In the past few weeks I’ve had a number of conversations around how to recognize when it’s time to give up on your expat country.
How do you know that things are not going to improve, even if you keep trying?
To find a sense of peace and calm again, we often look for guarantees about the future while also fearing that we’re going to miss out on something good if we move now.
We want to find a fortune teller who can tell us which decision is going to lead to an improved situation. Needless to say, no such fortune teller exists.
Regardless of the specifics of your situation, there are a number of reflection questions that I’ve found highly useful for getting in touch with that inner sense of peace about my path forward, even if I don’t have external validation available to me.
The following three questions can help you work through whether it’s time to give up on your expat country or try and tweak your approach/thinking going forward.
1. Have you truly tried everything?
Sometimes we can’t tell whether it’s time to give up on our expat country or keep on trying because we believe that we have tried our best when in fact we haven’t.
We may have come to believe that having tried our best within the confines of our comfort zone is enough.
Which is why once we’ve exhausted all of the options that our comfort zone approves of and we’re faced with the prospect of having to challenge ourselves, we come to a full stop just at the edge of our comfort zone and start to wonder whether it’s time to give up.
The alternative – to step outside of our comfort zone – would be just too much discomfort, or so we fear.
As a very common example, if the main issue you have with your current location is that you’ve struggled to build a fulfilling social life abroad, you need to ask yourself:
- Have you really tried all manner of ways of finding your people?
- Have you honestly asked yourself what *you* may need to work on to create meaningful relationships?
- Have you learned to be okay with being on your own until you do find your people?
- Is it really that people are shallow and closed-off or is that a reflection of how you are in social situations as well?
- Have you closed yourself off from people because you’ve been hurt in the past and you subconsciously feel safer in isolation?
Whatever the situation may be, it’s important that before you throw in the towel, you ask ourselves whether the roadblock is actually external to you or whether it is you who is standing in your own way?
If it’s the latter, please remember that you can always reach out to people who are experts in their field and who can help you feel empowered rather than hopeless about your situation.
All it requires is your willingness to try and trust that you will be held and supported when things get uncomfortable.
2. Do you have any hope left at all?
Once hope and optimism have left the house, trying to keep going is the equivalent of flogging a dead horse. The only thing that will grow is your frustration around your needs going unmet.
Don’t underestimate the power of hope, optimism and faith to get us through bad times.
It’s a lot easier to keep going when you’re hopeful for the future, even when there’s no external confirmation that you’re on the right path and that things are going to work out for you, eventually.
Once you no longer believe that your patience and effort will lead to anything worthwhile, that’s when you emotionally give up and that’s when you also start to ask yourself whether it’s better to pull the plug entirely.
Losing hope makes you fall back on yourself and question your belief in being able to change your reality.
But before you do lose all hope, try these things to see if they help you shift your perspective.
- How can you make your days more enjoyable?
- What small (or big) things can you change so you feel uplifted more often?
- How can you make peace with (potentially) never getting/achieving what you want?
- If you played with the idea of letting go of your grip, what would you do then?
If you regularly take care of yourself on a day to day basis, you’ve worked on your mindset and still nothing improves, that’s when it’s time to ask yourself whether you’re just barking up the wrong tree.
If this is where you find yourself, and you’ve tried everything within your power (point 1), only then is it valid to take your thoughts of giving up seriously.
3. Is there a new path that’s making you more excited?
Certain decisions that served you in the past can run their course later down the line. It can be 6 months, two years or even 10 years later later. The timescale doesn’t matter.
What matters is the feeling of finding yourself in a rut in your current life situation and dreaming of a completely different path.
The only caveat?
You’re scared to go for it for fear of judgment from others OR because you feel like you’ve invested so much of your energy into your current location/job/relationship that you feel it would be dumb to let it all go.
In short, we’re scared to pivot and we’re scared to start a new chapter because it would mean starting from scratch.
This is where valuing our comfort zone over and above personal growth and future happiness comes to rule the day once again.
This is where past you starts to dictate the choices of future you when future you may be a different person with completely different interests.
Why would you punish him/her/them for wanting what s/he/them wants just because past you didn’t?
In short, if you’ve determined that it’s not for lack of trying (point 1), you’ve emotionally already checked out (point 2) and you’ve a new path that makes you an excited scaredy cat, then ask yourself:
- How can you minimize the uncertainty, enlist help and do your research so that the new chapter that’s dawning can feel more motivating rather than merely daunting?
- How can you support yourself in letting go of the old?
- What small step could you take today/this week/this month towards a different future?
Which of these points resonated with you the most? Let me know in the comments below.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat of 15 years. Based on her professional and personal experience as well as PhD research, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, whether to move back home or where to settle down.