Cultivating Connection

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.

–Brene’ Brown

Picking up your life and moving to another country is one subject. Moving to another country in a pandemic will take us to another level of conversation.

Full transparency, the lockdown offered up many gifts as we found our way in a new culture with unfamiliar surroundings and a language we have not yet mastered. And yet, we found a simplicity with minimal social interaction and depth in our discovery of all other things relevant. We mastered 5-mile walks by the ocean and experienced deeper and more thought-provoking conversations.

And the day came – the lockdown ended.

We tiptoed into social gatherings with caution and found ourselves hungry for connection. At this stage in our life, the connections we will make will not be attached to our work, our children, or people we have known for years. I had this internal nudge that this time was going to be different… more mindful, intentional and authentic. I wanted connection – real connection. Not superficial, not surface, not small talk with sweet pleasantries.

As we ventured out and began meeting people (all strangers till they are not), I was committed to connecting with my heart with no agenda.

This does not always come easy and demands intention and practice.

Listen with your ears and your heart: The ears part here is easy; listening with your heart requires an open space that is internally noticeable. It feels expansive and curious in the center. There is a willingness to listen from a space of vulnerability and discovery.

Observe your distractions: These most likely will be the pure breakdown in connection. Some may be hard to avoid – the idea here is laser focus. The common criminal (stealer of connection) is your phone. If you want to make people a priority, it asks of us to be purely present in the presence of another. The phone can wait.

Stay in your own lane: Opinions are personal and formed by our own experiences and paradigms. Most likely you won’t always agree with a differing view. This has been the edgy sharp part of our current societal landscape and the most difficult to embrace. Find the confidence to speak your truth gently and powerfully. “Don’t shrink, don’t puff up – just stand your ground. Use your words to express your courage, make personal connections and share your compassion. Arguing or defending breaks down connection. Speaking your truth with confidence while staying in your own lane builds connection.

Authenticity matters: Be genuine with your words and your actions; most people have a ‘bull shit’ radar, and the walls begin to build. Being disingenuous breeds a loss of trust, integrity, and interest. Authenticity takes confidence and courage without ego. Authenticity builds trust, safety, and connection.

There are still moments for me of hesitation and holding back. Being here in a new country sometimes feels like being in 1st grade and meeting your new classmates on the playground; scary and exciting all in the same breath. As we begin to discover our new landscape and meet new people, I have made this my compass for connection. I am learning to reveal, offer and surrender my authentic self in the presence of others. It is amazing to feel the friendships that are being birthed from this new space.

I am grateful, humbled, and connected.

My fear of being real, of being seen, paralyzes me into silence. I crave the touch and the connection, but I’m not always brave enough to open my hand and reach out. This is the great challenge: to be seen, accepted, and loved, I must first reveal, offer, and surrender.

―Anna White, Mended: Thoughts on Life, Love, and Leaps of Faith


Carolyn Lebanowski
Carolyn Lebanowski
Carolyn began her professional career in retail and grew to become an experienced and respected senior-level executive with expertise in strategic development, organizational communication, and executive coaching. After nearly three decades of career growth in corporate organizational development, Carolyn was ready for a career change—and a life change. This led to a new role and the most challenging, enriching, and rewarding work of her life, as a Strategic Business Leader for nonprofit spiritual institutions. As Executive Director and Chief Opportunity Officer for 2 large organizations, it gave her the opportunity to fuse the professional and the personal, aligning her business acumen with her spiritual identity and passion for the development of human potential—in her colleagues, in her community, and in herself. Carolyn is a writer who seeks above all to share from the heart. Her impulse to write began 20 years ago with letters to her children and grew into journaling that was unedited and life-affirming. Today she writes with a focus on raw, authentic, and lived experience, to explore, express, and make sense of the pain and joy, and struggles and triumphs, of life. In all her endeavors, she champions connection, integrity, and radical positivity. Today, Carolyn is a published author and a Columnist/Featured Contributor at BIZCATALYST 360° and is living in Cascais, Portugal.

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  1. I am SO happy our paths crossed in Cascais…already we’ve had such interesting discussions, with plenty more to come, i’m sure 🙂
    Hopefully time will be more on our side in future, once we retire and move here permanently…thank you to both of you.
    Big hugs xx

  2. Loved this and can relate, Carolyn. It is so rare that we have a chance to show up without the baggage of our job role or similar social markers.

    I would add curiosity to your tools – and I am sure it is already there.
    Most people do what they do for to them good reasons even as we, the foreigners, can’t guess what that possibly can be. So when you are baffled, just ask. Perhaps you can agree on more than you originally thought – because you agree with the values underlying the odd behavior. And if not, at least you disagree from a more informed perspective.

    • Charlotte, love this added element – Curiosity!
      There have been many ‘why do they do it this way?’ questions asked. The learning has been to stay in the question without judgement.
      This has truly been a journey…and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn and then share. #livingmybestlife.

  3. As I moved to another country years ago I can so relate to what you write. I found that to start any outer connection is to start from a good connection with self. When that one is solid, we will attract the right people and news friends easily. In the beginning I wasn’t as I wasn’t connected to my true self, but more to my Ego Mind. When that changed, the connection with others changed. Perhaps your true self created a perfect beginning. DUe to the lockdown and the walks at the ocean, the connection with self and each other became so pure and strong, it is the perfect time for you to move forward now and explore. Don’t let old beliefs hold you back, they are non truths anyway, taken over from generations before us. Enjoy your wonderful adventure there beautiful writer!

    • Eyra, I love what you say here: “I found that to start any outer connection is to start from a good connection with self.”
      This is spot on TRUTH. Our experience with the lockdown gave us time to settle and center. I had the opportunity to get comfortable with ‘me’, before venturing out to the playground. Always love your insights! #stilllearning #growingintome.

  4. Carolyn: This certainly resonates with my wife and me, as we recently returned to the US after living in Colombia for several years. For some reason it was much easier, despite the language barrier, for us to be genuine and real with our Colombiano amigos, than it is here. My only explanation for that may be that, while we were seen as the wealthy gringos, therefore set apart in that way, we were making an effort to assimilate to their culture. Because of that they embraced us, sometimes literally! Here in the US we’re just typical Americans. It’s wonderful to have the perspective we have now. Thanks for sharing this.


    • Byron,
      Living in another country has its gifts, blessings and opportunities for growth. I know you know.
      I loved your last essay, getting a new perspective on moving back to the States.
      We are heading back for 2 weeks in August and there is a hesitation and slight anxiety of how the experience will land on my new view of the world. Full transparency – I am scared. Open to any advice to help in the transition. #gratefulalways

  5. Dear Carolyn,

    Absolutely superb essay. Moving to another country has its challenges and especially how you are perceived. You are so right when you describe listening with your ears and your heart. Also to maintain your own personality rather than adapt your personality to match expectations. Making genuine connections is a pure joy, and your description deserves applause.


    • Simon, thank you so much!
      Any time a writer sees “Absolutely superb essay” from another writer, it makes it all worth the effort to put my heart on paper.
      This move has offered up so many opportunities and teachings. I realized the other day, I am still ‘growing into me’… but aren’t we all?
      Grateful for your support. #growingintome