Over a decade ago I learned about a problematic habit called “betting on potential”.
It’s the habit of continuing to invest in all kinds of relationships where we refuse to see what’s right in front of us (and has been for a long time) and prefer to stay married to the illusion of what may potentially be possible one day.
When we bet on potential, we can end up hurting ourselves because our hopes and dreams cannot materialize when we continue to ignore the evidence in front of us.
Our hopes and dreams can start to flourish when we choose to face the painful reality of what IS actually possible and make changes from a place of clarity.
Little did I know that some 10+ years later I’d be returning to this term in the context of expat life.
So here’s what I’ve seen in my client sessions.
We all move to a foreign country (it doesn’t matter whether it’s our first or third time) with illusions about what our life is going to be like there.
The more we believe in those illusions and the stronger we expect them to become true, the higher the likelihood that we stick around betting on potential rather than cutting our losses, if needed.
The higher the likelihood that we may become obsessed with chasing something that’s not even going to make us happy.
The higher the likelihood that we convince ourselves that we’ve invested so much that we cannot possibly give up now.
What’s more, it’s hard to stay unaffected by the images we see and stories we hear about what it’s like to live in country X or city y through social media, blogs and Hollywood movies.
In fact, I started Bad Days Abroad because I was *so* tired of the pretty pictures and effortless settling in stories that I kept seeing about life abroad year after year, when life abroad had proven to be anything but glamorous, fun and easy for me.
Starting a new life in a foreign country is not a visit to an amusement park.
Regardless of which area of your life you’re struggling the most with in settling in abroad, whether that’s with love, work, social life or just generally feeling at home, life abroad is not for the faint of heart.
Which shouldn’t deter anyone from living abroad.
But it should make one highly aware of the illusions we’ve bought into and may still be holding on to in the hopes that our life abroad will one day look exactly like in Emily in Paris, Eat Pray Love, Under the Tuscan Sun or like the images/videos/stories by your favorite Instagrammer/TikToker/expat blogger.
Let me dive a bit deeper into my point of view here.
When it comes to movies and Netflix series, we barely ever see a plot line full of bureaucratic nightmares, being homesick, struggling to speak in the local language, not making any friends and being unemployed while living abroad.
It just doesn’t sell and it doesn’t work as a storyline.
We want to see the characters overcome these challenges, not get stuck in them for an undefined period of time.
Which is why real life expat struggles are either presented in a whimsical way where the main character hasn’t already been emotionally beaten down by life, they’ve been bypassed altogether or these issues magically resolve thanks to a super helpful neighbour who happens to be a local and turns into the main character’s best friend.
This isn’t real life.
Sure, surprising (and positive) plot twists can take place in real life, too, but to *expect* them to happen is the same as betting on potential.
You’re better off spending your time and energy on working on your emotional resilience skills while the ride is a bit (or a lot) bumpy.
You’re better off being consistent at meeting new people so you can find your tribe (or 1-2 people if you’re more into 1:1 relationships) and taking a break when you’ve had no luck for a while.
You’re better off getting to know yourself and your needs better, so that you can stop chasing things that don’t matter to you anyway.
Moving on to content creators of all kinds, and this is probably going to sound like a cliché, but you really don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes of any of the YouTubers, Instagrammers, Tiktokers and bloggers that you follow.
You really don’t, even if they seem to share a lot about their lives.
I’m a big fan of the more honest movement that I’ve witnessed on social media in the past few years, but the impact of the picture-perfect lives we’re used to seeing doesn’t disappear that easily.
For every honest post, video or story, there’s always content creators that make us feel less-than, not worthy, failing at something. It’s not because they do that intentionally but that’s the meaning we derive from them going about their lives.
This kind of content is the kind that will continue to haunt us, unless we’re careful.
This is the kind of content that will encourage us to bet on potential, so that maybe, just maybe, one day our life abroad will look like theirs, too.
Which is why it’s so-so important to do a deep clean in our minds, in our hearts and on our social media platforms.
Don’t follow content creators who you don’t resonate with.
Don’t follow content creators that make you feel like you could never achieve the same as them.
Or just don’t spend time on social media as much at all.
You’ll have so much time left over to notice and appreciate the good things in your life.
This blog post has probably felt like a rant.
And I think it’s fine if you take it as such as well because what I wrote in this newsletter is at the core of why I started Bad Days Abroad.
From the start, I’ve wanted to balance the narrative around what life abroad is like.
These days, I’m focused on validating the bad days abroad as a normal part of living abroad and empowering expats to not feel like they’re a failure if it’s been rough for a while and you’re not sure whether it’s time to let go of the potential you’ve been betting on all this time.
To sum up –
Be mindful of what you believe to be true about life abroad.
Be mindful of what kind of content you expose yourself to.
Be mindful of what you believe your life *should* look like.
Be mindful of believing you are less worthy.
Be mindful of not appreciating the gifts that life abroad has given you, even if there aren’t as many of them as you’d like there to be.
And most of all, be mindful of comparing your unique path in life to that of someone else’s unique path. Both are equally worthy, even if they don’t look the same.
Your thoughts? 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.