How do you decide where to settle down when you’re not tied to any particular country or location?
Not feeling tied to anywhere is a big challenge for expats, and particularly for those expats who don’t necessarily feel that “this country/city/town feels like home so that’s where I’d want to settle down”.
So how *do* you make a decision on where to settle down when…
- You don’t feel like anywhere in particular is home or your friends and family are scattered all over
- You want to make sure you don’t end up feeling like you don’t belong once you do decide on a location
- You want to make sure that making such a big decision with financial, practical and lifestyle ramifications will not end up being a really dumb decision for everyone involved
Essentially, what someone in this position often wants to know is – what should I take into consideration when deciding where to settle down?
How do I know that these are the things that will make me happy?
How do I just *pick* a location to settle down in and make it feel like home?
It can be a lot to work through if this is the first time you’re trying to make a mindful, intentional decision about where you’re going to live for many-many years to come.
In this post, I’m going to share the lessons I’ve learned about deciding where to settle down when you’re not tied to anywhere.
Lesson #1 – Eliminate others’ input and external pressure
There are often a lot of “shoulds” that come up in my coaching sessions with expats.
“I should move back”,
“I should want this career”,
“I should do this or that…”
The minute you identify a “should” in your life, I’m willing to bet that you’re going against your own interests in some aspect of your life.
If something feels right, genuine, authentic, joyful, there’s often no room for “shoulds”. You’ll naturally just decide, do, initiate because you *want* to and feel called to do it.
But when you feel guilt, obligation or lack of agency – you’re probably on a slippery slope.
Now, these “shoulds” can be external – unintentional (but sometimes also quite intentional) pressure from friends and family in terms of what they think would be best for you.
But these “shoulds” can also arise from within – your own ideas on how your life should look like. Underlying that is often the desire to measure up to particular societal norms or fit in with a group or community.
However, if what you’re after is a genuine feeling of contentment and ease in your life, identifying the “shoulds” that operate in your life is a crucial first step.
Knowing what they are will help you tease out who *you* are and what *you* need for a fulfilling life, independent of societal norms or others’ expectations (even if well-meaning).
That said, going against the grain of what may be expected of you or what you are forcing yourself to want is not for the faint of heart.
It is deeply rewarding, yes, but the thought of having to justify yourself to others (who may not get you or support you) can make even the strongest among us succumb to pressure (whether real or perceived).
At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself – what kind of person do you want to be?
Whose idea of a great life do you want to live by?
Lesson #2 – Listen to your internal nudges
The fact that you don’t feel tied to anywhere is often an illusion.
This idea can almost give you the impression that you don’t have any preferences.
But you do!
Just try and sit with any given option and tell me that you don’t start to notice (and how quickly, I might add!) how one option makes you feel one way, while another option makes you feel a different way.
While your head might be telling you: “the world is your oyster”, your inner compass will have a much better grasp of what’s actually right for you.
However, at an early stage of decision-making, the key is to not get stuck on those internal nudges just yet, but to *investigate* them:
What is it specifically about this or that option that attracts or repels me?
What does this information tell me about who I am and what I need?
These gut-level cues are amazing friends.
They point you towards important information about your needs and wants, things you’ll want to take into consideration when choosing a place for putting down roots.
Allow these internal nudges to surprise you and have the courage to explore what they might mean for your choices.
Lesson #3 – Let go of what you *think* you need or want
It’s just as important to listen to your internal nudges as it is to challenge what you want and need, what you’ve been *used to* wanting and needing.
A perfect example?
I can’t remember ever wanting to own a house nor move to the country-side, but this is now exactly what I’m planning to do in the coming year.
There have been a ton of rational reasons for not having wanted these things before. As a result, I have been a city girl my entire life.
But the truth is that I don’t actually feel good living in the city.
I feel my absolute best in the country-side, surrounded by forests.
At the same time, I’m scared of what owning a house means. I don’t like the idea of having to rely on a car to get around (though I love to drive). What’s more, the thought of being a country gal also messes with my sense of self (but so did the idea of becoming a repat, haha).
Now, I could take the logical path and allow both financial and practical concerns to guide my choices. I could also desperately try to hold on to my city girl identity for a shred of security.
Nothing wrong with any of that and I won’t judge my past self for having chosen logic over heart over and over again.
But continuing down this seemingly logical path would also mean saying ‘yes’ to a life of ignoring that internal nudge calling me to finally find a working solution for country-side living.
That’s something I’m not willing to do to myself any longer.
Where are you on this scale – Do you let logic lead the way or do you allow your inner compass to inspire your next steps? Perhaps a mix of both?
In the past, which way of making decisions has led to a greater sense of fulfilment for you?
Lesson #4 – You can’t make a wrong decision when you follow the breadcrumbs of your internal nudges
By genuinely following your internal nudges, you are essentially relinquishing control and stepping into deep unknown (just like I was when I decided to give Estonia a chance) with full trust in the fact that *you* will not lead *yourself* astray.
This kind of self-trust doesn’t come about overnight (unless it was encouraged in you during your upbringing but few of us have had that kind of support growing up).
The good news is that this degree of self-trust is something that you can build up through small daily decisions based on your inner guidance, like choosing what to eat or taking a class, and thereby collect evidence that your inner compass is trustworthy.
The more you get real life evidence that your inner compass is your friend and that it always strives to bring even more contentment into your (everyday) life, the easier it becomes to trust internal nudges when it comes to life-changing decisions with a lot of unknowns.
Starting small is also a great way to start practicing “true belonging” on a daily basis because…
…if you refuse to listen to your own inner guidance, who or what is guiding you at the end of the day? Whose ideas of what is right or wrong for you are you following?
Life has proven to me in numerous ways that, even if the answers my inner compass gives me surprise me, following that little voice takes me closer to belonging to myself and to others, which by default makes space for that much more peace and joy in my life.
No more doubting myself or my choices.
No more agonizing over what I want, where I should live or what I should do.
That said, and I’ll be completely transparent here – I haven’t always been ready to act on every little internal nudge that I’ve experienced.
Sometimes the nudge suggests too big of a change for me (at least at that point in time).
What’s more, getting an internal nudge doesn’t mean that I then just drop everything.
While I allow my soul to guide my decisions, that doesn’t mean I’m not strategic about timing, finances, practicalities etc. For me, it’s important to marry those two sides in me.
Because, let’s be honest, sometimes it takes time to get all the puzzle pieces to fit together.
Regardless, your first step should always be to identify what those puzzle pieces are to begin with.
Let me know in the comments what thoughts and questions came up for you while reading this blog post.
If you’re ready to settle down after having lived abroad for a while, you’re looking for that elusive feeling of home and belonging and you don’t want to figure out all by yourself, then check out my coaching services here. Let’s work together to untangle that knot of issues keeping you stuck so you can move forward with confidence instead.
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.