6 Life Lessons I Learned My First Year as an Expat
It’s been almost three years since I left my corporate job in pursuit of the life I have always envisioned for myself. It’s been a crazy journey, one often fraught with uncertainty and doubt. Deciding to uproot and live in a different culture far away from normative interactions can be can a daunting endeavor but the benefits have been worth it. I’m often asked how I did it and what has been my experience. Here are 6 lessons of self-discovery and greater self-awareness I gained on my path from here to there.
1. Fear is like a cage with no bars.
Before making the decision to move abroad, my internal conversation had always been that it was a beautiful dream that wasn’t doable. I have come to understand the primary factor which held me back from seeing that aspiration as a real possibility was fear. The learned kind that clouded my self-perception and made me doubt in my creative ability to co-author my reality. I once read that “fear is false evidence appearing real.” I believe that sentiment to be true. Unplug, look fear in the face, take a risk and watch how limitations vanish.
2. If you want to do something, do it.
How did I manage to move abroad despite previously telling myself it wasn’t feasible? Simple, I just did it, and it’s easier than you think. Nike slogan aside, once I was determined to go for it; I made the commitment not to give fear any energy. I didn’t overwhelm myself with thoughts of the big picture that would likely open the door to self-doubt. I didn’t second guess my decision by constantly replaying pros and cons. I didn’t seek validation by telling anyone. What I did do is vigorously research my options, make a list of all the steps required, down to the minute detail, and quietly check items off that list one by one. Ten months passed as I kept my head down and put one foot in front of the other. Before I knew it, I was off to Spain. I've found that through thorough preparation, laser focus, determination, and persistence you can do anything you deem possible.
3. Intuition trumps logic.
Following my gut lead me to Madrid. Calling it a leap of faith is an understatement. In all honesty, when I finally began to reflect a month after I'd moved I began to panic. I’d left my secure career in advertising; had no job prospects and was living in a foreign country with a rapidly depleting saving. Who does that?! I had to do some serious praying, affirmations, yoga, all of it! I knew in my soul I was in Madrid for a reason so pushing aside doubt, I began to submit my CV. In less than three days I started receiving calls. Apparently certified English professors with corporate backgrounds are in high demand. I was ultimately invited to work with the España Ministerio de Economia. I would never have foreseen having the opportunity to work at the Spanish Ministry of Economy or learn so much about the European Union. To date, that job was the best working experience I’ve ever had. I literally got paid to learn more than I taught. It just goes to show you, to quote Steve Jobs, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward...” Trust your inner voice. Do that something, even if the path there isn’t quite clear.
4. Being uncomfortable can be good for you.
While living in Madrid was an amazing experience, at times it was incredibly isolating. The culture was completely different from the U.S. Very few people spoke English. I struggled to communicate. Things that were rote before took effort. Nothing was familiar. I started experiencing a loss of my identity. It was like I had an existential crisis. At times, I felt disconnected and lost. Although I was uncomfortable, being free from typical distractions afforded me the rare opportunity to be quiet and observe myself. There is something to be said about being stripped down. During that time, I began an uncompromising examination of my belief system, gifts, and life purpose. Through this process, I was better able to understand my emotions, drives, values, and goals. I highly recommend taking advantage of the uncomfortable moments to learn about yourself.
5. Experience is believing.
Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish do not go home and sleep mid-day. One of the greatest benefits of traveling and living abroad is gaining knowledge based on first-hand experience rather than depending on second-hand accounts. So often what we believe is based on someone else’s perception. Traveling and living abroad can help you gain greater insights into other cultures, it gives you access to other ideas and different ways of being. I believe unfiltered contact with one another is what promotes understanding and compassion. I invite you to expose yourself to something outside your norm. Rely on your observations and experience to form your opinion.
6. Self-knowledge is where your power lies.
Through this crazy journey, I found that I’m enough. Me. Pint-sized, unassuming Amber from New Orleans. In the almost three years since I moved abroad, I’ve learned that if I can see it as possible, then I can accomplish it. I’ve discovered just how resourceful and tenacious I am. That knowledge has enabled me to finally trust in my abilities and be courageous enough to live outside the box. Getting to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, fears and reservations, helps you to evolve and put you in a position of power over your life.
Taking a chance and betting on myself has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. What lesson have you learned on your life’s path? We want to hear from you. Share them with us in the comments below!