As published in Vancity Buzz on March 20th, 2015.
Do you take pride in your self-sufficiency?
I certainly did.
Then I heard Jacky Yenga speak during a rehearsal for the upcoming 2015 TEDxStanley Park, “Ideas to Action.” Now I realize that self-sufficiency can actually stand in the way of our ability to connect and achieve happiness.
Insights from a culture clash
Jacky was born in Cameroon, Central Africa and at the age of nine she had the chance of a lifetime to study in Paris. In her “The Spirit of the Village” talk, she described the trauma of leaving behind a village that was her extended family, only to experience the isolation of life in the western world.
I must admit that I couldn’t relate to Jacky’s early childhood experiences of calling friend’s mothers “Mama,” singing and dancing as a village, or the deeply ingrained respect for ancestors. Many of my friends were latchkey kids. We sang and danced in the bedroom with the door closed so no one would make fun of us. I had no idea of my ancestral roots until a school project. Being a child of divorced parents, I was taught to take care of myself so I didn’t have to rely on anyone.
It caught me off guard when Jacky admonished that in North America, we place too much value on independence. She warned us that, “there is a great cost for living this life.”
According to Jacky, one of the key components of happiness is connection to community. We need to be deliberate in establishing this sense of connection, to compensate for the North American emphasis on self-reliance.
So how do we start to embrace the connectivity of Jacky’s home village?
A simple yet really hard challenge
Jacky challenged the audience to give others “the pleasure of helping us” by finding one thing on our To Do list and ask someone for help.
I accepted her challenge for the week after I heard her in rehearsal. I looked at all my obligations over the next week and tried to pick one thing that I would ask for help with. I chickened out three times before I finally worked up the courage to text a friend and ask her to pick up a lasagna from Costco for me (I had an upcoming family get-together). It was SO HARD to ask her help for such a simple thing. To my surprise, she texted right back and told me how happy she was that I asked for her help (and how shocked she was that I was actually asking for help).
Can you remember the last time you reached out to ask for a favour from a friend, when you weren’t sure if it was an inconvenience? It makes us happy to help others, but the pride that we place on our own independence creates an obstacle to reciprocation.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown talks about our barriers to connecting to others:
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”
Are YOU up for the challenge?
It’s a little scary to start letting go of self-reliance. By doing so, we are going against the values most of us were brought up with. However, if you are wanting to experience a greater sense of community with your friends and family, I would encourage you to take that first step.
Deep down inside, we all want the “self assurance of going through life knowing that [we] have the support of [our] tribe” behind us that Jacky talked about.
So in the upcoming weeks, try to find an opportunity to reach out for help. It’s harder than it sounds for those of us who are used to defining ourself as the helper.
We have to stop dividing people into the categories that Brené calls “those who help” and “those who need help.” According to Brené, “we are both.”
Wait! There’s more to learn
Jacky discussed several other suggestions on embracing connection and happiness, which you can learn about by attending her TEDx Stanley Park talk on May 23 at the Granville Island Stage. Jacky is just one of many talented and thought provoking speakers in the 2015 lineup. Tickets will sell out quickly so get yours at www.tedxstanleypark.com.
Jacky Yenga, The Village Wisdom Messenger, is now living in Vancouver and recently launched her website: www.jackyyenga.com. Besides leading various speaking events and classes, she sings, dances and drums. She is also author of the upcoming book, The Spirit of the Village: How to break the habit of living disconnected and experience the joy of consciously living a more authentic and connected life where you belong.