A Love Letter to Japan

photo of red Japanese traditional post box

Dear Tokyo,

Well, first, before I even write this I guess I should actually say “Dear Japan,” right? Because for that first year we were in Yokohama. And also, having lived in Yamaguchi all those years ago makes me feel like you and I have a longer history than just Tokyo.

So, let me start over…

Dear Japan,

Thank you! I don’t know if you know this, but we really, really, really wanted to come back to you. Since we first left in 2000, we always felt like we had unfinished business here.

When we were here the first time we were so young. Living in traditional, rural Japan, culture shock felt like a constant. We were ill suited for the restrictions and limits you placed on us. We just happened to have been here at a time in our lives when we needed endless freedom and adventure. We were in an experimenting phase back then – needing to see the world through a new lens that was different from the worlds in which we had each been raised. Of course, you were (are!) different from home – the most different place we’d ever been, but you still felt confining. Obviously, I speak for both Jeremy and I here, but I do think he would agree.

So, at the time, all the rules and tradition seemed like too much. And while we made great friends and have incredibly fond memories, we mostly came to feel like we handled it all wrong. We bristled too much. Okay, maybe that’s more me than Jeremy. He’s more flexible about such things. I tend to dig in…especially when I feel like my inner feminist is compromised. Yamaguchi – you tried my patience then! But, anyway, I knew that. Like I’ve always said, if I had to do it again – I’d have probably swallowed my pride and just made the damn tea like the other women in the office.

All that’s to say, we knew that we loved you anyway and we knew we wanted to come back some time – to share all the things we love about Japan with the kids, to reacquaint ourselves with the foods that made us smile, to enjoy the intimate and universally accepted relationship with nature, to stand silently at the foot of your shrines, to say “Wow!” in whispered tones to weird and beautiful things we’d never see back home.

So, when we arrived almost 4 years ago it was virtually without apprehension. We already knew you and we knew the potential challenges that could arise in the gap between our respective cultural perceptions. All these years later, I can definitely say that the differences between us are much less itchy. In 1999 and 2000, I came home everyday from work and couldn’t wait to escape your discomfort and restriction. But, living here now is like wearing a sweater I love even though it has one tiny flaw. I love you anyway, even when I totally do not get you at all. Even when you make me itch.

Here’s what I’ve loved most of all this time around…

It’s so cliché, but Japan – you are safe and clean and lovely. There’s an ease to living here that is difficult to replicate anywhere else in the world. And although I’m inherently more inclined to the hustle and bustle of more chaotic places, after a couple of years of Madagascar, Sam’s Type 1 diagnosis, Guy’s death – I really needed a place I could stress less in. Walking home at night by myself, knowing the kids are free to run to the store on their own, forgetting to lock the door – it’s freeing.

I’ve loved you so much for what you’ve offered the kids. Sometimes I joke that you’ve made them soft, but I know that’s how they really should be. Kids should be able to run and climb and adventure to the store on their own with less fear. So, as we’ve been here I’ve seen how that freedom has enabled them to tend to the job of growing up emotionally. Maybe it’s a Maslow thing. They don’t feel afraid so they can be more reflective, set age-appropriate goals for themselves, problem solve things kids their ages should be problem-solving. I have a profound certainty that the time they’ve been here will be fundamental to their continued development into good people.

Which gets me to another thing I’d like to thank you for. I’m not in my heart of hearts a compound living sort of person…I don’t think. I’d like more space. But, having grown up in a small town, I do love knowing who my neighbors are. I like to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg. I like having a neighbor message and ask me to run over to double-check her son’s fever. I love knowing that someone may ask Jasper to babysit last minute, or call me to say Sam was kind, or inquire as to whether Imogen is free to have lunch at their house. The compound community is a bit…unusual, sure, but it works for the kids most of all and I love that. I will forever associate Sam with the compound – he lives for the freedom of running in and around the grounds creating moments to remember with his posse of friends.

Thanks too for giving me the chance I always wanted to live in a huge city. I now know that I’m not, deep down, a big city person. I need much more nature and space, but this has been nice for this limited amount of time. There is something to be said for the convenience of walking everywhere and for being able to pretty much get anything we’d ever want by simply hopping on the crazy clean, super quiet, always-on-time train.

And Japan you’ve offered me some amazingly beautiful times with family and friends. All of our family trips – from Hiroshima to Kanazawa, from Kyoto to Nagano – were perfect. Our family is at its best when we’re traveling and we made so many wonderful travel memories here. We’ve made such good friends too. It’s, admittedly, a bit different from Mada. In Mada there’s nothing else to do, so you get in really deep with your friends. Hours upon hours of talking with nowhere to go makes that happen. Tokyo is faster. You have to seek out the friendships more and work more to make things happen. Yet even with that reality, we have made wonderful friends here. This is an expat place, the sort of place where the outsider community feels big and like it belongs, a sort of sub-culture. In that sense, it’s easy for you to feel like home.

I’ll confess – there are things I don’t like. Why is everything here “a thing?” Seriously! How can it be so difficult sometimes to do the most mundane things? More than half the time I give up because there is just no reason for the process to be so time consuming. And you know how I feel about arbitrary rules. The trade off is the order, cleanliness and safety I listed above, I know, but well, the rules are a lot. It can be exhausting.

So, here’s the thing – I love you and I don’t love you. I definitely don’t hate you! Don’t worry. I love you….and you are totally not my cup of matcha sometimes. Yet, having now spent a quarter of my adult life here (can you believe it!?) you occupy a very sacred place in my heart. And my kids adore you, which totally makes up for any of the tiny annoyances that pop up from time to time. I love that the kids love you. That’s probably what I most wanted, really, when we started thinking about coming back here. I wanted them to see and come to love this place that’s so different from home. I wanted them to know that Japan could be one of their many homes. You made that happen! I love you for providing a home for us…even if we remain outsiders. がんばれました!

And here’s another good thing I know for sure. I know I can always come home to you. I get how it works here, even if I don’t always understand it. You’ve been so incredibly good to us and for us – for that I am eternally grateful. I know we’ll be back at some point. Or, at least, I suspect that we will. You’re totally gonna’ be like that favorite sweater, never quite making it to the recycle pile because the flaws are so tiny and you feel so good…and I’m used to you now.

So, once again, thank you. This has been good…better than good, actually. This has been awesome! I do love you and honestly, now that I saw that Abbey Road show you’ve gained lots and lots of extra points. Only you Japan…only YOU could have pulled off that performance! お疲れ様 でした.

Until next time.

XO,

Jodi

Reflections on the Families in Global Transition Conference 2019 Bangkok

Families in Global Transition Conference 2019 – Bangkok

Oh my….it’s five days past the close of the Families in Global Transition Conference in Bangkok and it’s Golden Week back here in Tokyo. That means my husband is home from work on holiday and while I know I need to get all these thoughts and reflections down stat, I’m feeling a bit lost for words. That tends to be how I leave FIGT – a bit in awe that such a unique and inspirational event can actually happen for real in the world.

To be honest, our impending transition from Japan to Belgium hadn’t really hit me until my first morning in Bangkok. Out of nowhere, and outside my daily routines and comfort zone, I suddenly felt every single emotion from deep sadness to jittery anxiety. My thoughts whirred with all the pending tasks and “lasts” left hanging. I felt slightly out of it and just at the edge of tears the entire time I was there. At moments I felt almost on the verge of panic. I’d go to bed each night reminding myself to breathe deeply. It was so incredibly wonderful to see all of my FIGT friends, but I rarely felt fully there. My heart and mind were working overtime with the sudden realization that my life is about to be once again uprooted.

Despite years of mindfulness and meditation practice, like anyone, feeling anxious and overwhelmed is hard. It’s crappy. It’s hard to get out of my head and become comfortable with what’s happening in my body. Yet this year at FIGT I learned a lot from this sudden and unexpected barrage of transition thoughts and sensations. And, if there’s one place on Earth where you’re surrounded by people who truly get what it’s like to be just-about-to-move AGAIN, it’s at FIGT.

I try to take lots of notes during the conference sessions. From the keynote addresses to the small “kitchen table” discussions, there are so many quotable moments. I find I want to remember everything and exactly who said it. As I look back over my notes for this year – one small phrase seems to hit home the most for where I find myself at this very moment of my international journey.

It may sound a bit strange, but here goes…and I’ll explain.

“Lie down in a public place.”

This is the challenge we were offered by keynote speaker Caleb Meakins on day three of this year’s conference.

Meakins shared with us that several years ago, from a desire to develop a better relationship with fear, he started a project – My 40 Days: Overcoming the Fear of Failure. Over the course of 40 days he filmed himself taking on challenges offered by strangers. Of all the many, many strange things he was asked to do (Ask a stranger for £100? Ask KFC to cook a raw chicken he’s brought from home?), the one he found the most challenging was – Lie down in a public place. He told us his mind and body were almost paralyzed with the fear of doing it. And when he finally decided he was up for the challenge? It was like he’d uncovered a whole new perspective!

While it may sound humorous, there is actually an incredibly powerful message behind the challenge to “lie down in a public place.” It is a metaphor for how (and who) we can be on the path ahead. It is a challenge to harness the strength in our vulnerability, to step into our fears head-on and to stand-up to the voices that say there’s no time (or more likely no chance) for positive change in the world. And it’s not literally (I don’t think!) about physically lying down in public places…although…no shame in that if you’re game!

There are a million lessons for global life that FIGT attendees can take away from the three days of workshops, presentations, speeches and community building. I think that Meakins’s message was underscored in every presentation I attended and it serves as both the backdrop to the work taking place in the conference space and an invitation to bring that perspective into our daily lives back “home.” I was constantly hearing messages I knew I could apply right now in my own in-between life.

When we lie down in public places we allow ourselves to admit our vulnerability. We present to the world that we face challenges and that those challenges are real and difficult to navigate. We admit we cry, feel lost or are sometimes overcome with anger. Our vulnerability is about sharing both the delight and awe of the expat experience along with the uncertainty and confusion. FIGT is one of those places where the halls are filled with the echo of gratitude and nurturing. It is a place filled with humans who are whole, even in their uncertainties, anxieties and confusion. It was absolutely the place for me to be as I faced these feelings in my own life.

And when we lie down in public places we step into our fear of the unknown. We do so with the people we know well and those we’re just starting to figure out. We learn to do it in hundreds of languages, across an array of cultures, religions and traditions, and we do so because we know deep down that love is ultimately greater than the fear we face when we step over the threshold of an airplane. FIGT is full of so many warriors facing the unknown with grace and presence. They see their fears, take a deep breath and walk towards them anyway. The energy of lots of super brave people in one place reminds me I can probably do a lot more than I think I can on any given really hard day.

To lie down in a public place is also to learn to say – I belong here. It is to live outside the box, to make a home anywhere, and to carry an inner sense of belonging not to one place, but to the world. It is to make the multicultural, embracing, global voice heard against the cacophony of isolationism, exclusion and tribalism. When your inner doubter says – “This cause is too small. No one really gets it. No one really cares.”– your FIGT voice says, “Wait a minute! This perspective matters. And that one…and that one. Let’s keep working.” FIGT is the place of – I’ve got you! You can do this! Actually, it’s more the place of – We can all do this together! It’s so nice to be reminded, especially during transition, that you belong somewhere.

When I reflect back on past FIGT Conferences, I can’t say these messages are new. They’re the messages that always make the conference so special. What I can say is that this year, more than ever, I needed to hear them and I needed to know that, even in this professional environment, my full self was welcome. I felt that – in numerous conversations again and again and it was key to helping me navigate this most current transition experience.

So, that’s another FIGT on the books! I’m back in Tokyo, packing up, feeling everything. T-minus 36 days…

Want to learn more about Families in Global Transition? Yes! Yes you do! Read more here.

At Home with Feelings: Attending to Emotions in Your Global Life

“Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.”

Pema Chödrön – Comfortable with Uncertainty

I love that quote. In our expat life, we’re forced to open to our emotions again and again. It’s not always easy to get to know fear, but we do it. We get on the plane, open the door to a new home, stumble through a mishmash of languages. We learn that we have to come face-to-face with our waves of unease no matter what life throws our way.

I’d add that openness also comes from getting to know our other emotions well too. This life teaches us to step into joy just as much as it teaches us to step into fear. Even though one emotion sometimes feels more comfortable, we’ve got a whole lot of stories wrapped up in just about everything we feel – even the “good” stuff.

Paying attention to our emotions is neither optional (no one really wants to be blind to how they feel) nor a requirement (lots of people stay blind anyway)…which can make it difficult to know where to start if you’re ready to do some emotional unpacking. Our emotions are a powerful tool to better understand how we see the world. It’s one thing to know that, another thing all together to begin the process of better understanding them.

There are some really important touchstones to “getting to know our emotions well.” These include: Learning to fully see and feel without becoming overwhelmed. Accepting emotions as neither good nor bad, but as important pieces of information even when they’re uncomfortable. Recognizing the difference between “I am” and “I feel.” Developing an understanding of the potential sources of our feelings, without getting carried away by the stories we play in our minds.

Each of those perspectives comes from our ability to truly attend to our emotions.

What does it mean to attend?

To attend has origins from the French attendre – to wait. Even further back to the Latin attendere – to stretch towards and the Latin tendere – to extend. Beautiful, huh? I love the idea of stretching towards our emotions. What is it like when we step into how we feel? When, instead of shutting down, we embrace whatever comes our way?

That embracing and stretching towards is the choice to accept, to learn and to grow from what’s before us. It’s a call to listen to the turbulence of our journey instead of tuning it out.

We benefit greatly from learning how to feel and to describe our internal experiences. Our ability to develop the vocabulary of our emotions is so important – whether we’re journaling our way out of a difficult mindset or taking a deep look at our mental health with the support of a therapist. When we attend to our emotions, we take up the position of curiosity. We learn to ask – What’s here? – and then stick around for the answers.

What might you find?

What would it look like if you decided to attend to your emotions? Would you cultivate a deeper awareness of the way they show up for you physically? Would you find buried feelings of anger or resentment that are showing up in your relationships in ways you haven’t even noticed? Would you discover a happiness you’ve been holding at bay for fear that it will slip through your fingers?

I invite you this month to hold this word attend in your mind’s eye. Ask yourself how you might mindfully attend to your emotions.

I encourage you to consider the ways in which you already attend. Do you share your feelings with someone you trust? Do you write them down? Do you allow them to wash over you in a long walk or in a heartfelt cry in the shower?

If you don’t already spend time paying attention to your feelings, how might you begin a practice of attending to emotions? What type of practice would feel most comfortable? What might fit your lifestyle? Is it time to get some professional help or is this work you can begin on your own?

Where can you start?

If you feel stuck for ideas on how to get started, I hope you’ll join me throughout the month of April on the World Tree Coaching Facebook page where I’ll be sharing articles, podcasts, inspirational messages and weekly self-coaching questions that can help you better navigate your globally mobile life by learning to better connect with and understand your emotions.

You might also like the free download of my exercise On Thoughts and Emotions from The Expat Activity Book. And, my online course Essential Practices for Life Between Worlds: Mindfulness Skills for Transition & Beyond offers lessons on Attending to Emotions as well as other accessible mindfulness practices for your expat life.

How will you get started? Where will you make the choice to open up to how you feel?

Join my mailing list to get blog posts like this, plus other great resources directly to your inbox each month.

Expat Life: Living In the Middle

Woman in green shirt and messy ponytail looking out over canyon.
Photo by Jack Finnigan on Unsplash

We’re moving soon. Right now I’m in a canyon of in-between.

Desert wildflowers and brambly bushes compete for space with rattlesnakes and scorpions along the banks of a bubbling stream from which hawks swoop down to quench their thirst. In short – despite the outward appearances of beauty, it often feels like one false step could lead to disaster.

On the other hand, I’ve been here so many times before I’ve become quite used to it. The reality of our time in Japan winding down (approximately 102 days from today) seems both unreal and entirely what should be happening right now. I imagine a bit like coming upon a rattlesnake den in a canyon. You’re shocked…but then, you are in a canyon.

Over the course of our expat life I’ve come to realize that trying to define these events as having distinct beginnings, middles and ends is fruitless. Right now, for example, when we have neither moved from Tokyo nor arrived in Brussels, feels like beginning, middle and end; a little bit of all three mixed up in a strange, confusing mishmash of this moment.

Yet, even if it’s confusing, there is indeed a real feeling to this in-between place. If we can never really define something as beginning, middle or end, what is it then that makes this part of the expat journey so distinct from other phases?

Is it knowing that at some point in June we will lift off from Haneda and in those very seconds we will have left Japan, but won’t have arrived somewhere else? Will it be those 8 weeks or so this summer when we go home to Austin without an actual home to return to?

Expats talk about this all the time – the in-between phase. Honestly, it doesn’t actually need a definition or clear lines to be real. It exists. We feel it.

You know how it goes…

It’s that time when you start to pull back from the life you’re leading in one place and begin to allot designated moments to begin to deal with the preparations of the next location.

You begin to calculate which dinners, coffees and social events are worth your time. You start to actively consider whether or not this particular friendship is worth it. You start to make your bucket list for shopping and travel. You begin to come to terms with the places you’ll simply not have the opportunity to visit (Hokkaido – waaaahhhh!).

It’s a mental unbuttoning of one layer of clothing while simultaneously pulling on another. As you can imagine, it can feel clumsy and even reckless at times. For those of us who’ve done it often, it also feels comfortingly familiar.

Either way, like the ecosystem of a dessert canyon, it remains both completely explainable and surprisingly complicated.

I think in the grand scheme of things, what’s more important than trying to pinpoint the exact nature of this experience, whether in your eyes it’s the beginning, middle or end of something – is remembering to develop a comfort with the stillness, ambiguity and the in-between-ness of it all – the in-between-ness of the entire expat experience. To learn to walk neither fearfully cautious nor optimistically blind through the canyon, but to cultivate a deeper awareness of all that comes up as we navigate the unpredictable terrain at any phase.

The only real question then, is how.

I think we do it by owning that we’re in-between people. We’re neither at the very moment of our birth nor (in most cases) the edge of the end of our life’s journey. We’re always in the middle. We like to believe that the next exciting adventure is just about to begin, but I’m not sure it works that way. One moment is always beginning and just like that it’s also ending. And over and over and over.

We learn to become comfortable in this liminal space by seeing what’s really here in this very moment – our real emotions as they are, our thoughts as they jump us forward or pull us back into the next phase. We accept both the simple truths and the distracting clutter of the moments we live right now as the real place. We become trusting of our ability to be insightful and open to learning from the unexpected. We take up residence in the awareness of right now. We admit it might all be the middle…of something.

When we see it that way, it’s a whole lot less scary.

One of my very favorite quotes is from Sue Monk Kidd in one of my very favorite books When the Heart Waits. It reads, “What makes you think life happens on tomorrows stage? This is no rehearsal. This is it. Live it now!”

In all the many places we may live, the canyon is always there in both its beauty and ruggedness. We live here. And, you know us world travelers, we can make anywhere home.

Mindful Mornings Support Group for Mothers

Mother sitting with her baby and text Mindful Mornings Support Group for Mothers on left with World Tree Coaching logo on top right.

Are you ready for a different way to wake up?

The Mindful Mornings Support Group for Mothers is a non-therapeutic communal support and learning space for mothers in Tokyo.

Why?

In my work with individual clients and in providing workshops in mindfulness, I consistently hear the same words from almost every mom I encounter…

How do I become more mindful of who I am with my children?

How do I parent the way I want to when no one really understands what I’m going through?

Where in the world do I access an inner sense of calm when rage is always bubbling right beneath the surface?

What am I supposed to do when I feel like I’ve completely lost my way?

Why mornings? Because so much depends, or seems to depend, on how we start out our day. If we can connect mindfully and with presence in those first few moments – to, as I recently said to one mom, “just zip up the jacket, nothing else” – then perhaps we give ourselves the opportunity to be a bit more mindful with the next task, upset, cup of coffee or hug that comes our way.

Why mindfulness? Because mindfulness is not something we take from the outside and apply to our lives. Mindfulness lives inside us. We’re born with all of the skills we need, we’ve simply forgotten how to bring them into our lives each day. Mindfulness is hopeful and present. It’s something we all need more of. Moreover, the spirit of this group is one of sangha – community. I believe, since we all have the practice of mindfulness alive in us somewhere, we grow into our highest and best selves when we share that learning with others. Read more about what mindfulness means to me here.

I’ve had the wonderful privilege and gift to offer a wide range of coaching and mindfulness programs to the expat community in Tokyo over the last three and a half years. This group brings together the spirit of those programs in one space. Moreover, it will also serve as my last group program or workshop for my time here before I depart in June.

What?

This 3 month, 6-session support group will provide you the opportunity to connect with other moms around the common purpose of accessing a more connected, mindful presence in your personal journey as a mother and partner.

Each session will consist of guided meditation, a mindfulness practice learning opportunity for the week, gentle coaching support and guidance all in the company of a supportive community of other mothers with whom to share you experiences, challenges, goals and intentions.

Details:

  • The program consists of 6, 90-minute sessions from 9:30 AM to 11:00 AM on the following Mondays – March 4 and 18, April 1 and 15, May 6 and 20, 2019.
  • Meetings will be held in Roppongi near Midtown. Address details provided upon registration.
  • Coffee, tea and snacks will be provided.
  • Application required. Please complete the application here.
  • Total program fee – $150 USD. Please note, the program fee is a membership fee to join the group. No refunds will be provided for missed sessions. If you’re considering applying, please check your schedule and confirm that you plan to attend at least 4 of the 6 sessions.
  • Space is limited to 10 participants.

Only that day dawns to which we are awake.

Henry David Thoreau

Finding the Right Words: Cultivating No-Fear Friendships In Your Expat Life

Diverse, international women friends drinking coffee together and laughing.

Do I have to do this AGAIN?

I sometimes hear that expat life is a lonely life; that our relationships remain on the surface and that the constant moving leaves us longing, but unable to fulfill, something deeper and more constant in our friendships.

I see it sometimes. The endless coffees and wine nights, networking events and school activities – where you see the same people over and over again, engage in the same conversations, but never quite feel that you’ve moved beyond the necessary pleasantries.

I suppose these points are true. Yet, I know for certain that the reality is more complex. Neither common wisdom nor observation can override my belief that our relationships are, or have the potential to be, so much deeper than what people assume. Maybe even so much more alive then we give ourselves the value of believing.

I don’t want to oversimplify how very difficult it can feel at times to create new friendships when you’ve moved to a new place. It’s not just about building new relationships either; we carry the baggage of the friendships we’ve left behind with us too. We’re grieving what we’ve lost while also trying to build something new from what may feel like ruins. Even when we don’t want to, we compare the new faces with the old ones wondering if we can really create another bond that will survive the miles.

Intentionality is key to forging expat friendships.

Yet, research on the importance of strong friendships in our overall health is quite clear. Even when we find it difficult to build relationships, the task remains essential to our survival.

I’ve written before about practical tools the most adaptable expats seems to use in their quest to forge strong, deep, no-fear friendships, but there’s something I don’t talk about in this previous post, that I’ve been thinking about lately. I think another key to cultivating relationships without fear of loss, free from the worry of misunderstanding or confusion, and open to the possibility of pain alongside love, is about engaging intentionally. And, that means being able to be clear from the beginning about how you want to engage within new friendships.

What words guide you on the sometimes bumpy road of expat friendships?

We can do that by identifying words that inspire and motivate our quest for deeper relationships. In my own life, I’ve always found that having a set of words to guide my path serves me like a lighthouse. In a moment of fear or uncertainty, I can pause and call to mind the words that define how I want to engage. In doing so, I’m emboldened to step back when I need to or to take a giant leap forward into something that could be life changing.

If you were to choose a word to guide you as you build friendships, what would it be? What would you choose as your friend-making mantra? What would be your motto?

Would your word be LOVE? Would you choose to ask again and again – How can I show this person I love them? When we engage with love we see the person in front of us as worthy of our embrace, our attention and our acceptance. Loving someone also means we love ourselves enough to share the overflow of our hearts with another human. Love is limitless and brimming. What would it be like if this were your word?

Perhaps your word would be COURAGE. When we’re courageous in our relationships we pursue them despite the inner critic that tells us maybe we’re not good enough. We see and then lay to rest the stories that say – She won’t have time. She won’t really want my company. Courage takes moving past the false rules we learned about friendship in middle school and accepting the more grown up rules of friendship we now know to be true.

Your word might be LISTENING. When you listen you turn towards the sound of your heart so that you can hear what it most needs. You accept that there are certain types of friendships you most grow from in your expat life and you pursue those, unapologetically. To listen is also to hear the laughter and the tears, the fears and the excitement of your newfound friends. Listening then becomes mutual and life sustaining. It flows both ways.

GENEROSITY might be the word that most guides your quest to find friendship in your around-the-world-life. Your giving spirit may come alive in knowing that you can make someone’s day with a simple gesture or an open home. Your smile and even your tears could be the exact gift your nomad friends need. Generosity is a place you can come home to. It becomes a way of being for which the return is multiplied over and over.

These are a few suggestions, but there could be so many more!

What have I left out? What word could guide and define the way you pursue and build relationships? When you’re in a friendship rut or grieving the relationships you’ve had to leave behind, how could using a mantra bring you back into awareness of what feels right?

What words would you use?

Mindfulness for Real Life – FREE Webinar

ABOUT THIS WEBINAR

This webinar was hosted live on January 29, 2019. If you’d like to have access to the webinar recording, please complete the registration form here.

Webinar Take Aways:

  • Understand the basic concepts of mindfulness.
  • Recognize the connection between mindfulness and creativity.
  • Identify the 3 Rs of Personal Leadership practice.
  • Learn how to recognize something’s up moments.
  • Understand the 6 PL mindfulness practices for reflective engagement.
  • Develop an understanding of what it means to respond with right action.
  • Be able to apply basic mindfulness practices to daily life.

If you’re interested in ways to learn practical, everyday mindfulness skills in your own timeframe from anywhere in the world, one of my online courses in mindfulness and Personal Leadership could be the perfect fit.

Three Must-Have Goals for Expats in the New Year

expat woman reaching her 2019 goals at top of mountain with arms outstretched

Whether you’re staying put or off on another adventure, these 3 New Year’s goals can make all the difference in your expat life.

This year is one of the big years for us. Three and a half years into our life here in Tokyo and we’re now heading into another transition, another transformation, a new destination in our expat life.

My husband has made a science of his to-do lists – mapping, categorizing and sorting every detail in hopes of smoothing the lines from our life as it is now to our life as it will be come June.

We’re asked constantly if the kids are excited, if they’ll miss their friends, if they’re looking forward to a new school or sad about leaving this one behind. It’s barely January and I’ve perfected the answers…to the extent that they can be perfected. I mostly just try to translate their shrugs.

I always spend time at the end of the year reflecting on goals and setting intentions for the year to come. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know I usually pose a set of expat life centered self-coaching questions. I believe taking time in self-reflection is more likely to produce goals that are clear, values-centered and sustainable.

If we simply start making a list of things we want to do, it’s always seemed to me that our intentions will fizzle by the time March rolls around. We may lack direction or a deeper understanding of the why behind the goals we’re setting. This is exacerbated by the unpredictability of expat life. One little glitch can lead us astray.

That being said, there are some goals that are universal. There are habits and intentions that we can bring into our lives that are foundational to creating the everyday, practical goals we hope to bring about in the New Year.

There are three goals in particular that I’ve found are essential to goal setting for anyone, but especially for expats. That’s because turning these goals into habits teaches us to be present and comfortable in our own skin, our own minds and our own hearts. When we’re able to do that, we can feel at home anywhere.

Be present with what’s happening.

Make it your goal to turn your attention towards what you’re experiencing – even when it’s painful or uncomfortable. A common mistake we make is to think that shoving our way through challenge will lead us to our goals of happiness, contentment and life satisfaction.

However, success through adversity is not about pushing out the other side with blinders on, it’s about tuning in to the lay of the land, noticing what we’re experiencing and taking stock of what feels right and what doesn’t sit well. It’s only then that we can confront difficulty with all the information we need to overcome.

Learning to practice simple informal mindfulness techniques – even for just a few minutes each day – can help you establish this habit. Mindfulness meditation is also a wonderful tool for getting off to a good start with this goal.

Take time to regularly look at the why behind your goals.

When we change homes often, it’s normal to reach out to others for insight and guidance. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. Doing so builds community and reminds us that we’re not alone and that we don’t have to reinvent the rulebook every time we move.

However, it’s also important we don’t fall into the trap of meeting someone else’s expectations of how we’re supposed to be – an especially tempting response when we’ve just arrived in a new place.

We can improve our ability to stay true to our most important goals by taking time to look at the underlying values and beliefs that motivate us. We can start by asking – Why do I want to reach this goal? And then we can deepen our understanding by asking again – Why else? And even again – Any other reasons? This simple process brings clarity to the resolutions we’ve set at the New Year.

Make a habit of self-compassion.

We’re so hard on ourselves. How many times a day do you look in the mirror with faint criticism of the lines around your eyes or the beginning sag in your chin? How often do you think, “That was so stupid!” as you reflect back on something you did or said?

We often speak to ourselves in ways we’d never talk to anyone else we love.

In our life between worlds we find ourselves regularly in situations for which there is no clear and correct response. We’re winging it a lot of the time and even though often we’re actually doing quite well, it’s easy to get hung up on the set-backs. However, it’s my experience that the most adaptable expats are the ones who are forgiving of their faults and loving of their imperfections.

Self-compassion is a beautiful habit to bring in to your goal setting because it’s not about letting yourself off the hook for every mistake – it’s about seeing the challenges you face as a normal part of being human. Because those ups and downs are normal. And you are human.

So this year…

As you sit down to spell out your resolutions or as you look ahead to a horizon filled with another transition, another life yet lived, consider adding these foundational goals as the backbone of whatever outcome you’re reaching for. They’re habits to last an expat lifetime.

Are you looking for a solid start to your goal setting in 2019? Get a boost from my self-paced, online course Goal Setting for Globetrotters.

My Latest Article on I Am a Triangle: How to Wake Up in 2019 – 13 Mindfulness Practices for Expats in the New Year

Expat woman with eyes closed and face to sun.

Is mindfulness more accessible than you think? Could it make all the difference in your expat life?

Expat life is full of ups and downs, but we don’t have to weather uncertainty, setback and transition with blinders on. The New Year is the perfect time to wake up, tune in and start fresh with accessible, everyday mindfulness practices you can access wherever you go. 

I’m so happy to share these 13 expat-friendly mindfulness practices in my latest piece for I Am a Triangle. Mindfulness is more doable than you think and these practices are the perfect start to your 2019!

Why Gratitude is the Best Answer for Difficult Expat Emotions

hands in mittens holding warm hot cup of coffee with gratitude written in bold

Five years ago when my middle child was suddenly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, we left everything behind from our life in Antananarivo, Madagascar and headed to my parents house in Texas for 6 months.

It was an incredibly emotional time, full of ups and downs and doubts about what our expat life would look like from then on. And, it was also a time of reevaluating and refocusing. We started to see that we could live quite normally even in the face of challenge and that our international existence would actually return, more or less, to normal.

It was also one of the most wonderful times for my children to reconnect with their grandparents. For just a little while – we saw what our life would have been like had we never left Austin. Baseball and soccer, tacos and live music, Barton Springs and fire ants.

Within a year of our 6-month stay in Austin, however, my step-dad was diagnosed with cancer. He died just shy of 2 years from our emergency evacuation from Madagascar.

There is a part of me that will never fully be able to accept my stepdad’s death. It seems he was too young, too healthy, too much a part of our lives to be gone so suddenly. It seems so wrong to have befallen a man that was so universally loved, a person that seemed to want nothing much more than to love the people in his life…and go fishing…and drink an ice-cold Corona on a sweltering Texas day.

Never in a million years would I wish to repeat the chaos and upheaval of our departure from Madagascar. If I could wave a magic wand, I would take my son’s diagnosis any day so that he could go on living as carefree as a 10 year old should. And yet, because we were in Austin, we had those precious 6 months with my stepdad. I can’t say I’d change it.

The deep, deep well of gratitude I feel for having had that time in which every day my kids got to know their PawPaw offers a sense of peace and acceptance about the way things turned out. My gratitude for those unexpected days in Texas provides a sort of balm that softens the sting of the loss and reminds me that having been loved so unconditionally by this one person is an incredible blessing, even if he wasn’t in our lives as long as we all wanted.

Gratitude serves this purpose in our lives. It’s not that by being grateful we suddenly erase the shittiness of bad things that happen. I strongly disagree with the idea that in our most difficult emotions we should simply apply a little gratitude and everything will be okay. What we can see, however, is that gratitude offers us the chance to see our experiences and our emotions in the context of the larger picture.

For expats, one of the biggest gifts of practicing gratitude is that it’s so portable. You can step into a grateful mindset no matter where you are – from the airport security line to the first loving embrace of a brand new friend. Learning to engage with gratitude provides unique ways in which to deal with many of the difficult emotions that plague our unpredictable international lives – not so that we can always feel exactly the way we want to feel, but so that we can better address the very real emotions that sometimes knock us flat.

Gratitude requires reflection, insight and mindful awareness and these are all traits that help us get a handle our difficult emotions. It helps us to see ourselves at a distance so that we can make clear, thoughtful decisions about how we want to embrace and honor the ways we feel.

Moreover, more than being simply a state of mind, gratitude inherently offers us a chance to take action. We can feel thankful with our thoughts or our hearts (and sometimes that’s enough to help us address our emotions), but gratitude also compels us to act. It encourages us to actually say thank you – to write the letter, to make the phone call, to rephrase the complaint, to offer and to receive the support we need.

If you’re feeling helplessness, sadness, envy, anger, rejection or grief, it can be helpful to process those emotions by seeing them as part of your complex life – a life that also includes good things…even good things directly related to the challenges you’re facing.

If you find you’re in a rut, try these gratitude-centered, self-coaching questions. They might get you started in gaining new space to see, move through and heal from the difficult emotions you encounter in your expat life.

  • What uncomfortable emotions am I feeling right now?
  • What might I appreciate about these difficult emotions? What might they be trying to tell me? What gifts might be hidden within these emotions?
  • Who in my life has been the most supportive and understanding during this challenging experience? How can I acknowledge my gratitude to this person?
  • What skills or abilities do I possess that have helped me to move through this experience? What person or situation has supported my cultivation of these abilities? How can I offer gratitude to that person or situation?
  • Who have I witnessed overcome challenges? In what ways am I grateful for the opportunity to learn from this person?

How has maintaining gratitude helped you deal with difficult expat emotions? Based on your experience, what questions would you add to the list above? I’d be honored to hear more about how gratitude has supported your expat journey in the comments.

Throughout the month of December 2018, I’ll be posting more self-coaching questions on gratitude on my Facebook page. Like the World Tree Coaching Facebook page to join the conversation.