I think the scariest part of emigrating for me was the concern of not ‘belonging’. I wondered whether people would understand me, both literally and in terms of my sarcastic sense of humor. I also feared that a lack of knowledge of American culture, sports and politics would inhibit me from finding common ground with people. Instead of binge watching a variety of typical US shows and immersing myself in political news articles, I decided to learn all of this organically, i.e. to learn from experience. I have a typical ‘S’ brain, meaning that I have very feminine thought patterns. As such, I find abstract situations very difficult to comprehend and internalize. I am terrible at parking, spatial awareness, directions and remembering isolated facts (so I am an awful test taker!) I am much better when I can learn from experience and doing. Knowing this, I knew that simply researching what I thought was paramount to US culture would make me come across like a stereotypical naive tourist – not an attractive quality to befriend locals!
Without knowledge under my belt, I, instead decided to try and seek out communities. Communities evoke a sense of belonging, far beyond simply living around a group of people. At university, I made many amazing friends that will be friends for life, due to what we had in common.
Throughout university, I had a full time job on a bar. I loved working with the people I did, because we shared fundamental characteristics; we needed to work to fund university, therefore we were all hard-working and grounded. Having these characteristics that motivated us meant we instantly had things in common, deeper than simply enjoying the same TV show. In fact, we were an eclectic bunch. On the surface we looked very different, having different music preferences, coming from different parts of the country and having different upbringings, but our core principles had some very distinct commonalities, meaning we formed a community. Similarly, I was very close with the people who took the same course as me. Our similar motivation (other than a desire for partying) was what we had chosen to study. We shared interests for human behavior and language, again, an interest which ran deeper than our love for student drinks.
I used my experience at university to drive the way I approached adjusting to Floridian life. I was determined to get a job quickly, and succeeded – almost too quickly! I thought that having a job I was passionate about, I would be exposed to similar people with similar motivations. Unfortunately, this wasn’t really the case (as you may know from previous blog posts). I found that people had very different motivations to teach than what I had experienced in the U.K. Moreover, the lack of collaborative teaching actually meant I was very isolated from other teachers. I found this incredibly hard as I didn’t have a community I belonged to.
The other way I sought a community was through my love of fitness. I always work out with headphones, but in the first few weeks of joining my new gym, I made every effort to leave my headphones at home. Natural curiosity of my fellow gym-goers seeing me practically every day, meant that people started to approach me. I started being trained by a personal trainer there once a week, which also led to other personal trainers being invested in me. I have formed an incredible community at my gym, I enjoy going as much for the social aspect as for the lifting portion. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t take 10 minutes between sets, but I greet most people, speak to them pre/post workout and I really do get a sense of friendship. Like my bar friends, it is such an eclectic mix. We have very different jobs, are of very different ages and have very different life priorities. But, we all share a common desire of self-improvement. We enjoy exerting ourselves, improving and taking care of our bodies, principles which, again, run deeper than anything you can physically see.
I set up ‘Benchpressingbaubles’ practically a year ago. With my job not being all I thought it would be, I was desperate to find other ways of belonging. I was conscious that many of my lifelong friends do not share my same passion of health and fitness, but knew there were plenty of people worldwide who do. I love Instagram and WordPress as I feel it gives everyone a chance to ‘opt in’ to other people’s lives. You actively choose who to follow, meaning you are exposed to what you want to be. I hashtag my Instagram posts in the hope of reaching out and establishing connections with people who share my interests, not to gain millions of followers who don’t care what I post. I have had some lovely conversations with people from all over the world on Instagram, with my favorite accounts not being the ‘celebrities’, but people who live their lives in a similar fashion to me. I am thoroughly inspired by these accounts, I love being part of their social media lives and I love seeing them make delicious food, progress in the gym and enjoy their lives outside of it.
Being part of New York Muscle Radio has also enrolled me in a community. The other sponsored athletes, and our coaches, share many of my personality characteristics. We are all hard-working, determined and committed. I absolutely love logging in to Instagram and seeing them lifting weights I can only dream of, as well as engaging in conversations about Quest bars, food presentation, weather….whatever! It is an incredibly positive environment, which is both empowering and reassuring.
One of my best friends from school is a girlgains ambassador, a hashtag set up by three very successful British health and fitness bloggers. I think they have been so successful because they are both relatable and have established a worldwide feminine empowerment community. Social media gets a lot of bad press, but, if it is both used and absorbed in the right way, can be a great place to develop a sense of belonging. I know that being parts of different communities are paramount to my happiness and I think seeking communities beyond the literal idea of ‘a community’, is a great life hack for adjusting to change.
And as for knowledge on US politics and football? I am still pretty clueless…!