A secret advantage to expatriation and immigration that no one seems to know

By now many of us have listened to Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address and nodded in agreement.  After all who can really disagree with this:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” 

As far as advice goes, it’s inspirational, it’s moving, and it makes you want to just get up and go for it.  Right there and then.  Right away.

And then you don’t.

You don’t because life gets in the way; because old thinking – the “other people’s thinking” — surrounds you like fog on an early morning; and because overcoming years and years of conditioning by your parents, teachers, society at large and your own sabotaging voices is just too difficult.

A personal story: When I grew up, the thinking in my family, my society and my surroundings was clear – my future was decided for me.  With all the best intentions, of course, my parents ignored my natural talents (“who can make a living doing that?”) and directed me towards what they truly believed will secure me a safe life.  No one paid serious attention to what I wanted – the prevailing “truth” was simply that it was not wise, possible, or appropriate.

And then came the transformative event.  I immigrated.  I moved to a society where the culture was completely different and where the barriers of my upbringing didn’t exist.  It was like taking a tree from a nursery in a pot and then transplanting it into the ground where the pot is no longer constricting its growth.  The tree is now free to spread its roots anywhere it wants.

Looking back I now realize how much of a gift it was to shed those barriers.  But like Steve Jobs said in his speech, we are better at connecting the dots looking backwards.  It took me a good 20 years to get back to what I truly am good at, to what I love to do, and to what I am passionate about.

Immigrating and expatriating transplants you out of the pot.  You leave the familiar – and with that you leave the things you learned about yourself that may not be true.  You have an amazing gift to break out of the barriers, to reach deep down your soul and yank out the stuff that’s been either ignored or repressed or dismissed.

But wait.  There is more.

There is the tricky part, of course.  While I am beginning to develop those repressed and ignored talents again, it is so difficult to allow myself to declare ME to the world.  Because the nay-Sayers are still there — both from my past and my present.  This is the biggest piece of that pot that’s still stuck to my tree’s roots.  Not a day passes by when I don’t hear variations of the following:

  • “How can I possibly be that?”
  • “It’s too late.”
  • “Better stick with what’s been done and with what’s safe.”
  • “I am not an _______.”

Recognize those?  It’s other people’s baggage that you are still carrying.

So here is a tip.  Start small.  Start slow.  Forget about the grander “how” of doing it and forget about the destination.  Instead concentrate in the journey.  Do something small each day and nurture the inner child in you that’s hasn’t been allowed to come out and play.  Let the roots of that tree go wherever they please.  You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and your intuition.  Stay hungry.  Stay foolish.”

I am feeling in my heart now that this is becoming a major part of my coaching practice.  This journey of re-discovery of who I am – of going back to who I was meant to be – is informing all of my programs.  So if you feel like re-discovery is what you are hungry for and if you feel like you want a hand, I’d love to help you.  You can join a group program that will focus on this (see Expat Women Academy) or you can get in touch with me for individually-tailored coaching.

I’d be honored to share your re-discovery journey with you.

And remember – not everyone gets to shed the pot by moving.  You do.  It’s an amazing gift.  Use it.

7 responses to “A secret advantage to expatriation and immigration that no one seems to know

  1. Definitely one of the greatest things about moving to another culture is experiencing an alternate reality. A person is very much influenced by their surroundings. Living in another country puts you outside of boxes so you can stand on your own pedestal.

  2. Hi Margarita,

    I enjoyed this article, thank you! I have been giving a lot of thought to this topic lately. I agree that moving abroad is a fantastic opportunity to start over. It is definitely empowering to realize that we can move toward our interests and re-discover our talents when we move to a new country. I am wondering, though, about the extent to which our cultural values remain dominant even though we are moving across cultures. For example, in the US and perhaps some other western countries, we tend to accept the idea of striving for our goals and sometimes putting our goals ahead of human relationships. Whereas, in certain cultures where people define themselves more in terms of their place in society and their commitment to people in their family, I wonder how that cultural value creates dissonance when they are in a place where they are encouraged to pursue their own personal goals. Has this come up in your coaching sessions? I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


    • GlobalCoachCenter

      Hi Lindsay,

      Thanks for the comment and a great question! I think it all comes down to individual values. While some of our individual values are influenced by the culture in which we grew up, others may not be. In fact, a person may have values that are completely at odds with the cultural values where they live. So moving away from that culture will allow that person to go forward in trying to fulfill the values they have repressed.

      Flip the coin the other way and sometimes things that people bring with them as cultural values from their culture turn out to be cultural saboteurs, that continue to repress the natural them by saying “well, things are not done this way where you came from, how dare you?”.

      It’s all very individual.

      Another distinction I’d make would be between striving to achieve a goal and engaging in something we are passionate about. Sometimes those two go together, but more often than not (from my experience in coaching clients), they are at odds. As an example: a client would be striving to become a great attorney, to create a great and successful legal practice — and while they enjoy it and like their work — their passion may lie in drawing (or singing, or acting, or etc). But they never pursued drawing or paid any attention to it because it was just not considered a “goal-worthy” profession in their environment. So when that person moves (either immigrates or becomes an expat), the “rules” by which he/she played are no longer there and perhaps it’s time to explore the passion — drawing. The tricky part is overcoming the internal barriers. Yes, the external ones are gone once we have moved, but the messages and the thinking has stayed deep in our subconscious. And so to allow ourselves to present ourselves to the world as someone other than a successful lawyer (as in my example) is the hardest thing to do. And that’s why so many keep from even trying.

      Hope that makes sense!

  3. I believe in ‘have the courage to follow your intuition’ entrepreneurs are made of this …I apply this every day and it seems to be working for me 🙂

  4. Hi Margarita,

    That’s a great example that you provided, about the differences between striving for goals and identifying and going for a passion. I imagine that striving for a goal that is not a true passion could create a large amount of stress for the professional and this is where a great coach ( who has a solid understanding of cultural values, communication styles and assumptions) can be helpful. Thanks for your response!

  5. Hi,
    I avoid trying to achieve anything specific. For some people a specific goal motivates them, I just enjoy the action itself and the simple engagement with my passions.
    The outcome is not in my focus although eventually I’ll know about it undoubtably.
    This allows me to be free in action and not be attached to my own perception of expected results, the universe can offer more possibility than my imagination.

  6. Pingback: The luggage you want to leave behind | "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"

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