As child welfare veteran Amelia Franck Meyer shared in her 2016 TEDx talk, a sense of belonging is essential for survival and nurtures our ability to thrive. When we don’t feel belonging, our brain tells us our survival is in jeopardy and that we’re on our own. This can result in a “fight, flight, freeze” response. Meyer explained that we become aware of the connection between belonging and survival as babies. Belonging, connection, and community are crucial to our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
My earliest memory of the power of belonging was on day one of first grade. Before then, I felt I belonged to the world and the world belonged to me. But on that day, the pain of not fitting in surged through my 6-year-old body. Maybe it was because I was the only Sudanese person in the otherwise Saudi classroom. Maybe it was because I noticed I was different and was afraid of not being accepted. Maybe it was because my parents separated that year and I feared I would never see my father again.
Seventeen years later, I flew from my home of 12 years in Dubai to Minneapolis. Landing at the Saint Paul International Airport marked the start of a new chapter in my life. It also tested my sense of belonging once again, and intensified my desire for community.
As someone with roots in so many places, creating community was easier said than done. There were times in my life when I felt invisible and longed for others to see me. I was so focused on receiving love that I forgot to love myself–to acknowledge my presence and the space that I held. Once I learned to love and accept my authentic self, I saw my self worth. Then, when I felt lost and alone, my self worth held me up.
Mental health is becoming an increasingly global concept–with that in mind, being a truly international mental health care provider is easier said than done, and learning to be that way was a journey. As an immigrant, I’d like to share what I have learned about re-establishing a mental health career and finding belonging in a new country.
Curiosity about the job market and the work culture in your new country is the first step towards having more clarity about how to communicate your skills and value. This can be done through reading, networking, and finding mentors. Connecting with other immigrants has helped me learn from their experiences and given me more clarity about opportunities and obstacles I might face. As mental health coaches, it’s also important to know the qualifications needed to practice in the United States.
You might not land your dream job immediately. Being open to expanding your job search can help you expand the opportunities available and better understand the work culture in your new country. When I landed my first job in the U.S., I noticed that the work culture was less formal and less hierarchical. Although my first position was not exactly what I wanted, it was a stepping stone towards my goals since it helped me develop cross-cultural communication skills.
Openness to feedback and applying that feedback is another important factor. When I get constructive criticism from others, I always remind myself of Brené Brown’s quote, “There is no mastery without feedback.” The openness to lean into the discomfort of feedback nurtures mastery.
We all have transferable skills that we can use in a variety of roles, occupations, and work cultures. Critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, leadership, technical skills, and communication are all transferable skills that you can identify and communicate to prospective employers. Similarly, it’s important to showcase your personal brand and take the time to reflect on what makes you unique and differentiates you from others.
As an immigrant, you might perceive your unfamiliarity with the work culture or English being your second language as a weakness. The French critic, journalist, and novelist Alphonse Karr once wrote, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorns have roses.” In other words, you can choose to celebrate that you know two languages and can adapt to different environments thanks to your international experience.
Focusing on the skills you’ve gained from the challenges you’ve faced can help you demonstrate your capabilities to employers. As a mental health coach, once I started perceiving my Arabic native language as a strength, it became one. Many of the clients I coach speak more than one language or have a mother tongue other than English. Sharing with my clients the commonalities I have with them helps build trust between us through our shared human experience.
Imposter syndrome is defined as experiencing thoughts and feelings of inadequacy despite evidence of success. I experienced many of the signs of imposter syndrome when I started my first mental health coaching job in the U.S.–I often felt that I’d been hired by chance, and not because of my qualifications. My imposter syndrome also made it harder for me to trust others. It was so strong, I interpreted positive feedback as a judgment rather than a compliment.
I overcame this in a number of ways, but most importantly, through self-compassion. Self-compassion increases our resilience and ability to manage intense emotions and unhelpful thoughts that keep us stuck. Adapting to a new environment, language challenges, separating from your support network, and other cross-cultural difficulties are only part of the challenges I and many immigrants like me experience. Acknowledging those struggles and noticing that I was still able to serve and support my clients helped me realize my values and sense of purpose. If you’re an immigrant mental health provider, it may help you too.
A professional community is crucial for immigrant mental health providers because of the networking and educational opportunities it presents. Taking the time to attend meetings, events, workshops, and volunteering opportunities helped me meet new people. I maintained this new community by investing in getting to know the people I met and focusing on the quality of my relationships rather than the number of people I knew. In addition, welcoming new immigrants and introducing them to members of my existing community helps it thrive.
Working as a mental health coach at Lyra Health has given me access to a community of mental health providers and clients.
Previous BIPOC clients have told me how tough it was to find coaches they could connect with, and as an immigrant, I understood the importance of finding a mental health provider who could understand their experiences. I was motivated to apply for a mental health coaching position when I learned about Lyra’s commitment to transforming mental health care and making it more accessible.
The role diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging plays in the company values has made me feel at home here at Lyra. I’m able to be my authentic self and share the need for belonging with others. The community that I have cultivated with fellow mental health coaches, care providers, and other Lyra staff is incredibly rewarding. I look forward to regular virtual meetings with the group of coaches with whom I started my Lyra journey. We all come from different walks of life, but our passion for coaching and mental well-being brings us together, while our differences fascinate us. As I invite them to experience belonging with me, they do the same.
If you want help connecting with a coach or therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nada Othman is a certified associate mental health coach with a master’s degree in general leadership and a narrative coach core practitioner. Before working in coaching, she earned a degree in mass communication with a concentration in advertising and then worked in global advertising agencies in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She moved to the United States nine years ago. She started her coaching career in higher education as an academic coach and then expanded her coaching practice to emotional wellness and leadership coaching.
Nada is passionate about coaching. Using evidence-based techniques, she partners with her clients in a thought-provoking and creative way. Her intention is to guide them in developing strategies that will help them go from where they are in life to where they want to be. Nada always seeks to support her clients through their transitions and challenges and is deeply committed to being present with them and helping them become their best selves.