There have always been nomads but there are more now than ever.
Maybe you are one — those people who are going to live their entire lives 3-5 years at a time (give or take). By choice, calling or mandate you will encounter multiple, major transitions in your life. Military families, missionaries, international business people, career students, traveling teachers, medical professionals, jet setters, globe trotters and restless wanderers are all on the move and likely to stay that way until they can’t any longer.
It’s the opposite of the “where I come from” scenario. Where I come from deep roots are a core value. You don’t move unless your job says you have to. You plant yourself in the community and become a pillar of it. You stay at the same church for life (unless the Pastor makes you mad), your kids graduate high school with their Kindergarten class and you live in the same house until you can’t take care of it anymore.
It’s stability at it’s finest.
I love it. I’m thankful for the rock solid experiences of my childhood.
I don’t think it is the ONLY way to live well. I have also been privileged to meet some wonderful people (I call them “The Movers”) who have lived the nomad life into their twilight — never planting themselves for more than a few years — and it has been rich and good.
It is different to be sure.
- They are not pillars of any one community but they have deeply impacted several.
- They don’t have a core group of long term local friends but they have a network that is global.
- The people around them are always changing but they understand community in a very real way.
- They will never get a town hall named after them but they have a huge impact on people who leave and have a profound impact somewhere else.
- They’ve never owned a house but they always know when they are home.
I have learned some priceless life lessons both from people who have never moved and some who have never stayed.
If you are a mover (of any flavor) – here are a few thoughts gleaned from those who have done it well.
1. Every brick counts
You’re never going to be the pillar and that’s ok. Your life is going to look more like a brick wall. Lot’s of smaller, individual blocks laid out one by one and all stuck together. What you want in the end is a solid wall.
Here’s the kicker – One mushy brick compromises the strength of the wall. Two or three even more so. Every brick counts.
So . . . even if you’re only in a location for 2 years you should work hard to make it solid. Build strong relationships. When they break do everything you can to make sure they get fixed. Add value to the people around you.
The two biggest lies that transient people believe are, “I don’t have time to make friends” and “this will all be better when I leave.” You do and it won’t.
Believing these makes for a really mushy brick . . . and every brick counts.
2. Think Trajectory
Steven Covey said it well. “Begin with the end in mind.”
If you’re 30 think about life when you’re 75. What do you want 75 year old you to be proud of? Where will they have gone? What will they have done? What will they be telling their grandkids about?
Now pull that back into modern day you’s decision making process. Just thinking about the end isn’t going to make it happen. You’ve got to make decisions all along the way that lead to that place. If 75 year old you speaks fluent Swahili then guess what. You need to buckle down and get to work.
Conservative investors keep the risk low because their timeline is long. They invest when it’s a sure thing with a pretty solid hope for something good in the distant future. Aggressive investors can’t wait that long. They identify something that seems like a good opportunity and they go for it. They risk loss. They risk a set back. They risk embarrassment but they do it all with the keen understanding that if they don’t move now, they’ll miss it.
You are investing in relationships – if you’re a mover you don’t have the luxury of 30 years before you have a meaningful conversation. Don’t be afraid to dig into relationships and get below the surface early on. Go deep quicker. Invest in people. Note: this is not romantic advice – that may be completely different.
Healthy movers understand the significance of NOW.
Important side note – Aggressive ≠ stupid.
4. Emulate the Greats
When you think about people who are on a similar life path (expat, missionary, military etc.) who do you see that is doing this well? Pick three to five people that come to your mind when you answer that question.
- Why did they come to your mind?
- How do they interact with people?
- How do they take care of themselves?
- What do other people say about them?
- What are their habits? Their routines? Their disciplines?
Deconstructing their lives a bit will give you a great short list of characteristics for you to transfer onto your trajectory.
Be yourself but emulate the greats.
5. Give more than you take
There are two kinds of movers — the givers and the takers.
Takers bounce from place to place to suck the life out of the culture and the community. They are selfish adventurers who are looking to get what they can get and care little about the people around them. They are rude to their hosts. They are parasitic and abusive but sometimes no one notices because they can also be a lot of fun.
In the end their brick wall is a pile of sand.
Don’t be those people. Be the givers.
6. Always be changing
The richest part of transience is diversity. Every place you go, every community you live in, every group of people that you do life with is a new and unique opportunity. You get to see the world from their perspective and you quickly learn that every perspective is different.
Become a lifelong student of the places you live and the people who live there with you. That should be changing you.
7. Never change
Even though you change with every stop, who you are at the core should be rock solid. Be careful not to let different places and different people cause you to forget your deepest values.
The bubble is the place you can go and not need anything else. It’s safe and comfortable. The people inside are just like you. They speak your language, they share your frustrations, they eat your food, they drink your drinks. It’s enjoyable and rarely awkward. Outside of the bubble there is a lot more risk. You have to work harder to communicate. The people there are weird.
Bust the bubble. Movers miss so much because they never branch out.
Whether your bubble is corporate or expat or something else . . . set yourself free. There’s some really cool stuff on the other side.
9. Redefine Home
Home is where the heart is right? Yeah, you can bet that a mover said that.
Home for you is people (specifically the ones who stay with you no matter where you go) but it’s way more than just that. It is principles and protocol and other things that also probably start with a “p”. It’s just NOT a place — at least not just one.
Don’t settle for a half empty glass. “Well, we move around a lot so I’m just not sure where home is.”
Just change “where” to “what” and answer the question. It is everything (seen and unseen) that you will take with you the next time you move.
Have those conversations with your family.
10. Wherever you are . . . be there
It’s easy to checkout early especially when you know you’ll be leaving soon. That can be dangerous for movers who are never NOT leaving. When your time is short, every moment counts . . . especially the last ones. It’s a different way of thinking but work towards leaving a piece of yourself after you’re gone instead of not being present while your are still there.
Read these if you’re in the process of leaving
For some it’s a calling, for others it’s a job. Regardless, I am convinced that the end result of a life spent moving can be a beautiful string of amazing experiences, a stockpile of incredible stories and a huge network of quality relationships.
Have something to add to the list? Comment below.
Know a mover who might need this? Please pass it on.