Tuesday 23 July 2019

Gina London: 'Being grateful helps makes the most of what you have'

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

The Communicator: Gina London

I'd LIKE to introduce you to Mercy*.

I met her recently at a party. Smiling and chatty, her bright personality didn't indicate the many hardships which prompted her to live here. The party's host explained a bit to me, and I had to know more. Mercy was gracious to answer my questions and share her story. Through it, I know we'll all find more ways to communicate gratitude to ourselves and - even more importantly - to others around us.

Mercy was born in Abu Dhabi to Somalian parents who had been living and working there for many years before she was born.

She described fond family memories of their time together.

However, when Mercy was 21, her father lost his job and with it the opportunity to continue living in the UAE. She and her entire family were ordered back to Somalia.

"I had never stepped foot in Somalia before being deported. I knew nothing about it," she recalled. "Immediately there were problems."

The first was the fact that her dad deserted the family. "He just disappeared." Then, in part because Mercy was fluent in Arabic, she was forcibly recruited by a Islamic militant group, Al-Shabaab, to teach their radical religious beliefs to children.

She told me her safety was constantly at risk if she disobeyed the gang's leaders, and tears filled her eyes as she remembered this harrowing time. "I was targeted because I was a young woman with no husband."

After a few months of this, Mercy's mother, desperate to find a means of escape for her daughter, enlisted the help of an "agent".

Mercy told me that at the time she had no understanding that the man was essentially a human smuggler - paid to move her illegally across borders.

"Never in my wildest dreams, did I think I would come this far. I remember clearly that I was left at Dublin Airport with a European passport that wasn't mine and I didn't even know how to say, 'I came to seek asylum' or even what being a refugee meant."

Mercy said, fortunately, the immigration officials were helpful. "They helped me understand the process."

Now, several years after her arrival, Mercy has official legal status as a refugee and is living in direct provision. Mercy is grateful for sanctuary and a chance to make a new life for herself. She counts her mother as a hero.

WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR?

Here are some foundational building blocks to help you remember to communicate this better to yourself - and others.

1) BE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR LIFE

We can all restart our gratitude barometers at this one. If you're alive, then a career, relationship, or some other opportunity still potentially awaits. Don't give up. While your business or professional situation may have taken a dip in the past quarter, just consider Mercy. Her situation took an unexpected and dramatic turn just four short years ago. And yet, here she is. Surviving.

As long as you remain on this planet, there's still hope.

2) BE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR SUPPORTERS

Who has your back? Is it a colleague, a relative, a supervisor? As often as appropriate, it is critical to not only be grateful for them, but to tell them so. Remind them of the difference they have made for you.

Don't think that being professional means you're not allowed to be emotional. Since arriving in Ireland, Mercy says, "To my surprise, I have only met good people to date and my life has changed as a whole."

Take some time and compose a message that details specifically how that person or group of people helped you. Strive to be meaningful with your words.

3) BE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR DIFFICULTIES

A quote often repeated is, "Everything happens for a reason." I have never bought into that. I think a lot of things just happen. It's how you respond to them that gives them reason. I can't imagine urging Mercy to be thankful for being shipped back to Somalia or for being coerced by Al-Shabaab.

But when we manage to come through to the other side, many of us can at least appreciate having learned something. What crisis has hit you? Did you become more resilient, or gain empathy for others? For that, you may be thankful.

4) BE GRATEFUL FOR YOUR STRENGTHS

Mercy is tireless and determined. Her day starts at 5am to catch the first of two buses that transport her from her accommodation to her college classes. The journey takes two hours. Each way.

What is it that keeps her going? "I want to find myself. To learn what makes me unique from others," Mercy says. "I'm really in a very early stage of finding out what I truly want to do and what I can become."

Michelle Obama's book, which I read over the Christmas holiday, is titled Becoming.

You have developed strengths, too.

I'm betting you can develop even more as you discover what more you can become. Especially if you wrap your personal and professional development with a spirit of gratitude.

* Names have been changed to protect identities

  • With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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