This week I got an opportunity to participate in a Precious Child fundraising lunch, which was filled with stories of families and children. These different childhood stories made me think of our childhood and the challenges we faced in a single mom household of four kids. What really stuck to me was the common theme in these stories of the importance of children's emotional wellbeing and the importance of creating an environment that support such things as the feeling to belong, feel valued, and respected. We all have the same basic psychological needs that we aim to fulfill, and that guides our lives. As a minority child growing up and standing out from peers, you try your best to be accepted, respected, valued, and feeling like you belong. As a child, I did not understand the strong effect that these needs had on me and how much it was directing my behavior. Somehow these stories at the event brought to me some memories I had forgotten about our childhood but from a different perspective. The memory that came to me was an incident that was the step for us into the working life.
As mentioned in our blog post about stereotypes, we talked about the psychological term tokenism. For a review, Dovidio J defined tokenism in his book The SAGE Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping and Discrimination (2010) as ‘when people are tokens, one of the relatively few members of their group in a social context, they feel particularly vulnerable to being stereotyped by others. This occurs especially when the individual is the only member of their group (solo status) in the situation. Tokens experience a high level of self-consciousness and threat, which reduces their ability to think and act effectively. '
Now looking back to our childhood, I can recognize the strong feeling of tokenism that was hanging over Naomi and me growing up in Lahti, Finland, in the '90s. Coming from a single mom household also meant that we had to compromise on certain things, especially the material things such as clothing and supplies, and we did not get the same opportunity to participate or find outlets through hobbies. However, we were fortunate enough to meet our father figure and tennis coach Pertti who kindly took us under his wings when we were at the age of eight, and after that, he made sure we were able to practice and compete without our mom having to struggle with making the payments. As you probably know, tennis has been and is quite an elite sport, and you can only imagine how these two minority twins would stand out in the Finnish tennis culture. Well, it was not only the background that made us feel like an outcast but also the equipment from socks to rackets.
"The underlying psychological needs to belong, to feel respected, valued, to feel safe, etc. were pushing us to succeed, not the need for money and material. "
I did not understand the feeling that this created back then, but something did not feel right. We hit a point in which we got into a fight without mom that we were done wearing our brothers' old clothes and shopping at the flea market. Well, what to do when you want to get the feeling of belonging, respect, etc. but you do not have the means for it. Since we were young, we had quite the problems solving skills, which meant that we did not stay to complain and wonder what to do. Instead, we announced to our mom that we were going to find a way to make money at the age of 12 to pay for our own things – the things that she could not afford between providing the food, housing, and other necessities for four growing kids. And that, that was the start of our working careers. The underlying psychological needs to belong, to feel respected, valued, to feel safe, etc. were pushing us to succeed, not the need for money and material. It is that deeper fire in us that still moves us to do better, to overcome, and to push harder every day. It is that deeper motivation that I believe is our strength, and that will get us far in this life.
What is your story, and how is it guiding you at this moment?
For each brand, this is a challenge to find a deeper meaning in their brand to get people to move and to create a bond with people around the brand. Having such profound experiences from diverse sectors of life gives us the advantage to dig deeper into topics and the values behind peoples' actions. To be honest, I used to be quite ashamed of our story and where we came from while growing up. However, now I am forever grateful for the path that we have had to walk because that has made us what we are today and has provided us with the gift that now is leading us to our destiny. What is your story, and how is it guiding you at this moment? Stories are the way we have always shared our learning, history, and values, and it still continues to be one of the most reliable means for people to connect. To be able to recognize and own your own story enables us to create those relationships that carry us through our lives. Find, share, and, most importantly, be proud of your unique story no matter what it might be because that is what makes you you – and remember, everyone else's story is already taken.
As I have learned, we all have different opportunities in life and life is not equal. The culture and country you are born to have a lot to do with this as well. As I realized at the Precious Child event, the community help varies from organization to government support. We cannot change the cards that we are dealt with but with the community, support, and with a will to change your story we can direct the course of the game.