The last couple of months have been crazy here in the Expat LifeLine command(ish) centre. I have been wrestling with the combined challenges of Thanksgiving, Christmas, website launch, business development, the upcoming FIGT conference, Wiggy’s visit and Feisty’s inexhaustible supply of energy. The strain is starting to tell, and my productivity is bearing the brunt.
Falling off the organizational wagon has had an interesting effect. I imagined that a break would fill me full of inspiration, a sense of wellbeing and a general zest for life. In reality, it has made me very, very reluctant to restart. It’s as if the last 18 months of work never happened, and I’m back to square one.
I’ve become trapped by the tyranny of perfection; constantly looking at my inbox, the lists, the tools and apps, waiting for the sense of serenity and purpose to come flooding back. The wisdom of the 80/20 rule, the knowledge that perfection is the enemy of done, have all abandoned me, leaving an echoing silence in their wake.
I have built a huge barrier, brick by brick, to the point that I am now using any and all avoidance strategies possible. If I could harness the creativity of my aversion strategies into solving bigger problems, the global economic crisis would be a distant memory and we would all be enjoying world peace. I am that good.
Clearly I have a problem, and I know I am not unique. The longer we stay away from something, the more distant it becomes and the more insurmountable the task seems. It applies to everything from losing weight to running a marathon, starting a new job to relocating across the world, walking into a room full of people you don’t know to public speaking. We all have our fears, and facing them is far more difficult than we give ourselves credit for. So instead, we avoid them at all costs.
With expat relocation, the temptation is to close our eyes and jump right in, completely unprepared. We bury ourselves in the details, the what-to-take-what-to-leave dilemmas, the how-many-children-are-in-the-class-and-are-there-team-sports questions rather than the do-we-have-a will or do we-have-a-financial-safety-net ones that underline the realities of moving.
We replace the important with the urgent, the uncomfortable with the manageable, only facing the music when it’s playing so loudly that everything else is drowned out.
It’s part of life, and it happens constantly in both personal and business life. Business managers have turned to an approach called ‘kaizen’, the Japanese strategy for continuous, incremental improvement, but it has equal relevance to those of us struggling with huge changes. Its underlying assumption is that life is a content process of learning and improvement, but that small steps have more lasting, reliable impact than giant leaps.
It’s an approach that I love, because some days it’s as much as I can do to keep facing the right direction, let alone race into the unknown – especially when I desperately want to run back to the comfort of an unchallenged life.
In the kaizen approach, acknowledging that you will eventually get there is enough, being patient with yourself while you are struggling is vital, and that every success, however small, is worth celebrating.
It’s the only reason that the Expat LifeLine ever made it out into the world – the idea that I could figure it out gradually, and that you would all be patient enough to bear with me. It’s become one of the most important characteristics of the site – reminding you what needs to be done, safe in the knowledge that we all make mistakes, we can’t do it all, and we are all human.
And right now, that’s enough for us.
In the next blog, I’m going to be talking about the small, incremental changes, tools and resources that I’ve made that have had a huge impact on my life and work…