Will we stay, or will we go? My mind is on overdrive trying to think through all the eventualities.
Is it worth the trip to the wholesalers to stock up on a 60 pack of toilet rolls (bathroom tissue if you’re North American reading this), or should i just pick up a 12 pack from the supermarket?
Should I enroll my son on to the hockey team, or is it unfair if I have to pull him from the team halfway through? Should my daughter be sitting the high school exams so that she has a school place next year just in case we do stay on?
And so it goes on…..
These are the questions that run through my head when I can’t sleep at night (READ: every night)
Sounds silly maybe, but this the reality of not knowing where you are going to be living in 3 months time. A reality that faces many expats. In times of such uncertainty it can be hard to stay sane!
Why do expats face uncertainty?
One of the disadvantages of being an expat is that you are often at the whim of a companies need. Your income is linked to it, and so is your visa. Shortly my husband’s two year contract will come to an end and we may have to return home. However, it might get extended and we may choose to stay here, or we may still decide to return home, so that my daughter can start high school with her peers in the UK.
5 ways to help you deal with uncertainty
Whilst I’m waiting for my future to be decided (as that is what it can feel like), I’ve been thinking a lot about dealing with uncertainty, and how best to manage it. Here are 5 strategies I’ve found that have helped me to keep my head above water in uncertain times.
1. Focus on what you can control
You can guide your tomorrow, but you can’t control the exact outcome. Draw up a list of the things you can do (e.g declutter the house), rather than the big things you can’t (e.g. whether your visa will get renewed) – and start working through the list that you do have some control over.
2. Be ready to move
a) Streamline admin
My good friend Hannah at TranslatingMe introduced me to Evernote as a way of streamlining our family admin and moving towards a paperless system. I’ve not look back since! It’s essentially an electronic notebook – or series of notebooks, which you can use for note taking, organising and archiving.
The best bit however, unlike a paper notebook is that it’s searchable. All you need to do is create your system of notebooks and then everything from passport numbers to your kids shoe size is there at your fingertips, where ever in the world you move to.
OK so three piles – KEEP, BIN, GIVE AWAY. And one rule – anything that hasn’t been used/worn in the last year goes.
I ask my children to go through their toys, books etc and decide what they have outgrown and what they want to give away, or in some cases sell. Anything they sell, they receive the money to buy something when we arrive in our new destination.
My husband has three chances to sort through his mountain of “man stuff” then I do it for him! A great tip from Naomi Hattaway of I am a Triangle, if you’re getting rid of stuff on behalf of someone else – your partner or your children, use black bags, rather than clear ones so that your family can’t see what’s inside!
3. Keep talking to people and to each other
I became a little weary of the question, ‘Do you know when you are coming home yet?’ and not being able to give a straight answer, but don’t be put off. Talk to people about how you’re feeling and coping (or not) with the uncertainty. Ultimately they only have your best interests at heart.
Keep lines of communication open between yourself and your partner. Some days I would have a bad day, other days it would be him. By talking to each other about how we were feeling, we are were able to bring the other one round and support each other.
4. Enjoy where you are
Who knows how long you may have in your current location, so make the most of the time you have . As a family we created a list of everything we wanted to do before we left Canada, whenever that might be. Some are big things, like a night out to watch the Montreal Canadiens (Montreal’s Ice Hockey Team), but others are smaller, like a walk over Jaques Cartier Bridge to see the view. Even though our conversations tend to be dominated by what the future holds, we try to find some time to live in the moment.
5. Plan for different outcomes and possibilities
Whilst out walking the other day a friend asked me: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?” I thought about this for a while. My friend made me realise that even in the worst case scenario there were a number of ways I could overcome it.
Simply by defining what we are afraid of, thinking though ways to prevent this happening, and planning for what we can do if it does happen, enables us to feel more in control and more at ease with uncertainty. Want to try this? Check out Tim Ferris’ TED Talk on Fear Setting
Uncertainty creates opportunity
By deciding to be an expat you’ve already ticked the box as someone who is prepared to push the boundaries and live outside your comfort zone. Learning to deal with the uncertainty that goes with expat life is a key skill. A skill that when mastered brings great opportunities as “when nothing is sure everything is possible.”
Do you have a great strategy that’s helped you deal with the uncertainty of expat life? Let us know in the comments below.
Kathryn Eade is a facilitator, coach and expert in change resilience. Though based in the UK she supports expats in different places around the world. She has lived and worked in Venezuela, Zimbabwe and most recently with her family in Canada. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryneade/
This article was first published on Up+thrive