#FIGT17NL – 4 things I learned about myself

figt imageIt’s been just over a week since the closing session of this year’s Families in Global Transition conference (#FIGT17NL) and my return to Texas. It seems like both yesterday and a whole other life time away.

In the week since I got ‘home’, I’ve found myself waking at odd hours of the night. For a while I thought it was jet lag. However, as the week wore on, I realized that my brain was still trying to process everything that I’d experienced at FIGT. I wasn’t waking up because it was breakfast time in Amsterdam. I was waking up because my head was full of ideas to research; books to read; contacts to follow up with; dreams to turn into reality.

More than anything, I was waking up because I was trying to find ways to articulate what the FIGT experience meant to me and for my life.

This is my attempt to do just that. Here are four things l learned about myself at #FIGT17NL

1. My story matters

In recent years, I have suffered from a little bit of an expat inferiority complex. As my experienced expat friends run out of fingers to count their ‘homes’ on, I’ve been feeling a little like I wasn’t ‘expat enough’ with only two moves, both in the Western world. Add to that the fact that my Texan tribe are mostly locals. I have gone slightly ‘native’ in the last year or so here.

One of the best things about FIGT was having my experience accepted and validated by other expats. The theme of storytelling and its importance resonated throughout FIGT17NL but more importantly, the idea that everyone’s story was valuable, relevant and to be celebrated had a huge impact on my approach to my own story.

2. I need to tell the whole story

Looking back at FIGT, I’m struck by how the things that have been playing on loop in my mind this week aren’t the result of any single session or conversation. It’s a combination of almost passing remarks, along with parts of formal sessions; conversations with old friends and new ones.

All of these things led to a huge ‘a-ha’ moment for me. Somewhere on my expat journey, I stopped talking about my professional experience in any meaningful way. I started using the word ‘just’ about myself, something I tell other people not to do, all the time!

I had an amazing career in the PR/communications/marketing world before expat life – I was fortunate enough to work with incredible people all over the world. I have over 20 years of experience working with everyone from major consumer brands to start up non-profits.  And without wishing to brag, I’ve worked on award winning campaigns and with some of the very best people in the business.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped believing that I could still have any of that career, even though I currently do have a great job that I really enjoy. Last week was the first time in a long time, I talked about my experience and skills and began to think that maybe they might have value or be relevant to others in the expat world.

Quite why and where I lost my mojo is a story for another blog but I think it’s back. I am indebted to Jo Parfitt and the Career in Your Suitcase team who were essential to my ‘a-ha’ moment.

3. I need more than one kind of tribe

I have a great group of mostly local friends in Texas. I am grateful for every single dog loving one of them. I am also sure that each of them is in my life for a reason.

Last week I was reminded of the sheer joy of being with people who really get you and your weird expat life. I was lucky enough to re-connect with two women who were among those who taught me how to expat when I arrived in Norway – with less than no clue about what I was doing. I also met new like-minded people who understood my story and more importantly, could help me make sense of it.

I need my expat community and I need to contribute to helping that community in return. I am grateful for the opportunities that already emerging to build stronger connections and to ‘pay it forward’ to other expats.

4. Enjoy the present, plan for the future

In her Ignite presentation, my good friend and blogger Terry Anne Wilson touched on one of my passions which is finding the joy in expat life. It’s not always easy but I feel that it’s incredibly important and perhaps pre-FIGT, I had lost a little of my own joy. Those people to whom I spoke at FIGT probably know that I have a slightly love/hate relationship with Texas. FIGT helped me to recommit myself to finding the joy in my present life in Texas while also creating  a vision of how I want and need my life to be, regardless of where I happen to be living.

Looking back, I feel like I arrived at FIGT a little more broken by expat life than I had previously realized. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to find a community to help put myself back together again.



6 thoughts on “#FIGT17NL – 4 things I learned about myself

  1. Sarah this is very honest, writing from a place of vulnerability is always poignant. I relate well to this as I felt the same during our six years in Houston and like you, straddled between an expat crowd and local. And you’re right, everyone is in your life for a reason and I think that is the sign of a true expat – someone who does embrace an adopted country and its people. So pleased you feel a little more ‘put back together’ and joyous!

  2. Lovely, Sarah. I so enjoyed meeting you and having you on the writing team. I am grateful to Terry Anne for the introduction. You are certainly a fine example of someone who knows how to find joy. Keep on being you, however ‘weird’ that may be. It works!

  3. Thank you Jo! I am so grateful for the opportunity to be mentored by you in the months leading up to FIGT and to be a part of the writing team. I am so excited to see what happens next for all of us!

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