As a species, we humans seem to have a particular aversion to being in the unknown. Which is strange when you think about it, since being in the unknown does seem to be our natural state, whether we like it or not. We never really know what’s going to happen next, and frequently the most unexpected things do happen.
Most of the world however, wants to maintain an illusion of knowing what will happen next. Many people set up their whole lives so that they can relax into this illusion. You may work for the same company for 30 years, live in the same neighborhood, and feel relatively certain that you will remain in your house forever.
For expats, however, the veil of illusion is more transparent. Particularly for career expats, it is often the case that you don’t know where your next posting will be until shortly before its time to move. You not only don’t know where you’ll live, often you don’t know what the next job posting will be or which school your children will attend.
Here are some tips for living in the unknown and actually making friends with being in this state.
Tip # 1: Approach life with curiosity
This involves looking at your life with what the Zen masters call ‘beginner’s mind’. Instead of worrying about what the future will bring, try cultivating an attitude of, “gee, I wonder what will come next; where will I be led and with whom?” Try living life with true childlike curiosity and wonder.
Tip #2: See the glass as half full instead of half empty.
I know this is easier said than done for some people. Some of us seem to be hard wired to see the negative in a given situation instead of the positive. If this is true for you, try catching yourself in negative thinking, and when you can, turn it around to imagining a positive scenario.
For example, if there doesn’t seem to be a job for you in the countries of your choice, try going outside the box, do some research, and imagine what could be a positive outcome of living in a country that you hadn’t considered before. You may be surprised at the opportunities you uncover.
Tip #3: Accept yourself right where you are.
Coming to yourself with true acceptance in whatever situation you find yourself is key to a happy life, and particularly to a happy expat life, where so much can be up in the air. Even in the midst of turmoil, see if you can come to yourself with just a bit of compassion, even if you find yourself in the unknown. You might imagine talking to the child part of you from the loving adult part, much as you would talk to your real child. Letting your inner child know that it’s okay, that you as the adult are in charge and will make sure the child is okay, no matter what happens. It’s really about learning to be kind to yourself, which everyone can do with some practice.
Dhyan Summers is the director of Expat Counseling and Coaching Services. She has been a licensed psychotherapist for 35 years. If you’d like a free 30-minute session with Dhyan, visit www.expatcounselingandcoaching.com and hit ‘Book a Free Session.’