Whether you are an expat because of your career, or perhaps your partner’s career, you have met others who seem to be able to manage it all and have time, space and energy to carve out the life they truly want and deserve. It looks easy, doesn’t it? Well, those expats don’t necessarily have any more experience than you do — some people are exceptional on their very first posting. They are the ones that everyone in the room gravitates towards; they are the ones who are succeeding in their lives, their career, their relationships and with their own personal passions. So why don’t we all have amazing expat experiences?
Well, after working with many expats and their spouses for a number of years, I have finally figured it out! It turns out that these successful, happy, relaxed, purposeful and fulfilled people are not dependent on their environment (their location / job / marriage / whatever) to determine whether they are happy and fulfilled. These exceptional expats use a particular mindset to ensure the success and happiness of each and every posting.
Having this mindset or principles for success - however you define success — ensures that these expats live life on their terms and succeed in their own professional and personal endeavors. How do they do that? Well it is not as complicated as you may imagine, however consistency seems to be the key in getting the results you want. If you want to have a better relationship with your spouse, a more collaborative working environment, or simply more time and energy for yourself, then investing a little bit of time and effort every day can help you right now and in your future assignments.
Let’s be clear at the outset. As mentioned above, these principles are not complicated, they are however challenging as they will impact the very way you think. About everything. All the time. Isn’t it time to take the first steps to living a successful, happy, meaningful, fulfilled and truly portable life?
The first principle is "a map is not the territory" which was first quoted by Alfred Korzybski in 1931. In relation to your success as an expat, this principle is possibly the most important one and arguably the most difficult one to consistently remember! We tend to revert back to the "comfort" of thinking about issues or challenges in the way we have always thought of them. This is the reason I have started with this principle - it has the most profound effect on your thinking once you consistently apply it.
What this means, is no matter how well you try to describe something — e.g. food in a restaurant, you are only describing it — it is not the actual food you are conjuring up. Or the atmosphere and ambience, or indeed the whole event as you experienced it. Have you and a friend / partner ever compared your experience of the same event? Do you sometimes wonder if you were actually in the same room? We are conditioned to notice only what is important to us and to leave out what is of little interest and irrelevant to us.
The key to this principle is accepting that you cannot possibly understand the world as it is, but rather how you are. This is a huge concept and cannot be covered fully here — it is based on the work of Carl Jung and as I said, it has a profound impact on your thinking. A person who has grown up in a big city like Mumbai will view the world based on all the cultural norms, unwritten ground rules, experiences, education, interests, assumptions, beliefs and events that have shaped his/her life. Another person who has grown up in a big city like London will view the world exactly as he/she has experienced it, with all of the cultural norms, unwritten ground rules, etc. as above. You cannot possibly understand another person’s point of view if you do not understand "their map". You might think you do — until you reach the next problem and you feel as if you are both back at square one! Only a little more frustrated than last time.
By remaining curious and completely non-judgmental, you can ask the questions which will help you and the other person truly understand each other and each other’s point of view. One tip — never ask a question beginning with "why". Why not? Well that one word is loaded with judgment. Stick to "what", "how", "who", and "where" questions instead. As Stephen Covey says "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
Curiosity allows for a much more open conversation and the more you can let go of the need to be "right" or to justify your beliefs and assumptions, the more open minded you become. This brings momentum and a desire to learn and explore further. The person living by this principle will view their posting as positive, enlightening, enriching, challenging, exciting, and fun rather than something to simply endure. Which would you rather experience?
Over the next issues, we will explore areas such as using your resources, taking responsibility, living with gratitude and learning to embrace uncertainty among other topics. I would love to hear from you regarding your own particular challenges and the solutions or the principles you have developed to help you navigate expat life.
Love your journey!
Simone Mitchell Thompson's background is in recruitment and selection for investment banks in London.For the past 13 years, she has been an expat with her husband and their 2 children. Not content with being a “trailing spouse”, she has studied and worked in various roles in Egypt, Libya, India and now Australia.
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