with kind permission of Gabrielle, guest blogger
Having passed the mid-30s mark recently, I couldn’t help but wonder: “where the hell did all this time go?”
Fresh out of law school, wide eyed, idealistic with grand plans for the future, I had no idea what life had in stored for me. The life now is totally not what I’ve envisioned. But that’s ok, right? Because Joseph Campbell said so.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
Do I regret anything? Not really. If anything, it is really the impact of some of my more negative behaviour that have had on others over the years. But hopefully, I’ve learnt to refrain from repeating those mistakes and am grateful to those who have the stomach to stick around.
Over lunch last week with one of my closest friends here, we got into a discussion about the challenges of moving abroad.
When the Mr decided to take this opportunity, we were so excited about spreading our wings. He, stoked about taking another step forward in his career, and me, well, to take a deep breath and step out of the corporate rat race. After the logistics were sorted and dust settled – like finding a roof over our heads, and location of the all-important Asian market, the Mr went back to work, and I was left pretty much to my own devices.
From time to time, I grappled with pangs of homesickness and panic attacks, which consisted mainly of “OMG, what have I done?!” and making calls to family in the middle of the night – their time – sobbing down the phone. Don’t laugh or roll your eyes. This happens, when you are chucked into a foreign environment away from the familiarity of your safety network of family and friends. Friends that you’ve known for many years. Friends you’ve been through thick and thin with, who have giggled with you over your teenage crushes, held your hand as you pierced your nose, made you drink 21 shots of tequila on your 21st, celebrated graduation, and helped you blow your first pay check…
There is also dealing with the harsh reality of being a trailing spouse – in this age of female empowerment. I lost count the number of times I wanted to call my ex-boss, begging for my job back. This is especially so when the honeymoon period is over, and you no longer see the new country that you’ve settled in, through rose-tinted glasses. (Zürich, I still love you though).
So, whilst your friends back home mourn your departure by posting mouth watering pictures of local food and tagging you on Facebook, rebuilding a new network seemed like the next natural step.
This is the part that no one who has relocated talks much about. They can tell you how: attend expat events, network, smile, engage in small talk (“where do you come from? What do you do? I love Singapore!”) blah blah blah – oh dear Lord, shoot me – but they don’t tell you HOW.
The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt to maintain my own sanity is to be mentally true and good to myself. Trying to shape and mould yourself in order to get people to like you, is quite frankly, bloody exhausting.
Most often than not, it is easy to fall into the trap where you think that you HAVE to get along with everybody. Things that you normally wouldn’t hesitate to speak up about back home, you’ll think twice about – especially when someone is behaving like a complete twat – for fear of upsetting them. Culture differences aside – there are freaks under that human being. Freaks who seem to think that it is ok to behave badly towards others. But you embrace those freaks, and kiss their three heads because you keep telling yourself that maybe it is time that you need to learn tolerance and acceptance.
After all, isn’t accepting someone for who they are, part and parcel of a friendship?
Maybe – but I think I’ve become better at differentiating the crucial difference between being a doormat and acceptance. (I think I can hear those from home laughing their heads off and wee-ing themselves because I’ve used “doormat” and “I” in the same sentence.)
Perhaps I am a slow learner. Five years in, I’ve concluded that it is better to remove such toxic people than being around them. For people you simply don’t feel like you have anything in common with, be brave and say no, thank you – nicely. Sure, my phone beeps less these days and I have lesser mails to respond, but it is ok to like your own company. Spending time with a four-legged scamp helps too.
I find that being yourself will naturally lead to worrying less about what people think of you. When you do that and take a back seat by being the observer instead, you can see them still trying hard to shape how the world views them – be it as a parent, jet setter or a serious corporate ladder climber. Your narcissist radar will also naturally be honed to spot those from a mile away and beep like crazy.
Few other lessons I’ve learnt:
a. keep moving. Whether it is from your mistakes, toxic people, unhappy experiences or new places – never stop.
b. never stop travelling and seeing the world.
c. no one has ever truly grown up. You heard me: there are no such thing as a proper adult. Sure we pay our bills, manage our finances and take care of ourselves, but everyone is guilty of a childish hissy fit and engaging in schoolyard spats, once in a while. Learn from them.
d. lastly, and oh-so-random: throw out those size 6 jeans that you are hoping to fit in. Leave your skinny teenage selves behind. It is ok to be a size 10, 12, 18 or 20.
Be kind to yourself, be kind to others and the rest will follow.