On Solid Ground


Creating a life as an expat can sometimes feel like you’re trying to build a house in the middle of an earthquake. Just as you feel you have things figured out and you’re ready to take on your next significant task, you can find yourself laid flat by unexpected emotions, thoughts or circumstances. It’s common among expats to feel that there are the things we never get to (from the scrapbooks left unfinished to the educational degrees never quite completed). This happens, of course, for everyone at some point or another – the difference with us though is that we sometimes don’t even have a sense of what we need as a baseline, a place of normal, from where to begin those tasks we’ve been putting off.

At its heart, this comes down to not always knowing where and when we feel most calm, stabile and at ease. It’s as though we’re hammering away on the roof of a building without even checking in on those tectonic plates shifting below us.

But what if we could get a better sense of that baseline? Is there hope in looking deeper into what we need to feel most like ourselves, most at peace and most happy so that we have a solid place from which we can begin to tackle that ever-growing to-do list? If we take some time to sort out our own personal normal, would we stabilize our foundation and make the work that we’re doing up on the surface that much more manageable and in turn more successful?

I think so.

I’m a huge fan of journaling and I love lists that ask tough questions that help me get to the heart of what I’m feeling and thinking. Lately, I’ve been thinking about some questions that can help expats home in on a baseline for feeling ready, at ease or even just plain “normal.”

This isn’t a long list of questions, but it’s designed to help you uncover what helps you feel like you’re on more solid ground. I invite you to take the questions thoughtfully. Sit down with them and take some time to think about what they tell you about yourself. Above all else, be honest with yourself. And remember – this is not someone else’s list. This is about you and what you most need. Give it a go and remember to revisit it from time to time…because as we all know in this lifestyle – more change is likely just around the bend.

1. What are my top 3 needs for physical comfort? This can be anything – special coffee mug, a particular bed or set of sheets, a nice stack of books, nice laptop computer…

2. What 2 things would I have in my life if I weren’t living or traveling around the world? Is it possible to have these things as an expat? If yes – how do I get them in my life? If not – what is the closest alternative I can find and how do I get that in my life?

3. The expat life gives me a few special privileges/luxuries. What are they? Which 2 do I most love? How will I improve on my ability to embrace those luxuries?

4. What 2 spiritual needs are the most important to me? How do I make those needs happen even when I’m moving a lot?

5. What are my 3 strongest emotional needs? How do I make sure I keep these a part of my mobile lifestyle? What daily practices can I add to my life to make sure these emotional needs are being met?

6. What 2 habits have I picked up from my mobile lifestyle that have made me a better person? What plan can I make to keep those habits in my life and how do I remind myself to do them?

7. What 3 family traditions are important to me? How do I make those a part of my expat life?

8. What hobby, exercise or pastime do I most love to do? What minimum criteria do I need to make this activity possible even when I’m moving around a lot?

9. Who are the 5 most important people in my life? How do I honor their needs, hopes and dreams to the best of my ability? What reminders can I put in place that will help me demonstrate the special place I reserve for them in my life?

10. When times get tough, who or what most reminds me that I can get through and come out the other side? What can I put in place now to know that this support system will be there when I need it most?

If you like this list or found it helpful, I have similar exercises in The Expat Activity Book.

If you’d like to enlist some support in the process of gaining more solid ground before making a fresh start towards a dream, a goal or simply a deeper sense of happiness, check out my signature package: Foundation Focus. It’s a great way to get support in becoming your best expat self.

This post is linked at Small Planet Studio’s #MyGlobalLife Link-Up 2015. Click here to check out other great blog posts from expats around the world!

Goals Vs. Shoulds

I can’t believe I’m about to quote a textbook, but I am. One of my coaching textbooks has a really spot-on presentation of the difference between goals and “shoulds.” Here goes:

A goal is something that you really want. A “should” is a goal that you think you should want, or think you need, in order to reach another goal (a means to an end). An authentic goal allows choice and can be freely set, changed, or abandoned with little resistance or emotional reaction. A should is rife with risk, consequences, and potential condemnation.

This is written so concisely and to the point that it’s probably pretty easy to understand the message. But, the bigger challenge is – How do you truly recognize what things in your life are shoulds and which things are goals? And, how do you weed out the shoulds so that you can get down to the business of goals?

Below are just a couple of questions you might consider asking yourself. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it might provide a good starting point for focusing your energies on what really matters.

1. How do I feel at the thought of completely abandoning this project or task?

Does the idea of giving up on this task bring you some temporary relief from any stress, but make you feel a bit sad or disappointed – like you would be giving up on something you really want? Sounds like you’re working towards a goal. But, does the idea of abandoning the project leave you feeling a profound sense of relief or freedom? That might be a sign that this project is a should. It’s okay to have mixed feelings or to find it difficult to separate your own feelings from the feelings of others. But, it’s important to get up close and personal with what you are feeling. In short, don’t run from what you’re feeling (physically and emotionally), move toward it and really get in there with what’s going on. If you’re finding it hard to know how you feel, try going for a walk, talking it out with someone who will listen (a coach is great for this!), meditating, praying – whatever works for you.

2. What would my family/friends/colleagues say if I gave up on this?

A big indicator of whether what you’re doing is a goal or a should lies in how others respond to the news that you’re considering giving up. If your family responds with concern because they have seen your dedication and passion for the work you’re doing, but reassures you that they support you know matter what, then this is a big sign that you’re working on a goal. If, on the other hand, they respond with contempt, disdain or pressure – maybe it’s time to look at what your “goal” means for them. Maybe this is really a should brought on by what someone else is envisioning for you.

3. When working on this task or project how do I feel in the moment?

This question is really about getting focused on your passions. The saying is really true – “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Do you experience a sense of flow when you’re working towards your goal? If given all day to work on it, would you? Does the goal help you feel more creative, more energetic, more alive or more whole? If not, it’s possible that you’re doing something you feel you should do, not something you really want to. Sometimes we have to choose to face challenging tasks with positive energy (even if we know that we’re feeling uninspired), but what I’m talking about here is different from facing something necessary with a whole heart. Taking on challenging or dreaded tasks with a whole heart can lead to lots and lots of growth. However, forcing yourself to complete tasks that leave you feeling less like yourself is a whole other ball game. Spend time getting to know the difference. The goals you set for yourself should be about moving you towards your very best you.

4. If I were to wake up tomorrow morning and an over-night miracle had given me complete and total clarity regarding this task what would my relationship with this task look like?

The “miracle question” is a great tool often used by therapists and coaches to help people begin to feel unencumbered by all the thoughts and “what-ifs” that can leave us feeling stuck. The great thing about this question is that it not only helps you gain a better understanding of whether you’re spending your energy on goals or shoulds, it can also help you re-examine the things that are truly goals – leaving you free to make changes as you see fit. So, if waking up tomorrow post-miracle, you realize this is something you really don’t want to be doing perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate.

So think about it. The next time you find yourself saying, “Ug! I really don’t want to do this,” don’t blow off that feeling. Take time to really look at the tasks in front of you. Who knows, you may unburden yourself from a great big set of shoulds!