How to Feel at Home, No Matter Where You Are
Scene: 2013, riding shotgun, singing along to Taylor Swift (or pretending to be TSwift (depending on who you were), with @SamanthaArak driving, and @MaggieMonast crooning loudly from the backseat. In between soulfully singing along to “Red” and screaming out loud to “I Knew You Were Trouble”, the three of us got to talking about our notions of “Home”. The question in discussion was: “Where is Home, and what does that mean to you.” Ya know…just some light roadtrip convo while driving to the Charleston Half Marathon.
Samantha (Interior Design Extraordinaire) and Maggie (who quite literally built her own home on the Homestead in Raleigh with her own two hands) raved about the concept of Home. Home, was and I believe, is, everything to them. I remember scratching my head and thinking really hard. I couldn’t have felt more differently than the two of them. In contrast, I shared that Home for me wasn’t a place. It’s a feeling. Perhaps you’d expect that coming from someone who was uprooted from their first home at the age of 5, when my family and I immigrated from Hong Kong to Vancouver, Washington. Perhaps you’d also expect this coming from someone who always felt foreign and never fully accepted in my new ‘Home’. You might also psychoanalyze me and easily come to the conclusion that the reason why I spent 8 years after I earned my Master of Public Health degree trouncing all over God’s Green Earth in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, SE Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, was partially because I was searching for notions of ‘Home’. By 2013 when said Charleston-bound car ride occurred, I had already worked in Global Health for 7 years. So when my friends so casually asked about what or where I consider home, I said…
Home is where my People are. Home is most certainly not a place.
Because of my early experiences, the above still holds true, but what has changed since 2013 is where I find ‘home’, how I find ‘home’, and who I find ‘home’ with.
I’ve been in homes on all seven continents. If you come on this journey with me, I’ll take you to the Home I’ve been lucky to find (and cultivate) in the corporate world. I’ve been at Nike since 2015. I’ve never felt more at Home in the workplace than I currently do. There are many reasons for this, which I’d be happy to share if you want to reach out to learn more. But for now, what I think you’ll likely find more interesting and important and actionable is how YOU personally can find a Home in your work environment, and why it’s critical.
Feeling at Home is so important. When you feel safe, cared for, loved — that’s when you can do your best work. It’s science. Just check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if you’re unfamiliar. It’s the foundation of the whole pyramid. Now that we’ve established why it’s important, let’s talk about how to find it, how to cultivate it, how to build it, and how to share it.
How to Find It
Look for the Moms. (Yes, this is gendered, I realize). Or find the people who exhibit the mom-like qualities. I’m serious. They’re exceedingly hard to find. Because even if people are mom-like at home, there’s something about the workplace where people don’t want to be real human beings and demonstrate their humanity. (Which, side note, is very strange for me, because isn’t it infinitely easier to just be who you are, rather than who you’re not?) At Nike, for me, the mom-like ones are the following people: @DaveSchechter, @PattyTsang, @KathyGomez, @JordanLevine, @KelleyBaek, @CindyKazanjian, @StephenPetretto, and @BenFisher.
What are mom-like qualities anyways? These are people who see the best in you, watch you cry and hand you a tissue, reassure you it’ll be ok, give you a hug when it’s not ok. They encourage you to try the hard thing, because they have confidence you’ll do it, even when you’re unsure. They’ll cheer you on as you’re trying. They’ll dust you off when you fail. They will also be some of the most open minded people out there, because they love you, and they love to see you Win.
Finding the right people is paramount. People are the catalysts for teams. It’s easier to find a person than to find a team. Usually, these mom-like people surround themselves with people and build teams who are inclusive, partnership-oriented, demand the best, are expansively open-minded, and know how to have fun.
How to Cultivate It
It’s your responsibility to make sure Home doesn’t die on the vine. You need to be watering it, pruning it, and giving it tons and tons of sunshine. How do you do this?
Be the Change, as they say.
Be the employee you wish you had, and be the manager you always wanted. What does that mean? Go above and beyond in every single way, every single day. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, it’s worth it.
Be inclusive in every single way. Invite people to the table. All people. When you’re in a conversation, make sure your back is not turned to anyone. Above all, make sure ‘Home’ as a concept, is freely given and not earned. Think about your children or your fur/reptilian babies. Is your love conditional? Do your kids and pets have to act/perform in a certain way to be loved by you? I hope not! Same should go for the office! What about if you just extended love and grace and love and grace to all of your colleagues. Try it! It is transformational, I promise.
When you’re constructing the culture of your team, be intentional. I’m a self-proclaimed Culture Maven. I have tons and tons of practice building teams and building culture. That’s another post for another day. Reach out if you’re in the process of doing this and want to volley some ideas back and forth.
How to Build It
Once you find the lighthouse people, keep finding them. Then connect them with one another. There will soon be so much light that the darkness will be dimmed. People love social norming, for better or worse. Make it a social norm to be warm, kind, friendly, helpful, judicious, caring, hilarious, and fun fun fun. Home is always Fun. When you fail at building a home, try again. Home (and Rome!) was not built in a day.
How to Share it
Be your own contagious lighthouse. Take every good quality of every great leader you see, and emanate the hell out of it. Shine, Baby, Shine. Seek your own personal best. How can you be as magnanimous as Kathy, as open-minded and passionate as Schech, as hilarious and fun as Patty, as direct with feedback as Jordan and Kelley, as helpful as Cindy, as neurotically team-oriented as Stephen, as good of a work-husband as Ben? These people have set the pace for me, and then I run my own race, to build my own Home. I set out to be my own best version of me.
Try it out, and create a Home wherever you are. Mi casa es su casa, as they say. And you are always Welcome.