3 Life Lessons I've Learned From Chileans
With September 18th still front of mind, and a lot of the spirit being about feeling prideful about being Chilean (which according to me should happen more throughout the year!), I wanted in some way to write about Chile without being identical to the countless other posts about September 18th. Luckily for me - all I needed to have a breakthrough was a weekend cueca lesson paired with a piscola (when in Chile do as the Chileans do!) from my proudly Chilean boyfriend. This moment lead to a mini-epiphany of all of the valuable life lessons I’ve learned from my dear Chileans in the past 4+ years. I can admit that I still do not have the party stamina to “festejar” for 3 days straight to celebrate September 18th (I’m more of an in bed with a book at 10.00 pm type of gal) - but I can dedicate this post to my queridos chilenos - and honor all that they have taught me about living a truly joyous and present life. Ironically enough, as I sat down to write this post, with my to-do list at my side, my timer on to keep me on track, my chill playlist to get me in the zone, I laughed at the irony of it all. Writing a post about being more relaxed with my type-A self who adores nothing more than getting in a productive zone, and ending the day with all of my to-dos checked off...well some things only change slightly but hey, I’m working on it! Okay, no more chit chat, drum roll please…..here are three life lessons I’ve learned from Chileans that have helped me be become more present & joyful in life.
1: Prioritizing spending time with family and loved ones.
What better lesson to kick this list off than valuing quality time with family & loved ones? This arguably is more Latin American than just Chilean - but as this is such a part of Chilean life it made the cut. Back in the U.S., the lifestyles are commonly fast-paced, with the ever-growing popularity of side hustles (not saying this is a bad thing!), but as the society is more focused on the individual, and Chile is more focused on the group as a whole in its core identity - in my opinion, there is a greater value placed on sharing time with people you care about. Whether that be slowing down during the workday to have lunch together, laugh, and open up about our struggles, making time to celebrate a boss being in town with a long lunch (even though we "don't have the time") are all very common occurrences in Chile. Although Chileans are not the only culture that spends time with family and friends - it definitely has a very different feel. Being from the U.S., it's not as common for people to slow down to spend time with family and just be in the present moment. I’ve found this to be very powerful (when fully embraced bc let’s get real - I’m not always down for a 5-hour weekend lunch). The endpoint is this: in an ever-growing world where we are judged and valued based on our “productivity” - what is more empowering than just taking the time to enjoy life's most precious gifts - the people you love that YOU call family. Especially now in a Pandemic this point really just hits home even more. Prioritizing family, whether that be your bloodline or family you’ve formed along the way as the most important thing we have in life. Maybe your family is your best friend, significant other, or expat family, whoever they are they are worthy of being a priority. It turns out that Chileans (and Latin-Americans in general) are really on to something as the longest study on happiness proved that the key to a happy life lies in the quality of our relationships.
2: Embrace your tranquil side.
I laugh now when I reminisce about my internal and external reactions when I first arrived in Chile when Chileans would often give me a one-word response and you guessed it - was “tranquila” - tranquila aka calm, relax, don’t worry - you get the picture. It took me quite a while to realize that U.S. social norms of telling a woman "tranquila" weren’t at play here as Chileans really mean this in an encouraging, positive way - they are confident that it will all work out and want you to feel the same way too. Professionally, I’ve observed that a common Latino style of leadership is calm confidence, and I have never been shamed, scolded, or made to feel less of myself due to a mistake at work. I don’t have enough professional experience in the U.S. to make a cultural comparison here, but it is something that Chileans and other Latinos do a great job at - dealing with mistakes & problems at work in a proactive way instead of emotionally reacting. In my experience the first words are usually tranquila, there’s a solution, we’ll work it out. I’ve never seen any of my Chilean or Latin-American bosses have a meltdown, yell at someone, or lose their cool. I work in tourism and in the beginning, it was definitely hard to not freak out or lose my cool as there are always unexpected bits that pop up to ruin your perfectly thought-out travel itinerary. I’ve learned from many freak outs that this just makes everything worse, it’s not easy, but staying calm when things go wrong is actually the best thing you can do for yourself, and according to science is more helpful for your brain as well. Chileans again, are on to something, as survivalists swear by staying calm as a means of survival - when they are literally between a rock and a hard place. Am I a tranquil, calm ball of zen 100% of the time? Absolutely not! I’m human after all. But, I can say that living in Latin-America for the past 4.5+ years has definitely mellowed me out and I tend to freak out a bit less than I did all those years ago.
3: Celebrate wins whenever possible.
Chileans don’t only celebrate large for the big wins in life, but they don’t let the small wins go past without a celebration either. . Chileans celebrate every milestone. I didn’t know that month anniversary celebrations existed before my sweet Chilean boyfriend wished me a happy month and I was a bit bewildered - I blamed this on my cold gringa heart as we mainly just celebrate yearly anniversaries. I have grown to embrace this, why not choose to celebrate every small win in life when really the key to success is momentum, and celebrating small wins definitely encourages a healthy pace going forward. Didn’t the tortoise win the race after all? This gets me to my second point, one word - Despedida (Going away party). My prior interpretation of Despedida was meant for the huge milestones/closing the chapter moments in life such as retiring, moving away, leaving a job, etc. In Chile, a Despedida is broken down to any type of “going away” whether it be for a month-long vacation, someone going on maternity leave, etc etc - I’ve been to a vast array of creative and nothing short of celebratory goodbyes, always ended with the sentiment of I’ll miss yous and lots of hugs goodbye. This is really an endearing way to value the people closest to us - by acknowledging their absence before it happens - and how we will notice & miss them when they’re gone. At the end of the day, after 4.5+ years, I am still very much a gringa at heart but I do have Chileans to thank for teaching me to value my friends and family, learn to relax more in stressful settings and celebrate each tiny victory in life.
P.S: Are you living abroad in Chile? What is something you've learned from Chileans? I can't wait to hear from you :)!