Jetlag. We’ve all suffered from it. Waking up in the middle of the night or in the early morning, after flying across time zones to go “home,” our home away from our passport country. But is your self-image jetlagged too?
Jetlag hits after life transitions
Say, you’ve lived abroad for a few years. You moved without kids and were super-active, exploring your new town every day and looking for jobs. Or you moved with little kids and had a reason to be more at home. You were this ambitious lady back home, holding a high powered job and dreaming of becoming a CEO one day. But now the explorer finds herself at home with a crying baby. The stay-at-home mum finds herself in an empty house, kids almost off to university. Miss Ambition is a secretary at the embassy as that was the only job she could get without a work permit- a very low salary and only a few days off per year.
Their confidence has taken a blow. Who is this person they see in the mirror? What is her value now the standards with which she rated herself belong in another time zone?
From Ambitious Newbie to Disappointed Leaver
Take my friend Susan* for example. Before moving to China with the love of her life, she had a successful international management career with Fortune 500 companies. Susan was eager to find consulting clients in China and started networking even before jetting off. Around the time of moving to China, she found out she was pregnant, finally, at nearly 40. She was overjoyed and couldn’t wait for her new life to start.
But when I talked to her recently on the phone, she sounded far from happy. About to leave China after 2,5 years, she felt she had achieved very little. While she is super grateful for her gorgeous son and the time she got to spend with him, she feels she has not been able to achieve any professional goals and has not had the China experience she had in mind when arriving. She felt she was “just” a stay-at-home mum, something she had never intended to become. It seemed my vibrant, confident friend had disappeared into a thick layer of Beijing smog.
I couldn’t believe it. I thought she’d be more confident now than when she arrived, instead of less.
Developing different qualities abroad
Susan’s self image has jetlag. She is still evaluating herself on the corporate career ladder that she was on before leaving her home country. But instead of falling off the ladder, Susan has shown her remarkable strength in Beijing. She has so many reasons to be proud of herself. She had a problematic pregnancy, preventing her from straying more than 30 minutes from the hospital and thus seriously impacting her freedom. Still she managed to cope, be optimistic and deliver a healthy baby boy: Great Mother. She was a frontline parent while her husband often stuck in the office until midnight due to a huge crisis at work- being there for him when he got home: Loving Wife. She spent quality time with her mother while taking her son out of the Beijing smog: Fabulous Daughter. She made new friends and flew halfway across the world to attend the wedding of old friends: Dear Friend. She did a leadership course to improve her skills and knowledge and continued Chinese classes despite travel interruptions: Determined Self Developer. She worked across time zones, fielding calls late at night, with a consulting client who is always impressed with her work: True Professional.
Abroad she showed fierce courage, determination, perseverance and above all, Love. There is no gap in her CV but jetlag in her self-image. She has so much to be proud of- not just of her son, but of herself.
Is your self-image jetlagged?
Take stock of all you have achieved in your new country, all the little things like being able to find your way to the supermarket, take the metro, find new friends. Without family and friends nearby. And all the big things. How you’ve taken on a new role as a partner, mother, a professional working in the home or in an office. How you’ve made an impact by volunteering, by working, by being there for other people, and for yourself.
Living abroad takes guts, flexibility and determination. Living abroad changes us, as a person and a professional.
Acknowledge yourself for what you have achieved abroad, rather than beat yourself up for what you think you should be and should do and should have. You have so much to be proud of in this new time zone. Now open your eyes and truly see yourself for what you are- a fabulous, courageous woman. The jetlag is over, welcome to your new time zone- the here and now.**
About Margot: Margot is a coach, trainer and mother of 2 global nomads. She has worked with clients from 9 different nationalities that lived in 11 different countries. Originally from The Netherlands, she is now based in Brunei, a country on the beautiful island of Borneo. Would you like to talk more about this? Contact her for a FREE 1 hour coaching session.
*Name protected for privacy reasons
**I derive this jetlag term from a Facebook post by another CTI coach Helen House that I stumbled upon. Thanks Helen, for this eye-opening metaphore.