No matter how many times you’ve moved countries or gone through a big lifestyle change, you’re going to experience anxiety around an unknown future.
Why? Because you’d be going through change.
Change is something that few people thrive on, even if the change in question is something that you’ve initiated yourself. That’s because the nervous system thrives on status quo.
While people often feel out of control when it comes to change, once you realize and acknowledge that there are distinct stages to going through change, it’s easier to treat the rollercoaster of emotions involved as a natural part of the process and not something to be alarmed about.
The same applies to moving countries. With that in mind, in this post I’m going to share the stages of change, alongside completely normal feelings to experience when you’re (considering) moving countries.
The stages I’ll be describing have been adapted from John Fisher’s “Personal Transition Curve” to my area of expertise.
Stage 1 – Facing the music
This is the stage where you’ve either already made the decision to move countries or you have to seriously consider it for a particular reason – a job opportunity, a breakup, a family issue etc.
There are a number of ways we can initially react to the prospect of change:
- feel joy because things are finally changing
- deny that anything is going to happen at all
- feel uncertainty around what’s going to happen or how to go about things
Stage 2 – Fighting against change
The second stage is where we start to realize the full extent of the change ahead.
This is where you start to cook up anxious thoughts around the consequences of this (potential) move to your daily life, your well being, your career, your relationships, your sense of self. It can all seem very overwhelming at this point!
What’s more, we can react in anger when it’s an external impulse (job offer, being made redundant, visa issues, your spouse, political changes, pregnancy, economic difficulties, health issues, relationship etc.) that’s forcing you to move / decide whether to move.
The key thing to remember here is that you can cycle through stages 1-2 for a long time and that is why the “should I stay or go” question can haunt someone for a really long time.
There are three ways people eventually move through this stage.
Stage 3 – Giving up (one way or the other)
- they give up on the idea of moving or stop considering it altogether
- they kill off all pondering and aggressively go through it
- they get stuck and feel confused, unmotivated, hopeless for the future
A number of expats also begin to feel ashamed for their emotional reactions up to this point, thinking and believing that there must be something wrong with them if they haven’t been able to decide what to do or if they can’t bring themselves to feeling good about the decision that they’ve made.
This is typically the stage that clients who reach out to me find themselves in (unless they’ve given up on the idea or decided to power through with the decision they’ve suddenly decided to aggressively pursue (every now and then I get a last minute cancellation like that 🙂 ).
Needless to say, my job is to help expats work through their fears and worries from the previous stages so that they can reach the next stage –
Stage 4 – Acceptance
This is where things get clearer for people – they understand what they’d be giving up and what they’d gain through their decision to stay or move countries.
At this stage, people become curious about how they could plan for a successful move and land softly, or how they could improve their life abroad in case they’ve decided to stay.
A very common misconception, however, is that once you reach the acceptance stage, people expect to no longer have any doubts or concerns because they’ve finally made the decision.
The truth is that it’s perfectly normal to have doubts all the way leading up to actually moving and a few months into the move as well. Alternatively, even a few months after having decided to stay on.
The important thing is not to give more weight to these doubts than they deserve, especially when you’ve done your homework and you’ve thought through *why* you made this decision to begin with.
To illustrate just how common worrying post-decision is, this year I’ve had a growing number of expats reach out to me who’ve already made a decision and set the ball rolling, too, but want me to help them keep their heads clear from all manner of doubts until the day of their move.
Stage 5 – Moving forward
When the ultimate decision falls in favor of moving, then this is the stage where all the practicalities are on their way to being sorted out, goodbyes are being planned, the grief around a chapter ending is being addressed and a new chapter is ready to be embraced with all the unknowns involved.
But when the decision falls in favor of staying, then this is the stage where people start to implement both big and small changes to their daily life or approach to life abroad.
It’s wonderful to see and support people make it to the other side of the change process.
That is, of course, until the day that another big change looms on the horizon.
And when that day comes, all you need to do is remember that you’ve been through this process before and so you can make it through this time as well.
- Do you recognize these stages when you think back on a big change you’ve gone through in your life?
- If you’re in the middle of a decision-making process right now, which stages have you worked your way through?
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.
Thank you for acknowledging that no matter how positive or exciting the decision to become an expat may ultimately be, there is a significant amount of grief associated with leaving the familiar behind. We’re about to become expats ourselves and I’m constantly thinking about the things I’ll miss from home. I’m excited to immerse myself in a new culture (and have no desire to make it “the same as home”) but I know there are things and people I’ll miss dearly. I hadn’t given myself a chance to grieve those losses yet but I think I really need to.