Updated: Mar 23
Here’s how to be a happy diplomat.
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I know. Loneliness is just so blurgh. I mean, who wants to engage on loneliness as a topic on any kind of regular basis? Wouldn’t it be more pleasant to focus on how to become a happy diplomat rather than wallowing in talking about how living a diplomatic life can make us feel lonely, disconnected and lost?
I could not agree more.
Indeed, when I speak with people in my awesome global audience – people like you – ‘I just want to be happy’ is the most frequent response about how that person wants to feel about their diplomatic life.
Here’s the secret to being a happy diplomat: happiness is a choice.
You can choose to be happy about your diplomatic life, right now.
OK, so let’s make that choice, right now, all together.
Feeling happy yet?
No??! Try again.
Still not? Ah, now we’re seeing the problem with happiness…
What’s the problem?
Happiness is an emotion, not a lifetime goal.
If we have ‘be happy’ or some similar derivative as a goal we’re chasing a mirage. We think that see it, but it’s always out of reach.
Being happy as a goal is foolish. What happens if you achieve everything you set out to do – like win that promotion or get that posting or are offered that opportunity to showcase your awesomeness – in the belief that you’d be happy, only to find that you’re soon feeling unhappy again?
What are we to do?
Without doubt, practicing gratitude is a superpower. With daily practice, we can become gratitude warriors and feel the benefits of practicing gratitude as we live our days.
I first learned about gratitude as a practice while working an intense, high-profile and all-consuming job in Canberra in 2013, but it wasn’t until I was working during my posting in Seoul that I regularly and actively practiced it.
I began to record five things for which I was grateful in my journal every night. Most nights it was simply five words. No explanations we needed, as it was just for me.
Sometimes they were ‘big’ things, like the successful completion of a meeting that I’d been arranging for weeks. Mostly the things for which I was grateful were something that my kids had said or done, or something that I’d otherwise had taken for granted, like having a heater to keep me and my family warm on a cold day.
While in Seoul and around the same time that I started practicing gratitude in my journal, I also began to walk through the streets around the office for at least 15 minutes each day. It was during one of these walks that I noticed that I had stopped and marvelled at something that I would have otherwise ignored or simply not noticed. I’d noticed that while still a bitterly cold day, the sunlight was warming my back at I walked. The sun had turned from being simply a light in the sky and had begun to warm me up. Those rays of light and warmth had travelled through space and arrived on my back. And I was feeling them. It was simple, but it enriched my day and turned my mind from worrying about something that’s now largely unimportant and forgotten at work into a treasured memory that’s making me smile as I type this.
I now often stop and marvel at something. Indeed, my personal Instagram feed is full of such moments of gratitude and wonder that happened that day and I captured on my phone. Scrolling through my feed still makes me smile and calms me.
Practicing gratitude is now something that feels like it’s become woven into the fabric of my being. However, there are some days – indeed, a great number over the past months – where I notice a bad mood, frustration or racing thoughts and then I recall the benefits of gratitude and name five things for which I’m grateful in that moment.
This is not done to belittle my thoughts and feelings, but to remind me that there’s much more happening in the world around me and within me than I’m noticing.
Do you practice gratitude? What are five things for which you’re grateful, right now?
Allowing what is
I know that I’m not alone in wanting the world to bend to my will. And, despite my determined trying, the world has yet to acquiesce.
2020 is giving us all a dramatic example of what it’s like to allow what is.
In allowing what is, we don’t have to become cosmic or fatalistic. Rather, take time to accept a compliment that comes your way. Resist dismissing it, but really allow yourself to accept it.
Rather than racing through your work day, take a moment – a brief moment – to connect with the person with whom you’re interacting.
These moments of allowing what is make all the difference to how we experience our day.
In allowing what is to be, you can respond from a state of acceptance rather than disappointment, frustration, resentment and hurt.
Our employing agencies all have guiding principles and values. We recite them when we go for job interviews and then don’t think too much about them after that, right?
What about your values? Have you spent any time thinking about what they are?
What are they?
It’s one thing to have your values, but do you live them? Having values without living them is having a list of goals.
And it’s lovely to have values and to live by them when the going is good and easy. But do you live your values without compromise? Do you abide by your values even when they’re the dissenting view, unpopular or contrary to what your boss says?
Living in alignment with your values, when what you say aligns with what you do, is called being in integrity. Living out of alignment with your values is the surest way to feeling awful about yourself, for the simple fact that you’re not living in integrity with what you know to be true for you.
It’s easy to fall out of integrity. Indeed, I feel that a huge number of you are aware of how being out of integrity can make us feel lost, frustrated and generally uneasy. We’ve slept walked our way into this state. We’ve willingly done so in an effort to fit in, to get ahead and to show that we’re worthy and made of the right stuff. It requires courage to come back into integrity with yourself.
It requires yet more courage to be in integrity within yourself when it’s at odds with what others expect of you.
But that feeling of being in integrity in that moment? That’s happiness.
Having values – and living them – helps us create and maintain our boundaries.
We teach others how to treat us. If we’re not firm in maintaining our own boundaries (and being firm does not have to equal being mean), then we’re teaching others that it’s ok to ignore our boundaries when we try to communicate them.
And in diplomacy where we can be so eager to show that we’re worthy of our position we can willingly sacrifice our selves to show that we’re smart/resilient/connected/worthy enough.
Question: have you ever wondered how you got to the situation you’re in that’s making you feel uncomfortable? Odds are that you did not maintain a boundary and you didn’t say no at some point.
I know that diplomacy and being a good diplomat is all about people-pleasing and making things happen, but this cannot come at the cost of putting yourself second.
You can be a good diplomat AND have firm boundaries.
Is being a happy diplomat the goal? Or is it more like being a content diplomat?
If this isn’t the saddest quote about diplomacy, then I’m at a loss.
I received this comment in late 2019 and it often comes to mind when I remember why I do this work at The Lonely Diplomat.
Essentially, this comment says ‘I’ll allow myself to be happy when I’m more senior’.
If you’re now a more senior diplomat and are reading these words, it’s likely that you know the folly of this belief and is a stunning example of what diplomacy and this diplomatic life can do to us.
When the goal towards which we’ve toiled for so long turns out to have been a mirage, we can think that we didn’t work hard enough, or we didn’t want it enough.
When our own desire and drive to do well in our careers meets the relentless competition and the perversion of resilience in our employing agencies means that we can spend years striving for that mirage.
Remember, happiness is a choice. But every choice has a consequence, sometimes at the cost of what we’ve been trying to work towards or a myth to which we’ve desperately clung for so long.
What do you choose?
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A reminder that ‘Minister’ and ‘Ambassador’-level members of The Lonely Diplomat can access my mentoring services and can talk to me regularly – and in real time – about what’s happening in their diplomatic life and receive wisdom distilled from lived experience as a posted diplomat, an accompanying spouse, a parent AND as someone whose relationship ended while on a diplomatic posting. Upgrade your membership here.
Thank you for supporting my work at The Lonely Diplomat by becoming a site member. I really appreciate your support and I hope that my work continues to serve, support, challenge and inspire you as you reconnect with yourself and the world around you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post and suggestions for future posts.