8 Questions to Help You Find Your Expat Thang

As a follow up to my last post . . . Being Married to the Expat Cake Lady –or- Finding Your Thang: For Expat Wives . . .

 

 Here are 8 questions to help you find your THANG.

 

1.  Are you an inny or an outy?

Too personal?  Sorry – this has nothing to do with your belly button.  Simply put, what is your personality?  Here’s another way to look at it  —

How much do people annoy you?

Nothing is more significant to finding your sweet spot in the expat world than your extrovertedness versus your introvertedness.  Without giving proper respect to how much you enjoy/need other people around you you’re likely to waste a lot of time testing out thangs that frankly, ain’t your thang.

Introverts may feel pressured to join every tea party, picnic or play group that pops up in the expat community.  “I have to go or they’ll think I’m a snob.”  Extroverts may feel self-conscious because not everyone wants to join their tea party, picnic or play group.  “They must hate me, what did I do?”

In a small community it’s easy to find yourself constantly over-evaluating how you might be perceived.  The result is inny’s who go out and outy’s who stay in.

If you’re an introvert cut yourself some slack.  You’re thang is not going to be hosting the expat talent show or teaching opera on the city square.  If you’re an extrovert cut yourself some slack too.  You may love blogging and scrapbooking but your thang is going to involve people . . . or you will go crazy . . . and die . . . alone.

  • Go here to take the Big 5 Personality Test (don’t worry if you didn’t study).  These five characteristics will tell you a lot about how to thrive cross culturally. 
  • For more fun personality stuff (Myers Briggs) go here.

 

2. What are you going to regret later if you don’t do it now?

Expats can get so busy managing life that they forget how unique this adventure is.  You’re living in a foreign country.  Wait, scratch that – you’re living in a country . . . as a foreigner.  That can add a whole new depth to your pool of potential thangs.  If you’re spending three years in China, guess what . . . now’s the time to learn Chinese.  Italy?  Time to perfect your pasta.  Brazil?  You could be learning to cook meat like it ain’t NOBODY’S business.

Your thang may or may not be directly related to your host country’s culture but don’t rule it out until you’ve thought it through.  You may even be able to find some creative way to mix it up.  Are you a painter?  How can you capture the heart of your life as a foreigner on canvas?  It doesn’t have to be the only thing you paint but how cool will it be to have that one painting in 20 years when you’re looking back?

Don’t miss the opportunity now that won’t be there later.

 

3. What does reality restrict? 

Your thang at home may not be feasible where you live now.  Sacrifice comes with the expat package (although it’s not listed on the brochure) and sometimes that can mean taking a break from the things that you most connect with.

My wife is a scrap-booker.  In America it was her creative outlet and our dining room table was swallowed by 6 tons of polka dotted paper, rubber stamps and special scissors that cut swirly doodles.  However, in America there were special scrap-booking stores . . . no . . . warehouses with infinite creative options and never ending swirly doodling paraphernalia.  Not so much in China.  Consequently her thang changed but that was a tough conclusion to come to.

A reality check on the front end may save you some unnecessary stress later.

 

4.  Can your thang be translated?

Maybe you can’t do exactly what you love most.  So flex a little bit but don’t give up altogether just yet.  You may be able to translate it into your new culture.

Here’s how it works — Answer these questions:

  • What was your thang at home?
    • Scrapbooking for my wife
  • Why? — What are all of the pieces that make you love it?
    • It’s an outlet for her exceptionally creative brain.
    • She can do it alone or with close friends (introvert)
    • She get’s to make beautiful things. 
    • She can make things for other people and they love it which makes her happy.
  • What isavailable in your host culture that would fulfill what you love about your old thang?
    • Voila!  Making cakes.

Ok, it wasn’t even close to that easy but once she found it, it made sense and in her case she may even like making cakes more than she liked scrap-booking.  If you can make the switch to filling what you love instead of replacing what you do it can help.

 

5.  What energizes you?

Having a thang is more than just being good at something.  You may be good at a lot of things.  You may even love doing them but how do you feel when it’s all over?

Recently I did some one on one counseling with a number of new comers to China.  I bounced from one meeting to another each one lasting at least an hour and some of them up to four.  It was non-stop, on the go for three long days on into three late nights.  I crashed hard at my hotel around midnight when I had finished my last meeting and then woke up early for a full day of training the next day.

After a six hour seminar my friend helped me process.  “Jerry, how do you feel right now?”

My answer was, “I feel alive.”  The one on one stuff was great but it slowly drained me.  I genuinely love spending time with China newbies.  Their stories are incredible and they may actually be some of my favorite people to talk to in the world.  But when I’m done I’m zapped.  Nothing left to give.  However, even when I’m tapped out, if I can get in front of a group of people and do training . . . I wake up.  I’m full of energy and when it’s all over I feel like I could run a marathon.

I couldn’t . . . but I feel like I could.

Training is my thang.  One on one is thoroughly enjoyable and on a good day I’m pretty good at it.  I love it but it doesn’t energize me.  Training does.

What makes you feel alive?  What energizes you?

 

6.  What is your B?

If you’re moving from A to B what is your B?  And if you’re trying to get to B then why are you headed for C?  or Q?  or Albuquerque?

Lots of accompanying spouses  give up a career to move abroad with their husband or wife.  As a trade off they feel pressure to find a job in their new country.  Consequently  they take anything they can get and often that pool is pretty shallow for foreigners.  There are thousands of English Teachers out there who hate teaching English but feel like they need to be working.

You might be missing out on something good because you can’t change your paradigm.  You could be using your skills, your education and your passions on something you love and you’re good at.  Something that energizes you.  You may or may not get paid for it but do you really need to?

If you do then by all means . . . get a job.

If having a job is your B . . . then get a job.

If teaching English is your B . . . then absolutely yes, teach English and love it.

But if you don’t like it and you can make it without the money, wouldn’t you rather be doing your thang?

 

7.  Who Completes You?  

Simply put . . . Surround yourself with people who make you better.  Then your thang will be better too.

My wife is an introvert.  You’d think she’d hang out with introverts.  But introverts don’t complete her.  Extroverts do.

Extroverts steal the show and protect her from being the center of attention.  They also love her because she never competes to steal the show.  She completes them too.  Extroverts say, “WAAAHHH!! LOOK AT THAT CAKE!!  They are her best advertising, her best encouragement and have always been her best friends.

 

8.  How Can Your Thang Help People?

Honestly, if your thang isn’t helping someone else in some way then there is a big piece missing.  Especially in an expat context doing something that only serves your own needs will isolate you from the rest of the expats and your host country.  Self serving extroverts make people mad.  Self serving introverts turn into hermits and get tagged as uppity snoot wads.

On the other hand, extroverts who think about other people become a bright light in a group of people who all struggle with the same basic issues.  They’re the ones who find out where to buy bacon or get a great foot rub and pass it on to the rest of the crowd.  Everyone loves them and gives them the kind of mass attention that energizes them.

As for introverts . . . they get a chance to quietly let the world know (one at a time) that they’re inny’s.  Not weird.  Not stuck up.  Just not overly excited about large groups of people.  They’re the ones who make unbelievable cakes and smile on the inside when people love it.

I hope you find your thang.

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