If 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.