Monday, January 9, 2012

Re-expatriating for New Years

expat repat

My first full week back in Europe is behind me, and its left me feeling a bit more stressed than usual.  Not at all the intent after two weeks away!  I ran through the usual list of excuses: I fell behind ahead of the holidays, I took a week off during the holidays, I fell out of touch after the holidays, I caught jet lag.

None seemed to fit.

I wished for Coach Steele’s handy List of Excuses for Missing Swim Practice that he handed out to our swim team in High School:

  101. Girlfriend not friendly last night.

  102. Girlfriend too friendly last night.

‘There was always something that fit.

On reflection, though, I’ve decided that there are two nominal problems, both connected to slipping back into expat life after a couple of weeks in repat life.

First, two weeks back in a familiar setting resets expectations for how easy it is to get things done.  For two weeks, I’d drive to the store, products were where I expected them to be (mousetraps, for example, are in Housewares at Safeway, not at the pet store), costs were denominated in familiar units (and at lower prices), I understand what people were saying (okay, people still don’t always understand me).

The old scripts worked again.

Coming back into England and the Netherlands, life became more deliberate, less intuitive.  I need to remember to think harder about how to say things, take more patience with the steps needed to get things done, accept that it will take more time to find things I need.  It’s not a bad thing, but it’s an unfamiliar friction, leading to a sense that I’m falling behind.

The other is that a break is also a reflection.  With family and friends, I’m talking about the year, the things that went well or poorly, the plans and hopes for the coming months.  I’m thinking about what went well; what needs to change.  Lists, then Resolutions follow.

YagottawannaAn hour a day of Dutch practice.  Catching up with an email to a friend a few times a week.  Weekend trips once a month. Seeing my parents more often.  Getting to bed by 11:30 on weeknights.  Exercising 3 times a week. Reading more; Charcoal life drawing.

But the realities of expat business life haven’t changed.  There are things that must get done or the work doesn’t go out, the money doesn’t come in, the fundraising doesn’t start, the experiments don’t close.

I did get to exercise three times, started a new book, sent some emails, fell into bed most nights before the clock struck twelve.  But the Dutch lags, weekend travel is still too aspirational, charcoals are tucked into a lower drawer.

And so, as the second week starts, I’m taking stock.  Again.

The five biggest jobs are done (well) and the remainder are manageable.  I’m adapting to the rhythms of weekday shopping and left-side driving again.  I’m back; I’m equilibrating.

The temptation to thrash harder, to move faster, to shovel the work aside to make more time is there, but I’ve mostly resisted the call.  It’s a seductive idea for catching up; but I know, in reality, it will throw life even further out of balance.

YaGottaWanna was Coach Steele’s constant exhortation.  He was always talking about working harder, achieving more, pushing limits, going to State.

But it’s as true about achieving a balanced life as achieving a successful one.  I gotta wanna do better, year by year.


SprintinPS:  I am amazed to find that my high school swimming coach, circa 1968, Bob Steele, is still kicking around and doing motivational work.  Wow!

And still selling the same slogan he used to chase us up and down the pool with.


Textual Healer said...

Happy new year Dave
I admire your tenacity. To be single, self employed and ex-pat pretty much strips away most of the safety and comfort nets that most people rely on. Why do we choose to inflict this upon ourselves?

Keep going and try to keep a balance.

David Hampton said...

Many thanks, and happy new year! There are compensating pleasures, if not now, then in the near future, I think. I hope.

I wish you all the best in your efforts this year as well and will be following your writings.