(By Wendy Bergsteedt)
Getting the call that changed my life was the last thing I was expecting in August 2016 – when a challenging career move meant leaving Jozi and moving to the ‘Mother City’.
I had less than 30 days to sign contracts and make the move; but in my favour, the sudden news forced me into decision making mode – there was no time for second guessing. Listing schools, over analysing traffic routes to and from my new job, deciding between retro parquet or tiled floors – there was time for none of that.
Having had a “gypsy” for a mom who schlepped my sister and I to ten different schools and even more homes, I thankfully became accustomed to change in my younger days and I quickly embraced the change that was about to happen. In hindsight, dealing with relentless change is, and never has been a fun process for me. At the time, all the change often resulted in sadness, but the biggest life lesson has been to master adaptation through periods of change. It is, after all, the only constant in life.
Given that Cape Town is perceived to be a very difficult city to adapt to – the common theme being that it’s cliquey, hellishly expensive, and of course, much slower in pace when compared with Jozi – gave me slight trepidation at the thought; despite my ‘seasoned’ experience with adaptation.
There’s a choice
Having said this, my realisation was that we do have a choice in how we handle change and how we thrive in new environments – and a lot of it depends on the filter that we apply to our experience. One way is to inherit the views of others, and the other is to make a deliberate choice to allow a unique experience for ourselves. Show up as if you belong, because you do!
I’d like to share my experience in developing resilience and learning to be agile in new environments. My story resonates with young and old, anyone who has really found themselves in a new environment of any kind. Moving cities, changing schools, starting university, or a new career, becoming a mother. The list is endless.
My story resonates with young and old, anyone who has really found themselves in a new environment of any kind.
Here are my hacks to surviving it:
1. Taking the leap with affirmative choice
I’ve watched people who only walk into situations where things are guaranteed to work out for them, and they are very rarely the ones who achieve radical results or shift the needle in remarkable ways. In the famous words of Leo Buscaglia, “the person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing and becomes nothing… only the person who risks is truly free.”
I love Johannesburg. I love the electric energy, the diversity and I relate to people on a constant mission to succeed. I just love the hustle! Arriving in a new city, perceived to be hostile and cold while simultaneously walking into a demanding role in a high performing business was my opportunity to apply affirmative choice. My vow to myself was to be completely conscious of my mind-set – with complete awareness fixed on what I was feeding my mind. I reminded myself constantly that things would work out if I showed up with positivity and grit, every single day.
I reminded myself constantly that things would work out if I showed up with positivity and grit, every single day.
Tough times in the Mother City
Make no mistake, I’ve been through a few tough situations in Cape Town involving many complex and sensitive circumstances. Through the adversity, I kept going back to my basic principles, some of which are inspired by Victor Frankl in Man’s search for meaning – the famous author who survived the Nazi death camps during the holocaust. The specific lesson here being that we need to remain conscious of our thoughts and emotions and in addition, remember that we have a choice in how we react. He calls this “emotional agility“, something critical to survival in this day and age. He talks about the space between stimulus and response and how in that space, lies our power to choose how to react.
See, there is always a choice
We choose how to react to complexity, loneliness or even to racism or sexism. It’s ultimately an individual call. The gem here is always to consider how your reaction supports your affirmative agenda.
For Victor Frankl, it was how he responded to the treatment of the Jews in Auschwitz, watching his fellow prisoners perish around him. Being a physician, he chose a rational approach and continued to treat the sick in the camps and further went on to provide personal medical treatment to the Nazi generals, which went completely against his moral fibre.
It was clear that he used ‘the space’ wisely before he reacted to the stimulus. He saved hundreds of lives and coached and counselled his fellow inmates through one of the darkest times in history.
2. Find your tribe
The infamous echo chamber syndrome on digital platforms manifests in our daily lives, in the flesh, believe it or not.
In a digital context, the echo chamber plays out in the way that algorithms serve users with more and more information related to what they ordinarily search for and what they engage with from a content perspective. So, the more you follow Sky News or Bloomberg, the more FT and Black Rock articles will be served to you. The point being that we eventually get stuck in a perpetual cycle; overfeeding ourselves with the same regurgitated news, which lately seems to skew towards the negative.
Or, I guess if you’re following the likes of Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Ekhart Tolle and Robin Sharma, you may go off on a different tangent with your rose-tinted lenses, being served with all the grounding ‘power of now’ kind of stuff.
I was fortunate enough to land in an organisation that supports diversity, thinking differently and challenging the status quo.
What are you seeking?
At the end of it all, we are fed with more of what we seek and the lesson here, is to shake this up in order to achieve and maintain a balanced perspective. To ensure a balanced view of life and reality, make sure that you have a mix of accounts that you follow which you don’t necessarily like, nor identify with 100%.
Context is everything and the more you know about a broader reality, the better – because this is how we feed true diversity. Research proves that more diverse teams are generally higher performing. I employ this approach deliberately – the drivers, the creatives, the “disagreers”, the peace keepers and then of course the divine discontent who never take the first answer. The pushers, the visionaries.
Be deliberate in your efforts to find your tribe
Finding my tribe was a deliberate effort through seeking out people that didn’t look, think or operate in the way that I did. If my ambition was to settle into a new environment, looking for carbon copies of myself certainly wasn’t the way to achieve exponential growth or to broaden my horizons in the shortest possible time.
I was fortunate enough to land in an organisation that supports diversity, thinking differently and challenging the status quo. Surrounding myself with a diverse group of people meant that I had the opportunity to be inspired by fresh thinking and a new perspective. My tribe is made up of all colours and creeds with traditions, behaviours and passions that don’t necessarily mirror mine.
Finding your tribe will mean that you are accountable to show up, take the initiative and act with courage. It’s about doing the inviting, arranging, planning, including and nurturing the newness. Its hard work but at the end of it, YOU are the curator of your own experience, so take it head on.
3. Adjusting to new norms
The World Health Organisation says that by 2030 the main cause of disability will be depression. It’s proven that weather conditions have an impact on mood and expectedly, I was warned way before my move about the horrific weather patterns in Cape Town – from the howling gale force winds, to the miserable horizontal winter rain and then of course the icy cold water that’s barely swimmable for ‘normal’ people. And I won’t forget a good friend mentioning the terrible depression experienced during winter in Cape Town. Talk about the fear of God!
The misty scene is something that I’ve come to love. I love the rain, the very horizontal rain and the gale force winds.
En route to work every day, I have the privilege of an uninterrupted view of Table Mountain and Lions Head. In the winter, clouds hover really low and both of the majestic wonders are barely visible. The misty scene is something that I’ve come to love. I love the rain, the very horizontal rain and the gale force winds.
We are often bombarded with external views that skew our own experience
A lot of your new experience will depend on your filter and the way that you choose to arrive and meet your new space.
Breaking into new cliques is always a tough one – finding values and interests that you resonate with. Make the effort to connect with a diverse group of individuals. Push yourself into discomfort and watch the growth you will experience.
Apply your unique filter onto your experience, have an affirmative mind-set that things will work out for you! Believe it and let nothing stand in your way. It’s about believing that you will be served with what you need and of course to work your ass off to achieve it. Our biggest enemy is mediocrity. Don’t be overcome with other negative experiences. Make your own unique experience. Be bold and take ownership of your new experience. Pluck up the courage to make moves and talk to people!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wendy Bergsteedt is an inspirational speaker and the Group Head of Marketing at Coronation Fund Managers. She resides in Cape Town with her two children Tyra, 17 and Daniel who is 10. She is an avid runner, yogi and lover of fine wine.