Identity – by permission or by design?

Expats often worry what living in another culture may do to their identity.  Will they have to surrender the identity they know and adopt another one?  Will their identity change?  Will it stay the same and as a result they won’t ever fit in or feel that they belong?

This list of concerns can go on and on and, if you look closely, you’ll see that a lot of these questions relate to (1) who we see ourselves as and to (2) how we preserve that in unfamiliar environments.  In my previous posts (here and here) I focused more on how to preserve the sense of who we are, but today I’d like to address the first question – how do we find our identity in the first place? How do we come to see ourselves and identify with who we are?

I grew up in a family and environment where my future was decided for me.  I was a child and a grandchild of engineers growing up in the society where people were relegated into either a techie or an artsy field.  There was nothing in between and one very rarely crossed from one to another.  And so with my family being engineers I was told all my life that I belonged to the techie crowd (somehow my complete and utter inability to comprehend some very techie subjects didn’t bother anyone).

Fast forward several decades later.  I am no longer a techie and I have not been for a long time.  But it took me many many years before I actually permitted myself to experiment with the artsy – and it’s taking me a lot longer to see myself as an artist.  My sense of identity and my sense of how I see myself evolved from a place of being who you are by permission to acknowledging who you are by design.

So when you are looking at your identity – the near and dear one that you are taking overseas, what are you seeing? And perhaps, if you are finding that you are playing a role by permission and feeling afraid to relinquish that role, how can living in another country – away from the society that pre-determined that role for you – can help you find yourself by design?

NEW at the Global Coach Center: an online course on Culture Mastery — offering how to be effective in any culture through the 4C’s ™ process of culture-emotion intelligence.

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

One response to “Identity – by permission or by design?

  1. One of the beautiful bonuses of cross-cultural living: becoming aware of who we are (‘by design’) as we see ourselves in the mirror of others. Another bonus: discovering new ways of being, giving us an increased capacity to re-design our values, our behaviors, and our perceptions. My March 21 blog tells a story about just that.

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