Minor Adjustment

Minor Adjustment (1)

This week I changed one tiny little thing in my life. After 3 months of running on the treadmill at the gym at 6:00 AM while listening to NPR and watching ESPN on mute, I went back to running outdoors, in nature, without headphones at 8:30 AM. Why didn’t I do this sooner?

Wow! With just this one small adjustment (along with the perspective to see that it could work and I’d still get my workout in) I feel like a whole new person. For months I’ve been saying I wish I could get back to my outdoor workouts, but for some reason I just didn’t see it as a possibility. Crazy.

We do this, don’t we? With the big things it’s easy to see why we need to change. And, whether we’re motivated to do so or paralyzed by the options, the knowledge of this need to change is there big and bright for us to see. For the less obvious problems in our lives, we sometimes miss the need to change altogether.

In this case, I was still getting in my workout, it wasn’t totally un-enjoyable and I knew I had the whole day in front of me to do other things. So maybe it just didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal. And yet at some point I started thinking about the others aspects of my workout that go beyond the cardiovascular – the sense of being part of something larger than myself as the 100 foot trees rise above me, the deep breaths of the morning air, the sense that I can keep going as long as it feels good for me (because, let’s be honest, that’s really not the feeling that a treadmill induces). And when I thought of those things, it really helped me to recognize that I’ve been missing out on a lot more than I thought I was.

So running at the gym wasn’t really so much a problem, as a toleration. An acceptance of a way of doing things that was less than what I really wanted. Of course, sometimes we have to give into this, but here the only person I really had to answer to was myself. In the end, it was that easy.

Don’t like this all that much. Change it. Feel happier.

So let me pose the question then, to you. What tiny, little, almost insignificant thing are you putting up with that, if you were to change it, would make you feel happier, more in-tune or more satisfied? What would happen if you decided to make a little adjustment?

Need ideas?

  • Are your pants too big or too small? Could you buy some new ones?
  • Does your bike have a flat tire? Could you take 10 minutes to change it?
  • Do you really love fresh flowers when you walk in the door? Could you spend $10 a week to have a vase of flowers to greet you after a long day at work?
  • Would you like to take up a spiritual practice like meditation, prayer or contemplation? What if you did that for 5 minutes today…tomorrow…the next day?
  • Been meaning to get in touch with an old friend, but just can’t seem to send that email? What about today?

See how tiny these are!? How easy would it be? I’m all about the baby steps here. Go for it! And please drop me a comment to let me know what you’re changing. I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

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.

That Was So Embarrassing!

My husband once asked the staff at a hotel in Guatemala if we could have more Satan paper in our room. He meant toilet paper.

Sound familiar? As expats we perhaps have the longest list imaginable of embarrassing moments. It feels at times like we’re living in a never-ending cycle of “Gotcha!” I mean, seriously, where are the hidden cameras?!

Frankly, it sucks to feel embarrassed. Your face gets all red, your palms sweat, your heart races, imagines of crawling under the covers and going back to bed loom large.

The good news is – we’ve all been there. Embarrassment is just part of the human experience and while you can try to minimize embarrassment or the effects of it, it’s fruitless to try to completely eliminate it from your life.

But, would you believe there’s even more good news? Check this out (and read the full article here):

Researchers have found that people who display embarrassment at their social transgressions are more prone to be liked, forgiven, and trusted than those who do not, and, as a result, their embarrassment saves face (Keltner and Anderson, 2000). Even teasing and flirtation, which provoke and evoke embarrassment in the targeted person, are motivated by the desire for increased liking (Keltner & Anderson, 2000). So embarrassment is a good thing, even if at the time you experienced it you wished it never happened.

Could it be that embarrassment may be one of the major keys to living a deeper more fulfilling life as an expat? I’m thinking maybe so…

Think about it this way – every time you say the wrong word in a foreign language, inadvertently commit a major cultural faux pas, wear the wrong shoes in the wrong place at the wrong time, shake hands instead of kiss, laugh instead of cry (or cry instead of laugh) or many of the millions of other things that can happen in this crazy cultural mix – you’re telling those around you – I’m Human!! You’re presenting yourself as real, authentic, natural and willing to make mistakes in the process of getting it right. How’s that for awesome!

So, go ahead and march right on out of the bathroom in your potty shoes (ooops, that may have happened to me more than once in my Japan days)! Smile, genuinely say sorry, and keep right on moving towards your much improved You!

On Solid Ground

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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!

On Thoughts vs. Emotions

I had a great conversation with a client the other day on the difference between thoughts and emotions. While the differences might seem obvious, the surprising truth is that we often fail to take time to notice the nuances of what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling.

As a coach, I love supporting people in the process of taking more time to observe the experiences of both the heart and the brain. I have repeatedly found that the simple process of noticing what is happening when we think and feel goes a long way to moving towards personal insight and creating a more fulfilling space to reach your dreams or goals.

In just a few short weeks, my new book The Expat Activity Book: 20 Personal Development Exercises for Gaining Insight and Maximizing Your Potential Wherever You Are will be available for purchase on Amazon. One of my favorite exercises in the book is focused on helping individuals begin the process of looking at thoughts versus emotions. I’ve include it here as a sneak peak to the book and as a guide for those of you interested in bringing new insight into your life. I happily and enthusiastically accept emails for guidance or questions. If you’re interested in coaching on this topic, see my Work with Me section for details on how to schedule a FREE initial interview.

Enjoy!

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What Moves Us – In Any Language

This morning, driving back from dropping the kids at summer camp, my husband I had a great conversation about music. We’re huge music lovers at our house and we see that permeating our kids lives as well. We were noticing that one of the greatest joys of our international lifestyle is the complicated and diverse fabric of music we have come to love. My husband and I can understand the lyrics to songs in English, French, Spanish and even a bit of Japanese. Our kids on the other hand (despite once being bilingual in English and Spanish and having a smattering of French), really don’t understand the lyrics most of the time…frankly, even if it’s in English, their native language.

But, they’re so moved by the rhythm and the energy that comes from the things they hear. Some of their favorite songs they simply request by reproducing the beat or other times they approximate the lyrics by giving a go at what they believe they’re hearing (as you can imagine, this is especially adorable).

As we were talking this morning, I was thinking about this and the way in which it’s another unexpected positive consequence to this mobile lifestyle. Their flexibility with experiences, with language and with culture is being formed in so many complex ways we never even really think of.

And, it’s yet another thing that reminds me how little actually needs to be “done” in order to make this lifestyle work. We kind of just nestle down into living, having fun and making our best go of it without overcomplicating things. Then out the other side comes a simple, unencumbered ability to dance to a rhythm that moves us – even if we never really understand each and every detail.

For the music lovers out there – here are a few favorites that we never get tired of hearing.

We love Stromae and he actually gave a really great NPR interview with Eleanor Beardsley this morning.

Such a fun and addictive song! This was a real hit of the elementary school birthday party set when we were living in Madagascar.

Ok – we LOVE this one, but be warned – the video is horribly sexist…I also can’t promise that none of the lyrics aren’t offensive….but, on dance beat alone, this song is hands down a favorite.

And here – just a simple, never-gets-old classic. I have to admit too – I love the fact that my kids only really recognize the Spanish one.

 

Acknowledging the Dynamic You

Lately I’ve had a lot on my plate. We’re packing out from our current posting in Madagascar…only I’m not in Madagascar. For most of us in this lifestyle, the international transition can be a huge source of stress. I can now say for the record, that’s true even if you’re watching the move via Skype and email.

Each morning, while I can’t completely resist the urge to grab my phone and check my email for the latest in my husband’s adventures (especially on the topic of shipping our dog which has always been my territory…my very stressful territory), I am at least trying to do it mindfully. I’m trying to at least first take a deep breath and ask myself, “Do you need to do this now? Can you pack lunches first? Get coffee? Hit the snooze button?” Sometimes…well maybe once…I did wait until I’d at least packed the kids’ lunches.

During these times, in an effort to be more mindful, I allow myself the space to reflect on all the little parts of me that pop-up in times of stress. In my book, The Expat Activity Book, I call these the “mini-professionals.” They’re the parts of me that micromanage my daily ability to be my typically diverse and dynamic self. When we’re moving, The Calculator is mentally negotiating costs and distances and timetables (all the time!). I can also be taken over by The Resolver – this one can be the most difficult because she believes that there is a right answer to every problem (and she tends to write emails that say as much). She can be especially annoying when dealing with airlines and government officials in developing countries.

One of the interesting things I’ve found is that by simply naming and greeting these parts of myself, I open up space for these mini-professionals to be less demanding. It’s a bit like acknowledging the elephant in the room. Once I admit they’re there, then it becomes easier to manage them – giving them space to help in any way they can and to shut up when I need to get something else done.

What about you? Who are your mini-professionals? Are any of them taking over? What are they good for? What strategies do you use to keep them in check? When are they at their worst? Their best?

These can be really helpful questions to ask yourself during transition – or any time. And remember, simply acknowledging is a huge first step to better understanding all of the many, many sides of your dynamic self!

A Messenger in Nature

Every morning, after taking the kids to school, I go for a walk or run at the hike and bike trail near my parent’s house (where we’re staying until we head on to Washington DC in August). The trail is full of amazing wildlife – herons, frogs, insects, vultures, and deer.

One of my favorite everyday sights is the snails. Each morning the trail is covered with them. White, silver, grey, black, brown. Short and fat, long and skinny, slow moving and slower moving. They lumber across the paved trail, leaving behind their slimy paths that are then left glistening in the sun, creating an intricate map of their comings and goings along the pavement. There they are slowly, slowly, every morning from one side of the pavement to the other.

I’ve come to love them. And, as these walks are invariably an opportunity for me to reflect on the ups and downs of our nomadic lifestyle I can’t help but think more and more that these snails are trying to tell me something. So much like us. Slow down. From one end to the other – you’ll get there.

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Welcome May!

Ever find yourself really happy to have arrived at a particular time and place. I’m feeling that way about May. With my husband back in Madagascar, my sons running from sporting event to sporting event, my daughter celebrating all of the awesomeness of being two and, well there’s the whole Type I Diabetes learning curve, April’s been a month of craziness…or, if you will, blessings. We are healthy and happy and things continue apace.

But, somehow I really have felt like getting through April was this big giant challenge in front of me. And, while I didn’t want to just be focusing on arriving to May, I knew that May 1st would come and then I would be able to say, “Yay! I made it!”

I try not to do too much of this anticipatory thinking. I get excited about what lies ahead as much as anyone, but, as I was telling my husband the other day, you never know what will happen in May that will have you forever wishing to get back April. I’m knocking on wood here people….feeling a bit jinxing.

Anyway, like everyone I have my moments of pushing through to the next thing, but when I can I try to remember these simple things:

(1) When you find yourself thinking repeatedly about how much better it will be when you get to point A, stop and tell yourself, “I’m thinking a lot about point A. Point A will be awesome, but I’m not there yet.” I find this little acknowledgement is sometimes enough to bring me back to the moment.

(2) It’s also important to make mental lists of the things that are nice about the place in time where you actually are. For me in April this was two things – friends visiting from Madagascar and my kids’ sporting events…Oh, and we’re all safe and healthy.

(3) And, finally, as nice as it is to do things to put yourself back in the moment (because, like it or not, at the end of the day that’s what you have), go ahead and give yourself the time here and there to close your eyes and really envision how truly nice it is going to be to get to the other side. It’s okay to do it a little bit. And when you’re done, open up your eyes, smile and get right back to the work at hand.

So, here’s to May – just as good as, but maybe a bit more awesome than April!

Changing the Way We Change

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Still.

Here’s a place we’ve all been at one time or another – confronting the feeling of, “I can’t do this anymore. Something’s gotta’ give!” Whether it’s too much work, school, parenting, partnering, loving, caring, hating or even having fun – too much (or, frankly, too little) of anything can send us reeling toward change. Reeling, flailing, careening, spinning…kicking and screaming?

I think sometimes we have the common collective knowledge that discomfort brings about change. It’s that whole idea of hitting rock bottom. You have to get to the most miserable place in order to climb your way out and regain your sense of freedom and happiness.

But I’ve been thinking lately about how we sometimes skip a very important place in the middle. When we get to the point where we know we need to make a change, that change is often born out of the spinning of our brains. In a sense, it’s like we’re drowning and looking for anything to hang on to. Maybe this is the answer! Or this! Or, I could do that!

At some point we just end up choosing something. Sometimes it’s the right thing – the world rebalances and we’re on our way. Other times we quickly find ourselves right back where we started – in the whirlpool, grasping for driftwood.

Why? The answer may be different for each of us, but in my own life this has often been that I’ve missed an important step – stillness. When change is upon us we often go into fight or flight mode. We’re in it for survival and, instinctively, that means – RUN! But, often there’s a part of us that just needs to slow down, stop, watch and wait.

When we slow down and listen we can discover that change isn’t something we control, it’s something we go along with for a time so that, upon arrival, we’re more clear-headed and openhearted about which paths most suit us next.

So next time, before flailing (or after just a little bit of it), try being still. You never know – perhaps good things really do come to those who wait.