Category Archives: Career

Recreating is Creative Recycling: an Expat Woman Experience

By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

I’ve lived in the Middle East for seven years. Along with appreciation for flexible ColorfulPencilsstarting times, humus with meat, and the women’s garment, the abaya, I have developed a list of axioms for success as an expat.

Many of these apply directly to the setting of the Arabian Gulf and specifically to daily events in Qatar.

One: In a high concept culture, the absence of a yes can be read as a no.

Two: The longer you sit, the wider your hips.

Three: Expat life is like a pressure cooker, the pressure of the unfamiliar forcing out whatever is inside.

Number three, however, could apply to any country in the world. What happens when your creature comforts- in my case catchall stores like Target, and a wide circle of friends- are taken away? When you find yourself in an entirely new environment and have to invent your own fun?

There are two stages. In the first you may find yourself working and sleeping in copious amounts. I alternated between an eighty hour work week and a docile weekend the entire first year I lived in Qatar. Coincidentally I also gained 15 pounds from my suddenly sedentary lifestyle.

Eventually (read two years later) I was literally sick of sleeping. I forced myself out of bed and took stock of the situation. This is when I entered stage two: the stage of invention. I wondered to myself what was interesting enough to keep me awake. None of the ladies coffee mornings or social groups had what I wanted, some expat grousing and home sickness mixed in with cultural stimulation.

I did the only thing I could: I created groups of my own. I put a small, free ad in the local events leaflet, advertising a writing group.

Writing, it turned out, was the first of many activities I would embark on to keep myself entertained. And in the process I not only found friends, but made several career changes. I went from being a university administrator to the editor of a series of books. A few years from that transition I found myself talking to the CEO who published J.K. Rowling and agreeing to work for his new company starting up in Doha. A few years from that (yes, I mentioned I’ve been in Qatar quite a while) I resigned from that job in order to pursue my writing full time and publish seven Ebooks on Amazon.

None of this could have happened if I didn’t live overseas. Or perhaps to state more accurately, none of this would have happened as quickly if I were shopping in Target every weekend or flying to my college reunion. Not that retail therapy or friendships aren’t important: I enjoy them on our holiday trips home.

But I found the treasure of expat life is the very fact of being taken outside your comfort zone. Once the irritation, anger, and realization hat in fact, no, your life is not “just like it was at home” because there is a McDonald’s down the street, wears off, you may find you have the greatest gift a person can be given. You have the time to mindfully choose how you want to spend your days, weeks, months – all those hours that stack up to years.

The first few months of a new year are the perfect time to ask yourself how you want to showcase the new you. What skills, passions, or projects have you been talking about for years that now lurk in a back closet, shaming you into silence with their persistent procrastination?

I’ve been writing since I was in my twenties. It took me a twelve years and another continent to recycle that passion from a hobby into a full time occupation. I now teach writing to undergraduates and stay up late at night scribbling away at my own work.

What is it you love to do and yet never have time for? That’s why they call it the gift of the present.

Mohana is still in Doha. You can read all about it on her blog: www.mohanalakshmi.com or follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

Mohana is also a co-trainer for the “Living and Working in Qatar” cross-cultural course available online 24/7.

Creativity and Cross-Cultural Ties — is there really a connection?

In a recent BNET blog (5 Ways to Foster Innovation) Kimberly Weisul says that:

“Roy Chua, of Harvard, believes that creativity is not necessarily about coming up with something totally new. Instead, he says, “most often it is about connecting ideas to create something different. If you have a multicultural social network, you are more likely to receive ideas that are different.” Chua surveyed a group of media professionals about their social networks, and then asked each to brainstorm about the future of the newspaper industry. A group of outside judges ranked the ideas based on how creative they were, and it turned out those professionals with ore multicultural social networks came up with more creative ideas. Chua conducted a similar experiment with college students, surveying their social networks and asking them to come up with a new advertising campaign for a fruit drink. Those with more contact with different cultures came up with more creative ideas.”

Now we’ve heard before that moving to another country and becoming an expat encourages creativity just for the simple reason of being in a different environment and being exposed to new perspectives.  By the same token, cross-cultural interactions and connections do the same job of exposing us to different perspectives and ideas.  But what’s our role here and who do we have to be to actually become more creative?

There are a couple of traits I think are very useful in taking advantage of your cross-cultural ties when it comes to becoming more creative:

  • Open-mindedness – if we are closed to new perspectives and ideas, no amount of them around us will help;
  • Courage – new things can be scary and taking them on can be even scarier;
  • Curiosity – digging deeper is part of adopting something new.

What do you think?  What other traits can be helpful here?

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Waking up an artist in you — expat lifestyle opportunity… and a learning opportunity

One of the common advices an accompanying expat spouse receives in response to her/his concern about losing a career/job is this: “Enjoy your hobbies while you have this great chance.  Look at what you love to do and do it.”  It’s a great suggestion and many newly-unemployed expats have definitely found a peace of mind in taking up pottery, painting, writing, or stamp collection.  Finally all of those things they’ve been meaning to do their entire lives were at their fingertips and they had time and resources to do them!

Then a few months later a few of us “impact-oriented” people (me included!) started to wonder.  So here I am painting away (or writing or creating pottery or sewing) and isn’t this the time when I am supposed to be getting really good at this — my new craft, professionally-speaking?  I mean I’ve always been successful at my work, I’ve advanced and made more money in my career almost every year so isn’t this the time to start booking galleries or creating my fall fashion line?  And if not, then why am I doing this?  Why am I spending all this time and resources on doing something that’ll never create any impact in the outside world and will never make me money?

This is when the old familiar voice of doubt starts getting louder.  Maybe this new painting I am making is going to be really bad.  Should I change this color or should I add this color or should I… just quit the whole thing and do what I am good at — find work and immediately begin putting in 60-hrs weeks to catch up on what I’ve missed?  The hobby I’ve taken suddenly takes the form of some race I am supposed to win and every day I am more and more afraid to screw up the canvas.

Has anything like that happen to you?  It certainly has happened to me — and it continues to happen once in awhile.

What do I do?

I go back to a great metaphor my coach and I created.

I see myself as a child playing in a sandbox, building a castle.  The castle isn’t coming out the way I’ve wanted and so I level it to the ground.  “It’s just sand,” I hear my child say and begin to build the castle again. Playing is the main point here.

Allowing yourself to play is the biggest gift and the biggest learning — and that learning comes from our inner children that we’ve forgotten with all our career and impact aspirations.  So how about making play the central part of whatever we are doing and remembering that it’s just sand?

Your thoughts?

NEW at the Global Coach Center: an online course on Culture Mastery — offering how to be effective in any culture through the 4C’s ™ process of culture-emotion intelligence.

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Working across cultures – difficult or different or both?

How often do you hear similar sentiments expressed by expat managers and team leaders working across cultures:

  • There is zero initiative among my staff. 
  • No one knows how to follow up and deliver on time – I spend half of my week every week requesting things that have been long overdue!
  • All meetings that I have ever attended have been interrupted by at least one cell phone call – and the recipient always took it!
  • Even though I have a separate office (and close the door!), I find myself constantly interrupted by people dropping in to ask me (or tell me) something.
  • A meeting that should last an hour often goes for 3 hours.  It’s so difficult to get people to stay on topic and come to the point.

These examples of frustrations I hear from clients all point to how difficult – and different – it can be to create something together when working with people from diverse cultures.  The words difficult and different represent two different (no pun intended) perspectives of looking at this challenge.

If we look at it from the point of view of “how difficult” it is and nothing else, frustration, hopelessness, and an overwhelming desire to go home drive all of our actions and responses.

If we look at it as “difficult and different” we open up for the possibility of creating out of the difficult by looking at and considering the differences.  How can we create out of what’s different here?

Creating out of the differences requires not only this open-minded perspective but also a good knowledge of where the differences lie — it requires Culture Mastery:

  • What cultural preferences do you and your colleagues differ on?
  • How big/small is the gap?
  • How possible is it for you to adjust your cultural preferences – that is, will it infringe on your values/identity or will it simply be about changing your habits?
  • What cultural alliances can you create to be more effective?

What has been your experience in creating from the different and the difficult?

NEW at the Global Coach Center: Culture Mastery Course (online) that specifically addresses challenges described in the post above.

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Accompanying spouse and career – what’s the motivation?

Why do we work?  What makes us want to work?  And what makes us feel sad when we don’t work?

In today’s economic reality, some of us may answer above questions with a simple “I have to put food on the table and provide for my family” answer.  And while this is a very valid point, I am not going to focus on money being the reason for work in this blog post.  Instead, I want to talk about what motivates us to have professional lives.

For many an expat – and here I mean the accompanying spouses – the reality is such that we don’t have to work.  Don’t have as in don’t-have-the-necessity-of-having-the-additional-income-in-the-family for the family to live comfortably.  Yet many of us long to have a professional life abroad, especially if we had to leave out jobs behind, when we moved.

So what motivates us to long for it?

  • Desire to grow?
  • Habit?
  • Fears (like the fear of not having something to do with our time or the fear of not being enough or the fear of being perceived as someone lazy or the fear of losing ourselves)?

How often do we really know what’s motivating us?  How often do we take the time to find out?

The reason I bring this up is that sometimes we want to work for all the wrong reasons – and we suffer internally (if we cannot work) for all the wrong reasons.  So until we shine a bright light on our real motivators for wanting work, we’ll continue holding onto the old habits and old attitudes towards work, even if those are not working out for us.

Here is one exercise to help you learn your real motivators for wanting a professional life:

I.  Answer the following questions:

  • What is important to me about having a job?
  • What is important to me about having a career path/professional life?
  • What do I look for in my professional life?  Without the presence of what will my professional life lack meaning?
  • What’s disconcerting about not having a job?
  • What’s disconcerting about not having a career?

2.  All humans can divided into those who mainly get motivated by away factors, those that mainly get motivated by toward factors, and those who get motivated by both.  The away factors sound similar to this:

  • “I want to work so that I don’t have to ask my spouse for spending money.”
  • “I am working so that I am never going to be poor.”
  • “I am starting a new business so that no one can say I am doing nothing with my time.”

The toward factors sound similar to this:

  • “I want to work so that I can buy myself whatever I want.”
  • “I am looking for a new job so that I can get more challenged.”
  • “I want my own business so that I can be my own boss and can be as creative as I want.”

Looking at your answers to questions above, gauge whether or not you are motivated mainly by away factors, towards factors, or both.  Usually the away factors, while having a place in our lives, don’t last and are not as compelling as the toward factors.  The away factors display our saboteur thinking and provide a negative-energy-filled pull towards having a career.  How valid is that thinking in your life now?  And what would you be without that thinking?

So what is at the heart of you wanting to work and have a career overseas?

People who read this post also enjoyed:

Trailing and not failing: how our relationships sustain us in expatriation?

What do expats need to stay?

Expat entrepreneur? Who is your ideal client?

Copyright © 2011 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

Expat entrepreneur? Who is your ideal client?

This December – as every December – I am reflecting on the road traveled and the road ahead, especially as it pertains to what I bring and what my unique contribution is to this world.  I believe in co-creating: us working together with the universe to fulfill the purpose we are here for.  And, among other things,  co-creating means really listening to what the universe is telling us, getting the hints, and taking them as our cues to get our part of the bargain done.

In coaching I see this as really tuning in and knowing who you are meant to work with. A lot of coaches talk about finding their ideal clients – people with whom they come alive and people they most love working with.  I’ve always liked working with expatriates and people who have an international itch, but this December I decided that I can define it even further.

How?

Apparently it’s very simple.  All I have to do is look back at all the clients that I have attracted over the years — the ones I loved working with — and bingo.  The universe keeps sending me my ideal clients and that’s my cue about who they are.

For example, the women clients I attract are all remarkable women that tend to be very hard on themselves. My clients run businesses abroad; move their families across continents; quit jobs and careers to follow loved ones overseas; support their spouses and children … they do all that and more, yet they often don’t feel enoughThey still feel guilty — guilty about not being enough and not doing enough; guilty not to be working, guilty spending the money they didn’t earn, guilty about having me-time, … and on and on it goes.  That on top of feeling alone, lost, unrecognized, and unfulfilled creates a cocktail that I like to call fog.  Fog of doubt, guilt, self-criticism, and not realizing that they are so much more than they think they are.

Among men I attract the seekers. I call them that because men who hire me as a coach are those who are looking to find their dream and their road in life. They don’t come to me because I coach expats – but they come to me because my expatriate and international background is something they identify with and something that contributes to their journey.

The gender definition isn’t set in stone, of course.  But looking back, I find it amazing that almost all of my clients have been my ideal clients and people I absolutely love working with.

  • So, if you look at your business, who is your ideal client?
  • Who have you loved working with?  What is it in them that draw you?
  • And how knowing this can help you identify your ideal client?

Remember to sign up for the Expat Club: 10 Weeks of Wisdom program. It has been specifically designed around expatriate issues and concerns and it’ll help you feel supported, encouraged, and inspired. Sign up here.

Copyright © 2010 by Global Coach Center.  If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!

A to Z of Successful Expatriation™: I is for IDENTITY

To quote the movie Fight Club (1999): “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. …” Who are you then?

Losing one’s identity is one of the premier worries expats have when they face a decision of moving abroad:

  • Who am I going to be there?
  • What am I going to do with my time (for those who accompany their working spouses)?
  • What will I relate to… if anything?
  • What relationships will I form with people?
  • And what about financial independence?

This list of concerns can go on and on and, if you look closely, you’ll see that a lot of these questions relate to who we see ourselves as – and to how we preserve that in unfamiliar environments.

So how do we keep our identity and how do we feel good about ourselves wherever we may end up?  I believe the key here is our relationship with ourselves.  All too often moves and transitions produce feelings of doubt in our own abilities; feelings of guilt, feelings of low self-esteem; and feelings of “not being good enough, smart enough, etc.”  No matter what we call these feelings, they are all about the same thing — we stop liking and set out to criticize ourselves.  What kind of relationship is that?  How much do we damage this most important relationship in our lives — the relationship of us with us?

The regular criticisms and nagging also create the recurrent feelings of “I am losing myself”, “I am no longer who I was before”, “my identity is slipping away” and so on and so forth.  The self-critical mode takes over and it’s no wonder that we feel that our identity is no more.

Your thoughts?

For all the letters in the A to Z of Successful Expatriation™ click here.

Remember to check out our on-line courses on Culture Shock, Expat Know-How and on Cross-Cultural Training at the Global Coach Center Academy!

Copyright © 2010 by Global Coach Center.
If you’d like to reprint this, please do so but make sure you credit us (with a live link)!