Home is where the heart is. A cliché with a lot of truth. But what if your heart is in two places, or more? This post unpacks some of the considerations for expats attempting to reach a decision on their long-term future.
The journey of an expat begins with a full case, bags of anticipation and a pocketful of trepidation.
It can also lack a little foresight.
As while many go on to create an amazing life that better suits, leaving behind strong roots can result in both homes feeling incomplete.
Even those who decided before departing can find this reality presents a predicament.
Because, while a great privilege to be able to pick a country to reside, having more than one possibility can, for many, create an emotional divide.
The result is the common phenomena of expat ambivalence. Where caught within the confines of two minds, long-term plans linger in limbo and decisions are difficult to decipher.
It’s confusing and complicated because;
Pros and cons don’t cut it
While the overseas pro list is often longer, the home pros are stronger, making it impossible to compare. Long pros don’t compensate for the longing you feel for family. And so for life-changing decisions it becomes clear that comparing lists blurs the emotions behind them. So then you move to mulling over what mirrors your values. However….
Basing your toughest choices on your strongest values is a robust approach. But when your most defining values are divided it’s a catch 22 making reaching a decision difficult. For example, strong family values with loved ones faraway contrasting with, say, a relaxed attitude at odds with the rat race of your birthplace. This classic case of dissonance can cripple even the most compos mentis of minds. So if your values are also split, it might be also worth assessing…
What’s right for you
Whether simmering under the surface or intermittently intense, every expat experiences an element of guilt. Sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, regret they’re not part of your present, and worry what the future holds without them. It’s therefore important to consider, if no-one got hurt, what would you do? But then again, this is difficult when you’d be hurt too. So maybe you could try…
Visualising your future
Perhaps the easiest and most effective method of deciding what your heart desires. If it rings true that picturing yourself in one place years from now is impossible to do, it may be your truth calling. Because reality begins in your mind. So a lack of visual projection may be a sign that it’s not what you’d like to find in your future. However, if you can imagine both, or none, then realise…
Not deciding is deciding
Being undecided, but not acting, is ultimately deciding. Consider if you are undecided in your head, your heart is deciding instead. Trust it, go with the flow, live in the moment and wait until you ‘know’ And if you finally get to that place, remember…
Owning your decision
Both options undoubtedly have their challenges. Repatriating is almost certainly harder than expatriating, and remaining an expat will always elicit a little emptiness. However, when we make a big decision we create, sometimes subconscious, reasons to reinforce it. Through cognitive dissonance, we minimise any regret we may have. So, consider this; when you choose, eventually your psychological sanity switch will flick and you’ll convince yourself you made the right decision. Even if you didn’t!
So, when an expats mind is split, there really is no simple solution.
Because it’s not just deciding where to live. It’s deciding what you can live with and exist without. It’s facing being far away from family forever or turning your back on a way of life you now know to be better.
And wherever you land for the long-haul you’ll forever carry a little extra baggage. The ‘what ifs’ of a life you once knew, or for an important part of your life that changed you.
But ‘what ifs’ mean you had options.
So while your case may end up a little battered and bruised, you will never regret that it was used.
If only you could just unpack it.
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