Some of you may have may have heard my interview podcast on See Hear Love by Melinda Estabrooks. Here to share a little more details on what I learnt over last 25 years and what shaped me.
Two words of wisdom that I learned and live by are Flexibility and Outrageous Expectations.
Flexibility became a fundamental approach in my work and life. As a physician I was trained to follow rigid protocols and perfection was the expected standard. However, with time I learned, in order to achieve excellent outcomes, I needed to add a good dose of flexibility in my approaches. Particularly when I got into public health and traveled from country to country and region to region. Working with the same rigid protocols and health standards, I needed to be flexible and have intrinsic balance in leading the projects. Flexibility is an important discipline which is well demonstrated by a surf boarder. She has mastered the art of flexibility for her mind and body to be aligned for every move. She knows when to bend and when to lean in, when to stand up straight and when to tilt. She adjusts her posture and shifts her position constantly, lest she falls.
Shift is my action word in 2022. To shift is to ‘move ever so slightly’ from our position, posture, attitude or opinion and it can change our direction completely, creating a new path and route. Choosing when to shift and how much to shift is an art which comes by practice only. If you have never gone surf boarding watch videos of a snow boarder and you will understand what I mean by shifting your position your posture, attitude, and stance.
Second fundamental approach for me has been Outrageous Expectations. The Pygmalion effect is well known, it states that ‘we do better when more is expected of us’. When someone; a parent, team leader or teacher has high expectations of us, we subconsciously change our self-perception. We do our best and perform better. I always had outrageous expectations for my team members, not a few team members, but all, including myself. I learned to demonstrate high performance to match the outrageous expectations.
Outrageous expectation are a part of my personal story, which is as plain and average as it gets but is the basis of who I am. I was born in a Christian home; my mother was a physician and my father taught math and physics. As religious minorities we faced every challenge that minorities face; there was unequal treatment, social exclusion, stigma and separation. These challenges usually cause an attitude of dismissiveness and subordination to the point where you live with the presumption that you cannot change anything. You struggle to believe that you can improve your life outcomes. Mostly, minorities just give-in, they stop trying and live a life of demotion.
However, my father and mother were intentional about nurturing a sense of belonging, safety and confidence in us four siblings. They had outrageous expectations of us. We were taught Colossians 3:24, “whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord”. Church played a very strong part in our lives. That’s where we picked up and fostered a sense of solidarity and being valued. My mother spent a few minutes every night to ingrain and nurture self-care in us. Building a strong core was the key step in self-care, and my mother built that strong core founded on faith, daily devotion, and prayer in us. That’s why I was able to do things differently and live by outrageous expectations
Lo and behold, I went on to complete medical school, specialising in pediatrics and public health. My career path took me around the world, and I have had the privilege of living, serving, and learning from various other cultures and faiths. Twenty five year later I am confident to share my knowledge and stories. My stories, come from the people I met, communities I served, and experiences I have gained in thirty countries across the world.
Coming to Canada with my husband in 1992, was about self -growth more education and knowledge. We started a life from zero; with zero social capital, zero income, zero job offers and zero Canadian experience. Once again, we were minorities, but for a different reason. We were people of colour.
As a woman of colour, the biggest challenge I faced was the pre-existing notions. I was supposed to know less. Not different but less. I was supposed to not know English well, many a times I heard comments like “oh is this a new word for you”. Not only language but my practices were expected to be wrong. I was asked if I had put up curtains in my home windows. Once, I volunteered to bring food to a potluck, and was asked if it was well cooked, if I had put it in the fridge overnight. I saw cultural dearth.
Truly, I did have some strong cultural differences. Women in my country of birth are not supposed to make eye contact with men at work or women who are senior in position or years of life. You stand and talk with confidence but never make eye contact. This was seen as a lack of confidence in me, and I was put in a box. A box of sound knowledge, but with a side label of lack of leadership skills. It was only when a friend – she was also a mentor – asked “why don’t you look at me when you talk” did I realise that I was doing that, and it took me a few years to unlearn it.
The other huge cultural difference that I faced was the mismatch between south Asian and Canadian norms of communications and leadership. Passivity, humility, and conformity is emphasized in Asian cultures rather than assertiveness in interpersonal communication. The eastern proverb, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is in stark contrast to western proverbs like “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”
In northern culture a prototypical leader is expected to demonstrate high communication assertiveness, with strong ability to stand up and speak out for one’s interests and concerns when appropriate. Asserting one’s opinions signals confidence, motivation, and conviction. All I knew was the non-assertive communication style. Not making eye contact and not asserting my opinions was the style I grew up. Never had the show-and-tell in school and never trail-blazed my opinion. I had lost the rhetoric of assertiveness in personal communication.
So here I am passionate and committed to talk about what I learned and experienced. Many many women marginalized by race or faith face similar challenges to this day. A drop in the ocean creates ripples upon ripples and that inspires me to create ripples of my stories to touch others so that they can make ripples too.
I am here to coach and mentor the next generation regarding – social justice, kindness and supporting marginalized women. I am here to make space for personal impact development and life-enhancing endeavours. I am here to stand for:
- Re-phrasing racial injustice to racial justice. We did many things wrongly, yet we have hope for change to enhance racial justice.
- Re -focusing on personal Impact/behaviours/practices/resources for growth mindset. Growth for all and everyone.
- Re-Grouping to work on what unites us moving away from what divides us.
Here’s the link to the Podcast for your easy listening.
Dr. Zari Gill is a Global Health Professional and Social Entrepreneur with 25+ year of experience in 30 countries. She is passionate about social justice, futuristic thinking and personal innovation. Her message and stories for change and personal impact come from the people she meets, communities she serves and lived experiences.
You can connect with her @zarigill08.