Expat Life

Rebuilding your confidence abroad

How come so many talented and competent women struggle with confidence issues? If they have a top job they worry about not having a boyfriend or about making mistakes at work. If they move abroad with their husband they worry about never finding a job ever again or being not good enough as a mum.

Perfect Good Girl or Nobody’s Perfect?

Apparently there is some secret sauce that many of us are fed while growing up- the good girl sauce. We have to be perfect in what we do, in our academic achievements, our career path, our looks, our parenting and of course our relationship.

We have unconsciously internalized the messages from parents, media and society. And we forget to apply to ourselves that old adage:

“Nobody’s Perfect.”

Or worse, we apply it as a standard only valid for others:  nobody’s perfect but I should be and if I’m not perfect I’m a failure. And then we beat ourselves up with the “should stick.” (check my Facebook page for a 2 minute video about that or read this blog).

Failing to meet the bar we set for ourselves

What happens if we end up in a foreign country without a work permit but with small kids? When we find out that parenting is the most challenging “job” we will ever have? When we realise how much of our self confidence is related to a job we had to leave behind? That it is tough to be the perfect wife when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep since before having kids. That everyone’s cousin has an opinion about you “not working” abroad. Oh and a Filipino helper? You must be some kind of lazy colonial lady aren’t you?

A New Sense of Self

Your sense of self as an independent, career focused, successful go-getter is replaced by… Yes by what? Being outside of our comfort zone, as we are in a new location, makes it easy for our inner saboteurs (those self-deprecating voices in our head) to deliver blows to our self-confidence. Little by little, we start to believe that we “should” be doing other things. That we “can’t” just enjoy life; that we “must” do something “important,” that we “must” financially contribute to our family.

Hold it right there

Stop! Step away from this negative habit right now. Because that is what it is, a habit. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman call it NATs “Negative Automatic Thoughts” in their book The Confidence Code. Before you know it, you are on the train to Self Complaint Land, where nothing you do is good, or where everything about your life abroad sucks.

Expat Energy Confidence
Once upon a time: me feeling super confident after finishing a huge project at work back in 2008.

Rebuilding A Confidence Habit: Be Your PAL

So, what can you do to start rebuilding a sense of self? Here are 5 first micro steps to rebuilding confidence (and notice how these steps have nothing to do with finding a job):


1. Be Your Own PAL- Positive Appreciative Lady Friend

Whenever you catch yourself thinking Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATS) be your own best PAL- Positive Appreciative Lady Friend. Would you want your best friend or your daughter to speak to herself the way you do? Appreciate yourself, living abroad is challenging, you have to do it all yourself, finding a house, friends, the supermarket. Most people never move more than 20 kilometers from the place they were born in. Give yourself credits for building your life abroad.


2. Do things you Enjoy

Do more of what you enjoy, what gives you energy or even embark on that project that you always wanted to do but never had time for before. Yes, you can do things you enjoy. Ditch the guilt and sit at the beach for a few hours reading a book or having a facial. The positive feelings will help you be more positive about other aspects of your life too.


3. One Day at the Time

Hey, it’s okay to have an off day. Those days when your kids don’t stop crying, you arrive at the visa office without that essential paper, your toilet is blocked after the heavy rains and your mum is taken to hospital at the other side of the world. Don’t start beating yourself up, be gentle with yourself. Have a cup of tea, go to bed early and tomorrow is a new day. This strategy helped me keeping my sanity during many a smog-filled, lost in translation day in Beijing.


4. Sleep, move, share in any order

Kay and Shipman recommend this micro confidence step. Lack of sleep and exercise produce anxious brains, while being close to our girlfriends increases our oxytocin levels. If you feel your confidence is affected, start caring for yourself with these 3 principles in mind.


5. Sit up straight

A shortcut to a short-term confidence boost according to Kay and Shipman is to practice power positions. Sitting and walking upright, chin up, don’t slouch.


What is your confidence tip for women abroad?

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Should Sticks and what to replace them with
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