How are change and happiness connected — and is there a place for each in 2014?

It’s no secret that the one thing, which unites us all, is our desire to be happy.  New Year 2014It’s also no secret that at the end of each year we look forward to the next and consider the ways in which we can become happier.  Perhaps a change of job, or a change in relationships, or a change in business-as-usual approach to life, or a change of a routine, etc.  Change is central to our pursuit of happiness – for without change there is no progress.

All this seems pretty straightforward but it turns out that when it comes to initiating and maintaining change, we really suck at it.  Just think of the New Years resolutions that come and go.  As much as we, humans, always want to grow and evolve, when it comes to this growth being propelled by change we stumble.  In their book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey give an example of a study that showed that if heart doctors tell their seriously at-risk heart patients they will literally die if they don’t change their lifestyle, only one in seven, on average, is actually able to make the changes…”

One in seven!  Imagine that.  At the risk of dying, only 1 in 7 people would change their ways of being in the world.  How is that for resisting change?

Kegan and Lahey go on to say that one of the reasons changing is so difficult for us is that by not changing we are honoring a “hidden commitment” – a commitment to something entirely different, something that conflicts with our desire for change.  It’s hidden because it’s so deep in our subconscious that it resides completely outside of our conscious awareness.

Because this commitment is hidden, we don’t get to examine it closely.  But if we do, we may discover a couple of things:

1.  The hidden commitment is based purely on fear and/or guilt.

“How can I take time away from kids to have a massage, take a photography class, or a history course in a local university?  I am already not working so it’s my job to always be with the kids.  What would my friends and family back home say if they find out that I regularly leave them with a nanny even though I have all this time I can spend with them?”

2.  The hidden commitment expresses the things that are truly important to us – and the change we want to initiate doesn’t agree with them at all. 

“I must look for work in the new year – I can easily get hired here.  We don’t really need the money but I’ve worked all my life and not working feels kind of weird.  My friends back home are making fun of me for all the time I am wasting on my hobbies.  Although I really like concentrating on them now …”

In scenario 1 digging deeper helps us see that at the root of this “hidden commitment” is our subconscious understanding of what makes us safe – on physical, emotional and social levels.  We come to realize, thus, that we live our lives the way we do because we are scared.  And more often than not – we are scared of things that are either not really valid for us or seem scarier than they actually are.   Staying at home with kids at all hours of the day and feeling guilty when leaving them to take time for yourself may be scary in the realm of social acceptance/safety — yet it does nothing for either your or their happiness.

In scenario 2 digging deeper helps us discover the values that we hold dear and makes us realize that only by living those values will we achieve happiness and fulfillment.  Working because you’ve always done so isn’t a good enough reason to give up on what’s important to you now and what makes you tick.

So what can help us to initiate and sustain change – the change that will bring us closer to being happier in the new year?  Try these three steps:

Step 1: Learn your hidden commitment – what’s really stopping you from going for that change?  This isn’t an easy exercise and requires a process that’s like peeling an onion – digging deep until you expose the fear or the values at stake.

Step 2: Make a choice.  Either consciously choose to continue as before or commit to change.  Make it your choice rather than an automatic behavior you’ve engaged in until now.

Step 3: Get a support network together.  Surround yourself with people who will help you through this process of adopting change.  This is difficult, so make sure your support network is 100% behind you, holds no judgement over your choice and the outcome, and doesn’t have any hidden agenda.  Family and friends are probably not the best people to enlist here – a buddy system or a coach is your best bet in sustaining a new behavior.

Good luck on your dreams, wishes and aspirations in the coming year!  Remember that if you are not feeling completely happy in any area of your life – you can choose to make a change there and begin moving towards greater happiness.  Why continue to settle when you can create an amazing life for yourself?

Five truths about creativity that can help expatriate women

I’ve written at length before on how creativity can be augmented by becoming an Intercultural creativityexpat (see here) but having spent the last few months working on the Re-Discovery process for women and having recently seen the video on How to Be Creative from PBS, I realized that there are five (5) very important similarities to both processes.  Similarities that can be of great help to anyone in transition – and in our case to women who are about to embark on their re-discovery journeys.

There comes a time for many of us when we find that we suddenly have enough space in our lives to start something that belongs only to us. It may be that our children have grown up enough to give us those extra hours; or it may be that we have repatriated; or it may be that we have been living in one country long enough to have the time to pay attention to us and us alone. And so if before our all-consuming task as accompanying spouses of expats was to care for the family; organize the moves; lessen the impact of settling in/of stress/of frustration — now we feel free to explore. Explore who we are and what we want to do with the rest of our lives; re-discover things we’ve forgotten/neglected about ourselves; and perhaps re-create our journeys forward in a completely new and unexpected ways.  

I call this exploration a Re-discovery Journey because a big part of it usually turns out to be going back to who we always were, re-learning what has always been important to us, and applying it to our future lives. And so, without any further ado, here are five truths discussed in the above-mentioned video that apply very well to our own Re-Discovery processes:

(1) Creativity is a process, not a destination. Expanding our capacity for uncertainty is a wonderful preparation for creativity. Same goes for Re-Discovery. Re-Discovery never stops – every day we can re-discover something about our paths and our lives and being at ease with the unknown helps make this process exciting, adventurous, and fun.

(2) There is such a thing as negative capability in creativity – and in Re-Discovery — a space where you don’t know what will happen next. You may chase ideas that will not lead anywhere, you may encounter frustrations, or even blocks. But stay assured that experiencing and following any idea will lead you somewhere else. And that somewhere else may be what you were looking for.

(3) Creativity and Re-Discovery are both spirals of excitement and despair and, when you allow yourself to be with despair, it leads to new things. You just have to keep at it. “Inspiration is for amateurs, I just get to work.” (Chuck Close)

(4) Creative process consists of different stages that are simply a reflection of different neuro-networks acting in our brains (different areas of the brain communicating with each other).

  • Preparation stage – where you spend time looking into the idea;
  • Incubation stage – where you allow your mind to wander from the current idea and return to it later;
  • Illumination stage – where the light bulb suddenly goes on and you say “Yay, that’s the idea!”; and
  • Verification stage – where you find out how to communicate and bring forth your idea.

Your Re-Discovery process follows pretty much the same pattern and you have to make sure to give all of those stages the place and the time to occur.

(5) And finally – collaboration. Working with others, and especially working with people who have very different from you views, makes both the creative and the Re-Discovery process better. Which is to say – don’t go through Re-Discovery alone. Get together with others, discuss, brainstorm, support one another. Take advantage of being an expat, of knowing people from different cultures and backgrounds, and of having had exposure to diverse ways of doing things. Collaborating not only makes it fun but it also makes it effective.

What do you think?

And just in time for this blog post, we are unveiling our #Re-Discovery #Re-Create #Re-Join Workbook and Guide based on a recent workshop that offered strategies and tools for women embarking on the re-discovery journey. First 30 people who download this guide will get a free one-0n-one coaching session! To find out more and to download, visit here.

Expatriation and Relationships — Intercultural Blog Carnival

by Margarita

The fourth Intercultural Blog Carnival is finally here and today we will be focusing on ExpatRelationshipsExpatriation and Relationships. A huge topic for sure since it can include relationships with just about anyone (and anything!) — and luckily for our readers, today’s collection does. So without further ado, here are our participants:

Learning a language for love — Cat Gaa starts us off with a personal story of how learning the intricacies of a foreign language can make your romantic relationship evolve and flourish while also saving you from those awkward moments when you think they said/meant something that they actually didn’t.

In an appropriately titled Expatriation and Relationships, Susan Cross explores what it’s like to make a friend while an expat, then say good-bye to that friend, and then have to make friends again. A regular expatriate conundrum, isn’t it?

The topic of friends — and especially girlfriends — is the focus of The Importance of Expat Girlfriends by Judy Rickatson. Her personal experience with moving and making female friends confirms that our expat girlfriends often come to occupy the place of BFFL in our hearts forever.

Yours truly continues this carnival with a look at Expats and Broken Marriages–Who is to Blame? Since we, humans, tend to assign blame in almost every situation that troubles us, here is a good way to step away from blame and see how else we can either prevent a dissolution of a marriage or make our peace with it.

Orphan Spouses also focuses on the topic of marriage (or partnership). In this very interesting piece, Anne Gilme discusses the pitfalls and the effects of short-term expatriation where one partner goes on assignment just for a few weeks/months while the other one stays home.

Moving on to relationships with children, Reflections on the Expat Life by 3rdCultureChildren touches upon the difficulties that children experience when following their parents around the world — and the approach that parents can take to make those moves easier.

Improving your relationship with your children is the focus of Why we moved: Part 3 post by Noemi Gamel. Becoming an expat can certainly be one of the roads that allows us to focus on motherhood and being there for our kids.

Moving on to the topic of relationship mistakes, Norman Viss covers Three relationship mistakes you may not know you are making.

Relationships can certainly be helped by our ability to start and hold a conversation and Tania Desa provides us with a few pointers on The Secret to Sparking a Conversation with Anyone. 

And finally some humor — not your regular kind of contribution but something an expat may want to know:

Written by an English woman living abroad (NicolaJane) — How to date like an Englishman

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed this Intercultural Blog Carnival!

Intercultural Blog Carnival — Call for Submissions

It’s that time of year again when we all get together and collect blog posts that are relevant to some part of our intercultural and/or expatriate journey. This time the topic is… ready? Drum roll please —


It’s very broad, you may say, but this is exactly the point! There is so much that can happen to so many of our relationships when we move abroad that it’s only fitting to put together a great collection of blog posts on the subject. So whether you are writing about relationships with spouses, or with friends, or with parents, or with kids, or with your new employees, or even with your pets — we’d love to hear it!

As usual, here is the skinny on why you should participate:

  • Build community with other intercultural and global mobility professionals
  • Gain new ideas and perspectives from your colleagues
  • Provide fresh content for your social media followers and clients by sharing the blog carnival with them
  • Receive an inbound link from
  • Get your unique content in front of a new audience including thousands of readers every month

And here is how it works:

  1. Choose your best blog article on expatriation and relationships and submit the link to Margarita at Global Coach Center by Monday, September 30th, using the form here. In “Message” put Intercultural Blog Carnival. We will let you know if your article has been accepted and we will organize all selections into one post with a variety of unique perspectives and ideas.
  2. On Tuesday, October 8th, we will post the blog carnival and we will email you to let you know that we have posted it.
  3. You can post a link to the blog carnival to your social media accounts if you want to share it with your readers.

Ready? Set? Go!

Expat appreciation moment or five things I love about living in…

Summer has come and gone and for many expatriates in the Northern Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 1.00.02 PMhemisphere the summer is the time of shuttling between taking a vacation, going home to see family, and/or surviving heat/rain/major exodus at post while staying put. And with travel, either home or to another country, come comparisons. Sometimes these comparisons flatter our post countries—I longed to be in Madrid every time I prepared to cross a street in Rome this summer. And sometimes they don’t (in my humble opinion the food in Italy is much superior to what Spain has to offer).

If your case is the latter and your summer made it difficult for you come back because the place where you went on vacation felt/looked/seemed so much better than the place you currently call home, I have a suggestion. Find five things you love about living where you live now. Find at least five. And then be on the look out for more.

So, to start the ball rolling, here are my five for Madrid, Spain:

  1. The taxicabs are the best. The drivers are honest, courteous, and nice; taxis are easy to find, safe to get into, and are not outrageously expensive.
  2. The coffee and wine culture. I love it that it’s so easy to meet a friend for coffee or for a glass of wine. Neither will break the bank, both will taste exceptionally good, and either occasion will allow you to catch up with people for longer than the usual grab-your-Starbucks-cup-and-run moment.
  3. Public transport. When not on strike (!) it’s efficient, organized, clean, and extremely user-friendly.
  4. Barrio life. Even though Madrid is a large, cosmopolitan city, you still have the barrio life where you have a neighborhood place to buy your fruit, your fish, or your meat, fix your shoes, and meet your neighbors for a drink and some tapas.
  5. Climate. I know this is something we cannot control but it’s something I love anyway. I like the fact that even though it gets really hot in the summer and sometimes quite cold in the winter, it’s dry. And so the heat and the cold are much more tolerable.

So these are my five (inspired by a post in St Petersburg Times although not quite along the same lines).

What are yours? Share them in comments below!

Like this post? Would like to receive expat tips and strategies from us? Sign up for our EXPAT TIPS MONTHLY and receive FREE “A to Z of Successful Expatriation™” Guide and Workbook. Based on experiences of expats around the world, it offers tools that help make your expat life the best it can be! Sign up here

Expat Mothers in Transition or “Where do I go from here????”

In the expat world we talk a lot about transitions. Transitions from home to a TRavelforeign country, from one culture to another culture, from one school to the next, from headquarters to a country office… I can go on and on. Yet today I’d like to speak about another kind of transition – a transition that’s very specific to mothers, and more so to expat mothers.

I’ve been off the radar for the last few weeks because I was co-leading a workshop for expat women looking at their next steps. Most of them were mothers whose children have reached an age where they no longer needed their constant care and involvement (read – teenagers!). And after dedicating their lives to moving their families from country to country, settling everyone in, caring for adjusting kids and spouses, running the household, and in general being the backbone of the family during the turbulent expat years, these women were finding themselves with additional time on their hands. And a huge desire to begin something just for themselves – be it go back to work, re-invent themselves professionally, or re-discover parts of themselves they’ve ignored and start something entirely new.

Many mothers around the world who have had the luxury to take time off work to care for their kids find themselves in the same predicament. In addition to the sadness of “one-moment-I-am-needed-and-the-next-I-am-not”, there is a lot of confusion over “where I am going?” What does this transition have in store for me? Where CAN I go?

And, I think, expat mother have it tougher. We are away from friends, family members, and support networks. Our resume is devoid of part time jobs and professional development courses… unless we count the freelance jobs of packing, taxi service, and nurse. Our confidence is often low because we’ve had our share of glazed over eyes every time we answer the question “and what do you do?” And our opportunities may be limited precisely because we might be living in a country where we don’t speak the language; have no permission to work; or if we already know that we’d be leaving within a couple of years.

Sure we’ve had an amazing life and sure we’ve had access to learning things that others may not have. And we are as resilient as they come. Yet this transition can be tricky.

Especially if we don’t give it proper attention.

Have you – or has anyone you know – ever go through this transition?

Note: the program we ran for expat mothers in transition will now be available to women around the world via the web! Please check here for more information. 

One TCK’s (Third Culture Kid) experience with friendships

by Joyce Yeh

Today I would like to share with you an example of how challenging it can be to GirlsJumpinggrow up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). I remembered when I was 13, one day, I learned that my whole family was about to move to another country again after 3.5 years back in our home country Taiwan. That day, while in school, I said to my best friend:

“Hey, I won’t be here already next semester ”

In my head, I thought “Haha, I don’t have to be with you all the time anymore! I’m so looking forward to meeting new friends in another country.” Yet, I remember very clearly the sudden sadness on her face. She did not want me to leave at all. At that age, I did not give it much thought. All I could think of back then was how much fun it was to move around from country to country. Fast forward to more than 10 years and we are still in contact with each other.

However, over the years, we have met new friends, formed new perspectives, led on different lifestyles. There is no one to blame. Over the years living overseas, moving from place to place, I take it less seriously now that it is not easy to expect friendships to last for eternity. However, it took years for this feeling and acceptance of being a TCK to come and embrace me.

What about you? What has been your experience with friendships and being a TCK?

Joyce is a young Chinese TCK writer who talks about Chinese cultural misunderstandings, doubts and confrontations in daily life at