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?

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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.

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!