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Pushing the Envelope

Most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘pushing the envelope.’

(I like this definition here on The Phrase Finder.)

You know, to go beyond what you’d normally do.

Push further, try harder.

In this case, I’m talking about doing something you haven’t done before. Trying something new.

Pushing the social envelope.

Now I will be the first to say that I am an extrovert. I enjoy meeting people, spending time with them. Talking, getting to know them.

Which is certainly helpful as an expat. By definition you’re not living in your own country, so as you navigate beyond the transition stage of moving to and settling in a different place, it helps to meet new people and gather new info.  

But it’s more than just getting to know how to do things or learning how things work. More than finding out where to go for this or when to buy that, or a good short-cut or substitute.

As expats, you become familiar with people coming and going. You do your best to welcome the new, while often mourning the loss of friends who leave.

Sometimes you think you just don’t have the energy to make another new friendship, yet again. And that’s precisely when you should reach out. For yourself, as much as for the other person.

I find people fascinating, and really enjoy hearing about their ‘story.’ Not just where they’re from or how long they’ve lived in a particular place.

But also where they are in their life. What do they like doing? I don’t simply mean their work, although I’m always intrigued by what people do on a daily basis.

I’m also interested in whether they enjoy their work. Is it a driving influence in their lives, or merely a way to pay the bills? Do they live to work or work to live? Perhaps they yearn for a change, something different.

I’m curious about what they like to do with their ‘free’ time. What are their interests, hobbies, passions? 

Lest you think that I corner people and subject them to an excruciatingly detailed version of ‘Twenty Questions,’ let me assure you that isn’t the case. Gaining insight of this sort takes time, patience.

That’s half the fun, learning what people are willing to reveal over time. I’m not talking salacious tidbits or tawdry gossip or family skeletons here. I mean the interesting things you learn if you’re willing to go beyond the pleasantries of superficial conversation.

Pushing the social envelope also means going to new places, trying new things.

I don’t get to many art openings these days, but when I do I’m transported back in time to my college years. I lived in a dorm with many art students, and was introduced to a world I’d known little about. I fondly recall sipping cheap wine at student shows, mingling among the crowd, each artist proudly displaying months of hard work and inspiration.

I learned not just to view the art in terms of whether I liked it or not, but also to get a sense of what the artist meant when they were creating a given piece. What inspired them, where their creativity came from.

Fast forward a few (okay, many) years, and nowadays a good friend is an accomplished artist in her own right. Attending her gallery shows allows me to see another side of her.

It helps to reach out. Expand your circle. Get a new perspective. Try something different. Venture forth.

While recently in Prague, it was easy to fall into a routine of heading back to the hotel after a late dinner to relax. We’d catch up on the latest news in the Middle East or Christchurch New Zealand, read, perhaps watch some Champions League voetbal. After a long day of sight-seeing and exploring, it was nice to just rest.

But two nights we pushed ourselves to shake things up, try something new. One evening Husband and I attended a Gershwin and Friends concert in the beautiful Spanish Synagogue. 

Never mind that we weren’t big Gershwin fans, or that we were distinctly aware it sounded like something only our parents’ generation would do.

Classic songs (they became classics for a reason) performed by first-rate Czech musicians in the ambience of an intimate, interesting venue? We ended up enjoying it immensely.

Another evening Daughter and I attended a performance of Swan Lake at a small theater, while Husband and Son chose to see a Black Light Theater show. 

Out of the ordinary for us, yes, yet new experiences we could share. The conversations we overheard during the intermission were as entertaining as the performances. They ended up being some of our favorite memories.  

So push the envelope. Then do it again. And again. And yet again.

Cast your net as far as possible. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

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