The Life-Changing Nature of Curiosity

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about curiosity.

We’re born to explore and question and discover. In fact, it’s through curiosity, along with a healthy dose of trial and error, that we become the people we are.

Unfortunately, we all get a bit freaked out by the trial and error part. Curiosity is awesome until we realize it can get us in trouble. Curiosity killed the cat.

And so, with time and the ups and downs of life we start to silence our curiosity. We fear what we will find on the other side if we question what we see before us. Who are we if we really examine how we feel about ourselves, if we analyze the judgments we make about others and if we peel away the layers of the world around us to reveal what’s underneath? We don’t like it. It scares us.

True curiosity requires the ability to be shocked, saddened, found wrong, and dismayed. It also means you’re ready to be forgiving, dedicated, thoughtful and kind.

Curiosity settles once and for all that life is not this or that, but rather that…and maybe that too…and also that. Curiosity says – I’ll take all that! Sign me up! Join me?

It shows us the awe-inspiring nature of the given moment.

It reminds us we’re one of many, while providing the gift of bringing us together.

Curiosity means more reading, more talking, more connecting, more watching, more thinking, more feeling, more wandering. More growing.

Curiosity takes guts, but you’ve got them. I just know it.

Home

The quote above is from the third book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I never thought it would be my type of thing, but the books have captured me completely. It’s not really all that surprising though – it’s exactly my type of story. They’re historical fiction, full of love and war and family. They remind me of my teenage Alexandre Dumas obsession. And they’re about a time traveling Adult Third Culture Kid. I’m hooked.

And lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all of these people we become as expats. I can think about myself in all of these different stages in my life and see all the ways in which I’ve changed. Our lifestyle, however, makes this so much more complex. I’ve changed in ways directly related to the life we’ve been living as we move around. I find I’m really happy with those changes. I’m at a place in my life where I feel confident about who I am, but there are times when I’m thrown off kilter. Often those times involve “home” – past surroundings, past relationships, past habits, past roles.

You can see why the lines above struck me.

A major part of making life as an expat worthwhile is agreeing to do the work of constant rediscovery. We have to show up every day prepared to examine how we’re adapting and changing to our new surroundings.

This work can be hard. We get lost in all of this moving. We don’t always know where our old selves stop (or if they do) and where our new selves begin. We must learn to take time to know ourselves inside and out and we must access incredible amounts of curiosity, self-compassion and patience in order to begin to accept all the many parts of ourselves. We need guidance and support and persistence on our journey. We need the comfort of knowing that we’re doing it right. And we are doing it right – as long as we’re being kind to ourselves and others, I don’t think there’s really a wrong way.

So we plug away. Move after move. Trip home after trip home. New friends. Old friends. New sights. Old sights. New house. Old house. New job. Old job. Hard transition. Smooth transition. Forever.

But here’s what I’m convinced of – if at some point we ask all the questions and take time to hear all of the answers, we realize that home, true home, is the space we’re able to create for ourselves in our own hearts. Lucky us – the heart just happens to be the most portable home around.

Space for Soul Mates

Soul Mates...

This article was originally published on Expat Bookshop – a great resource for finding expat-focused, expat-friendly, and expat-written books.

She took the words right out of my mouth. We laughed. Then five minutes later I finished her sentence. Then we laughed again and really made eye contact.

This wasn’t an old friend – someone I’d known since childhood and with whom I’d shared countless hours (although those women do exist in my life). This was a new person. A new person who lives like me (here and there and everywhere) who just happened to be one of my friend soul mates. She is a person who, if I were to have stayed in one place, I never would have met. Ever.

That always kind of scares me. What if we had never met? What if someone else had taken my place? What if someone else were to have taken hers in my heart?

Of course, after almost 20 years of going from home to home, I know there’s nothing to worry about. We would have met, or not, but one thing is certain, we would have both found other soul mates. We each have found other soul mates. There are a lot of us.

You know that question where they ask which 10 people, living or dead, you would invite to a dinner party? I love that question. Since becoming an expat I play it in my head. Only instead of famous people, I list all my soul mates from all over the world. My big fantasy is that their paths could cross. That they would know each other. That they would make new soul mate friends with a person they would never have met in the real world. But, of course, they will never meet because some people’s paths will indeed never intersect.

Is this a good fantasy or a waste of time?

Perhaps if I were rich, it would be a good fantasy. Maybe I’d hold a lottery and the top winners of the drawing would earn an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean island where all of my soul mates would get to know each other. Maybe we’d plan yearly trips to New York City, or Paris, or Hong Kong where we’d shop and eat and drink and laugh and cry knowing that we were meant to be together all along. It sounds slightly overindulgent just to think about it. Pure fantasy.

Then again, maybe it’s simply a good mental exercise.

I don’t find I’m longing for the impossible. I know that I can probably never make this happen. But what I do find is that this leaves me hopeful for the relationships that are yet to begin in someplace new. Finding these friends opens my eyes. It makes me look at people and see who they are – the parts they hold close and the parts they lay all out. It reminds me there’s potential in every person. Honestly, it reminds me that there’s potential in me. Bad days will come, but we’re no less worthy of being seen. Of being loved. Of being someone’s new soul mate.

So as we keep rolling around the world, each new home provides the opportunity to connect and to find someone who truly “gets” us. It ends up being not just our world that gets bigger, but our hearts too. We open them up so wide to take in all these new people. And the wider and fuller and more colorful our hearts become, the more room we leave to gently sooth the ache of goodbye when it comes.

When it always comes.

 

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Just The Way You Are

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They should have boxes of tissues in the greeting card aisle at Target, shouldn’t they? Actually, come to think of it, women’s magazines should come with little tiny tissue packs attached to the articles about baby’s surviving remarkable odds…or long-lost twins being reunited…or mothers who gave up careers to watch Sesame Street and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and clean Goldfish crackers out of couch cushions.

And since we’re (mostly) expats here – let’s include free mini-packs of Kleenex for those moments when you feel compelled to flip through photo albums from your last home…or the one before…or the one before that.

Am I alone here? Okay…maybe so. I am a complete and total crybaby when it comes to this sort of thing. Tell me a story of how your kid made you the cutest Valentine’s Day card ever and you’ll see the first hints of glistening in my eye. It’s not allergies. Don’t kid yourself. I’m unequivocally moved to tears.

But would you believe for years I gulped back tears because I was worried I’d look weak or – let’s face it – crazy. I used to love to get in my car or take a shower and crank up my favorite songs that made me cry. I loved the privacy of that. No one would ever know that I (GASP!) had feelings. Feelings like empathy and sentiment and what appears to be a pretty strong ability to put myself in another woman’s shoes.

Little by little over the past couple of years I’ve decided to shed the burden of trying to look invincible. What I’ve found is that the part of me that gets choked up about things like greeting cards and television shows is the same part of me that makes me a good friend and a good coach. But, even more important than that, is the fact that letting that sloppy, sniffly part of myself show also makes me – Me. I am that person who cries at the things that other people find overly sentimental.

And what about you?

As a coach, I love supporting my clients in the process of taking off the mask and living more authentically – messiness and all.

Sometimes just spending some time writing or thinking about these parts of ourselves can give us a whole new perspective on the complicated nature of our personalities. And it can be a great way to move towards living more authentically.

Not sure where to start?

Check out these 10 Questions for Nurturing Your Authentic Self:

  1. Is there a part of yourself that you’re hiding?
  1. What little burden are you carrying around for fear of looking silly, weak, petty or unlikeable?
  1. If that part of you were gone tomorrow, would you miss it?
  1. Who already knows this part of you and loves you anyway?
  1. What would happen if you told someone you love about this part of yourself?
  1. What would change about your relationships with others if you trusted that they’d accept this part of you?
  1. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you let this part of yourself show at work, at home or at school?
  1. What would it look like to both accept this part of yourself and recognize that maybe it’s something worth changing or doing some work around?
  1. How would you respond if the person you loved the most also had this characteristic?
  1. In what soul-nourishing ways would your life get better if you decided this part of yourself isn’t all that bad?

“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” Amy Bloom

 

 

Autumn…I Really, Really, Really, Really Love You

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It’s fall in Washington, DC right now and the leaves are changing. I really, really love the changing of the leaves. I actually don’t know if words can express how I feel about the changing of the leaves.

For most of my life I haven’t lived in places where we have true fall. As a result, the whole thing is still kind of new to me. I’m quite awe-struck by it.

But I find it’s not just the fact that it’s so pretty and incredible. Nor is it the fact that, if you think about the science of it, you’re bound to be completely blown away. The truth is, I’m also amazed by the everyday-ness of it. We’re all going around, doing our thing and there the leaves are – doing their show, bright and blowing in the cooling wind.

This combination – of awesomeness and ordinariness – is really such an incredible metaphor for life. There are all these ways in which we should probably be more awestruck by everyday things like breathing and eating and sleeping and talking. And there’s all this incredible stuff that we get to see that’s totally not our typical daily experience – from the tiny degrees of separation between people (the interconnectedness of supposed strangers NEVER ceases to amaze me) to the fact that places like the Amazon Rainforest and the Sahara exist.

Our lives are such a sweet combination of nothing new and something new. And, you know, I think when we allow the line between those two distinct experiences to get blurry we really enjoy the full flavor of life. That’s exactly the time when we begin to realize there’s nothing really ordinary in the stuff we do every day and, truth be told, we’d see a lot of amazing stuff happening all around, if we’d just take more time to see it.

One Simple Tip for Being Your Own Kick in the Pants

So here’s something that I didn’t expect to happen today. And no, it’s not the British woman talking to the vegetables at Whole Foods (“Which one of you lovelies is going home with me today? Huh?”) or the fact that a rock from a weed whacker flew up and shattered the glass to our patio door (looks oddly beautiful in the way it’s falling, piece by piece, minute by minute to the ground).

The unexpected turn of events started out like this: I began the day feeling a bit gloomy. I had advertised some great new coaching rates earlier in the week and I didn’t get the client boost that I was hoping for. I’ve been working on putting together a group coaching program that will work with The Expat Activity Book, but I was having a case of, “Is anyone really going to want to do this?” And then I found myself scrolling through Facebook instead of actually focusing in and getting down to work. “Enough of this,” I thought.

So, in an effort to kick myself into gear I decided to write my own coach and tell her the areas where I thought I might need some support. I thought, “I’ll tell her the things that aren’t happening and make a plan for how to set my goals into motion.” This, by the way, is a great way to maximize a coaching relationship. Coaches LOVE hearing how their clients are going to make things happen and part of a coach’s job is to hold his or her clients accountable so sending an email like this to your coach will always shake things up. BUT – that’s not the Kick in the Pants Tip you’ve been waiting for…so keep reading.

Anyway, ever a glass-half-full type of person, I decided to scrounge together some successes to start off my email. Coaches like that too, by the way. They REALLY like it when you take credit for the awesome things you’ve done…even if you feel like you’re scrounging to find them.

But, here was the cool thing! Once I started writing the successes – the new client I just contracted with, the copies of The Expat Activity Book I sold, the positive feedback I’ve gotten for my blog via Facebook and Twitter I kind of felt like, “Hey! That’s not too bad!” You’d think I’d be a bit more familiar with this sort of thing, being a coach and all, but like anybody, sometimes I lose sight of the hard work I’ve put in and what the positive outcomes have been. Then I felt like I was on a bit of a roll. I began to think about lots of things I’ve been doing in the past month to take care of myself and my family. I felt my energy and my spirits lift almost instantly.

This all might sound a bit boastful, but it’s not meant to be. What it’s meant to be is a reminder to take some time to really honor yourself for the amazing things you do every day. Want a simple task to help you focus in on your accomplishments? Make a list of them! It’s that easy! You’ll be amazed at the way it positively impacts your confidence AND gives you new energy to focus in on the things that may be holding you back. So go ahead and get started. Grab a piece of paper and just start listing. And when you’re done, take a look at it and say, “Wow. You might just be pretty awesome.”

Major Milestone

Today I watched my 6 year-old walk across the stage at his Kindergarten graduation. He’s the same kid who almost died four months ago. The same kid who played one day with his friends and then left almost everything he loves, with no prior warning, to get on a small plane to a hospital in a country he’d never been to. The same kid who gets four shots a day and anywhere between six and twelve (or even sometimes more) finger sticks over the course of each and every 24 hours.

And, he’s the same kid that is a natural with anything that requires running or jumping or sliding or involves a ball. He’s the kid who can now read, add single digit numbers with no fingers (usually) and tell you what items on your plate contain carbohydrates. He’s the kid with the killer blue eyes, the mischievous, pure-love smile, and the blonder than blond, still baby-fine hair. He’s the one who’s grown over an inch since January. He wears either (and only) soccer cleats or cowboy boots…always. He’s the one who loves hugs and babies and super heroes.

He’s nothing short of incredible – when the going’s easy and when the going’s just plain tough.

Not to exaggerate here, but really, aren’t we all? I don’t know about you, but I look at my children, my husband, my family and my many friends in all of the corners of the globe and I think – these people are Amazing!

While it may seem that sometimes (or lots of times) we arrive at every major milestone rather easily, the truth is – it takes a lot to get here. It takes a lot to get wherever you are. Whether you’re dodging bullets or vomit, climbing mountains or stumbling over Legos – if it feels easy, it’s easy because you’re good at it, you hold your head up and focus on putting one foot in front of the other. If it feels difficult, it’s difficult because you’re human and sometimes life throws us some really nasty stuff. We all fall on both ends of this spectrum – the person who sails through and the person who gets thrown off course.

Let’s remember this for ourselves and for the people who surround us. Take some time today to say, “Close call! Good job! Way to hang in there!” or “Wow, you’re getting good at this! Hard work’s paying off! Nicely done!” No judgment, just love, for all the dedication it takes to get here.

How I Gave Up and Started Living

Eight years ago I decided to give up.

Here’s what happened.

Right after my oldest child was born, I missed a meeting I’d scheduled. I’ve long since forgotten what the meeting was, but at the time, the pure fact that I had forgotten it appalled me. Who had I become? How in the world was I going to save the world, be the best, run my own business, become executive director of…something, if I couldn’t remember to keep a meeting?

Then, when my son was about 6 months old, the straw broke the camels back. We were grocery shopping. It took me two hours to do something that I’d always prided myself in completing in less than 30 minutes. Pride? Craziness. As if grocery shopping is a race. And, anyway, I worked at that store for 4 years in college, so completing a 30 minute trip gave me a significant competitive advantage over my…competition?

And then I gave up. Approximately 90 minutes into the trip and after at least 2 diaper changes, one nursing session and (maybe) a few tears (mine and his), I stopped and looked at him there. I was at the culmination of too many years trying to do way too much. And the words came to me out of nowhere: I do not have to be the best. I only have to do my best.

And now it’s my mantra.

I know that every day I do the best I can with the information I have available. I find this view brings me comfort in letting things go that used to drive me crazy. Mistakes used to freak me out. I’d play them over and over again in my head. Now I’ve worked out a process for bidding them goodbye. I’ve always been impatient. I still am, but I do my best to keep impatience as a piece of inspiration and not a set of handcuffs. I surround myself with people and experiences that bring me joy and try to take it easy on the ones that get me down. In the decision to stop striving so hard for the things I wanted, I found the freedom to accept my dreams when they landed at my doorstep. And, sometimes I actually fail. And that’s where giving up is so rewarding. I’m not the best and never will be, but even in failure I’ll know I was (and am) trying my hardest.