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Finding Balance: Building Spontaneity in Expat Life

1138If you’re the type of person who likes to put every piece of your jigsaw puzzle together before you relocate abroad or launch a new business idea, I can totally relate. A perfectionist by nature, my brain is at its happiest when a relocation has been planned from every angle and/or a new business website is ready for launch with no spelling errors in sight.

But what do you do when things don’t go according to your original plan?

Spontaneity in Expat Life

As an expat, pre-planning international relocations (and sometimes even daily outings in a city like Jakarta where it can take 4 hours in a rainy peak hour to travel just 4km!) is important. But expat life, as you would know, regularly throws a spanner into even the best made plans. Visas get delayed, flights get cancelled, shipments don’t arrive, you get lost in foreign streets, your Internet doesn’t work, your friends keep leaving, and you have to keep reinventing your identity and purpose. Sometimes it feels like nothing about being an expat ever goes to plan.

That’s why, whilst planning can help you to stay sane on your crazy ride, it’s important to allow spontaneity in your plans too. For example: relish the chance to find something new when you’re lost in those foreign streets; visit a different Internet cafe each day so you can combine your Internet fix with a daily exploration your new city; learn how easy it is to live without all of your worldly possessions; and embrace the opportunity you have to create a new career or purpose abroad.

Taking my expat journey as a case study, before I left on my first assignment as an accompanying-spouse, I had been working for the Australian government for seven years and was in one of those dream, autonomous, head office roles that I was lucky to get at 28 years of age.

My job was secure. My income was secure. I knew who I was, what I did and where I was going.

Fast forward past the ‘loss of identity’ expat years that most of us go through when we first move abroad with our partners and are both blessed and cursed with excess free time, and I’m grateful that things didn’t go according to plan.

Because if they had, I never would have left my job and tried new jobs. I never would have invented a board game and a child’s toy (neither of which went anywhere, but I still feel proud that I invented them). I never would have so easily vacationed in so many amazing places. I never would have attended a Presidential wedding (thanks to hubby’s work abroad). I never would have started Expat Women (now merged with ExpatWoman.com) with my friend Jill Lengre. I never would have had the chance to speak at events in exciting places like Morocco. And I never would have co-written a book about expat life with Victoria Hepworth.

Then on return to Australia, I never would have had trouble finding a job (apparently “you run too fast and would get too much done here” is a reason for not hiring someone), so I never would have created Story Resumes. And on the weekends, I probably never would have had the time or inclination to be inspired by a Startup Weekend event, which means I never would have co-founded a lawn mowing startup called GreenSocks.

What a boring life I might have lived if I had never embarked on expat life or never strayed from my original plans!

Spontaneity in Business

In business, it’s no different. Planning will help you get focussed, but it’s important to squeeze some spontaneity into your business plans if you want to discover things that you didn’t know that you didn’t know.

Take my new business venture for example. It’s about matching people who need their lawns mowed with people who mow lawns. (An unusual business for a repatriate who’s travelled the world? Yes. But again, that’s an example of life not following the original plan!)

We haven’t had our official GreenSocks launch yet, but step-by-step we’ve been slowly building our site’s content, creating our online booking forms, sorting out red tape and planning our perfect marketing strategy. However, that was all thrown out the window recently when, before everything was declared perfect, my business partner exercised some spontaneity and posted one small post in a local Facebook group, plus decided to prematurely test Google AdWords. We went from “not perfect enough to launch yet” to 100 comments on the Facebook post, nearly 50 sign-ups from people who want to mow lawns and 20 lawn mowing jobs booked!

We didn’t have the backend processes in place to manage such an influx so fast, so I confess that we were a little overwhelmed and we didn’t have all the answers we needed. But if I had the chance to re-live this past week again, I’d encourage the same spontaneity in a heartbeat. Because in just one week, we learned more about how to operate our business and improve our booking forms than we ever learned in our slow-and-steady business planning and refinement process.

A More Interesting Adventure

In expat life and entrepreneurship, don’t be afraid to take risks and be spontaneous. Because whilst meticulous planning might be the key to keeping you on track, a splash of risk and spontaneity is what makes it a more interesting and rewarding adventure, don’t you think?

Andrea Martins is the co-author of Expat Women: Confessions – 50 Answers To Your Real-Life Questions about Living Abroad and was the co-founder of ExpatWomen.com.

expat disaster #274

Expat Disasters #274. Grandma vs. the Pool Drain

expat disasters; nanny's applesacks

It’s the summer, bringing along sunshine (sometimes), barbecues(weather permitting) bored children (by day 3) packing boxes (for serial expats) and/or visitors. Happily for us, there is no impending move to throw us into relocation frenzy; instead we are anticipating a steady stream of visitors, guests and adventures. Bliss.

Or at least it would be, if we weren’t so disaster prone. We are currently running at a 100% visitor : urgent care ratio; a record, even for us.

[Tweet “We are currently running at a 100% visitor-to-urgent care ratio; a record, even for us.”]

 

Which brings me to my mother’s visit, and the day she fell down the pool drain.

 

Having recently backpacked her way around Turkey, she has discovered the joy of traveling light. One of her strategies involves bringing limited pairs of underwear, which she washes nightly. Bearing in mind her undergarments are built for coverage and comfort rather than allure and aesthetics, there is considerable weight saving involved.

It also means that any hosts are treated to the daily lineup of apple sacks billowing in the afternoon breeze.

Sadly for all of us, the direct path between the back door and the washing line takes you along the edge of the pool. Now, my mother is terrified of the water and with four overly affectionate dogs lying in wait in the garden, our ears were constantly tuned for the loud splash.

 

Instead, we got a confusingly metallic clang.

 

In an attempt to steer clear of the pool, she had tottered directly across the lid of the pool drain and inexplicably, managed to lose one leg down it. Suffice to say, she has very thin skin and we will be needing to drain the pool before this summer’s aquatics. I could include photos, but it’s early and you need to enjoy your coffee.

expat disaster #274
It’s never official until you have the wristband to prove it..

With the benefit of hindsight, I have added 3 more Noble truths to the expat bible.

  1. Excellent local medical care is all well and good, but when someone’s bleeding copiously on the upholstery and hyperventilating, it really helps to know the most direct route.
  2. Most visitors take absolutely no notice of their health and travel insurance. Nor, for that matter, do expats – until you actually need medical care.
  3. When people come to stay, there is the unspoken assumption that you are their health care advocate.

So, if you don’t want my next post to include gruesome photos of my mother grinning merrily from her gurney (she had a very charming doctor.), listen carefully. You have three tasks..

  • Find out which is your best local Accident and Emergency / Urgent Care center. Plot the best route there (and by best, I mean smoothest, least traffic etc.) Now, go inside, and figure out how long the wait is, what paperwork you need, how much the copay is and who you need to be nice to. And if you are feeling reluctant and shy, just imagine how awkward it’s going to get when you have a bleeding senior in tow.
  • Brief all visitors about location, systems, emergency numbers, fees and paperwork required. If you are feeling particularly assertive (or if they have a reputation for calamity), ask where they keep their health insurance documents. That way, you are not left red-faced in the ER, or forced to rifle through dirty laundry to find that elusive 10 digit number that every form seems to require.
  • Keep the details of the emergency systems and services  next to the Wifi password. Funnily enough, no-one ever remembers the emergency briefing, but Wifi passwords? Off by heart.

[Tweet “Excellent local medical care is great, but when someone’s bleeding copiously on the upholstery, it helps to know the most direct route. #expat”]

Finding Home Abroad Launch!

Cue drumroll…It’s almost here!

Finding-Home-Abroad-CoverAfter 6 months of cross continent, late night Google hangouts, feverish scribbling and lots of red ink, Finding Home Abroad – A Guided Journal For Adapting to Life Overseas launches on May 26th. I am officially a published author.

Sadly, (but happily for you all) I am most definitely not the brains behind it. That credit goes to my co-author and partner in crime, Trisha Carter, an organizational psychologist and experienced cross cultural trainer, who astonishingly is still speaking to me.

Trisha and I share a passion for creating hands-on, user friendly resources that are evidence based, informed by real life experiences, and have a proven track record. She is a kind, gentle soul who loves to support the inner journey, while I just love a good checklist (and possibly a few giggles). You can see how it’s a match made in heaven…

Finding Home Abroad is our answer to the challenge of crossing cultures effectively, using prompts and insights to help you observe your experiences and reflect on your responses. We wanted to create something accessible, useful, but also portable, so that it can be part of your journey, both in helping your adaptation and recording your milestones.

Supported by a brand new website, ExpatJournals.com, there’s a whole host of bonus resources, including webinars, checklists, workbooks and a dedicated section for global coaches to help them get the most out of using journaling with clients.

To find out more about guided journaling, reflection and great transitions, join us for “Reflection: A Critical Tool for Expat Success”, a forty minute interactive webinar, including ten minutes for open discussion and questions. It will be held on Tuesday 27th May 2014 at 10:00am Sydney time.

Check out the time in your time zone here
http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html 

For free sign up, click here

 

heartbleed: the expat edition

Heartbleed: the expat edition

heartbleed: the expat editionContrary to the mythical serenity of expat life, 2014 has been the year of security breaches in the Defining Moves household. And we don’t seem to be rising to the challenge.

In February, our cars were broken into while they sat in our driveway, under the carport. There are two things of note with this; firstly, the only reason we knew that they had been targeted was that the thieves very kindly left the doors open so as not to wake us. Hence the first conversation was not “we’ve been burgled” but a lengthy, accusation ruled tirade about “who came in last and left the car doors open”..

It continued in the same vein when the Sheriff arrived. Her first question pertained to the ‘break-in’, at which point I squirmed.

” Define the term ‘break’..?”

Predictably, we had all left our car doors unlocked, and the genius in the family (that would be me) had also left a handbag in the car, now noticeably absent. A round of lengthy phone calls to the Department of Motor Vehicles, various card companies and the bank ensued.

By far the most annoying part of all this was the Other Half, who constantly nags me about locking the car when leaving it for more than three seconds, and who correctly predicted that I had left my purse in it. There are few things in life more irritating than the words ‘I told you so’ coming from a smug spouse.

The theme continued last week, with the advent of the HeartBleed virus. It prompted a flutter of panic in my heart, not so much the virus itself, but thought of

  1.  remembering all those passwords in the first place and
  2. having to update all the people who I shared said passwords with.

There is a certain irony when hackers are the only people who actually do know your log in details..

The Other Half came up trumps, with a list of sites affected that narrowed down my workload to a mere sliver. I crafted a new password that would pass even the most convoluted security requirement and set to work. And promptly spent the rest of the evening binging on Hulu’s back catalogue, which according to my list, was one of the sites unaffected. Safety first, I always say.

But the Gods of spousal comeuppance were smiling on me this morning, as the Other Half trudged into the bedroom with a strong waft of Burning Martyr following close behind.

“Why were you so late to bed last night?”

“I was changing all the passwords.” (said with a pious, superior air.) Do you know how many we have for all our expat health insurance? And our credit union accounts? But don’t worry, we’ve got a really strong password now”

At which point he reels off a long string of garbled numbers, letters and symbols that Bletchley Park would struggle to remember. And judging by the number of hesitations, missteps and corrections, so did he.

Cue pregnant pause.

Me: “Please tell me you did only do the ones that were listed on that email you sent me? The sites that actually use Open SSL encryption?”

OH: Silence

OH: “I’ll write the password down for you.”

Good to know that security is a priority. Now anyone who wants to get hold of our passwords has to navigate the enormous stack of unfiled paperwork that the Other Half leaves constantly in his wake.

Sometimes, low tech is the best defense.

 

Expat Life Made Better.. A Little Help?

Long time readers will know how passionate I am about Families In Global Transition, an organization that provides a forum for the diverse range of people involved in international mobility – everyone from expats themselves to those who support, serve and send them – to gather, listen, share and learn. The Annual conference is always incredible, both for the warmth of the welcome and the wisdom of the attendees and speakers.

We are witnessing an increasing number of moves made independent of organizational support or funded by ‘lump sum’ policies, allowing families the flexibility (and in lump sum cases) the finance to facilitate their own move.

It’s a double edged sword, and the potential consequences are huge. While I am a passionate believer in the need for families to be informed, empowered partners in any move, there is the very real potential for poor decisions made on the basis of lack of knowledge, experience or misguided assumptions.


The increasing use of web based learning, support and collaborate project management platforms means that potential expats can get information, connections, support and services through the entire process, from consideration to repatriation, and having met some of the upcoming providers in this field, I am both excited and inspired.
Hence my highlight of FIGT 14 was the number of emerging solopreneurs who are leveraging technology to bring high quality, effective support direct to families living internationally.

Final_Expat_360_logo_small

One of these is Amanda Wilby, a Global Talent Coach, and leader of the Expat360°Life Programme (www.expat360life.com). It didn’t hurt that she is British, and well versed in the challenges of getting the entire family from A to B and then keeping them happy once there. Bearing in mind that she is a former change management consultant (IBM), she should be good at this stuff.And she is very, very good.

But from an expat (i.e. potential user) perspective, the bit I like best is that she is very, very smart, and very, very funny. Because if I was someone to guide me through the challenges of international transition, I want them to

a) know what it feels like

b) know better

c) be able to see the funny side.

Happily, Amanda has done just that, setting up Expat360life.com, a blended coaching and mentoring program using on-line video, audio downloads, self-study exercises and live facilitated webinars to “create greater engagement, purpose and resonance for a successful life overseas.” Or, in  my world, make life easier.

She is running a free Expat360°Life Jumpstart Webinar on Tuesday 29 April 2014 at 20.00hrs UCT discussing

  • The 4 biggest myths about creating a successful expat life
  • The 5 Expat Traps to avoid when setting up your life overseas
  • The 9 things that need to be in place in order to create a successful and happy life abroad
  • A live Expat360°Life Jumpstart exercise to help you begin to make the changes you desire.
 For more information and free registration go to: www.expat360life.com.  
I’ll see you there..

 

Happy Tails, Happy Trails. The Canine Expat.

Defining Moves - information, inspiration and resources for the global expat, accompanying partner, trailing spouse. -the benefits of relocating pets and why every expat should have a dog. Includes a how-to guide to pet relocation.We’ve all heard the adage “Happy Wife, Happy Life” and the more progressive “Happy Spouse, Happy House”. (Sadly, ‘partner ‘has too many syllables to make a catchy soundbite, which sums up the complexity of being a partner more succinctly than many a lengthy diatribe.)

But I digress.

As I started getting my act together this morning, my every move was shadowed by four furry beings, all intent on finding out what I had planned for the day. Whether it was going to be one spent sat at my desk, or whether there was the chance of the canine version of heaven, a lengthy hike through the hills.

There is something very powerful about having someone care deeply about your daily plans, who is only willing to join you in those soul-soothing moments, but desperately encourages you to do it now, who does the truly essential things in life – eat, sleep and play – with such fun and gusto that you can’t help but be inspired to join in.

So for those of you who are pondering a move and wondering whether taking the family pet is really worth it, take it from me. It is one of the most expensive things we have ever done, and yet have never regretted it for a moment. They listen to the recounting of the difficult days, provide friendship when we need it most and get us out of the house when we would hide under the covers. They introduce us to new friends, literally dragging us kicking and screaming to new experiences, new friends, new environments. They give us the confidence and motivation to face the world, wherever in the world we find ourselves.

For our children, they do even more. They are the members of the family that can move with us, providing a sense of permanence and stability wherever we go. They teach them about the realities of illness and death, about kindness and consequences, and about living in the moment.

They are not without complications. I am probably more aware of the vaccination schedule for our expat mutts than for my own children, and our food bills would make you wince. But as I write this, I have a warm body that is lying next to me, and three more on the floor. They remind me to stop, be still and savor the quiet moments while they last.

So here’s my snippet of wit and wisdom for the day…

Happy tails, happy trails.

Considering moving a pet? Here’s our starter guide.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Expat EveryDay Support Center Offer

Expat Overwhelm expat everyday support center offer I had big plans for this post. Firstly, it was going to happen about two weeks earlier, and it was going to be an insightful, witty and carefully crafted overview of how complicated life can be, and why it is helpful to have someone skilled alongside you who can keep you on track and keep you engaged.

Instead, here we are two weeks later, and I am sitting in my pajamas amid piles of Christmas cards which also should have been written two weeks ago and will now qualify as New Year – or at the current rate – Valentine’s Day cards. Last week, I managed to incorrectly refer to the date of the Feisty One’s birthday -IN FRONT OF HER – and have been reminded of my heinous mistake thrice daily ever since. It’s tomorrow, should any of you still be wondering, and predictably, today will be spent in a frenzied dash around the local stores in an attempt to pull it all together. Oh, and I learned last night that the bakery from which her long awaited cake was supposed to be purchased may well have closed down.

Oh, and did I mention my mother is visiting for a month and a half..?

I’m in full overwhelm and at this point, my personal goal has been downgraded from “keeping on track” to ‘clinging to sanity”. And I am willing to bet that I am not alone.

Which leads me to the point of today’s post; a free 30 minute coaching session from the Expat EveryDay Support Center.

I have known Norman for a couple of years, during which he has been running one of the most expat-centred, well designed coaching programs that I have seen. It’s run entirely online so you can visit at any time that works for you, and has the benefit of Norman’s wisdom and expertise backing it up.

But the thing I love best about Norman? He is completely unflappable. He has had so many random messages, questions and demands from the Defining Moves cupboard over the last year, and nothing has ever rattled him. He somehow untangles every challenge that I throw at him, without ever making me feel like an idiot or rolling his eyes. Those of you who know me personally will attest to the level of personal character and professional training that requires.

So, just for the Defining Moves community, he has put together a special free 30 minute coaching session so that you can test out what the Expat Everyday Support Center has to offer. Whether you are just moving, just landing or just need to talk to someone who gets it, click on the link to find out more.

Oh, and say hi to Norman for me..

Image courtesy of the Nationaal Archeif via Flickr.

Expat family essentials: Estate planning checklist. Defining Moves: information, inspiration for the global expat family. Trailing spouse, supporting partner, expat partner, accompanying partner, international assignment

Expat Family Essentials: The Estate Planning Checklist

Expat family essentials: Estate planning checklist. Defining Moves: information, inspiration for the global expat family.  Trailing spouse, supporting partner, expat partner, accompanying partner, international assignmentWhen my mother came to visit us in Los Angeles, she neglected to bring her swimsuit, and was faced with the challenge of what to wear in our pool. My generous offer of a string bikini was rudely rejected with the words “Over my dead body”. I am taking her at her word, and when she moves on to a better place, we will be marking her passing with an open casket viewing and the aforementioned attire.

Just to compound your already low opinion of me, I also respond to unwanted maternal points for improvement with the words “ Just remember who’ll be choosing the nursing home”…

Let this be a lesson to those of you who are feeling complacent having written your will; if you also want a say in your care and send off, do in it writing, and make sure it can be found before the services (healthcare, financial or spiritual) have taken place. It applies to all of you, but if you are an expat, the risks are even higher..

 

There are four more documents that you need to consider preparing:

  • Guidelines for your funeral arrangements
  • Power of Attorney
  • Trust / Catalogue of assets
  • Letter of intent

Funeral arrangements. 

If, like myself, you have specific ideas about your funeral, you need to put a plan in place so that loved ones left behind can honor your wishes. For those of us with a somewhat warped sense of humor, it’s a great time to mess with everyone a little, but I appreciate that not everyone out there is as cruel as I.

The key points to cover include:

Location for service (church, crematorium etc.), preference for cremation or burial, memorial service, storage / distribution of ashes, etc.

Funeral preferences – hymns, caskets, flowers, donations, clothing (yours, but feel free to have a little fun with their dress code too…). You could even write your own eulogy and obituary, complete with an embellished (and  potentially wholly fictitious) list of accomplishments.

Funding – it’s the one we all forget, but if you are living overseas and wish to be buried in your home town, make provision for the costs of repatriating both your body and your family. Your embassy can give guidance, but the costs are entirely your own. Bear in mind that your heirs can’t easily access accounts left in your name once you have died – funeral expenses are deducted from the estate before it is divided between the beneficiaries, but flights etc are usually paid in advance, so ask your lawyer the best way to facilitate this.

Power of Attorney.

The Durable Power of Attorney / Enduring Power of Attorney is a document that designates a representative to make financial, health care, or other business decisions for you if you become unable to do so for yourself.

This can be general or limited / springing. A general durable power of attorney gives permission for whomever you name to make every decision on your behalf, if you are no longer able to advocate for yourself. A limited durable power of attorney cover specific events, like selling property, making investments (often given to financial advisors / brokers) or making health care decisions (also called an Advance Directive of Health Care).

You can choose anyone to act as your agent, but commonsense rules apply – choose someone trustworthy who has your best interests at heart, and who is physically able to make those decisions; while many decisions can be made remotely, those living overseas should consider choosing someone who is able to travel.

Trust.

I am not a lawyer, nor have any legal expertise or qualification, so I am leaving the explanation of what exactly a trust is to those in the know – click here for the best explanation I could find, or check out the additional resources at the bottom of the page. Your task is to go away and get legal advice on whether trusts are applicable to your situation.

Simply put, a trust is a legal holding zone for assets, which are controlled by individuals known as ‘trustees’, for the benefit of other named parties “beneficiaries”. You nominate multiple trustees and beneficiaries, allowing both flexibility (it is relatively straightforward to change the conditions of the trust) and smooth transition of both control of and benefit from the trust.

The vast majority of people set up trusts for financial reasons – properly crafted, your trust can help to avoid significant estate taxes. However, for expats, the ability for assets to be transferred seamlessly is often far more important; especially where the remaining spouse is on a dependent visa and no longer legally entitled to remain in the host country.

It also has the advantage not just cataloging major assets but also specifying how beneficiaries can access the funds contained in the trust, meaning that should the unthinkable happen and both parents die, they can leave instructions for funds to be released at appropriate intervals (for example, lump sums to cover college tuition and living costs, down payments on a first home etc) rather than giving total control when the children reach legal adulthood.. As someone with a 17 year old who is unable to manage his birthday money effectively, the thought of leaving him in charge of half our net worth in a year’s time sends shudders down my spine.

Letter of Intent.

Finally, it’s the easy one – your letter of intent. It’s not a legal document, instead simply some guidance to the guardians of your estate and your dependents about what your wishes, your hopes and your future plans for your dependents are.

There are two things to bear in mind:

  1. Think of your letter of intent as a set of guidelines, not rules. You are handing over the job to someone who is not you (and never will be), so let them do their best with the situation they have; if there are any ‘dealbreakers’, it’s probably a good idea to discuss them in person before you assign them the responsibility.
  2. Make sure you have the funds to back it up. There’s nothing like being left with a laundry list of expectations, and no money to do it. It’s the same lesson we teach our children; if it’s that important, you should be willing to pay for it with your own money..
  3. Don’t assume children are your only dependents; you may need to make provision for your parents, your pets or your clients.

So there we go – you are well on the way to getting your plans a little more ‘future-proofed’, whether in terms of money, care for your dependents, or what they say about you in your obituary. Just remember; your epitaph really is the one thing that is written in stone…

 

Open letter to a teenage son (expat parenting) Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation; information, inspiration and resources for the globally mobile; expat partners, trailing spouses, expat families, international assignments,

Open Letter to A Teenage Boy.

Open letter to a teenage son (expat parenting) Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation; information, inspiration and resources for the globally mobile; expat partners, trailing spouses, expat families, international assignments, In a rare moment of family harmony last month, the Wiggy One and I went to our local hardware store. We made it round without becoming irritated with the other, managing to laugh and talk. As we walked to the car, a grandfather and small grandson were on their way in; the grandson skipping alongside, swinging on his grandfather’s hand and turning up his face to share a story. The older man was bending down to listen, both of them were delighting in the other’s company. And there I was with my now 6″1′ son, for whom life is no longer so simple, and who is trying to bridge the gap between childhood and becoming a man.

In a reversal of the scene playing out in front of us, I looked up at my son, and shared my own secret.

“Just so you are aware of the magnitude of the ‘Bait and Switch’ trick life played on me, you were just like that.”

What I forgot to add, was so was I. I remember the moments when time disappeared as I watched him discover the world, and it makes me sad to realize that he’s not the only one hardened by the passing years – I am too.

In an effort to explain why we as parents seem so unreasonable, so angry, so irritating, so controlling, here’s an open letter my teenage son – and probably others out there. It’s what we are thinking at 3am when we are rehearing our own words, and wishing them unsaid..

Dear Wiggy,

Firstly, I love you. Those may not be the words that always come out of my mouth, but please know that it is the one enduring, irrefutable truth in my seemingly erratic behavior. But imagine, just for a moment, you are given a small child and are expected to stand by and watch them navigate through busy city streets. That’s what parenting feels like. It’s terrifying, and you’d be a little crazy too.

I will always see you as three years old – the days when you greeted me with delight in your eyes, excitement in your voice, enthusiasm in your hugs. The days when I was invincible, when your greatest need was to be held close and your biggest challenge was how to balance on a bicycle. It makes it hard to watch you go out there and face the world, armed only with the inadequate advice I tried to give you and knowing full well that you weren’t listening and are probably thinking you know so much better.

You may be right, but the only way to find out is to test that hypothesis and take risks. I have failed far too many of the challenges facing you, and a little bit of me dies knowing that you will be hurt and will learn that not everyone is kind. You will make good choices and bad choices, and feel the consequences of both for years to come. You are too big for things to be fixed with a kiss and a bandaid, but it doesn’t stop me from keeping a secret stock of them just in case.

I know you think I am nosy and intrusive – I am. You have a whole life that is private – it’s called your private life for a reason. And that’s ok, it’s part of becoming a man. But just because you keep it private, doesn’t mean it stays that way – if you are keeping quiet because you would be embarrassed to see it on the front page of the New York Times, it’s probably a bad idea. I know this, because enough of my secrets have been told, and I learned the hard way. The bad news for you is that you have social media recording every mistake, and I desperately don’t want to find out about yours via Instagram. So just think of my questions as your filter; if you are worried that I will find out, you will just a little more cautious. Which is exactly what every parent wants.

While we are on the subject of private lives, know that how you treat people you love now will influence the success of your future relationships. One of the things I most love about your father is the way he treats his mother – no matter how irritated he might be, he treats her with respect. When we first met, it felt like he was choosing her feelings over mine; as I get older, I realize that she taught him to value women, and that I am now the one who reaps the benefits.

I can’t force you to do things any more – you make your own choices. You are bigger than me by about 6 inches, so I can’t just send you to your room or drag you home.  So when your automatic response to a problem is “it’s your fault’, I know that you still have a little more growing to do, because really, most of your life is now down to you. I can protect you, I  can advise you, I can comfort you, I can punish you and I can help you understand the meaning of consequences, but the days when I could make you disappeared when you outweighed me by 40 pounds and joined the football team. I know it, and it’s hard to watch – so I am impatiently waiting for you to get it too. It’s ironic, but the day you turn around and say, without prompting “it was my fault’ is the day that we know you are truly becoming a man.

Here’s the thing – one day (preferably 10 years from now) you will have children of your own. And when you do, I will be there, knowing that your children will have a great father who has made plenty of mistakes, but came through it better, stronger, wiser. One who will love them, protect them, teach them and advise them, and then, when they are teenagers, will also be told how little he knows.. And I will be there, with hugs and bandaids and a huge smile. Because karma is a bitch.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

The Secret to Expat Success… And Why.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

 

 

I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…

 

Make your mistakes quickly

 

As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.

 

1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.

In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.

 

2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.

I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task –  you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.

 

 3. It gets you out there.

Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…

 

4. It helps you to bond.

If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.

 

5. It makes you brave.

Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.

 

So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…