When uncertainty is the ‘norm’

VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity

We’ve all heard the term, and we all know that this is the reality for the world of business today.

But, as an expat, have you ever thought about how it applies to you? There is one thing that is constant in expat life, and that is change. Add VUCA to the mix, and yes there is a good reason why life is a little more challenging than if you were perhaps in your home environment. 

Why? Because in the home environment, you have consistency. You know where your home is. You know which school your kids are going to. You can plan what you want to do in the next holiday. You know you can go to the shop and get what you want/need.

For expats, so much of basic life is uncertain. I was talking with a dear friend last week, and she made this comment “the biggest challenge is all the variables, the uncertainty of it all, I wish I had a crystal ball”. 

And I get it. My friend’s comment totally resonated with me. While I know that our experience over the past 12 years is not the common expat experience, it is the reality for many of us. I always explain it this way – the industry is volatile, the Asia region is volatile, but we also had two key report lines, the local owning company and the international management company. Nothing in our lives abroad has been certain. We never booked our Christmas break more than a few weeks in advance. Often we were told we were moving (we generally don’t get options or the ability to say no, either you want a job or you don’t) with only weeks notice to pack and sort our lives. On occasion, we didn’t always know where we would be going next.

So how do you stay sane? How do you keep on top of everything when you know it could all change tomorrow?

For me, I always focused on what I could control. 

For example, every six months you would find me spring cleaning… staying on top of the clutter that life creates. This meant that when we did have to move, I didn’t have to sort through our stuff as well as pack it.

Routine. And my friend made the same comment. Focus on the routine, and keep it going even though you have all your life balls in the air. This is one thing you can control. You can make sure everyone is getting enough sleep, you can make sure healthy meals are on the table, you can make sure everyone is getting their homework done in a timely manner. 

But, a word of caution, don’t overcompensate for the lack of certainty. You kids still need to be responsible for themselves. They still need to tidy their own rooms, make their own beds, pick up their own dirty laundry, and get their own glass of water. In fact, the more responsibility they have around the home, the more control they also feel and the better they are able to cope themselves. 

Why do we overcompensate? Because we feel guilty. We are putting our kids through this. We have brought them here. As a parent, we make it all our fault. We forget to recognise all the amazing opportunities we are creating. The incredible experiences our kids are having. The resilience we are building in our kids. These are all brilliant life skills. We are setting our kids up for success in the future, as truly global citizens. Hold onto that, don’t let the guilt creep in.

Get regular exercise. For me it’s a walk after I drop the girls at school, before I really start my day. The fresh air, sunshine and nature really calms my soul. I find it’s often when I have my best ideas. My friend was telling me she’s joined an exercise group, not only has it been great for her physical health but her mental health as well. So make sure you exercise, build it into your daily routine, and don’t make it an exception, make it your norm.

Rely on your sisterhood. Your sisterhood get it, they are there for you. When it’s been a rough day or the doubt creeps in or you just can’t get your mojo. Phone a friend. Meet for a coffee. Go for a walk together. Send a voice message if they’re in a different timezone. Your sisterhood have got your back, no matter what happens so rely on them.

And finally, at all times know where your important documents are. Birth certificates, citizenship certificates, immunisation records, marriage certificates, education certificates. Have all these in a folder or an envelope that you can grab at a moment’s notice when you’re throwing the essentials into a suitcase. Even if you’re ‘returning’ home, you will still need your paperwork. 

My friend and I have collaborated and developed a checklist to help you when you’re moving abroad. You can download your copy of the checklist here. Did we miss something? Please do let me know so I can add it 🙂

In addition, as we all face varying levels of uncertainty with Coronavirus and the impacts on the global markets, I am offering a four week mini programme “Living Well in Times of Change” to support you through this period of change. You can get more information on the mini programme and sign up here, numbers are strictly limited. Starting Monday 30 Marchthis programme is all on line, allowing you to join from the comfort of your own home (no matter where you are in the world). 

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