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On Bravery

NorthSouthEastWest: Expat Dispatches

We’re back — four intrepid souls who swap guests posts each month from the far corners of the globe. We are:

North: Linda (Yours Truly) in the Netherlands (www.adventuresinexpatland.com)

South: Russell in Australia (www.insearchofalifelessordinary.com)

East: Erica in Japan (www.expatriababy.com)

West: Maria in Canada (www.iwasanexpatwife.com)

The great philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Let the examinations begin! Our theme this month is self-knowledge, or what expat life has taught us about ourselves.

At Expatria Baby, Russell learned to trust his gut and remain true to his values in his search for a fulfilling expat life.

At I Was An Expat Wife, Erica learned that tolerance is much harder in practice than it is in theory.

At In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, I realized that the more I actually learn about expat life, the less I know

And here at Adventures in Expatland, Maria learned that within her timid exterior — deep, deep within — beats the brave heart of a gambler.

Please do read our stories, and share some of your own in our comments sections. We’d love to hear what expat life has taught you about yourself.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ON BRAVERY

by Maria of I Was An Expat Wife

There’s a contest running on my local radio station, called Beat the Bank, that makes me hyperventilate. Players are invited to open a series of virtual bank vaults, each one containing more money than the one before. They can stop anytime they  like, at which point they win all the money in the vault — up to half a million dollars. If the bank alarm sounds, however, they lose everything.

The anxiety this contest causes me — as a listener — is unbelievable. Every time a contestant says excitedly “I’m gonna open another one,” I have to fight the urge to scream “Don’t do it! Take the money and run!”

I am not, as you may have gathered, a gambler. I’m quite fearful of new things, actually, and utterly risk-averse. That’s just who I am.

Or is it?

I’ve moved overseas four times in my life and would do it again in a heartbeat. When I was young and single, I did it for the adventure, traipsing off to au pair in France or backpack around Australia for a year, just because it sounded interesting. I travelled solo and (in the case of my French sojourn) not knowing a soul in my host country.

“You’re so brave!” my friends told me. I didn’t feel particularly brave — until I arrived, that is, at which point I was shit-scared but past the point of no return,  so it hardly mattered.

Many years passed, years in which I finished my degree, got a job, married a great guy, bought a house, had a couple of kids. Settled Down, if you will. When the opportunity came for my husband to transfer to Singapore, my reaction was very different than it had been in my carefree single days. I was terrified. All those years of Settling Down had changed me; sucked the adventure right out of me and replaced it with cautiousness. And this time, the stakes were raised: I had my two young daughters to  consider. Was this a good move for them? Would they be happy? Would they hate me for dragging them to the other side of the world? It didn’t take a gambler to see that now I had much more to lose.

Woman Peeking Between Her Hands iStockphoto/asiseeitWe ended up taking that leap of faith, and it worked out beautifully. Moving to Singapore was the best thing we could have done. But being older and wiser had its drawbacks: the  fear — that something would go wrong, that I would look foolish, that I would somehow cause offense — was always lurking in the background, waiting for a chance to trip me up. When we later moved to France, it was like a low-level hum: barely audible, but always there. Sometimes it paralyzed me, but for the most part, I learned to treat it the way I treated the flies in the Australian Outback: I acknowledged its existence, and then waved it away and got on with things. Although the fear, like the flies, was always buzzing around my head, I tried not to let it stop me from doing what I wanted to do. Sometimes, in fact, it was the impetus for trying new things.

Now that I’ve been back in Canada for a few years and have a little emotional distance from my glory days, I can see things much more clearly. And although I’m still not much of gambler and I’m still a huge scaredy-cat, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. Because being an expatriate has taught me a thing or two about life, and about myself. I know that I can take risks, if the payoff is worth it. I know that change is inevitable, and if I can’t embrace it, I can at least roll with it. And most importantly, I know that bravery is not the absence of fear; it’s the ability to acknowledge fear without letting it hold you back.

Lest you think I’ve completely conquered my demons, I should add that there’s one hurdle I can’t seem to overcome. I still have palpitations at the thought of playing Beat the Bank.

[Image credit: iStockphoto.com/asiseeit]

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