Friday, August 1, 2008

Mental Preparation for the Offshore Life

Getting your financial and health safety net in order is only part of getting ready for the big leap into the unknown. Just as important is mental preparation: Pulling up stakes and moving abroad is not an easy step for anyone. Having realistic expectations and bracing oneself for the inevitable culture shock, loneliness and sometime physical hardship is essential to making the experience pay off. As an ex-colleague of mine, whom I referred to in my first post, stated:

Island life is often terrific, but it is not 100% paradise that we all experience when on holiday.

Though I often throw around the word ‘paradise’ loosely, the truth is that moving from the bustling big city to a tranquil, tropical location is often about trading one set of problems for another. In New York sources of stress may include the hyper-paced lifestyle and the constant traffic jams. On the other hand, stress from an island paradise may be induced by not speaking the local language, not understanding the customs or, even worse, a hurricane or other natural disaster.

I am not trying to discourage anyone from getting motivated to making an ex-pat move; on the contrary, I am working hard to make such a move for myself. But I have already had a small taste of this life- I spent six months in Honduras in 1995. And the one lesson I learned, above all, is that if one is going to make a move like this, it is better to dive in with eyes wide open. That way, when tough times come, as they inevitably will, you will be prepared to minimize the chances that you’ll be discouraged enough to prematurely end your international living experiment.

To prepare one, I suggest the following:

Read reports and testimonies from those who have gone before you. Understand the types of ordeals that can happen and how others have dealt with them. Ingrain in your own mind to expect these problems, so you won’t be unduly shocked when they come along

Concurrently, enjoy your life to its fullest as it is now. If the ex-pat life will not be perfect, do not spend too much time discounting the everyday joy of living where you are now.

The biggest mistake is to waste excessive hours dreaming about how your life will be perfect when you are lying on the beach with a drink in hand. There are things to enjoy here and now that you will miss once you leave the U.S.

If your ex-pat move is done right, it will endow upon you very great benefits. But there will be inevitable moments when you wonder, “Have I done the right thing?” Realistic expectations and preparation can minimize those moments and make your move a transformative experience.

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