In August last year, after six years of living in the Middle East and her third expat assignment, a woman decided it was time to move home. She knew that the focus of her work and life needed to be back in the more familiar environment of her home country. She was grateful for everything she had experienced and learned, the wonderful people she had met and the chance to travel to places she might otherwise not have seen. She had also been through the typical ups and downs of expat life, that are well known to all those who choose it, and had come to the end of her expat “shelf life”. There were starting to be more downs than ups and that was a sign that it was time for a change.
As someone with a background in international HR and global mobility, she knew perfectly well that repatriation for some people could be as unsettling as going abroad in the first place. But not for her. She knew what to expect. She’d supported others through it. She had it sorted. And it wasn’t as if she was relocating the contents of a house, a family, beloved pets – the whole “repat” shebang – only herself and a couple of suitcases because by that stage, the furniture had been sold, unwanted clothes given away and she was living in a serviced apartment. Easy.
So, she said her goodbyes, boarded the plane and within 12 hours was back home, to her own house. Easy.
Except that it wasn’t. Practically, logistically speaking, almost everything was back where it should be, yet for some time she still felt very unsettled and couldn’t work out why. With her professional HR hat on, it should have been totally obvious, but she kept pushing that answer away – not her, she had known in advance what to expect and didn’t even use the word “repatriation” – she’d just moved back home. She’d just changed the scenery.
Her husband was still in the Middle East for a while longer but they made sure they met up frequently and saw each other a couple of times a month and his job brought him home fairly often too. Of course, that was a change from being together in the same place, but it was manageable.
And of course, her daily routine was different. Last time she’d lived at home, she’d had a full-time job, a role to fulfil and a place to go each day; this time she was self-employed and starting from scratch, knowing very few people professionally. She needed to get out that door and start networking. Her friends and family were there for her, which was lovely, so very welcome and good for her soul, but still, she felt unsettled. She didn’t feel she had a structure to her week or a “proper” purpose, whatever that meant. And the more she thought about what she perceived to be her rather pathetic outlook, the more frustrated she became.
She started to feel ridiculous, started to say “get over yourself – what’s the big deal?”. She felt a bit of a fraud because she had lauded the move back home as the right decision and something she just had to do. Of course, all that was still true but it didn’t make it easy. She kept it all inside as she felt a bit embarrassed about how she was feeling. Grow up; you’re a professional.
Then someone asked her, pointedly – “you’re a coach; what would you say to someone else who has just changed country, moved back home, gone through this kind of upheaval and transition?”.
Funny how the blindingly obvious is so entirely out of reach when our resources are low, when our energy levels are down, when we are running on empty, yet relentlessly still piling on the pressure to keep going, keep smiling, do something! We lose sight of ourselves.
Change, however small, is unsettling even when it’s expected. We all know this – cognitively – that’s the easy bit. But actually experiencing and feeling it, even when it’s planned and intended – that’s something else. That can be a shock – it was for me. Repatriation is not a small change – it’s a significant upheaval on many levels. People will experience it differently but it’s change all the same and on reflection, I should have been honest with myself – and kinder – rather earlier.
I share this here only because most people who know me and have worked with me, might not expect me to do so but being open and authentic is part of what makes me a good coach – if I can’t do it, then why should I expect my clients to?
Several months later, with the support of my husband and so many of you, I am much more settled, and I am home. Thank you all.