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Thrive on a Core Driven Path

October 30, 2014 | Issue 10.2014

In This Issue

Personal Note
Your Personal Culture of Thriving [Feature Article]
Recommended Resources

Personal Note

Hello, Trailblazer!

This past weekend my wife and I joined a group of friends to celebrate the birthdays of one of our favorite couples, a husband and wife who both turned 60 just 4 days apart. Because they met as teenagers in the very late 60s and married and started their family in the 70s, the theme of the party was 70s groove. The hosts asked us all to dress up for it, so I wore a tie-dyed shirt, jeans, and sandals, and my wife wore jeans, sandals, a hippie/peasant blouse, and a fun headband we found with a peace sign and leather tassels. Funkadelic!

We don’t go to Halloween dress-up parties and our younger son, now a sophomore in high school, hasn’t gone trick-or-treating for several years, so it’s been a while since I wore a costume or helped my son put one together. (His last one was epic. He was a Terminator robot, damaged in battle, with wires and gizmos sticking out of his body.)

Wearing a costume reminds me of the concept of the persona, psychologist Carl Jung’s term for the way we present ourselves to the world, taken from a term for a mask or character in classical plays. Through our persona, we tell the world the story of who we want them to believe we are – often very close to the story of who we think we are, but sometimes different from how we see ourselves.

The stories we tell ourselves about who we are, how the world works, and what role and power we have in the world, are common themes in coaching, even though they’re not often addressed in that way. This month’s article is about a particular ongoing story we write, tell, edit, and adapt throughout our lives – the story of our personal culture. I hope it prompts some useful introspection for you.

Enjoy dressing up for Halloween, if you do, or enjoy watching the people who have fun dressing up. Ponder how exciting it can be to “play” someone else for a while, and think about what we can learn about ourselves when we do that.

See you on the trail!

Stephen Coxsey, MA, LPC, PCC
Positive Psychology Coach and Trainer

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Your Personal Culture of Thriving :::::::::: Feature Article ::::::::::

The idea of culture can be difficult to recognize in ourselves but easy to see in others. When a person’s rituals and ceremonies are unusual, when their habits seem peculiar, and when their way of making sense of events seems curious, those aspects of the person’s culture stand out to us. Because we see them as “oddities,” they are easy to notice. However, our own culture may not be as clear to us because “That’s just the way we do things.”

Societal Culture
With apologies in advance to anthropologists and sociologists, I present my framework for thinking about culture. A society is a large group of people who generally identify themselves as part of the same group by location or place of origin, language, shared history, and shared religious traditions or mythology. They may generally share similar physical features compared to other large groups and generally dress in certain identifiable styles of clothing, although that is changing as the world becomes more interconnected.

A broad society’s culture is the story the society tells about itself, how it understands itself, how it understands the world, and what role it sees for itself in the world. It’s the story a person in the society learns to tell about the society. An individual in a society can identify the general history, the shared mythology, the customs and traditions, and the language of the culture even if she or he does not embrace it. For example, Italian culture has seemingly disconnected threads of ancient Rome, the power of the Catholic Church through feudal times, and a modern expression of sexuality and sensuality, but an Italian person can weave them together and make sense of them.

Societal Sub-Culture
Within a society, there are often groups of people who identify as members of the larger society and embrace aspects of the larger culture, but they more closely share customs, rituals, mythology, religious beliefs, language, etc., with a more specific group. This is likely when different cultures have blended through migration and is especially likely in modern industrialized countries that have a long history of immigration from different areas. People living in certain regions within a larger culture can also develop a shared identity based on geography, more like each other and less like those in other areas.

As an example of immigrant sub-cultures, Mexican-Americans see themselves within the broader American culture, but with customs, traditions, and priorities from their “source” culture that help members identify with each other and as distinct from the broader culture. European-descended Americans might find the quinceañera to be a peculiar tradition, but it’s deeply ingrained in the Mexican soul. Geographical sub-cultures can be recognized in the United States in the industrialized northeast, in the south, in the open-land regions of the west, and especially in Texas. Cities, especially larger ones and those with a long history, can even have their own sub-culture with which the locals identify.

Organizational Culture
Corporations, agencies, and other organizations have their own culture, as well. It’s not always as easy to identify as an ethnic or regional sub-culture, but it can be observed. It’s more than the stated values or mission of the organization, and can be different from and even in opposition to stated values or principles. That’s because organizational culture is the story the people in the organization learn over time about how the organization actually operates, actually regards its members or employees, and actually interacts with other people and other organizations.

Organizational culture is not revealed in marketing messages. A business can state that their commitment is to quality, but if that’s just a slogan the actual practice might be to control their image instead of insuring their quality. In that case, the culture would reveal an underlying principle that appearances were most important and substance was less important.

Organizational culture is also revealed in the way an employee is treated when she or he is chronically late to work, in whether or not caring for a sick family member is given special consideration, and in what the other people in the organization do when they find out a fellow member or employee is struggling. The culture may include notions that summarize their community story such as, “Don’t rock the boat,” or, “Everyone’s got to take care of himself or herself,” or “Our people are at their best when their personal lives are good, so we support them when they’re down.”

Family Culture
A family will have its own story with ceremonies, rituals, and shared history. A nuclear family unit can have a family culture that complements the extended family culture or is at odds with it.

When a nuclear family embraces the extended family culture, they can see themselves as a variation on a theme. The extended family of outdoor adventure lovers can include a family of snow skiers and snowboarders and a family of rock climbers and hikers. An extended family of social activists can include a family that volunteers at local schools and libraries and a family of people whose careers are primarily about serving people who are marginalized.

When a nuclear family is distinct from the extended family, part of their identify will be that distinction. The nuclear family can be the agnostics in the extended family that is strongly religious. The nuclear family can be the down-to-earth group in an extended family that is focused on impressing others with material displays. The nuclear family can be the one where the parents and their kids finished college in an extended family where most members barely finished high school.

Personal Culture
You don’t need an organization or even a family to have a culture that is influenced by, but distinct from, your societal culture, organizational culture, and family culture. Since every person has unique experiences, every person can have a unique variation of the story of who she or he is, what the nature of the world is, and how that person fits into the world.

Without thinking about it, we learn and even absorb culture – our societal culture, a sub-culture if we’re in one, and extended and nuclear family culture. By default, our own unique story of who we are will be defined largely by these stories we absorb. But since culture is a story we tell ourselves about who we are and what our place in the world is, we can rewrite at least significant parts of it as we become aware of what we’re telling ourselves.

Defining and Implementing Your Culture
The default culture you absorbed won’t be consistently aligned with your own values and principles, and it won’t always honor or prioritize your strengths. In fact, if your core qualities are in conflict with your culture or demeaned by your culture, you will feel isolated or out of sync and may even feel ashamed.

As you become aware that you tell yourself a story about who you are, what the world is like, and how you relate to the world, and as you realize you bring that story into your choices and relationships, you can choose to rewrite it. Instead of accepting the premises, assumptions, definitions, values, principles, and ceremonies you absorbed, you can choose your own.

Since culture is the story you tell yourself about who you are and your place in the world, it’s best to have a culture that honors your strengths and embraces your values and principles. When your culture and your core self are aligned, the conflict abates and you feel free to act with authenticity. When your personal culture supports you developing and expressing your core self, you are more likely to thrive.

Application: As you grow in awareness of your strengths, values, and principles, collect them and record them. Use a journal, a mind map, or a computer document if you’re oriented to thinking of them in words. Collect or create images and organize them on a vision board or in a binder if that has more meaning than words. Consider how a person who honors those strengths (love of learning? curiosity? justice?) and values (time outdoors? engaged friendships? making a difference in society?) and is guided by those principles (every person has inherent value? support those making effort but don’t enable takers? reach out to those on the fringes?) will live.

Consider what practices you will develop and how you will leverage your strengths. Choose rituals that remind you to honor your values and principles. Imagine how a person who had absorbed the culture of “you” would automatically act in a tough situation.

Begin crafting the story of you, living in alignment with your core. Capture the story, revisit it, and revise it. Find opportunities to live it out intentionally. Tell the story of your personal culture out loud as a description of why you act the way you do to reinforce your commitment to it.

Questions: What do you need to give up that is not in alignment with your core self but is part of the culture you absorbed? What do you need to bring into your personal culture to honor your core self that you’re not doing now?

Recommended Resources

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About Steve

Steve Coxsey partners with innovators and leaders to custom design a plan that optimizes their success and well-being. Through coaching and training powered by positive psychology and neuroscience, they develop resourcefulness, agility, and resilience to thrive on their personally meaningful core driven path.

Steve collaborates with people who want to bring the best of who they are to their leadership roles in their personal lives, professional lives, or businesses. He helps people cultivate their strengths and natural talents so they can take ownership of their productivity and creativity.

Then they become powerful, breaking free of other people’s boxes and cubicles and living and working in alignment with who they really are. They design their lives around their values, their purpose, and their natural way of being. They tailor careers that use their unique strengths and talents and complement their life design.

Would you like that to be you? Get started with a no-risk 30-40 minute consultation. It’s complimentary, so all it will cost you is a little bit of time. You can schedule the complimentary call using this online tool. You can also call 817-416-8971 or e-mail Steve@SteveCoxsey.com to set up the call.

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