I was delighted to join Elevate Dubai’s annual forum in Dubai last week. A good friend of mine, branding wizard, Matt Wilson, was running a couple of workshops on ‘Building Sustainable Brands’ and invited me to join him as his guest…
I attended several events last week (the usual event rush before the UAE Summer exodus) and when Thursday morning came around, I have to admit that I was feeling more than a little jaded at the thought of ‘another women’s networking event’, however I was pleasantly surprised, and actually quite invigorated, within half an hour of the first speaker taking to the stage.
The speakers were well thought out, and had a lot more to say than the usual motivational ‘girl power’ messages. These ladies shared inspirational stories but in a very authentic way, and their diverse backgrounds (educators, lawyers, scientists, coaches, and finance professionals of all nationalities) made for interesting listening.
There was lots of talk about what builds resilience, whether in organisations or individuals. Whilst (unsurprisingly) no one had a revolutionary magic bullet to develop resilience – the ideas were things we have all heard before – it was a good reminder and motivator. If I were to summarise the key factors that contribute to resilience mentioned by speakers, it would be:
- Hard work (on something linked to your value system)
- Perseverance and grit
- Embracing challenges (enabling growth)
- Being adaptable (allowing evolution)
- Letting go of perfection
- Having a positive mind-set
- Self-awareness (and taking time for reflection)
- Having hard goals (and taking actions)
- Helping others and asking for help – learning from others
- Choosing your battles
- Wellbeing (taking care of yourself and putting yourself first)
- A strong support system
The message that resonated most for me though, from all of the panels and speakers, was the importance of your tribe. Last year I read the book Ikigai– the Japanese secret to a long and happy life – and one of the key findings they identified in people who live the longest was the importance of their support systems and communities. The discussions at the forum highlighted that with the majority of us being expats, working on the other side of the world from our families and childhood friends, our networks and social circles are really our families of choice.
According to keynote speaker Caroline Adams Miller, the happiest people have four close friends – and the quality of these relationships will determine your quality of life as you age.
I know that my personality type cannot survive, let alone thrive, without a strong support system around me, but I also know that when things get busy and pressured, those friendships tend to go on the backburner (good friends understand after all) and the effort invested reduces. The same goes for professional circles – as times get tough and busy, the networking slows down, and the relationship-building coffees and lunches are put on hold as ‘real work’ takes over.
There was a lot of discussion at the event about how we prioritise in the effort to juggle what appears to be a growing list of essential elements for a happy, successful life – the pressure now being to do it all: Get up early and mediate, exercise, spend time with family, work hard on your own businesses, get some time for wellbeing, prep food in advance, spend time with friends/family, spend time alone, write a journal, get plenty of sleep, and the list goes on. However considering that research seems to suggest that community/tribe/moai seems to be one of the most important elements in a long healthy life, maybe we should be placing this further up the food chain?
The other thing to think about is not only how much time/effort you invest in your community/tribe, but the actual people within it – it’s really important to choose the right group.
When you move to a new place, your networks are initially limited to the people you meet through work (and possibly any hobbies you may have) – they are not necessarily the people you would choose for your tribe. Over time, as you meet more people and the relationships evolve, your chosen family begins to take shape. For me, this took about two years to really find and develop relationships with people who shared the same value systems and interests, both at work and outside the office – and from talking to other long-term expats, I know they had similar experiences.
So if you’re new to the UAE, or anywhere else for that matter, I would urge you to go out and build those networks – be open and meet as many people as you can. And for those of us who have been here a while, don’t rest on your laurels – the UAE is a transient place and people are constantly moving. Invest time and effort in continuous networking, and in building the relationships with the people you meet that you identify well with.
It seemed somehow fitting that I actually ran into a number of people from my professional networks – former clients, colleagues, and contacts (a number of whom were speaking) – at the forum. Seeing some of them again reminded me how much I respected them and how good it would be for a proper catch up, so now it’s time to practice what I preach and reach back out to them!
On that note, if anyone reading this fancies a coffee (whether we already know each other, or whether you think we should know each other!) then please do let me know, I’m around all summer and happy to invest some time on my networks and communities.