It’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.
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.