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All this talk about finding your tribe. It’s so rewarding to connect to people with similar world views. True peers.tribe of women by A.Ashman

As we seek our global niche, we’re integrating across all sorts of out-moded boundaries. You could also say we’re segregating along the lines of our true selves.

Perusing a Berkeley Grade School Photos group at Facebook, I marvel at the sea of white faces in the hill school districts in the ’40s to early ’60s — all those boys in their khaki Cub Scout regalia, an aggressive club requirement on picture day.  Although the town’s schools were segregated simply by neighborhood, socioeconomic class lines also cut along race so Berkeley voluntarily desegregated itself, one of the first mid-sized American cities to do so. The integration program is reflected in a sudden appearance of multiracial group portraits.

Around the same time, the local government voted to rename its schools, exchanging African American civil rights leaders for the nation’s founding fathers. In a major gilding of the lily, Lincoln became Malcolm X.

At 9, I was bussed to the flatlands to an institution still bearing the name of a gentle Yankee poet. Its yard littered in glass, a burned out car lodged in a stairwell on a Monday morning. A hardcore new learning environment, and new peers!

Perhaps my parents skewed the fuller lesson in ethnic and socioeconomic diversity by signing me up for the academically competitive Asian Cluster classes, which confined me to rooms where Japanese, Filipino and Chinese students gathered. Integration has its casualties too.

What casualties of integration — or segregation — litter the path to finding your tribe?

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Passion fuels the lives we envision for ourselves better than discipline or elbow grease alone.

However, a little bit of passion’s dark side — anger — may be the best defense of our identity, and a future that looks like us.

Sousse 2009 by A.AshmanThis week Dialogue2010 participant Elmira Bayraslı shared the anger that keeps her hybrid. Rather than assimilate or choose one social group to belong to, the daughter of Turkish immigrants in New York ferociously defends her hard-won ability to switch to independent American woman — and back again.

As an expat I know this righteousness-to-be-hybrid. A defense mechanism not only kicks in but is kept in place by a low level anger about external pressures to live and be a certain way. It’s been a cornerstone of my survival, and for many people living between worlds.

Today I was reminded exactly how homegrown this righteousness is by a Facebook group of one-line jokes about Berkeley upbringings. How counterculture taboos affected childhood is dizzying:

  • boycotts of table grapes and iceberg lettuce make kids anxious when visiting un-PC families,
  • a sneaked McDonald’s meal draws punishment while smoking weed does not,
  • the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are off-limits (pseudo-military!),
  • while the whitebread Brady Bunch and misogynistic Barbie are what’s wrong with the world.

Free Speech protests witnessed from baby strollers make this group a veritable Red Diaper Baby playdate.

Also glimpsed: the realization that  much of what characterized a Berkeley childhood thirty or forty years ago — that is, the lifestyle and belief system of an alternative community, the anger that separated it from the rest of the nation — has now become mainstream in America.

So, my righteous sisters and brothers, what are you going to keep being angry about when it comes to who you are?

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This week I’ll be speaking with creative entrepreneur Tara Agacayak on a panel about social media for the International Professional Women of Istanbul Network (IPWIN).

The happy trends of Web 2.0 online networking, collaborating, and user-generated content seem tailor-made for pro women like us who often face a more difficult career path abroad. Whether “trailing spouses” lacking a local work permit like Jo Parfitt recounts here or in some other way being at a geographic or cultural disadvantage is a common expat woman experience.

IN AN ATTENTION ECONOMY WE’RE NO LONGER OUT OF SIGHT
We’re used to relying on technology to fill the gaps in our expat operations so social media has the potential to level the playing field for the most far-flung female professionals:

  • Social media works best the way women work best: it’s about making and tending personal connections
  • Social media supports and consolidates the spread-out personal networks expats and global citizens have already initiated in their mobile lives
  • Social media provides access to state-of-the-industry practices, trending thought, and leading players in our professions

So, as social networking renders overseas women like us visible and relevant, it’s a powerful tool of self-actualization. Our presence online becomes an advance calling card in life and work. We’re driven to fine-tune who we say we are, and how we behave, and where we appear online and who we choose to interact with, who our target audience is and how we do business. If we commit to social media, we evolve.

How has social media launched you?

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Growing up in a countercultural town, the presentation and packaging tactics of Madison Avenue and Hollywood, and the protocol of the diplomatic world seemed like subversive tools of the establishment. I often think of a brilliant local character known as a founding father of California’s rich architectural history who wandered the streets of Berkeley barefoot, his red beard and hair wild, beer belly protruding from a ripped t-shirt. Where might his speaking career — and wind of Berkeley’s astounding architectural heritage — have taken him, if he hadn’t appeared to be a vagrant?

Recently marketing futurist Seth Godin talked about the decisive role of cultural wisdom — or sophistication — in business, and asked why we don’t take it more seriously.

I polled my online contacts, asking Is poor presentation a death sentence for a good idea? LinkedIn said yes (66%), to be successful an idea demands professionalism. “Presentation is EVERYTHING!” effused one person. Facebook was split, debating what professionalism means and the harm of over-marketing, with craftspeople and small business owners shouting “Hell no!” Commitment ranked as the top factor in success. One pragmatic man observed “Professionalism works in dull markets,” while a fellow Berkeleyan admitted we have to ”be able to engage with the status quo enough to be able to transmit a new concept.” Here at WordPress, 50% thought if the idea was winning people would forgive a shaggy package and one respondent likened presentation to the booster rocket that gets the Space Shuttle in to orbit.

Is superficial accessibility superficial? Or are movements we think of as “fringe” on the periphery not just because their beliefs are minorly held, but because they refuse to persuade from within general convention?

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I’m on vacation/in post-TED Global recovery this August. Taking social networking easy as well, I posted a chocolate cake recipe on Facebook. You can whip up the quickie soufflé-like treat in a coffee mug with the help of a microwave.

The indulgent little formula emailed by my Sacramento sister comes from a world I haven’t lived in for years. Microwave cooking. White sugar and vegetable oil. It’s so mainstream retro — and a crowd pleaser.

The instant mug cake drew twenty times more reaction than an ultra-topical link to TED Fellow Evgeny Morozov’s explanation of the Russian state-sponsored censorship of a Georgian blogger which caused massive outages at Facebook and Twitter last week. Morozov, a Belorussian Internet scientist I met in Oxford, studies how the online world influences global affairs. He might have had better luck framing the issue this way: cyberwarfare trend = blocked access to future cake recipes.

Even so, the spontaneous manifestation of cupcake-community activism was cheering. Friends from Alaska to Florida, Malaysia to India to Germany engaged and collaborated. They experimented and shared results from pudding and “the perfect soufflé” to admitting a skimped-on-the-oil need “to compensate by eating it with some vanilla ice cream”. Others predicted child-friendliness or posted the instructions to their own walls.

Dog days of summer may not be the best time to come together to solve the world’s weighty problems but apparently it’s a good time to master soufflé-for-one.

Ever experience a heavy-to-soufflé moment that shifts your sync point?

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A longtime friend messaged me on Facebook yesterday to alert me I need to change my profile photo to a more flattering one.

I snapped it in my sunny Istanbul kitchen on my iPhone last month. I’d just had my hair done — and a facial, so not a stitch of makeup. I look somewhat natural, and somewhat my age of almost 45. I liked the image for that reason. An actual unvarnished look rather than the airbrushed Turkish portraits in my book publicity materials, my playful Photoshop-manipulated avatars on social media sites, or the pound-of-make-up glamour shot from my Today Show TV appearance in 2008. The current pic is not the only way I can look, and I’m not cementing it as my favorite of all time. There are some surprising wrinkles, but also a touch of grey in my eyes I’d forgotten. The image makes sense at the moment, relates to creative work I am doing to be my authentic self, and I am proud of who I am in it. I’m using it across the web.

Byzantine mosaic by A.Ashman

Byzantine mosaic by A.Ashman

When my Facebook friend and I first met (before she rushed me to the hospital with a high fever), she looked me over in my sick bed and told me all I needed was “a little eyeliner”. For two decades I’ve cherished that line as her special brand of caustic Southern comedy. She was raised in places where American women have been known to sleep in their makeup – just in case. Even if I enjoy a little maquillage and lighting magic too, I’m from a rather stripped down area in Northern California. It’s only natural at our core we have different sensibilities about female presentation.

Delivered with love and true concern, yesterday’s message was a reminder to me. Only we can determine what our best self looks like.

What do portraits (and self-portraits) demand of us? Which version of yourself do you want to show the world today, and why?

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