This is one of the ultimate expat dilemmas. You are far away from your parents, your siblings, your passport country, and many dear friends. Life has swept you abroad, and now you are lying awake at night wondering whether you’ve made the right decision to live abroad.
The first time I brought my “Swiss boyfriend” home to meet my parents, jetlag woke me barbarically early. I was sitting downstairs having a second cup of coffee when my father strolled down in his famous blue bathrobe. “Good morning, Sweetie,” he said as he made his way to pour himself a cup. Turning on his heels, he looked at me, took a sip of the piping hot coffee and then dropped this bomb, “You know, I was thinking last night. If you marry this man, I may only see you eleven more times in my lifetime.” (Please remove knife from chest and pass the coffee.)
In this month´s contribution, I talk about how to battle the mixed up emotions that come with living far away from your loved ones and offer you five simple steps to deal with the distance.
“…eleven more times in my lifetime.” Those words haunted me at night. I would lay awake with a pit in my stomach filled deep with a special kind of regret – one that hasn´t even happened yet. One of my lovely and talented newsletter subscribers, Jenny, called this “anticipated regret”.
Anticipated regret is an ugly trap. You get stuck into it – and the longer you stay there, the worse it gets. You start to feel like you’re a bad daughter, son or horrible friend. You start to get bitter about where you live and wish that you´d never made the decision to move in the first place. The result of anticipated regret is that you worry about a future that hasn´t happened yet, and show up in your life now as a both perpetrator and victim.
In perpetrator mode, you say to yourself: “Arg! This is all my fault! If I hadn´t moved away, I wouldn´t be in this screwed up situation. How could I have made such a bad decision!”
In victim mode, you say to yourself, “Poor me! I am stuck and I can´t do anything to change it. I feel so shitty that I got myself into this mess. I have no idea what to do. I can´t change things now, I´m in too deep.”
Neither feel too good, do they? There is a better way.
Rescue yourself from anticipated regret.
In rescue mode, you say to yourself, “This is really tough. There are no easy answers, but I´m going to try to find a way that works for me and my loved ones. I don´t have to wait for anything. I can start experimenting with strategies that work better for me right now. If I need help, I can ask for it.”
Taking charge of your life and relationships in ways that feel good to you, regardless of distance, helps prevent regret. (Tweet this!)
Read on for five specific ways you can rescue yourself from regret starting now.
5 Ways to Rescue Yourself from Regret
Improve how it feels to live far away from your loved ones by trying one (or all!) of these five strategies.
1. Find a way to “be there” when you’re not.
Some of the biggest challenges I´ve had while living abroad is from not “being there.” You want to be there when family members get sick, friends go through a divorce, grandparents pass away, or a dear friend has a baby. But sometimes you’re not. You want to bring flowers to your ill aunt, hug and cry with your dearest friend, be at the funeral of your grandfather, and do the laundry for the overwhelmed girlfriend who is experiencing motherhood for the first time. But you can´t. This is torture.
I can´t take the pain of these realities away. What I can say, however, is that I have learned that you don´t have to be physically in the same room to support. I have come to accept that when “face-to-face” just isn´t feasible, I can offer a gesture through phone calls, short messages, letters to be read at ceremonies, and special packages in the mail. During challenging times, I can also plan a visit when support from others wanes. This is not a consolation prize. This is you showing up in your life – doing the best you can – to support the ones you love in the ways you are able.
2. Be uncompromising in creating memories together.
One of the things many homesick expats love about a vacation back home is that you get a chance to make memories together. If you are in a relationship where your partner doesn´t want to spend every single vacation back in your home village or your vacation time is tight, then you may need to get creative. Plan a vacation with those you’re missing most right now. Meet them in a place that you both would have a blast visiting.
Why limit yourself to only face-to-face memory making? I think one of the things that is hard about tools like Skype is that some people treat it a lot like a phone. You can turn things up a notch by sharing meals together, opening birthday presents, simultaneously hanging out at your respective local cafe “together”, counting down for the New Year, or – who cares – have a virtual dance party with your childhood best friend.
3. Love the crap out of your people. (Tweet this!)
Ultimately when we are frustrated by the distance that separates us from our loved ones, we are actually struggling with our insecurities about whether they really know how much we love them.
So, love the crap out of them.
Tell them. Show them. Remind them.
Get serious about the VIP members on your love list. Are your actions and words in alignment with how much love you really want to show them? No? Then make one simple gesture of love to a family member or friend today.
4. Know and share the “why” behind your choice to live abroad.
When you start to question whether it was a good idea to live abroad, you need to go back to your “Big “Whys.” What was your motivation in the first place? Why did this move make sense? What are you (and your loved ones) gaining?
After this healthy reminder, it may be important to share these reasons with your loved ones back home. (Afterall, they love you and if you call on them when times are tough – they may not know about the times that are good.)
This information may also help your loved ones better accept your choices. When my parents realized that me and “the Swiss guy” were for keeps, they essentially said: “Well, we´d rather you be happy and living halfway across the world with a great guy than live down the street and be miserable.”
5. Check in and adjust as necessary.
I´ve made a promise to myself that if the situation changes (e.g. aging parents, health concerns, unwelcome surprises) that I will reassess my life and make the necessary adjustments. The key is to simultaneously work on making the best of things now – as well as keep the big picture in mind.
Make a commitment to yourself to check in on how things are going. Set a reminder in your calendar or tie this question to something important like the first day of a season that is important to you.
None of us do all five of these strategies to perfection. This is part of the journey.
Use these ideas as starting points for your own quest. Find ways to make the most of your life abroad while still feeling connected to your loved ones – no matter where they are.
Do me a favor? Pop down to the comments section below and let me know which of these five strategies you´d like to do more often. Be sure to include another useful strategy if you have one!
Warm regards from Switzerland (for the moment!)
BTW – I want to leave you with a little gift. Here´s a reminder you can print, save or share it on Facebook to inspire you to battle “anticipated regret.”