4 Years in Saudi Arabia: Living, Learning and Growing

We are all Ambassadors

Life begins at the end of YOUR comfort zone. YOU decide. Are YOU living or dying-Since our return home from Saudi Arabia, (A place I once feared and had zero desire to move to.)  I have been facilitating a series of workshops for students – sharing what day-to-day life was like while emphasizing critical life, leadership and people skills that they will need throughout their lives.

In each workshop students are given a visual of a natural process that will happen the rest of their lives – as they decide if they have the courage to leave their comfort zones or the grit to survive when life hands them circumstances they can’t control.

Some of the questions I’ve been asked about Saudi are worth sharing:

What was the best part?

  • Living in an International Compound: Sharing life, friendship, and food with people from more than 50 nations and learning from them.
  • Riding motorcycle with men and women from all over the world and getting to experience parts of Saudi that many expats don’t get to enjoy. (Yes – My motorcycle jacket had ½ of an abaya attached to it and could be rolled up when I was on the bike and rolled down when I was off the bike. Allowing me to be respectful and safe while enjoying time on the bike with my husband.)
  • Vacationing in 11 countries besides Saudi and Bahrain in the 4 years we were there.

What was the hardest thing for you?

In a divided world: We have more than two choices

The third option requires our brains AND our hearts

We have more than two choices... Really!

Have you ever had a small child run to you in fear?  (Of the boogeyman under the bed, the barking dog, or the crack of thunder?)

How do you respond?

Do you ignore them?  Do you dismiss them?  Do you call them boogey-phobic, dog-phobic, or noise-phobic?  Do you make fun of them?  Or do you shine a light under the bed and explain why they are safe?  Take them to meet the neighbor’s dog and see that he is friendly?  Or explain how thunder works?

Have you been a titled leader in a business and heard employees expressing concerns about fairness or potential layoffs?

How have you responded?

Do you get defensive and angry that they dare to question you?  Do you blow off their concerns?  Do you talk down to them?  Or do you hear them and respond with understanding, compassion and honesty?

communication, discussion, dialogueHave you watched divisive current events and taken a side?  And then heard from a family member, friend, coworker or neighbor that has taken the other side?

How have you been responding?

Are you ignoring them?  Unfriending them?  Labeling them?  Shouting at them?  Making fun of them?  Or are you seeking first to understand what is driving them?

Great parents, leaders and friends – listen to questions and fears without anger or labels, or a dismissive attitude.  They seek to understand, and then shine a light under the bed and address real and imagined concerns.  They are honest about real challenges and about their commitment to their people.  

Is coaching yourself possible?

What if you could make your emotions obey your logic?

This weekend, we spent time with my sister and her family.  Several years ago they adopted a three-year-old little boy.

Jason was born with a genetic condition and under the influence of the drugs and alcohol that his birth mother used during her pregnancy.  Collectively, all of those things impact his cognitive abilities.

Jason is a beautiful soul that loves life, people and all kinds of animals.  But there are days that he struggles with emotions, decisions and expressing himself.

Over the weekend, I heard stories from his big sister and his mom about times he is having a challenging day.  In those moments, they’ve heard him coaching himself with words like these:

  • “Gotta be nice, calm down.”
  • “You know that’s disrespectful.”
  • “It hurts her feelings when you do that”
  • “Why do you do that?”
  • “I don’t know why, it’s just hard sometimes”

When I shared the story with my husband he was impressed that Jason was trying to use logic to govern his emotions.

He is a pre-teen with the mind of a little boy and a heart that is more mature than many adults.

An uncommon alternative, when current events make you angry and fearful

Conversation Safari

On November 15th, twenty-eight women from a variety of races, nations and religions gathered together for a Conversation Safari.  The plan was to dive into divisive current events and the fears that drive our emotions, our behaviors and our results.

Our topic had been planned for months based on several private conversations:

  • I’d had with a Muslim neighbor
  • And several different conversations I’d had with ladies that will always have a better tan than I do

In each of those private conversations we shared fears, we felt each other’s pain, and considered new perspectives.

(The date of our event had been chosen because of some scheduling conflicts, not because of a master strategy.  But when November 9th rolled around and the election results from the U.S. hit the airwaves – fear in across the world and in the expat sandbox grew.  Our topic could not have been more perfectly timed.)

  • One of the women I had met with during the summer shared what was happening at the University that her son attends in the U.S.
  • Other neighbors were posting deep concern for their safety in the world
  • While other friends in the U.S. were sharing deep concerns about racism and bigotry

Benefits of having Intentional Discussions about Tough Topics

communication, discussion, dialogue

Titled leaders and employees are happier and more successful when they learn how to have discussions that include deep listening and truth telling.   A failure to do either one equals missed opportunities for learning and growth.  (This is also true for family and community members.)

As a result,  I’ve been encouraging listening, thinking, and dialogue with increasing frequency and leveraging current events as examples of how we can do this.

As you watch the news, are you ever so aware of the pain and the division in our world that it is hard to think about anything else?  

Recently in my home country:  

  • A woman was set on fire because of her faith.
  • Two other women were punched because of their faith.
  • Bombs were set off and people were stabbed for their faith.
  • A man was killed because of the color of his skin.
  • Several men were killed because of the uniform they wear.

Some have responded with fear and hate for everyone that is not like them. 

Others deny that any problem exists and encourage blind acceptance.  


Do we really have only two options???

Fuel Fear or Avoid Fear