Time for another entry under Expats A to Z, a series of posts about the little things that can make a difference in how we approach some of the challenges and experiences of expatriate — and repatriate — life.
I’m talking about those qualities and traits we can nurture within us not only to simply survive, but thrive amid constant change. You know, the characteristics and features that can help smooth the way.
I started with A is for Acknowledging Differences and then went with F is for Flexibility. More recently there were K is for Kaleidoscope, O is for Open and T is for Thoughtful. The last entry was P is for Patient.
I’m not writing this series in alphabetical order because I like mixing things up. Quite frankly, it’s a whole lot more interesting when you don’t know what’s coming next. More fun for me as well. I do hope you’ll follow along and share your own thoughts and experiences.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
C is for Committed
As I was running down my alphabetical list of characteristics central to a life lived across cultures, the letter C was easily filled in, yet has proven more difficult to write about.
When I say it requires commitment, I’m referring to one in both the public sense as well as a more private.
On the surface, you’ve got the reason why you’re tackling a cross-cultural move. Perhaps you’ve deliberately picked a nomadic life — say, representing your country’s government or working for an international business which considers global assignments a normal part of career progression. Or you’ve simply fallen into an opportunity to move abroad as a one-off, or you’re intent on emigrating, or your work is location independent and you’ve always wanted to live in ‘fill-in-the-blank’.
Maybe it’s none of the above, because one thing the intersection of enhanced mobility, advancements in technology and increasing globalization has shown us is that more people are moving to more places around this planet of ours than at any other time in history. And the numbers just keep growing.
So we head off on our grand new (or merely the latest) adventure, excited and wary and curious and full of hope.
While we all imagine it will be new as in original, unique, novel and untainted, sometimes we find ourselves smack in the middle of a type of new that is unfamiliar, dissimilar, unusual, strange. New as in different. Sometimes very, very different.
Most of us have heard the old adage ‘different isn’t better or worse, it’s simply different’, and I believe it’s true more often than not. Sure, we all tend to go through some form of culture shock, with the attendant fluctuations in interest, willingness and stamina to deal with settling in and making a life in a place which challenges our ability to adapt or adjust. We initially focus on survival, but our aim is usually far more than simply making it through: we aspire to thrive.
Blooming where we’re planted, and all that.
Yet sometimes the best we can hope for — or manage — is to find our way to acceptance. Even worse, we may need to claw our way there.
It’s possible we find ourselves flailing because it is far less than we’d bargained for, either the physical location we’re in or the emotional space we’re inhabiting. Or both.
In times like these we would do well to remind ourselves of how and why we arrived at this place, the choices we made, the decisions taken.
Yes I know there are instances when we end up somewhere because our livelihood depends on it. We get the call telling us ‘it’s on to X, need you there by Y’, and whether we like it or not, we dutifully go because what’s left unstated is the knowledge that to decline is to become unemployed.
If you’re confident of finding other work, perhaps better suited to your skills and temperament and dreams, then by all means go for it. But many of us struggle with hasty decisions pushed upon us. We prefer time to think and mull and consider and plan. If the economic outlook is pear-shaped, all the more reason to hunker down with what we’ve got and ride out the storm.
Sometimes, despite all our efforts, it is because we are unhappy, even miserable. In other instances, we may enjoy where we are and what we’re doing, but external life forces — accident, illness, divorce, the gradual realization that this nomadic lifestyle just isn’t working for us in our particular life stage anymore — propel us to leave.
I experienced that firsthand when we chose to repatriate earlier than expected for family reasons, to be closer to members requiring care. For some, leaving is necessary to address outright crises. I know others who moved on or back or away because of a family member’s struggles, or the death of a spouse or loved one, or simply because ‘it was time’.
So when I say you must be committed when you undertake a cross-cultural adventure, I don’t mean you do so blindly, ignoring warning signs or oblivious to the curve balls life has a way of throwing our way. Expatriate life isn’t a one-way ticket on the Ark in horrific storms, and you’re not Noah. You do the best you can with the information you have in the situation in which you find yourself.
Why? Because you’re where you are until circumstances — or you — change. Even when they may have felt a bit forced on us or made under duress, owning our choices and accepting where we are does one of two things. It gives us permission to make peace with life lived here and now, which in turn might result in opening ourselves up to making the best of the experience, of making peace with life lived here, now. Or it frees you up to start doing the necessary reflection and preparation for what comes next.
I’m not advocating slapping on a big grin and telling everyone ‘I’m fine, it’s great’, either.
We go with the best of intentions, and give it our best in hopes we flourish. Sometimes it’s a match made in heaven. Or it takes awhile to get there, but we do. In a few instances, we may never stand a chance. In the latter case, we still remain committed, if only to making the most of the life spot we’re in until we’re no longer there. Knowing that nothing is forever, no situation is permanent.
We look for the takeaways in what we’ve experienced. We dig deep to unearth the lessons learned. We examine ourselves, our lives, to determine what this has done to us, what this has done for us, what it has meant.
The external, public commitment isn’t to attaining the perfect, blissful, cross-cultural experience, because that doesn’t exist. Our commitment is to making the effort, to trying, to persevering, and hopefully enjoying, even celebrating. In doing so, we uphold the internal, private commitment we make to ourselves: that of learning, of seeking, of wanting to understand. Above all, in expanding our cultural boundaries, we commit to growth.
Ever experienced a time/place that just wasn’t right, where your commitment waivered?
Hey, I’m joining Cate of SmallPlanetStudio.com for the April #MyGlobalLife Link-Up. Come on over.
[Image credit: Vlado, portfolio 1836 www.freedigitalphotos.net]
Updated 26 April to correct two sentences which inadvertently had been mangled into one in the original, thereby changing the meaning and intent.