In today’s blog we will use the movie Jerry Maguire to explore how cultures outside of our own decrease our struggles and enhance our strengths. The result of working abroad or on mixed-culture teams is a more “complete” you, a you that’s ready to thrive into today’s market of global collaboration.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, Jerry Maguire is the story of a sports agent searching for more meaning in his work. Along this journey he develops a complex romantic relationship with his assistant, Dorothy and a deep friendship with his main client, an outspoken football player named Rod. Throughout the movie, Jerry struggles with his fear of getting close to those he loves and therefore stays stuck in his shortcomings. His friends must force him to confront those fears and find the deeper meaning he is looking for.
In the scene shown above, as Jerry rides the elevator with Dorothy a couple begins to speak to each other in sign language. When Jerry wonders aloud what they are saying, Dorothy interprets for him. The man had said, “You complete me.”
I recently returned from a twenty-one day trip to India when a colleague from England called to see how my journey went. Aside from the stomach bug and the nineteen-hour flight home, I told him, it was sublime! Then he asked me the question that I’ve heard many times before.
“Vicki, why do you go to India? I know it’s a fascinating country, but why do you keep going back over and over?”
I’ve always struggled to answer this question before but suddenly I saw Jerry Maguire’s face in my head. For the first time in my life I knew what to say.
“This is going to sound corny,” I said to my colleague, “but I go because India completes me.”
Everyone has strengths that can double as struggles. Psychologist Carl Jung wrote about this duality, saying that your gifts, if not given the proper outlets, can also become your shadows. For example, I tend to strive hard for perfection, especially within myself. This is a gift in that I pay close attention to detail and my clients get the benefit of my desire to do things right. Perfectionism becomes a shadow, however, when you experience deep disappointment in yourself for not achieving something that is in fact impossible. Let’s face it, a perfect human does not exist.
When I go to India, this shadow is tempered. A large part of the population of India believes in reincarnation, a philosophy that does not lend itself to perfectionism. The belief that death is a comma rather than a period fosters tolerance, accommodation, and a sense that if something isn’t perfect this time, another chance will come around. Those who do not share a belief in reincarnation are also influenced by India’s cyclical culture; even the roads are laid out in roundabouts and twists. In addition, India is an emerging economy, so logistics don’t always function perfectly. Roads might close at a moment’s notice and power may not be available during your big presentation.
In India, I take my focus away from perfection and place it more firmly on relationships, improvisation, diversity of thought, and acceptance. I feel less stressed when I let India take the burden of where I fall short. In other words, India completes me.
When we travel or work with members of a multicultural team right here at home, we open ourselves to this wholeness. Let me provide some other examples from around the world.
- From Germany I learned to take very direct feedback on my documentation without being offended. Because the style of communication tends to be more explicit than the southern USA where I live, when I worked in Germany I got to improve my writing and software skills in ways that may not have happened here.
- From China I experienced what it feels like to be in a language minority. I remember how scary it was to leave the hotel, wondering if you knew enough Chinese to get you back once you wandered off. I needed to know what that felt like in order to encourage my clients to be patient with non-native speakers of their language.
- From Nepal I learned that you do not have to have a long list of business achievements to be worthy as a human being. I had always struggled with the “Am I doing enough?” question that plagues the American psyche. Nepalese culture places a high value on relationships, especially family, and I spent many evenings there on a porch drinking tea and sitting in silence with my host family. This was a unique kind of happiness.
- From California, my home town which I’ve lived away from for sixteen years, I learned to be informal in my style and put people at ease, a skill I use a lot with anxious clients.
The list goes on, and you don’t have to travel to get similar benefits. The people working in your office from other cultures can provide many options for navigating business and life. Recent studies show that if we can leverage these differences and augment our strengths we can significantly improve our global collaboration and business growth potential. Most importantly, however, on a personal level we can let the world complete us. India, you had me at namaskar!