My brother has a five year life plan. He and his wife have at some point, sat down together and mapped out where they want to be in five years, and how they are going to get there. Every few months, they discuss what progress they are making, examine any changes that have happened, and make any adjustments that might be necessary.
I think he might be adopted.
The rest of my family are a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants bunch, who value spontaneity, adapt easily, and lurch in and out of minor disasters with astonishing regularity. As a group, we are incredibly creative and resilient, but then again, when your idea of a plan is a weekly menu, you need to be.
As much as it pains me to say it, my brother has the perfect approach for redefining relocation. One of the greatest challenges that relocation service providers struggle with is that of ‘unrealistic expectations’, and yet I have yet to meet many expats who made unreasonable requests.
What I do know is that very few of us have a written plan for the next year, let alone the next five, so unless the relocation training manual comes complete with a crystal ball, the chances of the assignment and relocation service contracts reflecting our actual needs are slim.
The answer needn’t be complicated. We need to clarify our expectations as far into the future as we can, and make explicit what we need to achieve them. We are also going to discover the best and worst times to make any changes in location, and why. We’re going to draw a family timeline.
For those of you who love order and are proficient with Excel, you can use a template to create a timeline. The advantage of this is that you can gloat over the rest of us. However, after two hours of futile struggling, I’m using the pen and paper method.
Begin with each family member, starting now, and charting forward for at least two years. This takes into account your immediate needs for the transition and settling phase, allows for single year contracts to overrun and for an assignment of this length, your needs are fairly predictable.
It is also the point at which many visas expire, home and host location resident status changes, and home nation benefits, rights to resident rates for college and healthcare, and legal and financial rules change. Here’s my two year rough draft for the Wiggy One, just to prove that I sometimes take my own advice..
However, as many assignments are extended or rolled over into new overseas placements, two years is an absolute minimum. For ease of use, use a separate sheet of paper for every family member, (and even every category, if it gets really complicated) and plot 24 monthly markers along your line. A lined A4 legal pad turned on its side is perfect.
Over the coming weeks, we will be discussing each category in detail, but for now, these are the main areas we will be considering in terms of our two to five year plan.
- Career (for both partners)
- Financial Considerations
- Legal Issues
- Personal Development
- Life Goals
Between now and the next step, take time to write down as many events that will occur in each category that you can think of, including end of school years, passport and visa expiry dates, driving license renewal, professional re-certification exams, future career and life plans, etc.
Your timeline is not set in stone, and many of the features on it will change over time. What it should do is clarify what is most important, and what challenges you will face, so that you have a working document to take into account when you consider relocation policies, available support and future assignments.
Photo courtesy of The State Library of New South Wales