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The honest expat – are you hiding behind a smile?

I love moving to new places, learning new things and exploring new surroundings. But then things rarely go as planned. Sometimes things once we land is so far different from what we imagined that we’re pretty stunned. Sometimes relationships end and it does not really matter if it was expected or not. It’s still sad and painful.

The expat community is full of people who will reach out and ask for advise around practical things and how to solve the practical puzzle of moving. I’ve also come across many expat forums as well who help answer questions about children struggling to adjust and relationships feeling the strain of all the new things. To ask for help is important. Especially with the small things that you keep telling yourself “It’s nothing“.

In times of change it’s hard sometimes to just stop. Sit down in a moment of silence and ask ourselves how we really are doing. What is great? What is harder than you thought?

A few weeks ago I had a very honest conversation with a fellow expat woman. She had read some of my blog posts and needed to get some tips on where to go next. She had been struggling for a while, but had not known where to turn or who to talk to. She had grown so accustomed to hiding behind the smile and telling everyone that all was ok, that she could not bring herself to speak up. She felt like it had gone too far. How could she possibly complain now that she had been there for a while and should be out enjoying herself.

There are many other women (and men) out there just like her. Who feel that there is shame in speaking up. Admitting to themselves and those around them that they feel out of place. Lost in limbo. Longing to move on or even back home.

No relocation or big move is the same as another one. Ever. Even if the exact same people take on a new move together, it will be very different from the last one.

If you’re anything like the woman mentioned above, I’ll give you the core things she and I worked through together.

  1. There are now fixed rules on how long you need to have been somewhere to be ok and feel like you fit in. Sometimes it’s almost instant and sometimes it takes years. It depends on you, your company and your other circumstances. I’ve worked with expats who suffer from homesickness as they land and some who suffer greatly months or years down the track.
  2. You are always allowed to speak your mind. If you feel like it’s too hard to speak to just anyone, select one or a few in your closer circle (it does not matter if they are back home or near you). Contact a behavioural specialist like myself and work through your challenges. Choose whatever works for you, but you need to speak up about the thing that bothers you. And you don’t need to have it all worked out or know exactly where this is coming from. It’s just how you feel right now.
  3. You are worthy. So many expat women move with a partner or family to accommodate the solution that is good for the team and sometimes this leaves them feeling short changed or unfulfilled. Maybe you left your career behind or at least parked it for a while. Maybe you had to say no to something so your team could say yes. Whatever you do and wherever you are always worthy. Remind yourself of that!
  4. It’s all about values. When we feel unhappy it’s usually because our core values are not being met. If you value challenge and growth in your life, but feel that you’ve been put in a situation where there is no room for you to do either of those things you’ll feel unhappy. Wherever you are in the world you need to find a way of meeting your values! And remember – this is your responsibility. You can’t delegate your happiness and values to others to look after, they are yours and you need to make space for them in your life.
  5. Don’t hide behind a smile. Thing may get better in time, but it’s unlikely they will unless you’re willing to have a look at what bothers you and how to overcome it. A happy life is not something that happens by chance, it happens by choice.

Where now? Email me today and I’ll send you a free values test that you can use to pinpoint your top values and how to get more of them in your life.

PS: If you have not already, also make sure to read my posts around core needs for travellers and expats. Core needs and values are closely related!