7 Ways Traditions Foster a Healthy Expat Identity

Sometimes you have a tradition that, despite the complexity of the task, you do it so frequently that it becomes like second nature. There are rituals to it, set ways of doing things, recipes for just the right amount of each fraction of the experience.

It’s a bit like that with our annual Christmas Eve Potluck. Yes – I’m totally talking about Christmas on the first of October. Eeek! I know, but keep reading as I get to my point…

This year will be our 7th time to host the party (9th if you count earlier, much smaller versions). And while we’re still a few months away, this is about the time I start thinking about the process. I know by now exactly what we need so I’ve long since learned how to minimize the potential stress and plan ahead. To be honest, even though it’s usually a huge party, it’s never in the least bit stressful. It’s a celebration of love and gratitude. Come December 24th, I don’t think I’d ever want to be anywhere else. It has become one of the defining traditions of our life as a family.

We often think of the importance of traditions and rituals in the context of creating a home space or in building family unity, but for expats, there’s even more to it. When we move frequently from place to place, creating rituals, adhering to traditions and enjoying celebrations makes a globally mobile life more than just the transitions, baggage, and upheaval. It helps us define the very nature of who we are in the midst of those things.

Traditions and rituals help us express ourselves fully in new spaces and remind us who we are in familiar ones. They can help us build community, learn new things about ourselves and create a sense of home no matter where we go. They are the medium through which we learn to simply be regardless of where we’re physically planted.

In short – committing to rituals and traditions and taking time to mark important milestones with celebrations shouldn’t be an after-thought. These aspects are key for living a healthy, connected and fulfilling life as an expat.

Here are some important reminders about what cultivating a spirit of tradition, ritual and celebration can do for your expat life.

Traditions, rituals and celebrations help you:

Claim your home space. When you move a lot, it can feel like the place you’ve landed is just a house. Creating rituals – like a family photo wall, or letting your kids choose which color they want to paint their rooms – allows you to fully turn a house into a home. They foster a sense of comfort with your new space.

Get creative. Anyone who’s tried to bake a family recipe in a country where half the ingredients don’t exist knows exactly what I’m talking about here. Committing to carrying on family traditions despite being in unfamiliar territory means we find completely new and unique ways to do things we love and that’s a really good way to stretch our brains outside our comfort zones.

Become the expert. Except for perhaps your extended family, who likely live very far away, no one but you understands the rituals unique to your family. This means you’re introducing a new custom from your home country to people who may have never experienced it before. You get to teach people about new and interesting ways traditions are practiced around the world. When you live a life where you’re often in the early stages of learning completely new things, it can feel really good to be the expert at something and to share that experience with others.

Set goals. Living outside your home culture means that it takes a lot more prep-work to do the things that would be easy if you were back home. Knowing you might have a longer way to go to follow through with a tradition or celebration helps you plan ahead and strategize how to reach your goals. When you reach your goals, the feeling of having accomplished something is a really nice boost to your self-confidence.

Foster group cohesion. Having regular traditions, rituals and celebrations can help you connect with other expats who share similar customs. This is a really great way to bring people together – even if they normally wouldn’t have much in common. We get to say, “Yes! I do that too!” That can be a nice feeling when you’re far from home and, at the transition phase, is an excellent way to begin to feel a part of something.

Create built-in pauses to be in the moment. This is so very important! Milestones are worth celebrating, but it can be tempting to blow them off whenever life gets hectic (as it always does when you’re living between worlds). By acknowledging the significance of meaningful life events (like birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries) with set rituals and traditions, we remind ourselves to slow down and observe the passage of time. They remind us that the only moment we really have is the one we’re in right now.

Build community. Celebrating and sharing in traditions brings people together! Whether it’s over a favorite traditional meal, through religious or cultural celebrations or simply by taking time to create new moments to mark important milestones – people enjoy connecting as a community! The people we encounter in our journey from home to home are, without question, what really make the world go round.

So, as you transition into a new season, one that often comes with a whole new array of opportunities for tradition, ritual and celebration – what will you be doing to mark this unique and special passage of time? And – how will those special moments help you feel more like yourself, no matter where you go?

Expat Parenting: Learning to Leave it All on the Stage…and Teaching our TCKs to do the Same

I recently had the sweetest of bedtime conversations with my 12 year old. He’s starting 7th grade and he was talking about his impressions of 7th grade as a scary time. This is probably a combination of urban legend, YouTube and bits and snippets of conversations he’s overheard from adults (myself included).

I don’t particularly remember 7th grade as stressful. Actually, I don’t really remember 7th grade all that well at all. Perhaps it was simply uneventful – the middle years of middle school, stuck between the exciting newness of 6th grade and the grown-up feeling of 8th.

As the conversation continued and I attempted to reassure him that every year is different and one kid’s worst year could always be the best for the kid down the hall, I was reminded of the especially unique position that we as expat parents and our children as TCKs have when it comes to school, friendships and life in general.

We’re fortunate in the gift of being able to leave it all on the stage (or the field, the court, or the pitch). Each moment becomes about what’s most real and most important right now.

If we choose to see it this way, leaving it all on the stage means we’re free to release ourselves from the burden of “should” and “need to.” We can learn to reflect, to get deep-down and personal with what type of parent we really want to be and, distanced from the pressures of one set cultural norm, start to try new things. We get bolder, more creative and more flexible.

When we parent from this place we go from rote performance, to more fully engaged. We more frequently do things because we want to and because they feel right, not because it’s what’s expected of us.

When we leave it all on the stage, it becomes easier to return to what’s most important for our own families because we recognize (and it’s easy for our children to see) that each group of people – whether it’s a family or a culture – does things differently from the other. From this perspective, doing things differently becomes the norm, whether it’s the amount of money spent on a birthday party or the age at which children get a smart phone.

The freedom we gain here is a weight lifted from our shoulders and it can bring a heightened sense of confidence when it comes to guiding our children into flexible, thoughtful and compassionate people.

The gift of leaving it all on the stage extends to our children as well.

This was a big part of my conversation with my son at bedtime. We’ve lived in Japan for three years and he and his siblings are starting their final school year here.

I reminded him that this is the year to make the friendships, try the sports, engage in the creative projects and set the challenges that he may have put off in the past. Sure, he could have done these things before, but the unique privilege of moving every few years is that – whatever doesn’t work out – serves solely as a learning experience.

For kids, leaving it all on the stage means the freedom to turn every potential awkward moment into a full embrace of their true selves – whether they want to start a 7th grade D&D club or switch to a new sport they worry they might not be good at. Something turns out not to be what you anticipated? Who cares! Next year it’s a clean slate – new home, new friends, new school.

I also reminded my son that it’s important to remember that sometimes things will hurt. You might feel embarrassed or regret a choice you make. Leaving it all on the stage is not about creating a myth that everything will work out fine, it’s about seeing that challenges are a normal part of our existence (no matter where we go) and that our lifestyle, in it’s extreme flexibility, offers the opportunity (and maybe even the anonymity) to recover faster when things don’t go your way.

Leaving it all on the stage is the ultimate embrace of the inherent ambiguity and unpredictability of life – a reality that expats face over and over again, every day.

If you don’t know where you’ll be tomorrow, what will you jump into today with the full force of your complete and wonderful self? What will you leave on the stage?

6 Essential Practices for Hard-to-Reach Stressors

This summer we’ve decided not to go home. We’re here, in Tokyo, living out our sweltering summer amidst the asphalt and kakigoori (also known as the best thing made from ice ever invented).

My mom’s here visiting. That’s super nice. Occasionally she comes to see us and get a taste of our life between worlds. I’ve been talking to her quite a bit about the stress of this lifestyle. It feels particularly acute because we’re here and not in Austin. I always feel like the only place in the world I’m supposed to be in the summer is Austin. It makes the universe feel a bit off kilter to be here and not there.

I realize in talking with her that it’s not the everyday stressors of expat life that most get to me (although, of course, there are many), but rather what I think of as background stressors. The deeper, more intimate questions of – Will all this work out in the end? What does our retirement look like if we’ve never had a home? Will our kids wish they’d stayed in one place? Where will we be living this time next year? What does it mean to be an American overseas during times like these?

When we think about stress-management and self-care – we often think about the everyday skills and habits that help us deal with the surface stressors of life. Going for a nice long run, getting a massage or calling a friend largely helps us handle that sort of stress.

But background stress is different because it can be hard-to-reach and difficult to figure out what’s actually going on. It lurks under and behind everything we do. It nags – like losing your keys or forgetting the name of that girl you used to know in middle school, the one who moved to Hawaii. Those stressors are there whether we notice them or not and they pile up. Background stressors can leave us feeling unexpectedly down, lost, irritable or just plan weird.

While having positive self-care habits like exercise, sufficient sleep and healthy eating definitely help ease the intensity of background stressors, I’ve found that these stressors also take a separate and distinct type of engagement.

To deal with the challenges that hit at our egos, our values and our sense of purpose – it’s important to develop habits of self-reflection and insight. Taking the time to look more closely at who we are and how we fit in the world can be difficult. Sometimes the effort can feel daunting. We may not be sure we’ll like what we find there. On the other hand, deep down most of us know it’s important to do this type of inner work so that we can grow and develop into our full selves.

One way to cultivate a more reflective state is to develop practices that naturally foster paying attention to our experiences. These skills can help us turn towards what’s going on inside and around us, giving us more information about the source of background stress.

This can include practices like:

Attending to Judgment – Learning to become aware of our judgments and assumptions.

Attending to Emotions – Asking ourselves what we’re feeling.

Attending to Physical Sensation – Paying attention to our body and asking what it may be trying to tell us.

Cultivating Stillness – Spending time in “not doing” to see what insights might come.

Engaging Ambiguity – Learning to become more comfortable with what we don’t or can’t know.

Aligning with Vision – Asking, “Who do I want to be in this situation?”

These practices (from the Personal Leadership model for intercultural communication) are great for those moments when you feel that nagging sense of uncertainty. Those times when you sense something’s not quite right, but you can’t put your finger on it or those times when you feel like you’re just floating along – neither completely engaged nor disengaged.

Sure, you’ll still go for a run, call a friend, write in your journal or enjoy a little “me time,” but for all the stress that just keeps on giving learning to turn your attention towards what’s going on, just might be the key.

To hear a bit more about these practices in detail, check out this blog post from my 7-Part Facebook Live video series – What Does It Take to Practice Mindfulness? To learn how you can apply these practices in your own life, consider joining the fall session of Finding Your Way: Everyday Mindfulness for Critical Moments.

The Home That Lives Inside Us

I grew up in Central Texas. Every time I go home for the summer, there is a point at which the heat hits me.

I step out on to the back patio at my mom’s house and feel it burn under my feet. I open the car door and feel the steamy escape of 100+ temperatures even before I sit down and turn the air-conditioning up full blast. My poor, sad cup of Blue Bell melts all around the edges so the chocolate just kinda’ floats in the frothy soup of sea-green mint.

You’d think I’d hate it, but I don’t. In fact, I adore it. Sometimes I get a knot in my throat and I tear up with I think about the way the sun feels on my skin in August. That heat is full of a million tiny memories from a lifetime both in and out of the Hill Country. It’s the heat that calls to me – Welcome Home.

It’s not a given that every person who goes “home” for the summer (or winter) really wants to be there. There are people for whom the trip is fraught with anxiety, stress, conflict and discomfort. Maybe you have a place to stay or maybe you don’t. Maybe your friends and family welcome you with loving and open arms, but maybe you don’t even have anyone back there anymore. Maybe the unhappy memories are too numerous to count and the joyful past too fleeting to even bother to see. It’s not the same for all of us. I get that.

And yet, what we don’t get to escape is the fact that all the places we’ve lived take up residence inside of us. The storage of our memories, traumas, joyful occasions and traditions may be place-specific, but they become layers of what makes us, Us no matter where we go. Like…we’re the home and all that stuff is collecting there inside us.

And this is where it gets complicated. Even if we want to, there’s really no way to ignore all the baggage, the junk, the odds and ins, old snapshots and keepsakes piling up there because we carry it with us.

The challenge we face is figuring out how we sort through all of these experiences, memories and pieces of information so that we can begin to create a coherent sense of home.

Why do that?

Because it’s like a rarely entered attic, whether you tend to it or not the stuff is there whether you tend to it or not. Right now it’s probably just weighing you down. Paying attention to it now lets you see what you treasure as a piece of your home identity, what you can learn from but never want to repeat again and what you can simply let go.

Where do we begin?

Doing this takes learning to pay attention. We can do things like…

  • Noticing what emotions come up for us in a given situation
  • Paying attention to the physical sensations we experience when we engage in certain activities or traditions.
  • Tuning in to see which relationships we approach with joy and which ones we anticipate with dread.
  • Making a mental catalogue of the sites, sounds, smells and sensations that accompany certain places. What puts a smile on our faces? What brings tears to our eyes?
  • Asking lots of questions about what we notice in making these observations. We can get curious and engaged with who we are in the place we call home. We can approach each moment from a state of “This is interesting…” and ask “Hmmm, what’s here?”

I realize this might seem totally overwhelming from the place of kids and suitcases and parents and flights and all the many, many annoying or joyful things that go into a trip back home. But here’s the thing – this is part of our life’s work. It’s part of creating who we are so that we’re better for ourselves and for those around us. And it will feel good to grow in this way…I promise.

I’d love to help you out! Join my mailing list during the month of July 2018 and I’ll send you my free guided journaling exercise (The HOME Journal) for you to use right now! Gain new insight and perspective about what home really means, get clarity for how you might begin to clear out some of the baggage and discover what ingredients you need to carry that sense of home with you no matter where you go.

Are you already one of my subscribers? The HOME Journal is in this month’s mail out – coming July 4. Keep your eyes peeled and let me know if you don’t see it in your inbox.

Want even more guidance? Click here to schedule a 30-minute, free, no-obligation conversation to learn more about coaching.

 

Relocation Season

It’s May and that means a lot of things for those of us living between cultures.

If you have children, their school year is likely coming to an end.

If you’re an expat you may be planning travel or planning on staying put in your host country…both of which come with their unique challenges.

Or, perhaps you’re relocating. You may find yourself in that weird space of not yet leaving, but not quite still here either.

You may be (once again!) asking why you’ve chosen a globally mobile life. Perhaps you’re even wondering if you actually chose it. You might be feeling a little dragged along. You’re likely also reminding yourself of all the fabulous reasons you’ve chosen to do this.

It’s yo-yo mind and yo-yo heart.

This time of year is always a time in which I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to keep moving from place to place. For many years it felt like we moved almost as soon as we arrived in a new country. We would take six months to get settled, be comfortable for a year and then immediately move towards repacking and planning for our next assignment.

We’re fortunate to now be coming up on three years in Japan. We had one small move after the first year, but fifteen miles from Yokohama to Tokyo hardly felt like anything. Even the fact that the kids changed schools seemed less critical since they were able to visit their new school ahead of time and our middle son had even played a few soccer tournaments there.

Right now we’re at the place of being “stayers,” but we also have lots of stayer friends. Next year we’ll be leavers again. And so it goes, the cycle of expat life. Something comes up, we see it. Something comes up again and we’re right back where we left off. Learning to be wherever we are…while also learning to move through is part of the process.

So, no matter where you are in your international adventure, be sure to check out the tips and ideas I offer in the articles below (recently published on InDependent and I Am a Triangle) – they provide some really important reminders for maintaining balance during relocation season and beyond.

I often find an uptick in individuals seeking out coaching during this time period. Transition is a surprisingly good time to have a coach – the touchstone of someone to keep you focused on your priorities is important when you’re going through change. If that’s you and you’re ready for some gentle, but unfailing support, a space for thoughtful reflection, an opportunity to sort through what is most important to you and someone to hold you accountable to your goals – I’d be honored to work with you. Click here to learn more about how we can work together.

Five Ways Mindfulness Helps Me Find Home

It’s no secret that I’ve found a daily mindfulness practice to be a key ingredient in my ability to manage the ups and downs of our international life.

Despite common misunderstandings about mindfulness practice, it’s really not all that complicated. Mindfulness is quite simply the practice of paying attention and seeing clearly what’s happening while it’s happening.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that, in the unpredictability of expat life where pretty much everything can feel strange and unfamiliar, becoming more mindful can help us navigate our experiences with increased ease and resilience.

Here are just a few of the ways that’s played out for me.

Mindfulness allows me to practice feeling homesick…and also not homesick.

I make a point of reminding the people in both my personal and professional life that there are no “good” and “bad” emotions. Emotions are neither positive nor negative. Sure – some feel better than others, but ultimately, everything we feel comes from somewhere and serves a purpose in helping us navigate our experiences.

Mindfulness practice enables us to pay attention to what we’re feeling without trying to:

  • change it (what we often try to do when we’re feeling emotions we don’t like),
  • chase it (what we like to do when an emotion feels good) or
  • judge it (what we do when we feel our emotions don’t align with how we’re “supposed” to feel).

When it comes to living life around the world, practicing mindfulness by developing a more reflective and compassionate relationship with our emotions can support us in learning how to deal with whatever comes our way.

Mindfulness helps me see home as a state of being created in my own mind.

Another key element of mindfulness practice, is learning to see things as they really are, not simply as we want them to be. Mindfulness inspires us to ask questions about what we’re witnessing and examine what we find there. While this isn’t always easy, being able to tune in to life as it truly is is a huge benefit of mindfulness practice.

What does this mean practically speaking?

Imagine I’m telling myself, “I hate it here! I’m never going to fit in. There are no work opportunities. This is a disaster!” Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate our ability to feel lost or overwhelmed, but it does enable us to stop and examine our perceptions. I can then start to ask questions like:

  • How much of this is really true and how much of this is a story I’m telling myself?
  • Is there anything that is working right now?
  • What can I learn here?
  • Are there things that I don’t hate?
  • What previously unnoticed options do I have in this situation?

Now, that doesn’t mean you suddenly start loving a place that just isn’t working for you, but it does help you get more creative, offering you the opportunity to make decisions based on a clearer, more thoughtful way of seeing.

Mindfulness reminds me to notice the details.

One of my most treasured benefits of maintaining a daily mindfulness practice is the way in which it has deepened my ability to pay attention to the “small” things.

When we move from place to place, it’s so easy to think that we should be unfazed. It becomes common, I think, to feel that we’re able to adapt at a moments notice and that our unbelievable flexibility means we can make these shifts with little or no disruption to our body or our mental state.

When we develop basic, everyday mindfulness skills, we engage the practice of slowing down and seeing the little bumps in the road. Sometimes small disruptions – the noise outside your new apartment that causes you to sleep poorly, the times you spend hungry because you’ve yet to stock your pantry, the frustration of slow internet connection that means your calls to your best friend are mess of static, feedback and silence – can actually have a huge impact.

When we take a moment to be still and really pay attention, we may notice the physical sensations, the emotions, or the discomfort of uncertainty that live in that space. We learn from seeing those places of unease and becoming mindful of them enables us to make much-needed adjustments.

Mindfulness encourages me to practice ritual.

Before we started our international life, I wasn’t really someone who stuck to a routine. Sure, I attempted to create positive habits (going for a run, reading before bed, etc.), but I never felt much pressure to really keep up with them.

Moving from place to place has made my healthy habits all the more important and my mindfulness practice supports me in staying awake to their significance in my life.

Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation inspire me to establish rituals and routines because the habits themselves (whether seated meditation or simply performing tasks with attention and care) foster dedication. In other words – by committing myself to being more mindful in my choices, actions, observations and interactions, I’m laying the foundation for commitment to other positive health habits as well.

Morning meditation, a daily jog, cooking healthy meals, taking frequent work breaks throughout the day and reading before bed are habits that I rely on during transition to create a sense of inner balance during upheaval. Additionally, when I notice these habits slipping, it’s my commitment to everyday mindfulness practice that helps me return to these supportive rituals.

Mindfulness supports me in building relationships.

A great deal of mindfulness practice is about developing an awareness of our inner dialogue – our thoughts, emotions, and judgments. However, it’s important in mindfulness practice to recognize the way in which our relationship with ourselves (and this internal dialogue) relates to how we connect with others.

Mindfulness helps me to take time with people. It supports me in active listening so that I can better understand how the moving experience affects my husband and children. It enables me to slow down and see better the ways in which those around me may be suffering or the ways in which they’re brought to life by something new in our world.

Moving is almost always a time of great stress. It’s a time when our tempers are short and we’re more likely to lash out at those around us. Mindfulness doesn’t always prevent that from happening (we’re all human after all!), but it can give us the skills to turn back to generosity and kindness when we realize we’ve behaved poorly towards others.

And, mindfulness helps us make friends. Research says that our ability to understand our own emotional experiences makes us better at understanding the experiences of others. That, in turn, makes us better friends – and that goes for the friends we’ve left behind and those we’ll make in our new home.

What about you?

Do you have an informal mindfulness, meditation, or spiritual practice or other ritual that supports you in practical ways as you move? If not, what would it take for you to start something like this?

Share with me in the comments what’s worked for you or what’s sparked your interest in reading this post. Click here to learn more about how I can help you bring these skills into your own life.

Reflections on the Families in Global Transition Conference 2018 The Hague

Just over 48 hours back in Tokyo after having attended in Families in Global Transition Conference in The Hague and I’m wearing jet lag like a heavy, rain-soaked coat that I can’t take off. Oddly, it feels like the best way to write this blog post of reflections on FIGT is to write it through the jet lag. I don’t know if that’s irony or simply the fact that the post is calling me and won’t let me rest until these things are said.

This was my second time to attend the Families in Global Transition Conference. When I went the first time in 2015 in Northern Virginia – I felt like I’d found family I never knew I had. It was such an emotional experience. It was one of the first places where I didn’t feel like I had to constantly be explaining, shrugging or simply giving up in trying to help people see what I saw. However, I didn’t really know anyone there and since I was living in Northern Virginia at the time, I went home each night to my normal life. As amazing as FIGT was, I knew I wanted to go back – that there would be more to learn from a more immersive experience.

This year I traveled almost 6,000 miles and went into the conference much more connected professionally and personally to the other attendees. My work through World Tree Coaching in the past four years has enabled me to meet and work with more expats, many of whom are also FIGT members. As a result, this year felt even more like coming home. It was an incredible gift to meet face-to-face for the first time with people I had come to call friends. I loved the deep conversations that resulted from time spent over a meal or coffee. This feels like the very, very best gift of FIGT.

In these photos – Amel Derregui of Tandem Nomads, Dana Nelson from Mindful Expat Podcast, Carolyn Parse Rizzo of Interval Coaching and Consulting, Meg Fenn of Shake It Up Creative, Melissa Parks of Intentional Expat, Nicole Blyth of Relocate Guru and Stephanie Ward of Firefly Coaching.

As a participant I felt more engaged in the experience because I know personally, had heard about or had been following so many of the presenters and their work. This created a larger context for my experience – like having read the text before going to class. This wasn’t just true with presenters. On more than one occasion, I started talking to someone, only to realize that through something like Tandem Nomads or I Am a Triangle, I knew who they were already. Just writing that puts such a smile on my face. It’s one of the craziest, and happiest, things about this lifestyle

And as a presenter I loved the opportunity to share on a deeper level with a group of participants. So often our work is done in isolation – miles and time zones away from other colleagues. For coaches, even though we get to see our clients on the other side of a screen, it’s never quite the same as meeting someone in real life. Sitting down with a group of people in-person is always such a rewarding experience. It was an absolute honor to participate in this way.

Presenting at a Kitchen Table Conversation on Engaging Ambiguity: How Learning to “Not-Know” Brings Us Closer to Understanding Others (and Ourselves) in a Diverse World

I spent much of the conference scribbling notes, taking photos and hoping to catch entire quotes to share here. In the end, as I look back over my notes, what strikes me is less the specific statements, and more the themes that emerge over and over again. FIGT gives you some incredible take-aways. The conference gets you thinking about the deeper meaning of living a globally mobile life. It’s a place to ask questions, ask again and then turn towards whatever answers you find. Here are some of the themes that most stood out to me…

  

You may feel lonely sometimes in this life, but you’re never alone.

Again and again at every turn I found that people were saying – we’re here for each other. It can be so easy in this life to feel that you’re alone, that once again you’re having to start over, that no one can really feel what you’re experiencing. But, as many presenters reminded us, as a community, the globally-mobile counted all together would make up the 5th largest country in the world! The world is becoming more like us. We no longer float along on our individual islands…or at least we don’t have to.

Turn towards what you’re experiencing.

The presenters repeatedly focused on the importance of turning towards what we’re experiencing instead of running from it. This year seemed to have a deeper, more thoughtful and more engaging discussion of mental health (even in the presentations that weren’t specifically mental health focused). Several presenters talked about the importance of normalizing our experiences (even the stuff that hurts) and not over-pathologizing the ways in which we adapt, recover and move through. We were reminded repeatedly why we should engage with our emotions, name them, learn from them and grow into the next stages of our life between worlds by paying attention to what we find when we turn towards our experiences.

Say yes!

I’m a big proponent of helping people say “no” to the things that aren’t working well for them. I think this is an important part of creating boundaries. However, what sometimes gets lost in this way of thinking is recognizing all that we gain by tuning in to the places where we’re drawn to say yes. It stood out to me that FIGT is full of really brave people. There were so many valiant voices, that when faced with barriers, said “yes” to moving forward with what they knew to be right and true. There were so many presentations where, when faced with challenges, the artist, writer, business owner or leader said – “I’m gonna’ go ahead and give this a go.” It makes me realize how much this strange life, in the way in which it breaks down the barriers of nationality, language, religion, race, and other labels that divide us, makes us believe (rightly so) that we’re unstoppable.

Find the threads that tie your story together.

This was a beautiful reminder that was present throughout and especially strong in a few of the workshops and keynote presentations. It’s natural in this lifestyle to feel like we’re particles floating free, with little to tie us to one place or time. But, when we take time to truly see, we notice that the way we live and the choices we make are often tied to our deepest values. This is the thread that runs deep through our whole story. When we find that thread, we add a clearer meaning and understanding to how we got where we are…no matter where that is.

Do new things.

Okay, so we like to think we’re already pretty good at this, right? But – the truth is, even when we love change…even if we’re a bit addicted to it…it’s not always easy to branch out and do something new. All over FIGT I was meeting people who were showing up to the conference for the first time! And there were people who were writing for the first time, starting a globally mobile business for the first time, creating a Facebook live video for the first time, and so, so much more. See – this is what community does! It gives you the guts to try new things. I scribbled at one point in my notebook (and I didn’t write down who said it), “FIGT is full of people quietly doing their thing – people willing to be in the spaces.” I love that! Willing to be in the spaces – even when the spaces are new and unfamiliar – is the true heart of change.

It’s so hard to stop there. The experience is so wonderful I could go on and on. If you’ve never heard of Families in Global Transition please, please go to the website and learn more. I cannot recommend enough that you become a member and consider attending the yearly conference. It’s by far one of the best personal and professional decisions I’ve made since we began living around the world.

I look forward to seeing you there next year! In the meantime, please like my Facebook page, join my mailing list (by registering in the right hand tool bar) or follow me on Instagram to stay up-to-date on my programs for the globally mobile.

Everything’s a Shade of Gray: The Perfection of Imperfection in Expat Life

I remember when we were heading to our first overseas assignment as a family. It was 2009, my husband and I had both lived abroad before, but this was our first time exposing our children (ages 3 and 1 at the time) to the world outside the United States.

I was so incredibly excited to be moving to the Dominican Republic. I’d done a school report on the DR for my high school Spanish class and had been friends with a Dominican exchange student at our school.

It felt like a dream come true. It was our first choice of assignments, I speak Spanish and had high hopes of finding meaningful work and all of our family members are beach-lovers so I knew we would happily bask in the surf and sand.

I felt like it was one of those places that called me, that I was destined to go. It was all meant to be.

And then I remember riding from the airport to our new home. “This is it?” I thought. Old Nissan pick-up trucks held together with duct tape, piled ten feet high with mattresses rumbled past unscathed, perfectly spotless Lamborghinis. Donkey carts full of piña competed for space against motos carrying five or more members of a family, oftentimes the baby dangling happily to the side. Black spilling exhaust, the thumping of merengue behind blasting car horns and screeching tires, potholes and stray dogs and precarious power lines, open sewers all under a blanket of sun and humidity that burned my face and saturated my nose.

Nothing was as I had expected.

And in it’s shocking imperfection, it was perfect. Somehow it already felt like home. Like “a” home.

As with anything – this awareness is not a uniquely expat experience. It’s not something that only those of us living between cultures can see. But, because we live between places we’re made deeply aware of the shades of gray that makeup the world.

It’s the reason that a place with human rights violations can also be a place where we fall in love.

It’s the reason that walking among soaring skyscrapers and pulling up a chair to endless dishes of perfectly crafted foods, doesn’t remove from our brains the knowledge that women are being made to shut up and pour tea in the hallways of those same buildings.

It’s why witnessing staggering poverty breaks our hearts and leaves us feeling helpless, but also enables us to see laughter and happiness on the faces of people who’s lives we know could be much better. And then we ask, “Well, who’s really to say what’s better?”

Of course, it’s also the reason we never fully go back to our passport countries. Because now we see them in all of their never-ending gray. And then we start to see ourselves as part of that. Perhaps we’re gray too. Nothing’s all good. Nothing’s all bad. It simply gets complicated.

The truth is – the only real sign of perfection, is imperfection. Imperfection is the norm (whether we like it or not). Imperfection is what’s real – in the places we love and the people we are.

So why does this sit so deep in the awareness of those of us who move?

Because that dichotomy – of seeing all the imperfections in the places that bring us so much joy and of finding the perfection in the places we never expected to love – gets us closer to the truth about the world.

Living with the truth is so much more fulfilling. It’s what makes a life lived around the world so compelling. We can love somewhere and see its pain. We can recognize how drawn we feel to freedom and mobility, while also acknowledging the deep loneliness that comes from being so far away.

We stop seeing in black and white. We live right smack in the middle. We live both places. We are both places. Maybe it’s not even really gray in there. Perhaps it’s where all the color really lies.

We can never un-seen that…ever.

No wonder we can’t go “home.”

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness?

This past week I had so much fun creating a series of Facebook live videos where I answered the question, “What does it take to practice mindfulness?”

This is such an important topic to me and I love to support people as the learn simple, easy-to-access skills to engage more fully, live more deeply and connect more authentically to themselves and the world around them.

Mindfulness can be an everyday practice – something we do throughout our day in small ways that can lead to big change. These skills take commitment and patience, but they’re actually quite simple and completely doable within your daily life.

Everyone can practice mindfulness!

Below you’ll find the entire Facebook live video series. Day One is an introduction to the concept of mindfulness and the subsequent videos outline the 6 mindfulness practices offered through the Personal Leadership model.

Heads-up: If the videos are muted when you click on them, simply right click to unmute.

If you’d like to learn more about what you see here and get support in putting these skills to work in your own life, here are some ways we can work together:

Day One: What does it take to practice mindfulness? Intro.

A couple of notes for this video: Here is the book I mention – 10% Happier by Dan Harris (ooops, I say Dan Brown in the video). Also, this video cuts a bit short – apologies, but nothing missed other than me signing off.

What does it take to practice mindfulness?

What does it take to practice mindfulness? *The first video of a 7 part Facebook live series. Join me over the next 7 days to learn about the 6 mindfulness practices I use in my coaching and mindfulness programs.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Tuesday, January 23, 2018

 

Day Two: Attending to Judgment

Be sure to check out the book Personal Leadership: Making a World of Difference.

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 2 – Attending to Judgment

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

 

Day Three: Attending to Emotion

This is the resource I mention for expanding your emotional vocabulary.

What Does it Take to Practice Mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 3 – Attending to Emotion.

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Thursday, January 25, 2018

 

Day Four: Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 4 – Attending to Physical Sensation

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Friday, January 26, 2018

 

Day Five: Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 5 – Cultivating Stillness

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Saturday, January 27, 2018

 

Day Six: Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 6 – Engaging Ambiguity

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Sunday, January 28, 2018

 

Day Seven: Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

What does it take to practice mindfulness? Part 7 – Aligning with Vision

Posted by World Tree Coaching on Monday, January 29, 2018

Don’t Let Disruptions Get You Down

I’m sitting here with a quickly cooling cup of tea and hoping to bust out the tiniest bit of work tasks before my children come home early due to snow and my husband (likely) comes home early having been furloughed from his job until…well…Congress.

It’s days like this when I often start thinking I need to throw in the towel and just call this day a wash. As anyone who works from home (and I’m including ALL expat spouses whether their job pays them or not because it is work!), one little wrench in the plan can leave you scrambling to rework your schedule. Alternatively, you simply curl up and watch movies.

But – it doesn’t have to be that way. Disruptions big (a serious illness in the family) and small (snow days) – can actually be perfect opportunities to learn. When we’re breezing through and everything seems easy – we may find ourselves on autopilot. That feels good for a while, but sometimes having our environment a little disrupted gives us the opportunity to stop and re-evaluate.

What sorts of lessons is disruption trying to teach you today?

There’s more than one way to do things.

I go to a semi-regular networking coffee in Shibuya. The walk is about 40 minutes from my house. I always walk because it’s pleasant and I enjoy the time to think. But today – with snow threatening and an early release from school pending – I knew I needed to think again about the timing of my day. A couple of shifts (namely taking the train and committing myself to leaving the coffee by 11:00AM) means I’m home in time to get a bit of work in.

Disruption breeds creativity.

Okay, so this is kind of similar to the one above, but it’s really a layer deeper. When we’re out of our regular routine, we may notice things we hadn’t seen before. Take a different route, rework a familiar pattern, see a different angle. Disruption helps us notice new things and that gets our creative juices flowing. Take this blog post for example – definitely the outcome of an unexpected disruption!

Pay attention to your emotions.

The natural feeling of frustration that comes from being interrupted in our planned activities is a cue for us to tune in and pay attention to how we’re feeling. Instead of forcing ourselves into a preconceived box (“I was going to do this. It was going to be this way and I was going to feel like X.”), we now have to ask, “How am I really feeling here?” We may even find the disruption was exactly what we needed to slow down and really see what’s going on inside our hearts.

It’s easier to be mindful when things look different.

Think about all those places you drive without thinking or the tasks you mindlessly complete because you’ve done them a thousand times. When our plans shift because of unexpected circumstances – we have to stand back and pay attention. Problem-solving mode requires us to really focus and to evaluate the whole scene. We can then ask ourselves – Do I scrap this or simply make a small adjustment?

You’re really good at disruption!

Do I need to tell you this? You may hate it, but you’re amazing at it because (assuming you’re an expat) you do it all the time. So, while you may not always feel like a breezy-go-with-the-flow sort of person – it’s in you. Maybe today you don’t need to sweat the disruption all that much. Maybe you could even lay back and put on a little Netflix. No matter what, past experience confirms that it’s within your power to plug along or make a change.

What else can disruption teach you? Are you awake and listening? Are you staying curious, asking questions, coming back again and again to see a different angle?

Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear how you handle disruption.