As part of our FIGT Focus on Career, FIGT member Natasha Winnard shares the invaluable life lessons she has learned from over 20 years of living- and working- overseas.
By Natasha Winnard
If you had asked my 24-year-old self back in Liverpool in the UK in the 1990s where my career would take me, I doubt it would have included earthquakes, sandstorms in the desert, or watching Christ the Redeemer lit against the Rio sky. The past 20 years has seen a journey that has been as surprising as it has been unplanned - and it has been all the richer for it.
We all learn lessons from the lives we lead. Whether that be a life spent raising a family back in our home country, or a life spent moving from place to place as we make our personal and professional way as expatriates. So what have those lessons been for me?
Be open to constantly learning from, and with, talented people. One of the many wonderful aspects of an international life is that we have the opportunity to work with, and meet, people who have work and life experiences that are completely different from ours.
Dreams Don’t Work Unless We Do
Building a career overseas can be incredibly hard work. But like with many things in life, hard work pays off.
Trust Your Gut
When we are trying to develop a career overseas alongside family life it can be exhausting trying to figure out what is best for everyone. Trust your gut. If it feels right for you, the chances are it is right for your family.
A Team Approach
If we are sharing this journey with a partner then take a team approach. Articulate, agree and plan together who is doing what and when, in terms of career paths. And both be willing and flexible to change direction if a new and exciting opportunity comes your way.
Nobody has the Perfect Career
There are very few people anywhere in the world who have a perfect career path. It is normal to have days when our career is not going in the direction that we would like. It is also very tempting, on those tough days, to think that the grass may be greener if we were living somewhere else or if our circumstances were different.
Always Have a Plan B
With every international move and career opportunity, have a Plan B. This gives us the confidence to jump at exciting career opportunities and change direction, if needed.
Our lives overseas often present opportunities when we least expect them. Always be open to exploring potential new options, especially those that are out of our comfort zone.
Reach Out for Support
Don’t be afraid to share challenges, ideas, frustrations, struggles and dreams with friends, colleagues and other professionals. It can be isolating building a career overseas without support.
Wherever you are in your journey right now - early in your expatriate adventure, or longer into the expatriate experience - remember that you have something that makes you very special: courage. It takes courage to lead the life you have chosen to lead as an expatriate, and even more courage if you are an expatriate parent. Don’t take that courage for granted. But you also have something else that I think has made all of the difference for me, and which I hope you value also: vulnerability. To be open to new cultures and new experiences is to be vulnerable to that which we cannot always control. That takes a special kind of person. If you are an expatriate mum or dad reading this, you should be pretty proud of yourself.