting at the same time.

  1. Hope emerges life: For those of us who live globally, our experiences are heightened by opportunities and challenges of a life lived moment-by-moment, year-by-year. Routine is elusive. Change is a true constant. Challenges are all around us. With struggles and tribulations come the fortunate crossing of paths that change our lives, the days of hope emergent.

Just when we feel comfort, life sends us a new twist. We come through the darkness and the light. Leading in a global mosaic trains us to adapt, to make the best of the ripples that life brings us.

  1. Learning seeks leaders: Learning is more than strictly acquiring knowledge. Learning is about listening, observing, asking curious questions and connecting thoughts, ideas and patterns. Fostering a learning mindset as a leader is one of the greatest assets in working and living globally. Focus on learning: listening, observing and making connections to thoughts, ideas and patterns. From this learning, leaders speak up, show up, strong and influential, insightful and clear. It is in those moments that people stop, listen and respond. It is then that we lead.

The most challenging is releasing my knowledge, insights and questions to the world with non-attachment, intention and self-trust.

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