Expat Wellness: Rethinking the Outcomes of Hard Work
Welcome to “Expat Wellness” a new series on the blog where I discuss tools, tips, and strategies for integrating wellness and mindfulness into the unpredictable world of being an expat.
I have now been an expat for 8 months – 8 months filled with low-lows (crying on an air mattress and living out of a suitcase in the dead of winter) to high-highs (traveling with new international friends around Italy and cramming our faces with pizza) and to be honest I still have not found a middle ground between these two things. Today I was sitting on my balcony attempting to fulfill my daily goal of 10 minutes of meditation with the app Headspace, when the opening animation for the day’s meditation hit me with a meaningful sentence – “we have been taught that the more effort we put in, the more we will get out of life and of course this isn’t always true.” I immediately thought “exactly” and replayed the animation.
When I look back at my life so far, I cannot think of a time when putting in effort and hard work resulted in failure. I worked hard in school and got good grades, I worked hard at my job and got recognition. Yet when I moved to Austria, I quickly found that my tried and true process of putting myself out there and working hard would not yield the immediate results I had anticipated. I found myself feeling ashamed when friends and family asked, “how is the job search going?” Or “are you making new friends?” I found myself at a loss for words and at times I felt angry at my support network for asking these questions. I consistently asked myself what I was doing wrong.
So here is what I learned –
When it comes to being an expat, you can prepare as much as possible before your arrival and immerse yourself into your new culture, but you cannot force everything to fall into place and expect “business as usual” when so much has changed.
Does this mean that I have stopped working hard at establishing my new life in Austria? Of course not, but I have had to retrain myself to approach my attitude towards hard work and effort with a different lens. A month or so ago, I met with my expat friend Jan who has lived in Austria for 3 years and she said, “You can’t hold yourself responsible for finding a job that isn’t there.” This little gem of wisdom brought me so much clarity. I realized that I cannot force whatever I need into existence simply through hard work and that I should be more forgiving (and realistic) with myself when adjusting to my new expat life.
TIPS FOR RETHINKING THE OUTCOMES OF HARD WORK
- Recognize that things take time: whether it be learning a new language or simply learning how to get your car oil changed, things will inevitably take much longer than they used to. Think of it as similair to learning how to play a new game – you are learning new processes, new rules, and maybe some new vocabulary – you may not get it immediately, but with time you will get the hang of it.
- Find little victories: when something works out for you recognize that you did a good job. Even small things like mailing a postcard home for the first time or learning how to pump gas – celebrate it! While it may take time for you to knock off the big things on your To Do list, it doesn’t mean that you should ignore all of the little victories that put you on the path towards expat success. So you still have not found a flat to rent, but darn it, you know how to ride the city bus – every step counts.
- Take “failure” in stride: this goes hand in hand with the previous point, but when you think you have failed, forgive yourself. I cannot tell you how many times I let some small thing I “messed up” ruin my day. When I first moved to Austria, I loathed grocery shopping since I would frequently buy the wrong item (I may have thought it was dish soap, but it was dishwasher fluid 😑) and you know what, one day you will be able to see the humor in this. Even with bigger “mistakes,” everything will come full circle as a lesson in the end. For example, I had a trial work day at a job I really wanted and it did not go well. Obviously, I did not get the job and when I received the rejection letter I was devastated. In hindsight, I learned some valuable things through this experience such as useful tips for interviewing in the future, how to make my CV more clear for an Austrian audience, and recognizing the truth that even though I may have really wanted it, the position was not a good fit for the employer or for me at the time. I haven’t lost hope and neither should you – even when it feels like there are more failures than victories – all is not lost.