Life, Money and Globetrotting Episode 2: Habits

Expat Financial Planner Hui-chin Chen and I are still having some great conversations! Last week we recorded Episode 2 of Life, Money and Globetrotting.

In this conversation we enjoyed looking at life and financial habits from the global life perspective. What makes you stick with some habits? What makes others more challenging? And most importantly – does a life lived around the world make it easier or more challenging to maintain the habits that most benefit you?

These conversations are part of a monthly series. You can follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get updates about upcoming episodes. And be sure to check out Hui-chin’s blog Moneymatters for Globetrotters or follow her on Twitter. You can also subscribe to Hui-chin’s YouTube Channel to get regular updates about upcoming episodes.

Thanks for joining us! We look forward to having you join us on June 16 for Episode 3 where we will talk about Flexibility in the mobile life.

Life, Money and Globetrotting Episode 1: Life Coaching vs. Financial Planning

Expat spouse, financial planner and blogger Hui-chin Chen and I have been having some fabulous conversations over the past two years. We have enjoyed getting to know each others’ perspectives on the ups and downs of international living and how our unique professional positions enable us to support expats in a variety of situations.

Have you ever considered pursuing life coaching? Financial planning? Are you curious about how the two compliment each other? Have you ever asked yourself, “What does a life coach do exactly!?” (Come on, I know you have!) When you look at your bank account, do you think, “I could really use some help here.”? This short 30-minute conversation will give you some answers to these questions.

We talk about financial planning and life coaching in general, the specifics of that type of support in relation to the expat experience, and our own individual perspectives on what we offer our clients.

This is the first of what we plan to be a monthly series. You can follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get updates about the next episode (scheduled for May 19th). And be sure to check out Hui-chin’s blog Moneymatters for Globetrotters here or follow her on Twitter here.

My Top 5 Ways to Give Thanks

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American Thanksgiving is on our doorstep! I am not ashamed to say how much I love the ritual of food and family and friends and taking a moment to say thank you for what the year has brought.

I love the harvest imagery and the chill of the impending winter. I love the fact that really all you have to do is eat and say thank you…whatever that looks like to you.

I find that even in difficult times and at the end of really hard years, the ritual of Thanksgiving has become for me a way to slow down and truly take time to count my blessings.

I also love the opportunity it gives to reflect on the traditions and ritual of expressing gratitude and what it means for our physical, emotional and spiritual health.

I recently read this really nice article in the New York Times. The author highlights the importance of expressing gratitude as a way to feel more connected to the people, places and situations you encounter. He stresses that this isn’t about false happiness, but rather recognizing the things for which you feel grateful even during the times when you feel sad, lonely, lost or broken. It may be easier said than done for some, but he sites some interesting research on the point.

I imagine this is a bit like looking at people who see the glass-half-full versus those who tend to view it as half-empty. We all face difficult times (some of us face unimaginable difficulty and tragedy), but it is true that some people seem more capable, or at least more skillful, at recognizing the things for which they can be thankful regardless of their situation.

But what about those times when you’re not feeling grateful? Is it possible to learn to practice gratitude, to get better at saying thank you? And, if you do, what does that mean for your life? This article is a great starting point for understanding the science behind gratitude and the effects it can have on your life. But sometimes, I think, it’s just good to start at the beginning and simply start saying (or showing) thanks.

I love finding new and creative ways to show gratitude and appreciation. There are tons of fun ideas out here. To get you started in your own journey, check out my favorites below. Do you use any of these? What are your favorite ways to say thanks? Then, scroll down for links to even more creative and inspiring ways to bring a little more gratitude and thanksgiving into your every day life.

My Favorite Ways to Say Thanks:

  • Say thank you for the small stuff. We all have our every day responsibilities – taking out the trash, preparing dinner, loading the dishwasher, paying the bills. But just because these things are requirements doesn’t mean we can’t say thank you to the people in our lives who take care of them (or that we wouldn’t appreciate a thank you in return). Make it habit to say thank you daily to your kids, your spouse or partner, your work colleagues, your barista, you waitress…
  • Keep a mental list of your friends’ favorite things. The best gifts are rarely big and expensive – they are simple, thoughtful and spot-on. Gift-giving is a classic way to express gratitude, but when we really notice others we are able to say thank you with a token of our appreciation that is more than just a check box. So, make mental list or write down things you want to remember. When it’s time to say thank you, you’ll know just the small, but perfect way to do it.
  • Put it in writing. I am a huge fan of sending a card, but there’s nothing wrong with an email, a Facebook message or a text. Set aside time regularly to send thank you notes even for the smallest things – including a simple message to say, “Thank you for being you.”
  • Create traditions with your friends and family. We think of traditions often during holidays, but the truth is traditions can be a part of our lives at any time of year. When we work together with our loved ones to do things that are important to each of us we send the message, through effort, pre-planning and remembering, that the people around us matter and that we’re grateful for the role they play in our lives.
  • Share stories and ask questions. Showing interest in the experiences of the people in your life demonstrates that you value and appreciate their presence and that you’re willing to invest in cultivating a deeper relationship. Here’s a great list to get your started on this one!

These are my favorites, but there’s no need to stop there! Check out other awesome (and super creative) ways to say thank you here, here and here.

Welcome 2015!


Happy New Year from World Tree Coaching! As I find myself today coming out from the isolation of having been home with my kids for almost three weeks, I realize I’ve got a bit of catching up to do.

Actually, I was realizing that all along. Only now that I sit down in front of my computer and take the steps to get organized do I realize what all that entails.

While I’ve been pretty quiet on the blogging front these past couple of weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the New Year and what this time of year means to most of us. Even if you’re not a resolution-maker, there’s something about the New Year that forces us to examine the past and look ahead to the future.

Right now all over the internet you’re going to see post after post telling you exactly how to create your resolutions, keep your resolutions, fine-tune your resolutions, pick the best resolutions….and even some that will tell you to ditch resolutions all together. So much telling!

In light of so much telling, I’m going to try not to get too tell-y or preach-y here. But, I would love the opportunity to remind you that genuinely reflecting on who and where you are is a good thing. In fact, whether you’re really a resolution-maker or not, probably one of the best things you can do for yourself in 2015 is take a nice long look in the mirror and get up close and personal with the person looking back at you.

So in the spirit of curiosity and inquiry (not telling), I’m just gonna’ pose a few questions…

Is it possible that all you really need to get started on 2015 is to love yourself a bit more?

What would happen if you were to stop putting yourself down, comparing yourself to others and wishing things were different than the way they really are?

What if, even though there are things you’d like to do differently, you told yourself that you’re really enough just as you are?

Imagine confronting life’s challenges (spoiler alert: there’s no escaping the hard times) knowing that yes, you are really doing all you can.

And, what if, after taking more time to know and be yourself, all that other stuff you’re adding to the resolution list seemed so much clearer?

And what if all this wasn’t just silly, cheesy, random fluff?

It’d be pretty amazing, wouldn’t it?

Throughout 2015, my goal will be to continue helping people rediscover that they’re enough…more than enough really. I want my clients, my friends and my family members to know that their challenges and their strengths work in tandem to create a fully capable and loving person. Confession: I even want to keep reminding myself of that.

So, Happy New Year from World Tree Coaching. May your year be filled with plenty of time to be you. And, in being you, may you find the clarity, hope, love and fun you’ve been searching for.

I’m currently scheduling clients for February and March. If you’d like to work with me in 2015 – click here to learn more.

Out with the Old – Rewriting the Expat Stereotype

I recently finished the novel You Are One of Them by Elliot Holt. There’s a lot in the plot that will sound familiar to expats – travel, intercultural relationships, cross-cultural adjustment.

It also talks a lot about diplomats and expats. The book takes place between Washington DC and a largely expat community in Moscow. Here’s the sentiment that runs strong throughout the book – diplomats hide behind walls, diplomats and expats drink too much, diplomats and expats aren’t able to form relationships because, in anticipation of a departure, they never fully commit themselves to those around them. We’ve heard this all before. I’m not going to be the one to say this is never true, but for me, these aren’t the norm of the definition of what it’s like to be a member of a diplomatic or expatriate family – these are the exceptions.

When I look around my community here’s what I see…

Expats are people who connect to and bond with individuals from a very wide array of political and religious beliefs. We do this because we realize that these things have very little to do with friendship.

We’re individuals who can strike up conversations with anyone, anywhere and at anytime. We seem to inherently recognize the transience of the world around us so we take advantage of the little bits of time we have. We’re not all extroverted, but we do know how to start and maintain a conversation. In my experience, we’re also pretty good at seeing the value in even small moments.

When we experience something that takes us back to another time and place it connects us with friends across the globe. We send a quick message via Facebook or text or email that says, “I saw this and thought of you friend. I miss you.” Our brains are wired with a fascinating map of experience and those experiences don’t exist in a vacuum – they’re connected to our friends and family and they’re enriched by the experience of having shared them with someone who matters.

Expats give new meaning to the terms adaptability, flexibility, curiosity and acceptance. We live these values and they become the scaffolding that supports our constant movement.

And above all else, I see tremendous amounts of love and commitment and community.

So, why do the stereotypes persist? I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters why as much as it matters that, as a community, we know that we’re not glitzy people, sitting behind gold-plated walls, drinking champagne and backstabbing our neighbors. And perhaps in the end that reality is self-perpetuating – the more we live authentically, the more we represent the new diplomat or the new expat community, the more power we have to alter the stereotype. It will be from that place, I feel, that the depth of our experiences and complexity of our choices will reveal not the old image, but the new one. If I look around at my friends I think they’re doing a pretty good job of breaking the stereotypes and I can’t imagine a more wonderful group of people to love.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Baseball…and Other Things That Never Leave Us

Earlier this week my son’s baseball team had the first game of their end of season tournament. This event, and well everything that has happened in the last five months, is so outside the purview of things I ever imagined happening. I assumed we would be wrapping up our family’s final months in Antananarivo. Who knew it would all end up this way.

But, back to baseball. I’m finding myself preparing to miss this weekly ritual that has taken up so much (and by that I mean A LOT) of our time in the last couple of months. The dust of the baseball fields, the now familiar layout of the dugouts and batting cages and concession stand on several acres of land that, up until recently, I’d never been to.

I’m also really struck by the now so well known faces of the parents in the stands. Shockingly, in most cases we don’t even really know each other’s names (mostly we’re so-and-so’s mom or dad). But we’ve developed this sort of easy camaraderie around the ups and downs of the 8U Rangers Georgetown Youth Baseball Association team. With the incredible background of the last 5 months for us, I appreciate seeing these people I barely know a few times a week. And I like them, even in the limited capacity in which I know them.

I can’t help but wonder if this is part of the constant cross-cultural adjustment of our lives as expats. Because everything is always so unpredictable, we tend to see even limited contact with people as significant to the broader need for interpersonal connection. The longer we’re in this life the more I realize that even these seemingly small relationships with people we very well may never see again matter.

This idea serves as a daily reminder of the importance of connecting with others – from a smile genuinely offered to the young woman who serves your coffee to a heartfelt thank you to the loved ones that always seem to be there when we need them the most. And that, in turn, reminds me (as oh so many things do) what a blessing it is to live this life of wandering. For it is in the constant presence of everything new that we surely learn to appreciate the many truths that through time and distance never change.


Adventure on Your Own Terms

Recently, I found a box of old photos and letters from the early days of my international adventures. Those were such crazy times. No village was too remote, no sea too shark infested, no meal too meager. As backpackers, my husband and I really loved to rough it. One of our favorite tasks was to see how long we could go on as little money as possible. We were disdainful of tour groups, convenience and any mode of transportation that gave you your own private seat or didn’t include caged (or free roaming) chickens.

While we’ve long-since left behind the backpacker lifestyle, I’m often reminded of the competitive edge that this type of experience implies. It is, in a sense, the “Go Native!” philosophy of travel. It’s the idea that if you don’t strip yourself down and challenge yourself to some predetermined standard of awesomeness, you’re not really living at all and that the experience is without merit or value.

For the record, I’d like us to do away with that notion. Here are my top five reasons why:

  1. Life is not a competition! Yes, life is to be fully lived, but you can only know what full living is when you ask yourself how you want to live. Wanna’ go climb Mt. Everest? Go for it! Prefer to climb the small hill outside town to get a better view of the countryside? That’s fine too. No one person lives the expat life better simply by doing more, having “bigger” adventures or taking on more risk. It just doesn’t work that way. So stop comparing yourself to others and pack your suitcase just how you like it.
  2. You like what you like. I’m all for trying new things. In fact, I love to try new things. But, I wonder why we so often force ourselves to keep doing things we don’t really like. You might move to Japan one day and you might really, really hate sushi. That is fine. Be kind to yourself. Own up to it. Move on.
  3. Your priorities and interests change. We all know this is true, but so many of us feel like if we trade a sleeping bag on the floor of a random person we met on a train for a comfy bed in an actual hotel that somehow we’re selling out. This is not a sell out. This is you deciding that you want a good night’s sleep – nothing more. The same goes for transportation, food, and the amount you’re willing to spend for comfort, ease and safety. It doesn’t mean you’re old or boring or uncool, it means you have preferences. That’s all.
  4. You can’t actually Go Native. This is true. To the extent that any of us are native to any particular place on Earth, we are all unique. We can strive to understand others and help others better understand us. That’s the best we can do. We can always do better to be present in whatever place we seem to have landed, but the minute we think we have arrived is the minute we cease to continue to get to know the new things we see.
  5. You’re evolving and so is everything around you. Life is in a constant state of flux and this is even truer when you get out of your element. There is so much that is unpredictable in the great big world out there. And – look at you! You’re adapting to every twist and turn and always doing the best you can with the information you have available. What more can you hope for? I say cut yourself some slack and enjoy the twisty ride!

So – adventure on! Near or far, here or there. In all ways, exactly as you are now, with an eye on how you hope to be tomorrow.

And We’re Still Talking about Being Busy

Lately I’ve been seeing so much in the media on the topic of being busy. Here’s one from the New York Times – I wrote about it here. I posted this one on the World Tree Coaching Facebook page last week. And, I love what this woman has to say about how she’s going to get her life under control (I especially identify with her descriptions of what it feels like physically and emotionally when she’s on the busy wheel). As a culture, we’re driven by this running around, never feeling like it’s enough, wishing you could just take five minutes to ourselves.

Here’s a conversation I had with my mom one day last week at around 10:30AM:

Mom: Ugh! I’m so busy today. I have so much to do.

Me: Really? What’s on your plate?

Mom: Well, I have to go get a haircut, then I need to stop at the store and pick up some things and then I have to bake a pie for Bible study.

Me: Wow. That is a lot. Why don’t you just pick up something for the Bible study? Do you really need to make a whole pie from scratch?

Mom: I’m NOT going to just pick something up.

Me: Why not?

Mom: I just feel like that’s tacky. I should make something.

Me: How is it tacky? You can get really good pies at the bakery or even HEB (our local supermarket).

Mom: I don’t know….

Me: Tell me this – when you get to Bible study is a single one of your friends going to say, “Oh my God! Vickie just brought a store-bought cake. She must be so lazy. I can’t believe that.”

Mom: (laughing) No.

Me: Okay. Go to HEB and pick up a cake…or a pie…or some cookies.

Mom: (laughing still) Okay.

This is what I’m talking about here. Every single one of us knows that we must get off the busy wheel. We don’t like it. It’s not satisfying. If it’s not killing us literally, it is killing our souls. It’s forcing us to continue to live our life in the wrong direction – also known as someone else’s direction.

So remember, it’s never too late to make a change. Ask yourself the big questions – Why am I doing this? What happens when I say no to one more task, assignment or project? If I gave up half of what I’m doing now, how would I feel about what’s left over? Do I love myself enough to just take better care of me?

My guess is you can do this. More living. Less doing. Yes.

The Take-Aways

As the mother of three children, I often find myself in awe of the incredible insight that can come from conversations with them. There are times when I realize that it’s quite possible that the few minutes we’re chatting over getting dinner in the oven or buckling seatbelts might just be one of those moments they’ll remember forever.

One particular conversation I had the other day with my 8-year-old, really caused me to reflect on the messages we receive as children (or, frankly, throughout our lives). The messages, positive or negative, that get stuck in our brains and keep coming up over and over again. The voices that tell us what to do and not do…what’s okay and what isn’t.

Our conversation went like this:

Him: Mom, I don’t know if I want to be an actor or an architect and engineer when I grow up.

Me: Well, you can be both. You don’t really have to choose between the two.

Him: Ya’ that’s right! You can change your mind about what you want to be as much as you like.

Me: That’s right.

Him: So maybe I’ll be an actor and when I get tired of that I’ll become and architect and engineer.

Me: Sounds good. What if someone tells you, “Hey, you can’t do that!”

Him: Then I’ll say, “Yes I can!”

Me: What if they tell you, “Acting isn’t a good career!”

Him: Then I’ll just say, “I like it!”

Me: And if they say, “But you won’t make any money!”

Him: I don’t care. It’s what I like.

So, there will come a point in his life when he realizes that maybe all this isn’t 100% as simple as he thinks. Life can be a series of trade-offs and sometimes we really do find ourselves having to make difficult decisions about what will work best for our families and ourselves. And, of course, he’s only eight so he might decide next week he wants to be a something else entirely.

But, my hope for him is that he looks back on this and remembers a few key words – choice (I’m free to choose and the choice is mine and mine alone…to make and to own), like (I should do what I like, what I enjoy and what makes me happy) and, I hope, love (because, of course, his Mama will always, always love him to matter what road he ends up on).

I can’t predict his future, but I can maximize that from these handful of random conversations he gets only the very best take-aways.




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!