Is the grass always greener on the other side? I see it in myself and with my clients. You want something, or believe you do, but once you get it, you want the opposite.
“My life is so hectic; I wish I had time to relax.” Then, by day three of your beach vacation, you’re going stir-crazy, tired of just lizarding around in the sun.
“My life is so boring; I wish I had some excitement.” Then, exhausted from walking on the wild side, you long for a low-key evening where thrills look like a bubble bath and a good book.
For many expats, stability is most likely a word you associate with others back home. It’s common to crave traditional ways and later be bored by them once they become your reality. (And vice versa.)
So how can you reach a balance, especially in an era where so much is outside of your control?
Inspired by a listener’s conundrum, this week, I’ll show you how to initiate a backup plan and give yourself what you really need. First, I’ll help you determine what’s missing (and yes, it might not be what you think). Then, after you’ve named the hole, I’ll offer alternative suggestions for how to fill it.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- The moments in the muck
- Sacred pockets of time for spontaneity
- Adrenaline-packed adventure vs. quiet cabin
- Deciding your day based on your energy
- Doing something that stretches you
Listen to the Full Episode
You’ve been asking, and we’ve got answers. Join me on December 7th for a FREE Wisdom Fusion Project Town Hall. Sign up right here to learn all about hot topics we explored and hear takeaways directly from past participants.
Featured on the Show:
- Global Life in the Hard Resource Roundup
- Expats on Purpose
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Get Your Purpose Pack
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 6:00 am in New York, 1:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 6:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
*ringing* “Hello, Sundae speaking. How can I help you?” This week’s episode gives me butterflies because it is from a call in question from a listener. By the way, if you have any questions, you would like to hear me answer, then make sure you let me know or my team. You can use my contact form on my website. Tell me inside, Expats on Purpose or reply to my email when you get my newsletter.
All right, let’s dive into this week’s episode directly from a listener of Expat Happy Hour. She reached out to me with this call in question. She says, “Hi Sundae. It’s so good to be in contact with you. It has been three years and I still struggled to adjust to *insert northern European country*. I wonder if you ever have made a podcast on the effects of stepping out of the nomad life into a developed and stable society. It takes more energy to adapt to this quote boredom and life is always looking the same to me. Then the adapting and coping I did for 20 years with the unexpected. Any hints or tips? Thank you.”
All right, this was so wonderful to get this question and it is something I hear actually from a lot of people, especially individuals who are in binational relationships, they met their partner either abroad or in a rotational life, moving country to country every two to four years for work. And all of a sudden you leave this life, which is defined by transition, which is defined by uncertainty and you go toward something that looks like stability. Which, if you are feeling the fatigue from that life, can be welcomed. And then after the honeymoon phase is over, you wake up thinking, “What have I done?” Because now that you have the thing that was missing from your other life, you’re craving all the other elements that made you feel alive.
Okay, and this is something I have to say, I can identify with, when I think about having been abroad in a rotational way for over eight years. I’ve been abroad for over 21 years, but ten of those were quite stable in one country. And the last eight were marked by massive uncertainty and mobility, right? It is tempting to think about stability. I know, right now after 20 months into the COVID process that stability and certainty are things I certainly wouldn’t mind. A predictable community is something I certainly wouldn’t mind, right? Those are things that haven’t been present in, let’s say traditional ways and I’m kind of craving right now.
So I’m curious to hear from you all as well. Who is in this situation? Craving that and how many of you used to crave that in are finding yourself in the same situation as our person who’s dialed in this question and wondering what you can do now.
Okay. So what I did is I answered her privately with some detail, but I did promise her, I would go deeper in this podcast episode so you all can benefit from it as well. Here’s the thing, when you have questions like this, the best thing you can do is first identify not the strategy, not, “What should I do?” But identify what your need is. What is the value that you were hungry to fulfill? When you say, “What’s missing?” We want to fix it by doing something. But before we do that, we have to know what we’re trying to fix. What’s the hole before we put the filling in, right? So, when I listen to her question, I hear that she really values that life of adaptation, stimulation, maybe even adventure. So if this is you as well, how can you build more of that into your life? How can you include fresh challenges or more stimulation so you can actually build that into your existing life, into your relationships, into your work, into the ways that you spend your free time?
The Question is not, “Should we stay? Or should we go?” It’s, “How do I create what I’m craving right now?” And the good thing is if you were as our listener mentioned, a resourceful expat for 20 years, adapting and coping with the unexpected, this is just a fresh challenge and you can use all of those resources that you drew on for years to now, help you create a sense of aliveness right where you are. And I identify with this caller, I think, because of my experience in Switzerland. Switzerland is also characterized by structure and predictability which is priceless. It’s priceless. And when you’re feeling like that it is oppressive, too much structure, too much predictability where it’s crushing your aliveness, then the next step is to look at, “Okay, if that is how it feels right now, where do I have control to shake things up a little bit,” right? Your routine, who you spend time with, how you spend your time. How you bring that desire or value for change and flexibility into your work, or even into your family?
Essentially. How do you insert the thing that’s missing into your everyday? So in conversation with her, we talked about how she can actually plan for the unexpected, if that makes any sense. You’ll know what I’m talking about, how do you, let say every six weeks, eight weeks, twelve weeks, block out time for something that you will decide last minute? You’re like, “Okay. I’ve got three days blocked off. Maybe I can find a cabin in the woods. I’ve got three days blocked off. Where can I go based on the weather that’s predicted on my energy level.” Where you can create pockets for spontaneity because if you don’t, and I can say this from living in Switzerland for over a decade, if you don’t protect those pockets of time, they will get filled by those you care about who love to plan. But if you create some sacred pockets of, “Don’t touch this time,” then you can insert it with whatever you feel like doing.
Maybe wake up on that three-day block and you say, “I just want to go to an art gallery and drink hot chocolate.” Maybe you wake up and you say, “Oh my gosh. This weather is amazing. I’m going to go hiking,” right? But you can wake up and do whatever you feel like doing based on your energy, based on your mood, based on the weather etc. But those blocks of time are sacred because that’s the time where you get to build in the things that mean the most to you. If you already know you want a sense of adventure or excitement, well then build in I don’t know, bungee jumping. What is it that you need to do? So, how can you plan that in your calendar? Believe me, I love spontaneity and my husband. I always joke that we have to plan to be spontaneous, which drives me crazy. But in the Swiss context, we’ve also learned, we’ve got to protect our time to do things that we feel like doing so that we aren’t booked up six weeks, seven weeks, eight weeks, twelve weeks in advance. So by the time our friends say, let’s go dancing, all we want to do is watch a movie and rest.
So those are some ideas. How can you take back control with your routine to get the things that you want? Get those needs met. The other thing you can do, if you’re feeling bored with where you’re at, and this is actually really relevant, I think for the COVID pandemic, people are really bored with routine. So, how can you create unpredictability into your day? Keep things interesting. I know, even at home, I might have mentioned this before. We’ve got a pretty fixed program on what we eat, when. And now with all of the predictability happening and all of the lockdown happening, it’s like, “Oh we got to mix up our menu, we could eat differently,” because we’re just so bored with all the other things that are staying the same. What we can control is what we eat, can be at least different, right? So that’s one thing we can do even for those who are not in the same situation, you can add a little spice literally to your life.
The next one is, can you challenge yourself to get some of these needs met? This sense of stimulation, this sense of adaptation and maybe even adventure by learning a new skill? I know for me that happened when I started boxing. I know that happened when I started voice lessons, right? Do something that stretches you. Do something that helps you be in a situation that feels unfamiliar, that is stimulating. So if you are in some dorf, in some village somewhere and everything feels the same. What about that pottery class that you’ve always thought about taking but haven’t done yet? Maybe you add something new to your life by finally doing the thing that you wanted to do, whether it’s writing or painting something, creative musical instrument, something outside of the ordinary which will make you have to adapt, right? When we’re learning, it triggers something different in our brain than our routine.
I don’t care whatever you got to do. If you want a little spice in your life and adventure go have a photographer, do a Boudoir photo shoot of yourself. I don’t care if you don’t even have anyone special to do it. I’m pretty sure you would learn a lot about yourself in the process, right? Whatever it is. It’s time to get creative, it’s time to stop waiting for the outside to change to match what we’re craving on the inside and start looking at what we can do to create that inside of ourselves. So learning a new skill, doing something that stretches, are great ways to get started.
The next one can be tricky. If you live in a very stable context. If you live in, let’s say a village where people have known each other for generations, if not for centuries, but it’s still worth trying. And the next part is to surround yourself with people who can share this value or can fulfill this need. So for example, if you are like the person who gave us this question, you are hungry for adventure, you’re hungry for something stimulating. Are you hanging out with the activists in your community? Are you hanging out with the artists? If not, why not? Who can you nurture friendships with people that share some of these values, right? And if they’re not physically in your own community, how can you find them online? Now we know everybody is online. Everybody’s doing Zoom groups. How can you put yourself in community with people that share some of this fire that you’re hungry for?
So if you haven’t done this yet and you were saying you were bored, I’m going to give you straight talk right now and say you don’t have an excuse to not be surrounded by amazing people because you can at least do that once a week, once a month in a Zoom context, in the Facebook group context. And they can be your moments of reprieve from the stability that you’re actually hungry to move away from.
The next thing I would think about which is challenging is what do you do when the people who are around are completely fine with all the routine stability that’s around you, right? What do you do when those are people that you love and trust? What if they’re your best friend? What if they’re your partner? One thing you don’t know is if they in fact are feeling that same way and just haven’t said it. So maybe you could say over dinner or a drink one day, “Hey, here’s something that I’m feeling. Here’s kind of a value that’s coming up more loudly for me or here’s a need that I’m feeling boil up in my stomach. How about you? Have you ever felt that way? What do you do when you feel that way?” And maybe you’ll discover from them that you kind of share your sentiment and might surprise you and you wouldn’t ever have ever known, had you not brought it up.
Or let’s say it’s someone you really care about like your partner and they’re like, “Nope. I love this.” Then you might say to them, “You know what? I get that, and that’s probably why we’re here, but this is still important to me. Would you be willing to experiment with me on some of these new things? Would you be willing to help create space in our family, so that I can take a little three-day getaway and get those needs met in a way that feels rewarding?” And invite your closest people along with you on the journey because what will happen if we don’t, is, we’re going to start feeling resentful towards them and we’re going to start putting them in the box with the same thing that we don’t value, right? “Oh, I don’t like predictability right now, they like predictability. So I don’t like them.” That’s a dangerous box to put someone in. So think about that with your closest people, whether that would resonate, whether you could have a conversation that direction to just check in, whether one, they share the same sentiment or two, they’re willing to support you in making sure you can live this value or meet that need.
Okay. So we’ve talked a lot about this idea. First, it all starts with naming what you need or what your values are, really saying that out loud, putting that down on paper. Then it’s about looking at where you do have control to better meet that need or to live that value. It could be something that we have to structurally put into our day, our week, our month, our year, right? It will also challenge us to do things differently like learning a new skill, craft, form, or doing things differently with the people that we care about.
So, I hope this has inspired you to think about how you can get out of your rut. And let’s say you do all of those things. And if you do all of those things, I’m fairly certain that you’re going to feel a huge impact on your energy and the way that you feel inspired and go about your day. But if you’re still feeling a little bit blah about all of this, I would encourage you to stop looking for the excitement outward and do more looking, that is inward. Meaning, maybe you’re off track. Maybe you’re looking for more purpose and meaning in the outside community through these values, but what’s really missing is a new gig for you. Is there something inside of you that you’re hungry to bring out into the world that you haven’t even given yourself permission to listen to? And if that’s the case, I’ll make sure that I put some resources on finding purpose and meaning in the show notes because I have tons of resources on that.
Okay. So those are a few places to get you started. Here’s the thing. If this is the opposite of what you want from your life, actually, let’s say you’re living in total instability and you’re craving more predictability and routine, then you can do exactly what we talked about in this episode BUT swap the values, right? So, if we’re looking for adventure, what about you’re looking for security? All the same things apply. Where do you have control? How can you integrate that into your daily routine? Into your relationships? Into what you’re learning? etc. So, how can you surround yourself with people that help meet those needs? So, whatever end of the spectrum you’re on, you can take these same ideas and use it to reflect where you’re at. However, it might be that something else is coming up for you. It has nothing to do with stability or predictability or adventure. It could be about connection, right? It could be about intellectual stimulation. Use the same structure that we applied here and get creative and see where it brings you.
The final thing that I wanted to mention about this is there are moments when we’re in the muck, where we haven’t yet felt the fruit of our labor of this new approach that we’ve mentioned today. And you ask yourself, “How did I get here? Why am I in this place now?” And this is a great time for you to go back to your, “Why?” Why did you make the decision to move back to that village and live in that stable city? What were your good intentions then? What were your hopes then? And that reminder can help you embrace the fact that you have always made the best decisions you could given the information that you had at the time, right? So going back to your original, “Why” that brought you to your choices can help you sort of accept where you are and regain the power to re-engage in that place differently.
Okay. So I hope that helps, I think this is particularly important as we round out 2021. Some of us have been with too much stability. Others have been dealing with far too much instability and we’re all asking ourselves, “How can we take back control where possible? And where do we have to let go where we must?” So bringing those thoughts and questions into the new year, I think will serve anyone of us, no matter where we live, to help us, sort of empower our mind, body, and spirit, as we move forward into the year ahead.
All right. Speaking of which, I’ve got something on my sleeve and it applies to both those who love stability and those who are looking to shake things up a little bit. I’ve got some changes coming in the pipeline for Expat Happy Hour, for my Facebook community and for my website. The best things about what I’ve always done are going to continue to remain and amplify. Some of the things that I am really excited to expand on are going to enter as well. So you see a few things that are changing on the surface, but what it really means is there is something going on deeper and more meaningful under the surface all in service of you. So I can continue to support you in your transformations. Continue to support you in any life transition.
All right, so can’t wait to share more on that as we end the year and begin the new year, but you gotta wait just a little bit longer. Now just a reminder, if you have a topic that you would love to hear more about on the podcast, don’t forget to tell us, you could reach out on my contact page, on sundaebean.com, respond to my newsletter and just tell us anything. Or you can tell us inside the free Facebook community Expats on Purpose.
This is Sundae Schneider-Bean with Expat Happy Hour. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with the words of Albert Einstein, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”
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