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Why not being selfish is in fact, selfish.  Part Three in the series ‘From Struggle To Success, From Miserable to Magnificent’ for fulfilled Expatriate living.  

vintage-selfish (1)Right, so this week I’m getting personal.  I’m really hoping this will turn out as a blog post but right now it feels a lot like a rant.  This week I’m all about BEING SELFISH.  The word ‘selfish’ has bad press – look it up in the dictionary, it’s hideous.  Probably one of the worst adjectives you could throw at a person.   It makes me really CROSS!  Sure – there are many people in the world to whom this word could (in dictionary terms) truthfully apply but let’s turn it down a few notches and look at the ‘Fifty Shades of Being Selfish’ – the grey areas, and how not being selfish really is in fact, being deeply selfish.

Let’s start with one of my favourite bugbears:  The Protestant Work Ethic.  Ingrained in much of Northern Europe and America at first glance this sounds like A GOOD THING.  The underpinning of meritocracy.  Work hard and your reward will come.  Work. Hard. Harder.  Harder, harder. There, I’ve gone all ‘Fifty’ again.  But sometimes working hard is the last thing you should do – especially if you have just moved heaven and earth to live in a new country.

In 2005 I gave birth to my first baby in Sydney as my husband and I were living in Australia.  I went from working full time as a consultant (working hard) to being a full time mother with few local friends available outside work hours, my family on the other side of the planet and something crazy happened to me.  My protestant work ethic started whispering in my ear telling me that sitting down breastfeeding my son for 8 hours a day was not work and that I had to earn my keep.  I had to prove myself as a mother and a worthy person because my husband was now the breadwinner and I was ‘riding on his coat tails’.  This meant I had to do everything else as well.  All the washing, all the cleaning, all the cooking, all the childcare (every night feed, every early morning), social organising, networking with other new mothers.  I went from working around 9 hours per day and earning a very good salary to working 19 hours a day and earning nothing.  I had a baby that slept badly, ergo I didn’t sleep – for twelve months and who wouldn’t take a bottle so I was the only one who could feed him.  Halfway through this we moved to the South of France and I continued with this madness in a country I didn’t know or understand and layered my exhaustion with more work – learning a new language, creating another new circle of friends and finding my way around the Cote d’Azur without a GPS.  And that’s exactly how life felt – like I was going round in circles without a compass, no GPS, not even a map!

What was the impact?  I was totally EXHAUSTED – I had nothing in ‘the tank’ so I could enjoy the amazing country I lived in.  Even picking up the phone to talk to friends back home in the UK was hard work so I felt DISCONNECTED.   I was ANGRY with my husband and JEALOUS at how his tennis-playing, go to the office without-being-covered-in-baby-sick-life had not changed.  Because I was the only person who could feed my child I felt CHAINED to my baby.  Ask my husband and he will gladly tell you that I was DEPRESSED.  Exhausted, angry,  jealous, chained, disconnected and depressed does not make for creative solutions.  It does not make for a sustainable, fulfilled and happy experience.  It doesn’t make for much at all in fact.  Yes, I got to be indispensable.  Yes, I got to be superwoman.  I got to be the hero (where’s my damn medal?). But the cost was too much.  By ‘not being selfish’ I actually was being deeply selfish because my son had a mother with little energy, patience and fun and my husband had a depressed wife!  I had nothing left to give freely and with joy – an unsustainable situation.  I can’t remember the exact moment I ‘admitted defeat’ but there was a definite period of realisation after a year or so (A WHOLE YEAR!!) of madness and relief that I didn’t have to carry the burden of the responsibility and work all to myself any more.   I got myself a cleaner, a babysitter and I started exercising.  I got some new clothes.  I started feeling good in my own skin again and enjoying what life had to offer in the Riviera, and I met some really nice people.  My protestant work ethic was FURIOUS.  But too late – I’d found a much nicer way to live life!

oxygen-mask

So, a big life-lesson for me has been to watch my innate tendency to do too much.  To create sustainable balance and a self-care routine that now sees me taking regular exercise, going to meditation classes, working the hours I want to work and blending this with time making new friends, spending time with established friends, family and in creative pursuits.  All the things that make me happy.   What’s the impact?  I have enough time for myself.  I have enough (usually) patience for my three children, my husband is happy and we work well as a family unit.  In order for me to be able to give more, I have to be able to give myself more first, just like the oxygen masks on the aeroplanes.  As for my Protestant Work Ethic – it is ever present – these things never fully go away for good I think but I have safe guards in place and I know my patterns well enough now to keep it on the leash, its mistress rather than its slave.

So, what is it you are doing or not doing to support your health?  What one change will you commit to this week?  Drop a comment into the box below and let me know!

We are running a free group coaching and mentoring programme for trailing spouses and accompanying partners starting in May for 12 weeks.  This is the only time this programme will be free so sign-up now to get more information. Places are limited so register your interest below NOW!

Water skiing

Yes, I want more Va-va Voom In My Life, Add My Name To The List!

 
Take care, have fun, grow and flourish, wherever you are!

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To book a free 40 minute session with me to work on creating your personal expat success plan, email me on info@globaltalentcoaching.com or telephone +44 (0)20 7193 7251 now.

 

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Part Two in the series ‘From Struggle To Success, From Miserable to Magnificent’ for fulfilled Expatriate living.

Some might call its use inappropriate to expatriate life.  It will send shivers down the spine of many global nomads and send some trailing spouses into a cold sweat even thinking about it. Yet this one word can make a huge difference to your experience of living in another country, even for six months.  The word I am of course talking about is ‘commitment’. There.  I’ve said it.  I may have to go and lie down.

commitment 2

The thing is that I believe there are two kinds of commitment – one which is directed outside of yourself – to the world around you and the people in it (like a marriage or becoming chair of the PTA for example), and the other is one which is directed mainly internally – to yourself.  This self- commitment is where you quit playing small (and hiding in your apartment rocking in the corner crying – or was that just me?) and start gathering your energies to step out into your purpose, to enter into uncharted territory.  This self-commitment is deeply powerful and expansive, once you’ve truly stepped into it, there’s little you will allow to remove you from your chosen path.  What this isn’t, is saying you’ll make promises to others you may not or can’t keep – it’s about the promises you make to yourself.

By living in another country you can be whoever and whatever you want to be, but you are going to need self-commitment to get your life to where you want it because creating your new life is going to take effort and action (make no mistake here).  Unless you are 100% committed, the results you create will not match your desires, and that’s where the rot starts to creep in.

“If you don’t make a total commitment to whatever you’re doing, then you start looking to bail out the first time the boat starts leaking.  It’s tough enough getting that boat to shore with everybody rowing, let alone when a guy stands up and starts putting his life jacket on”.  Lou Holtz, American Football Coach, Sportscaster, Author and Speaker.

Have Life Be Easy

Committing to oneself or a chosen goal is a process of removing other options and ways of being that have been offered – all the ‘maybes’, ‘perhaps’, ‘should I’s?’ and ‘we’ll sees’.  All gone.  Just a beautiful, clear open road waiting for you to step out onto.  Yes there will be barriers and pot holes, that’s par for the course, but this is your road, you’ve claimed it.  Enjoy it. When we have lots of choices we throw our brains into confusion, and in this place the brain find it hard to work efficiently and we feel exhausted.  Once you remove the other choices (by committing to one), things start to simplify and your brain can focus its attention.  The energy that was taken-up by analysing and weighing-up all the different choices is now released and freely available for creation, adventure and cunning plans.  Awesome.

Love Your Commitment

This sounds a bit odd I know, but trust me.  Appreciate its beauty and meaning.  Admire the choice you’ve made and what it took to truly make that choice.  Enjoy the richness that this commitment brings into your life.  You are going to be bed-buddies for quite sometime so make sure you really are proud of it and are fully at ease with it and all it can bring your way.

Commitment Magic

Have you ever had the experience of really, really wanting something, making a point of taking action on it and then bumped into someone who had just the right information or product for you?  That’s what self-commitment creates – it’s magic.  I don’t pretend to know how or why exactly this works but I have noticed it all around me and other people.  The higher the intention, commitment and ease with the commitment, the better the results created.  One could almost say that self-commitment is like putting up a neon sign to the universe that you are open and ready for business.  Only when the light is on can people, situations and opportunities find you.

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have ocurred.” Goethe

Say No More, And Say Yes More

In order to really commit to something, we often have to say no to other things.  Living abroad offers many opportunities and decisions.  You can’t have it all – some things need to give in order to have others, so get your priorities straight.  Commitment to a chosen path or goal will mean we need to become more discerning about our actions, further choices and decisions.  This will mean saying yes to the things that propel you in the right direction (closer to the things you want) and no to the things that take you away from what you want. Want more fun?  Say no to the ironing and yes to jet-ski-ing on a Monday morning, so serious consider an ironing service or maid.  If you are uncomfortable saying no to people and situations that don’t serve your self-commitment, it will be a challenge.  Yes, feathers may be ruffled, judgements may be made, but if you want to make an omelette, ya  gotta crack eggs.  Commitment to self will need to be constant and strong, so play with saying no with a smile on your face and a short but simple explanation (“I’m sorry, I can’t y or z – I’m making more time in my schedule for x, which is really important to me right now”) – it’s amazing how that works!

Get Behind Behind Your Commitment

Be it energy, love, money, whatever, but back yourself.  Splash a little cash if necessary.  Book those riding lessons, take that course, get the cleaner/nanny/therapist.  Make a list of ten actions that back your self-commitment and do them!  Another great way of committing to something is to conduct a ceremony – something meaningful and possibly a bit silly to let yourself know that you mean business.  Draw a big fat line on the ground and jump over it whilst dancing naked in the kitchen, write a Facebook status update, throw a party–whatever is meaningful and resonant to you.  To make it even more powerful, have someone (a friend, coach or whomever) hold you accountable – someone who has your permission to give you feedback when you are not staying in your commitment.  We all stray and we all forget, so designing a fail safe is a great way of keeping you in line.

So – are you ready to commit to your own happiness, well-being and fulfilment?

Come back next week for part three of the ‘From Struggle To Success, From Miserable To Magnificent’ series for Expatriates, or sign-up in the box on the right to have the entire series delivered to your inbox.  Can’t wait that long?  Drop me a line to arrange a 40 minute consultation to create your personal expat success plan.  In the meantime, if you are ready to commit, feel free to state your commitment in the comments box below – I dare you!

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I’m making a personal commitment – I’ve been telling anyone who’s listening that we are offering 10 people the chance to participate in a free group coaching and mentoring programme for trailing spouses and accompanying partners starting in May for 12 weeks.  Got a date and everything (14th).  Interested?   CLICK HERE TO ADD YOUR NAME TO THE LIST .  Places are limited so claim yours now!

 

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Have fun, grow and flourish, wherever you are!

Amanda Email Pic 2   

To book a free 40 minute session with me to work on creating your personal expat success plan, email me on info@globaltalentcoaching.com or telephone +44 (0)20 7193 7251 now.

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Struggle and success

If you are feeling miserable or ‘lost’ on an international assignment and feel like your nose is up against the window watching life go by – try my 10 Point Success Plan.  Follow me over the next ten weeks as I take a look at the challenges and how to go from struggle to success.  Hit the ‘follow‘ button at the bottom right of the page to get the next ten weeks delivered straight to your inbox.  

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Expatriate Life.  Like a window on the world it can be opened, peaked into, jumped into with both feet, a wing and a prayer, closed, have a nose pushed up against it or  be slammed tightly on itself in disgust.  At first its mystery and exotic nature can lead us to believe we are about to have the most amazing experience in our lives, we feel lucky and a little bit special.

Our arrival at our new destination is a flurry of newness and differences within which our host location enthrals and amazes us.  As we move around we feel like we are truly exploring not just another part of the world but another part of us and we feel alive and fulfilled.  Living the dream.  This continues…until it doesn’t.  I’m sure you know only too well what I’m talking about here so rather than dwell on the shit sandwich you’ve been feasting on recently, let’s just sort this out.

What the heck happened?!  Well – possibly a mix of things.  Our expectations have not been met.  In our fantasy of how we would respond to the challenge of a foreign posting, we haven’t measured up. We’ve learned stuff about our limits and we’ve probably made-up some stuff about ourselves to which may not be true.  We perhaps underestimated the amount of effort and focus which is needed to create a new life for ourselves.  We underestimated the cultural differences.  We thought we didn’t need to change ourselves in anyway.  We spend a lot of time alone so we talk to ourselves a LOT and not always in a kind, supportive and loving manner.  Suddenly, the idea of going home back to what we know is like an oasis in the desert – deliciously mouth-watering and tantalising.

Don’t panic. It’s all completely NORMAL.  It’s all a part of the Expat ‘journey’ – especially for those of you who cannot or have chosen not to do paid work, and it’s going to be OKAY. This is your inner ’emotional GPS system’ inviting you to get to work and start building the inner resilience and adaptability you are going to need in order to make your life abroad a success. It’s a moment of truth for you – an opportunity to sink or swim and I know that because you have created this situation in your life that you have all the resources you need to make it work, you just may not know it yet.  Some of you may feel exhausted at my words.  You have expended a massive amount of energy to even get here, and now you are running on empty knowing there’s more work to be done.  Relax.  A lot of this work can be done in bed, in a café or wherever else you need to be in order to start filling your tank up again.  So, get that latte and take a seat.

Here’s the bottom line.  You have a choice.  You are actually ‘choosing’ right now – choosing to stay miserable or choosing to do something about it and get back into a full life.  You can either sit inside with the windows closed hoping someone will see your struggle, hiding from the world, being angry at your husband or wife or whomever else you decide is to blame, or you can commit to yourself and your life right now.  Today. In this very moment.

10 Point Success Plan To Get You Through The Window

Don't Panic

1.  Commitment.  Commit to something better.  Commit to yourself like you may never have done before.  Commit to you with every fibre of your being.  Mark your commit with a silly ceremony or by doing something out of the ordinary (naked dancing in the living room anyone?).

2.  Self- Care.  Don’t make yourself wrong for everything that has contributed to this so far, instead be gentle with yourself and focus on your self-care (good sleeping, eating, rest and exercise).  Note any negative self-talk and find new positive and gentle ways of communicating with yourself.  What would you say to a child or a loved one?  How would you encourage them?  Trust and know that your situation will improve will focus, action and time.

3.  Get some Perspective.  Choose a sustainable, loving and exciting mindset you want to adopt.  Is there a metaphor that seems right for this – will you go at this success plan like ‘a panther/rhino/quarterback/pilot’?  Find a metaphor that feels strong and creative for you and create a mantra or affirmation that supports this chosen perspective.  Keep it simple and easy to believe for yourself (if ‘I have an amazing life abroad’ seems way off the mark, start simple with ‘I choose to create the life I want’).  Ensure all the actions you take are aligned with this perspective, support it and enhance it.

4.  Acknowledgement.  Acknowledge yourself and your courage for even being here and having this issue.  Many never make it out of their own home town.  Acknowledge yourself everyday in the mirror – you are doing really well, even if some days it feels very differently.  Think about creating rewards for yourself when you make progress or expend effort in the direction of your goals – that’s acknowledgement not only for progress but the time spent moving towards desired results.

5.  Routine.  Create a strong and sustaining routine for yourself to fall back on – it’s a bit like being unemployed (when looking for a job becomes your job).  Your job now is to set yourself up for your own personal success.  A good routine is self-nurturing, low on ‘shoulds’ and high on things that bring joy into your life.  Eat, sleep, exercise and rest sufficiently to support your body, mind and spirit.  Try a daily grounding practise like 15 minutes of meditation and prioritise getting trusted childcare if you have pre-school aged children – you need time to keep your tank full in order to give to them.

6.  Find Your Purpose.  Take it seriously and do whatever it takes to get you to where you want to be.  Commit to having not only ‘a life’ but an amazing life for the duration of the assignment.  What is your purpose whilst you are here?  How does this fit with your vision for your entire life and how can you really get the most out of it?  If someone gave you two years to yourself in your home country, what would you do with the time?  Imagine creating the kind of life that you would be sorry to leave behind at the end of the assignment, what ingredients would be needed for that?  Write it all down.

7.  Get Curious.  Get curious about everything.  Really curious.  Why?  Real authentic curiosity is a wonderful energy to evoke – it takes you away from knowing, judgement, being right and angry and into openness, expansion, love and non-attachment.  Be curious about your host environment, culture, language, norms, yourself, your reactions, your decisions, your desires.  Spend a little time each day simply being curious about something.  What does it bring into your life?

8.  Make a plan.  Set three goals that have meaning for you which once completed, that will take you to (or closer to) your vision of how you want to live your life.  Make a list of daily tasks /menu of activities for each goal that you can pick and choose from depending on mood and do one thing for each goal per day – at first it might seem like incremental change but at some point things will snowball and you’ll end up where you wanted to be before you know it.  Take action.

9.  Get The Help You Need.  There are no medals for going it alone and struggling with only your martyrdom for comfort.  Ask for help and support – if you are on assignment with a multi-national what support are they able to give? If you are an independent expat consider hiring a coach or even enlisting the support of an online expat network.  Get a mentor – who seems to know their way around here, and who might be able to fast-forward your local knowledge in some way?

10.  Take one day at a time.  Pause for a moment to think about something you are incredibly proud of creating and think of how much time, love and effort it took to create it.  Your wisdom from creating that can be applied here and help you get to where you want in less time, but it will still take time.  Spend that time wisely, doing things you love in alignment with your purpose.  Take photos, write a journal or a blog – have things you can look back on so you can re-live your journey and enjoy it all over again at some point in the future. This could be your defining moment, so let’s record it for posterity.

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon – instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today”. – Dale Carnegie

Join me next week when we look at Commitment in more detail, and why a lack of commitment to yourself leads to failure. 

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Don’t struggle on your own!  We are running the first in a series of group coaching and mentoring programmes ‘From Struggle To Success’ for trailing/accompanying spouses and partners who want to turn their expat experience around.  The programme pilot starts in May 2013 and runs for 12 weeks.  Please click HERE if you would like to receive more information.  Hurry, places are limited so act now!

Have fun, grow and flourish, wherever you are!

Amanda Email Pic 2   

To book a free 40 minute session with me to work on creating your personal expat success plan, you can either email me on info@globaltalentcoaching.com or telephone +44 (0)20 7193 7251 or Skype me on amandawilby. 

Please leave your comments and stories here – I’d love to hear from you!

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A guide to shamelessness for Expats and Global Talent

If ‘Ridicule is nothing to be scared of’ Adam Ant, then why does it leave most of us red-faced with jelly-legs?

As a perfect example of our fear of looking foolish, it is often quoted that most people are less afraid of death than they are of public speaking.  That in itself is crazy – and strongly suggests how deeply our emotions affect our physiology and therefore our behaviour.  Thanks to the undiscerning amygdala sited towards the base of the brain we can’t tell the difference between a room full of after-dinner human beings and a giant hungry sabre-toothed tiger about to pounce on us.  Expatriate living is fraught with experiences that can push us into cringing fear – and fear of looking foolish in particular.  So is it a ‘hazard of the job’ and what can we do about it?

Why is Foolish Bad?

In times gone past we humans made our living with the things we grew, made or sold on for profit.  Increasingly now we take our education, our brains and our expertise ‘to market’ (in fact I bet that’s why you are even reading this).  We are educated to be serious about things, to be ‘right’ (this is ‘good’) and therefore the opposite must be true (non-serious ‘foolish’ equals bad).  It must be true because Mr T says so ‘fooool’!  To be foolish is to be made a fraud, to be ‘seen through’ and to not be taken seriously, like a child.  Bad, right?

Foolishness as a hazard of ‘the job’ of living abroad?

You probably know the score only too well – here’s but a few of my own thoughts on this:

  • Fear of looking foolish when doing something new or different, like not trying out a new language because we might ‘get it wrong’
  • Fear of no longer being the expert and looking foolish because we don’t know how things are done around here
  • Fear of feeling vulnerable in any situation in which we feel out of control – new ways of working, new customs, new expectations we don’t understand
  • Fear of being different and not being accepted into ‘the group’ – can lead to a painfully slow transition and months of unhappiness.  

Mr-T-fools

The special thing for expats is that we almost have a whole ‘honeymoon’ of potential foolishness – a bombardment during those first few months when we are finding our feet and figuring out the rules of engagement.   The bottom line is that (if you let it)  fear of ridicule does get in the way – the way of you learning that new language, achieving your vision of how you really want to live a new country, becoming the person you are meant to become. It gets in the way of your performance, your creativity and your flow.  That’s a massive sacrifice to make for the sake of preserving ‘ego’  and avoiding sweat patches.

 

If fear of looking foolish holds us back, what can be done about it?

  • It starts with an admission and a decision.  The admission that you perhaps are stopping from doing something you would love to do through fear of feeling/looking foolish.  Follow this with the decision to make something else more important than your physiological state and sweat glands.  Make this decision more important than your ego.
  • Create a vision.  This is a vision of yourself which is much bigger than ego or physiology, it’s about living in your life purpose and your values so much that it engages you in a way you can’t but do it – it’s like a magnetic drawing you towards it.
  • Create the right energy (see below) – this is what will take you into action, make it so strong that the energy itself almost chooses the actions for you as you step into ‘flow’.
  • Take the necessary actions.  Do them.  Then celebrate your successes!

Finding Your ‘Inner Show-Off’/Fool/Clown (delete as appropriate)

You know the one – the part of you that is easy to recognise after couple of a glasses of good wine.  The one that sings in the shower thinking they are on stage at Vegas (is that just me?) or the one who pounds the treadmill at the gym imagining he’s Rocky or does brilliant voices when reading your children a bedtime story.  Whatever works for you – get in touch with the energy of the ‘show-off’ – here’s how:

1.  Walk around the room/garden feeling into this energy and build it up.  Remember exactly what it feels like.  Give yourself permission to fully be that energy.  How does it feel (bit silly? bit false?  That’s okay, just stay with it).  How does your body feel?  What do you notice about how your body feels? What do you secretly like about it?

2.  Now, give this energy, this ‘version of you’ a name.  What does this version of you wear?  What kinds of things does this version of you do and say?  How do they hold themselves and walk?  How easy is it to laugh at yourself and have humour when you are fully in this energy?

3.  Make a pact with yourself to ‘try on’ this energy at least once a day every day so that you can evoke it when you need it – when you need to step outside your comfort zone and into the land of unknown, say that phrase in a new language, ask that question in the street, connect with that person on the other side of the room.  Go for it.

Whoa, Hang on a second!

Isn’t this the antithesis to what we are supposed to be doing: blend in, show cross cultural sensitivity, run with the pack, don’t stand out, don’t draw attention to yourself and all of that?!  Yes – some of that could be true but this is a personal strategy to help you deal with moments when the opportunity of foolishness shows its face, it isn’t a war-cry to run naked through the streets with feathers in your hair (unless that’s your thing).  I bet you no one else will even notice that much – this is just for you and it’s about building the blocks of resilience to deal with what life abroad generously provides us with – new situations and opportunities to develop and become the biggest version of ourselves.

rumi-tarot-the-foolInspiration From The Tarot Fool

Much has been written on the history of the fool and the court jester and yet it is the tarot card meaning that catches my eye – that seems such a relevant choice for reflection for us travellers: “the Fool is an essential part of the Tarot because he is the spark that sets everything else into motion, the divine breath that gives life and inspires the first step towards fulfilment and completion. Though the first step down a long path may often seem small in comparison to the journey, that first step is vital because without it there would be no journey at all! The Fool is the cause behind all effects, the power behind all manifestations and the seeds of the end sown in every beginning.” American Tarot Association.

To finish I shall leave you with the first three stanzas of ‘Prince Charming’ lyrics – the true meaning of which only came to me yesterday: That whilst we are social animals, needing connection and society, we should always keep a strong sense of self, our own values which also means being true to ourselves and our situation.  That means breaking through barriers that stop us from fully expressing who we truly are.  Always be who you really are.

Don’t you ever, don’t you ever
Stop being dandy, showing me you’re handsome
Don’t you ever, don’t you ever
Stop being dandy, showing me you’re handsome

Prince Charming
Prince Charming
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of
Don’t you ever, don’t you ever
Stop being dandy, showing me you’re handsome

Don’t you ever, don’t you ever
Lower yourself, forgetting all your standards
Don’t you ever, don’t you ever
Lower yourself, forgetting all your standards

Have fun, be foolish, grow and flourish, wherever you are!

Amanda Email Pic 2   To book a free 40 minute session with me to work on finding your inner show-off or growing your ability to deal with vulnerability, you can either email me on info@globaltalentcoaching.com or telephone +44 (0)202 7193 7251 or Skype me on amandawilby.

Please leave your comments and stories here – I’d love to hear from you!

 

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Ever lost your voice?  I’m sitting here right now completely mute as I wait for mine to return – I’m more than a bit annoyed as I make my living from talking (and listening), I have lots of calls to make, I can’t phone a friend and have a good moan (apart from to give a little heavy breathing if that’s your thing), time is pressing on and I feel like my hands are tied, helpless.  Oh ‘poor me’!

I’m certain most people in the expat community can relate to this – echoed by that loss of voice that often happens when we move to a new country.   This is a bit embarrassing but I remember numerous times in Germany and France, rocking in a corner of my house, tears streaming down my face from frustration because I’d just got off the phone (again) from someone who had once more misunderstood me/slammed the phone down because they didn’t like my accent/fined me money for not doing something I didn’t know I had to do and didn’t have the bureaucratic vocabulary required to sort it out.  It pushed just about every button I had relating to my self-worth, self-perception, my ability and my importance as a human being.

What happens when we lose our voice?

I’m going out on a limb here but I would estimate that a huge amount of unhappiness experienced whilst abroad stems from our inability to represent ourselves in verbal communication in a way which is effective and also reflective of how we truly perceive ourselves.  It is this lack of congruence between what we want to say, the impact we want to have and what we can actually achieve which is the slow torture for many an expat, and one of the main reasons we retreat to same-country expat social groups rather than integrate into the local community or visit their doctor for anti-depressants.  Or simply go home.

Isn’t it just a case of learning the language?

I met a very intelligent English female doctor in the South of France who was a fluent French speaker but refused to speak in French because ‘she was not herself’ when she spoke in French – her reasoning being that she found French made her feel diminutive and passive which was in total contrast to how she saw her true self – a strong, assertive woman.  This sentiment which was echoed in Paris last year as a group of French feminists demonstrated outside L’Académie Française (the institution responsible in France for maintaining standards in the French language).  My own French ‘personality’ sometimes makes too many bad jokes and speaks in an octave higher than she normally does (whose voice is THAT? I often think to myself).   It is so easy to take on a persona when one learns a foreign language due to ignorance or wanting to be liked/fit in with cultural norms.  Even if you learn the language to a very high level – that language is often affected by the culture in which it is created which can jar up against one’s personal preferences and values (it’s quite normal  to experience foreign languages as too ‘fluffy’ too ‘direct’ too ‘rude’ etc) hardly the true self-expression we are hoping for.

So what’s the answer?

The answer is different for everyone, but here are my recommendations on creating a path for yourself (you might want to ask the help of a trusted friend or coach to help you with this):

  1. Explore what communication truly means to you – is it a case of ‘a to b’, simple exchange of information? Are you looking for self-expression? Are you looking for connection? An outlet for your intelligence? Recognition, debate or creation?  What outcomes do you want to achieve? What’s the best-case scenario?  What’s acceptable and what’s non-negotiable?
  2. Brainstorm loads of ideas about how you can create what you want (tip on practical things: do it yourself, get someone else to do it, delay it or ignore it).
  3. Pick the top three things on the list (the ones that get you really excited) and DO them – give them time scales and a consequence to yourself for not doing them (or a prize for achieving them!).  Get your friend or coach to bear witness and hold you accountable to yourself.

Good luck, and remember – you’re doing a great job so be kind to yourself – do not go for perfection– this is all just part of the wonderful expat journey!

Amanda Email Pic 2   To book a free 40 minute session with me to work on finding your voice, you can either email me on info@globaltalentcoaching.com or telephone +44 (0)202 7193 7251 or Skype me on amandawilby.

Please leave your comments and stories here – I’d love to hear from you!

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