Does Living Abroad Make You A Better Person?

I consider myself a good person. I'm considerate to those around me. I help others when I can. I try to be the best person I can be, although I admit I don't always succeed.

I argue with people. I get frustrated. I sometimes hold a grudge for longer than I should.

I've been busy with work lately, struggling to find balance and having difficulty fitting people in. When I get busy, I internalise more and retreat into myself. I neglect those I should make time for and I don't get back to people as quickly as I could.

But I realise this and I work to change this. I acknowledge that, like most people, I have to work hard every single day to be the best version of myself I can be.

While there's no doubt that living abroad changed me, I wonder if it helped shape a better version of me. Did it make me more conscious of my behaviours? Did my experiences define a more agreeable 'me'? Does spending long periods of time abroad allow me to evolve and grow as a person for the better?

It may not have made me better but the way I adapted to these challenges and experiences may reflect whether I became better or not.

Does living abroad make you appreciate more?

Living overseas gave me a greater appreciation for what I had at home and where I was fortunate enough to be born. I learnt that much of what I disliked back home wasn't half as bad as I first thought. It made me realise that the many things I saw as problems when living there weren't problems at all.

The problems and issues were related to the size of my existence. Once I moved abroad and my world became bigger, those problems dropped away at the same time that my awe at the size of the planet grew.

Suddenly, I was more appreciative of every gesture, moment and opportunity, where before I had taken it all for granted. I had to work harder to make small successes and I no longer had the security blanket of a familiar environment to hide myself in.

Values changed. The things that mattered shifted. The lens through which I saw everything widened. I appreciated, and continue to appreciate, more.

Does living abroad make you a better friend?

Living abroad gave me the opportunity to meet, live and work with interesting people from around the world. It made me more inquisitive and open to new friendships, where before I would rely on family or existing friends.

When you live abroad, friends become as important as family. Where before you had a close network to help out, now you have to rely on yourself when times get tough. And so the friends you make on your travels are a source of support through the tough times and become a stand-in for the family you no longer have around you.

So I've come to place high value on the friendships I make overseas.

Ditto too for the ones from home. It is the most depressing thing to see friendships drop away because of time and distance, and so I work hard to maintain the earlier connections I had. I'm not always successful and much also depends on their effort with me.

There are those who would say I am absent and therefore consider them less, but I hold former and current friendships dear. It's not always easy to be the visible friend you were in a time gone by but I try harder and think about being a better friend more.

Does living abroad make you more open-minded and respectful? 

Living abroad made me more aware of those around me. Whether cultures differ or the people themselves, I'm more conscious of my own behaviour and place in the world around me.

It also forced me to embrace greater independence and build self-reliance for I must provide and care for my family a long way from familiarity.

I was always open to other cultures and ways of thinking, other attitudes and outlooks - you have to be to even consider an overseas experience. But I found my horizons broadened and capacity to accept and try new things grew.

When it comes down to it, I'm a stranger in a strange land.

The longer I remain here, the less this is so, but the fact remains that I am an unknown quantity to the people I come into contact with. This makes me less judgemental, more considerate, careful and open-minded about the habits and customs around me.

Where I observed less and was not as tolerant of differences before, I have become more respectful of others, especially while I'm on another's territory and even more so when I return home and see other 'strangers' land in the country for the first time. I am more empathetic.

On balance, I have changed and grown as a person from living abroad.

The experiences, the excitement, the adventure, the newness of it all. These things have had a profound impact on me. But beyond all this fun, living abroad did help me become a better person.

Not better than others, but better than my former self.

Do you think living abroad changed you for the better or have you come away with less, not more? 

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12 Life Lessons From 12 Years of Living a Life Less Ordinary

Twelve years ago, I moved abroad. Left everything I knew. Said goodbye to people I cherished. Packed up the contents of a beloved house, took off with my wife and two dogs, and shipped out to the other side of the Atlantic.

We had no idea what awaited us at the other end.

Looking back, I can vividly recollect key points on our journey. The times when being away felt like a burden too heavy to bear. The intense homesickness and abject loneliness in those early days. The miscommunications and cultural differences at work and play. The lack of belonging and the fear of making further changes that might risk all we'd been working towards.

Then there were the highlights. The milestones passed as our immigrant status matured. The sense of achievement at accomplishing what would, at home, be considered ordinary - finance approvals, house purchases, business creation, family growth, community acceptance, beating personal health and fitness goals.

The common thread throughout the last 12 years has been to settle for more, worry less and make time for the things that matter. These have been important life lessons learned along the way.

Yet the older I get and the more I learn about myself, the more I realise that I actually know very little. At the ripe old age of 40, life continues to teach me lessons every single day. The trick is to spot them, understand them and learn from them. Here are a few other life lessons that come to mind.

1. You make your own luck.

Luck doesn't come to those who wait for it. I wondered why I wasn't lucky in life and I soon realised I had to get off my backside and create it. By bringing about change in my life, I brought about something else: good fortune.

I've been fortunate to try my hand at different careers. I created a successful writing company. I've travelled to, and lived in, extraordinary places. I've shared all this with an extraordinary woman. And the positive experiences keep coming and long may this continue.

I've seen and done things that wouldn't have happened if I'd stayed at home. The lesson I learned is that you have to go out there and create change to make your own luck, be it an overseas adventure or just a change to your home circumstances.

2. Realise what is important to you.

I soon discovered it wasn't the clothes on my back or the bling on my wrist. Not the bank balance nor the area postcode. These things weren't - and still aren't - important to me. Pursuing happiness by acquiring material things didn't ever feel like it would get me anywhere.

Instead, the things that mattered most were there in front of me. Family. Personal wellbeing. Opportunities to travel. Life experiences. What I choose to do with my time on this planet. The ability to create space to have a fuller life by wasting less time on the unimportant things.

Once you figure these things out, life can begin.

3. Don't fight the craving.

Some call it wanderlust, others call it a restlessness or a desire to find yourself. For me, it was the latter. I wasn't being honest with myself by living the life I led. On every travel trip, I'd ask myself what it would be like to live here. In every job, I knew the fit was wrong. It took me a while to figure it out but I always knew that major change was coming my way.

I suppose that if you really want to accomplish certain things and you find it suffocating to live the way you do, then it might be time to find out what you're really made of and who you really are.

If curiosity burns brightly within you and you have a craving for adventure - or at the very least, for change - then don't fight it.

4. Change may not be easy.

Real change means opening yourself up to it and stepping outside your comfort zone. And there is nothing comfortable about doing that.

I've lost track of the times I questioned myself, doubted a decision, and spent days and weeks mulling over whether my dreams should remain just that. Creating my own company was one of the hardest things I've ever done yet it was also the easiest. There was no other option. I couldn't go back - I refused to go back - to the career I'd had before.

If you’re going to change your job and way of working, you might have to work long hours and weekends to get a new business started. There will be rejections and cash-flow problems. Uncertainty and incredible risk. But one day you’ll be financially independent, able to work anywhere if you really like, do what you want and answer to yourself.

Isn't that worth getting out of bed for?

5. The fear of failure will pass.

Maybe you want the exciting lifestyle that comes from a move abroad. A vastly different view out the window, and more time to spend with family and on new hobbies that you never imagined before. But a life like this can be scary and you may fear making a mistake that you can't undo.

I tried to see every mistake as progress because making mistakes can teach us key lessons in life. And every time I made a mistake, I was actually getting closer to my goal.

Being too scared to make a mistake is actually the biggest mistake you can make. Life is full of unknowns with no guarantees, whether at home or abroad, and you will likely be out there on your own, away from your support network, your family and friends.

Take living abroad as an example. You’ll suffer from homesickness and culture shock - are you sure this is for you? Then you think of the life change. The epic scale of experiences and drastically different lifestyle and you remember why you wanted this.

It is worth it.

6. Take small steps.

You might want to start with small steps. Make small changes. Think about the changes you can put in place right now to make it all just a little bit easier. A tweak here, an adjustment there. Small changes can still have a big impact on the quality of our lives.

I couldn't jump into a new job . I didn't move abroad overnight. Each thing took time and patience, research and persistence.

Whatever your desire, ensure you have that end goal always in mind. Create a plan and think about the small steps you can take towards that goal. Remember to keep those steps measurable, simple, succinct.

You'll get there.

7. Don't lose sight of the end goal.

Things will need to be sorted out, stuff to be dealt with, lists written, events set in motion. Changing your life to create something amazing isn’t for the faint hearted.

At times, I was overwhelmed with the volume of change. At other times, everything seemed to move at a snail's pace. Patience was never my strong point but emigrating to Canada was a lesson in perseverance. I'd spend hours researching my new home city on the Internet or attending travel expos or conferences. Anything to visualise the life I was creating when the truth was that it all seemed years away.

No matter how slow your progress, remember that you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying. So remain optimistic and focus on the end goal.

8. Complaining won't get you anywhere.

Complaining doesn’t solve any problems, it just hurts you more. I've met many complainers in my time and none of them seem anywhere close to achieving contentment or happiness.

If you don't like something, change it. If you're not happy where you live, then move. And don't tell me you can't because there is no such excuse.

I surround myself with positive people because negativity brings me down. When you focus on the negative, that's all you're going to see. Even if positivity comes into your life, you’ll look for the negative side of things. It's a lose-lose scenario.

I have a friend who wants to return to England. I know she does. She dislikes life here and she forever talks about the life she could go back to. I want her to leave. I wish she would leave. She achieves nothing by carrying on and it doesn't get her or her family anywhere.

9. Fitness is key.

This one is often neglected but a person's health and fitness is paramount to a successful life. Your health is your life and you need to keep up with it. I've seen too many people forget about their health and lose sight of what it is to be fit and healthy. They fall into a rut and it's ever harder to break out of it.

After five years at university drinking beer, eating fatty foods and generally remaining horizontal, I decided I needed to turn things around. And so I joined a gym, exercised regularly and it soon became my routine. There have been times when I've fallen off the wagon (read: having children) and times when the last thing on my mind is a lengthy run (read: after a late night). But when I fail to keep fit, my mind slows down, my brain retreats and my mood turns for the worse.

If running or cycling isn't your thing, focus on your mental health. Do new things, learn new things, explore interesting ideas in all aspects of your life. Keep challenging yourself and never stop exploring this world with your body and your mind.

10. Balance and doing what you love is important too.

Too much of one thing isn't a good thing. Focus too hard on your fitness and your family life might suffer. Spend too much time at work and you'll never see the inside of a gym or the outside of your office.

I struggled with balance in the past. I was an "all or nothing" kind of person. When we made the decision to move abroad, I spent months with my head buried inside travel books. When I returned to university, I was determined to discover the right career path after graduation and lost myself in career journals and online searches.

Over time, I learned that being busy and being productive are two different things. Busy can be unhealthy and all-consuming, where as productive can be just about right.

If you're the personality type that works hard and loves every minute of it, don’t stop. You enjoy what you do and that shouldn't change, but remember to balance it with the other elements of your life.

11. There will always be people who disagree.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. There will always be people who do not like the decisions you make or the choices you create. I used to let these people affect me. Really affect me. In fact, it got so bad that I couldn't make a decision from over-thinking and doubting myself.

In time, I found the sort of peace that comes from years of trying, and failing, to please others. I gave up. I focused on my personal goals and the happiness of my immediate family. The rest could get onboard if they wanted to.

People like this might insist that whatever you’re trying to do is impossible, no matter how much progress you make. Don't try to reason with them. Instead, focus on your goals because these people will suck the time and energy from you.

And likewise, try not to tell someone their dreams are impossible because when they prove you wrong, you'll never live it down.

12. You can do or be anything you want so don't delay.

It took me years to finally sum up the courage to do what I wanted. I always had an excuse - I didn't have enough money, I didn't want to start over, I couldn't turn my back on family. Once I realised that these things would turn out okay, I was able to my fears head on and make a rational decision to change.

If you're at a similar point of change or you've considered and procrastinated and deliberated over getting to the point of change, do me a favour...

Rather than sit back and keep waiting for the opportune time to do something or for someone's permission to do it, please don't. You are going to let people down and you will no doubt create hurt but those that value you will understand.

It's never going to be the right moment so don't delay because there will never be a time like this again.

What lessons have you learned from major life change (moving abroad, changing job, whatever it is that dumped you outside your comfort zone)?

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In Search of That Thing Called Happiness

On balance, I have a good life. Everything I want and need is around me. I spend quality time with family, work the way I choose and pursue my passions with little or no distraction. Life is sweet and I'm fulfilled, but I still haven't found true happiness.

I'm not even certain it exists.

Although I refocused my life for the better, I wouldn't say I'm in a constant state of happiness. I share ideas on living a life less ordinary but it's not one in which I'm eternally happy.

I love where I live but the heat gets me down and the traffic makes me crazy. I work the way I want to but the projects can be monotonous and the hours unsociable. I adore my wife but we argue like most and are prone to driving each other mad.

And even if this elusive feeling does exist, what is it based upon? An easy life with less responsibility or commitment? A comfort zone with things we don't really need and the endorsements of those who shouldn't really matter? A way of living defined by the ideas of others without regard for what we desire?

If true happiness is persistent laughter and feelings of joy, a steady supply of cash in my back pocket and the ability to purchase anything I want, whenever I want, then I must still be searching.

But if true happiness is satisfaction, accomplishment, feelings of love, gratitude, thankfulness for the things I have in this life and compassion for others, then maybe I'm closer to it than I first thought.

My own happiness quest

Early searches for happiness were unhealthy. I obsessed about everything that other people had and I sought out ways to gain these things for myself. If I ticked the right boxes, I'd be happy, yet the more I gained, the less happy I became. Any positive feelings I did have were temporary.

I wanted more.

I don't think I understood myself and what I needed. I sought out the wrong things to make me happy and usually in the wrong places.

I looked into my past for answers - perhaps something that once worked before could again provide me with joy. I narrowed my focus - if I could figure out the right job, I'd find happiness in abundance. I blamed others around me when I should have known I was the only person who could bring about real change. I surrounded myself with inappropriate people - the kind who were happy to keep me in a box rather than lift me higher.

My quest took me to the wrong places and happiness couldn't be found.

I eventually redefined my world and focused on the things that mattered - family, lifestyle, a balanced career, travel, life abroad, the pursuit of personal passions. I awaited the arrival of that one true happiness but the sensations remained temporary and their permanence eluded me.

My life conditions had improved, as had my accomplishments and outlook, but still...

The problem with happiness

Happiness is what we all want and search for. We desire it and long for it.

People we think are happy have everything - a great job, future plan, supportive family, positive attitude, and much much more. We believe the same things will make us happy but they often don't.

And when we come up short searching for these things, we continue to search elsewhere. We search in our relationships, in our cities and towns, livelihoods and lifestyles, in our religion and values, even in alcohol and drugs.

In a focused pursuit of what we think will make us happy, we end up taking life too seriously and miss the point altogether. Happiness fades yet the longing remains.

There are those of us who want true happiness but are unable to make the effort to give up something to gain it. Or we don't know how to. The futile search makes us feel worse because we never seem to get to the end goal.

People talk too much about the pursuit of happiness. It feels misguided to me, like an illusion we've been conditioned to since birth.

Our attention is in the wrong place and it wastes our time.

Happiness reconfigured

Rather than fixate on something that seems so unhealthy, that feels this unrealistic, why don't we focus on other ways of feeling good about ourselves?

From my own experience, I learnt to have more appreciation of the things that matter, that are of importance. Instead of aspiring to be happy, why shouldn't I strive for contentment, which seems to be an easier, more achievable concept to me?

Shivya Nath at The Shooting Star summed it up: "Knowing that I can mess up and live a little, going after dreams that to most people seem unfeasible, that to me is the closest I'll get to happiness and I'm okay with that. I'm content with that."

Paul Dolan, author of Happiness by Design, suggests we think about where to place our attention and recommends redirecting it to things that create a sense of purpose or pleasure - or both. In turn, these things can lead to an overall sense of well-being, satisfaction, even fulfilment. But not eternal happiness.

Whatever it is we've been told will make us happy probably won't. Whether it's the changed view out the window, the job with the shiny new car, extensive travel or even the people around us, these things won't make us forever happy but they will make us more appreciative of our lives.

I'd rather face life's challenges and hurdles - the positives and the negatives - with the aim of being content with what I'm doing, where I'm doing it and who I'm doing it with.

But I won't always be happy. At least not in the way we've always been told.

Have you found true happiness or is there an alternative? What does happiness mean to you?

3 Things Dating Foreign Women (And Marrying One) Taught Me

In my younger years, I tried dating girls from my home town but the relationships never got off the ground.

Once I was set up with a friend of a friend. We met at a local pub and I hoped for enthusiastic conversation and a bright ending. We talked about the things we both liked but the chat was forced, the mood sombre and we had less in common than we thought.

Some time later, I took another local girl on a date. I'd returned from university and while the craving to head abroad had started to grow, I was determined to give hometown life and a night out with this pretty, intelligent girl a fair go.

I chose the wrong venue. We dined at an elegant restaurant, served seven courses of not-a-lot over three hours. The conversation was stilted and we were awkward table companions. The night ended with a peck on the cheek and a "thank you".

I never saw her again.

This was a repeated story when it came to dating English girls. A mixed bag of dates, not much success and whole bunch of self-doubt. I wondered what the problem really was. I couldn't get a girl, couldn't hold down a relationship when I did, and after each date, I'd look back and realise I was actually bored.

I could launch into a tirade about English girls and their shortcomings but this wouldn't be fair or true. There was nothing wrong with the girls I dated. The problem wasn't them, it was me.

I realised I prefer the company of foreign women. 

Foreign Women | Shutterstock

At university, I dated an Irish girl for a year. I had another 12-month relationship with a woman whose background was Portuguese. Not long after, I had a brief fling with an Italian. Whether or not those relationships were successful, I enjoyed their company and felt hopeful about my time with them.

I eventually met my wife - a vivacious, effervescent beauty from Australia - and I thankfully put my years of failed relationships with English women behind me.

But I did learn three simple things about myself from both failed and successful dating experiences.

1.  I adore uniqueness.

There is something profoundly unique about finding a partner far removed from your homeland. It's even more fun to fall in love with her.

It's not that English women aren't unique but when you're an Englishman with a foreign wife, every conversation has a different slant. Every moment together is intriguing. With no shared past and no shared geography, each step forward is uncharted territory.

When I dated English girls, we'd inevitably come from the same town or region, know similar people and share past experiences of one sort or another. But with a foreign partner, there is no prior connection and that knowledge is a welcome leap into the unknown.

There is also the novelty factor.

From the holding of hands to favourite television shows, preferred foods, weekend routines, even the style of clothing or choice of vacation spot, everything is different. Everything is new.

There is a constant "newness" accompanied by passion, interest and excitement. And not only do I find her fascinating, I long hoped she found the same with me.

Uniqueness is an attractive, addictive quality and I soon knew I couldn't settle for the girl next door.

2.  My horizons were broadened.

The act of dating and marrying a foreigner was an extension of the kind of person I wanted to be.

I couldn't imagine a world in which I had a relationship with a girl from the same town, with our loved ones nearby and weekends spent driving from one family's house to the other.

For most, this is how life should be but I needed space to grow.

I wanted more.

I wanted a relationship where I'd feel emotionally challenged, where the road ahead wasn't always clear cut. I wanted a relationship where we'd take off on last minute jaunts to far-off places, where we'd act with spontaneity and haste, rather than deliberate on our annual two-week vacation.

I needed more than a Saturday night at the local bar. I craved passion and adrenaline, when the blood rushes to the head and decisions are made on the flip of a coin. Where you're no longer restricted by country or even home town - the world is your oyster and ripe for exploring.

Dating and marrying a foreign women gave me that and more. I felt alert to the possibilities around me and alive to the idea of constant change.

3.  I'm attracted to cultural and language differences.

When you date someone from another country, you marry into their life and embrace the cultural differences that follow.

Whatever the cultural focus (family, customs, beliefs), you're given an opportunity to learn from and better understand each other. And this brings you closer together, creates a deeper bond, makes the connection stronger.

You also learn about differences in language.

Whether it's subtle nuances in Australian English when compared to British English, or a completely different language altogether, dating foreign women often leads to the learning of a foreign tongue.

I've long had a passion for language and while I'm fortunate that my wife and I share the same language, we still have to put in extra effort, focus and understanding to ensure there aren't regular miscommunications.

It's why I make sure my knowledge of language is always up-to-date and why, earlier this year, I turned to a service called italki to improve my abilities in an online environment.

At italki, students can search out some of the best online language teachers in the world. The service boasts an audience of over 1.5 million students and 4000+ teachers of 100 languages. It's great for helping you connect with native speakers and experienced language teachers, especially if you want to get busy speaking the language from the comfort of your own home.

Why the plug?

Because I believe in the value of this kind of service. Because language and culture, and a greater understanding of both, are important.

This is what dating foreign women (and marrying one) taught me.

Have you dated or married someone from overseas? What did the experience teach you?

How Writing Saved Me

I was always envious of people who knew exactly what they wanted to do in life. The kind of person that wants to be a doctor from an early age. Or the colleague with a career plan that takes them to the top.

Whether it's a respect for this determined spirit or a deep-seated envy of their focus and drive, I often found myself wishing I was more like them. Less prone to dreaming and equipped with a rock-solid future plan.

I never seemed able to work out what my plan was. The words "late starter" were often used around me as I emerged from my teens. Slow to get going but he'll figure it out.

But I couldn't seem to figure it out. 

Frustrating as it was to be around me, I didn't know what I wanted in life. The notion of a perfect job evaded me and thoughts of how to settle down in a chosen career plagued me.

A conversation with one of my father's friends remains seared into my memory. Apparently unhappy with his own situation, he told me to figure out who I was and what I wanted as quickly as I could. The alternative was to lead a life full of regrets.

The idea of a regretful life terrified me. To be unfulfilled over such a long time was madness, but I couldn't see a clear path ahead and so the doubt increased.

As my university years came to an end, I continued to watch others enter respected professions and graduate careers while I did nothing. I was no clearer in my thoughts and I still had no plan of action.

Then I entered the working world.

I joined one of the largest firms in my home town but it was a poor choice. The role didn't fit. The culture didn't suit. I didn't belong.

And yet I carried on.

Lost | Shutterstock

Dark days

I tried to change my deal. I returned to my studies in pursuit of a different career and an improved way of life but the end result was the same - a job that didn't sit well and a career path not for me.

For eight long years I did my duty as a public servant. I wore a brave face around colleagues, I worked hard, I endured the unhappiness and I slowly died on the inside.

After fourteen years of working in a way that didn't satisfy, it was inevitable that the darkness would come calling.

Day upon day sat at my desk in my grey government cubicle, I was lost.

Living with me during this period of my life couldn't have been easy. Angry and frustrated, I was often annoyed at myself and prone to long bouts of sadness and despair.

Others tried to help but they couldn't find the answer. How can you help someone who doesn't know how to help himself?

I tried career counsellors, life coaches, even a psychologist. And still the answer wouldn't come. Suggestions were made and advice given but the outcome was always the same.

I was stuck. 

And through those dark months the sadness grew.

Constant companion

As the desperation enveloped me, there was one small thing that kept me sane.

My writing.

I started this blog and it began to grow. I used every opportunity in the workplace to write and the frequency of my blogging also grew. I wrote for other blogs, guested on websites and found publications willing to take on my words.

I wrote and wrote and wrote. 

The writing became an outlet and a means of avoiding darker thoughts. As the blog increased in popularity, so did the distractions. From tinkering with the design to developing ideas, my focus shifted away from the job, as I threw myself into the writing craft.

I focused less on the situation at hand and found a way to become inspired again. I found new interest around me, a way to express myself, to discover joy. Call it a creative outlook or a new sense of purpose, I saw my writing as a form of hope - a way to give hope - and I shrugged the weight of despair from my shoulders.

As my writing developed, different working scenarios began to materialise. People responded to my words and listened to what I had to say. My work flourished and exciting possibilities opened up before me.

A hobby became a passion. A passion became a full-time working role.

And now

The reason I'm telling you this isn't to quit your day job and create a new blog with great success. It's not to ask you to run and forget all you might have achieved up to this point.

The reason I tell you this is because hope can come from the most unexpected places.

At a time when I grew fearful of how fast life was deteriorating, when the end result didn't look good, the thing that saved me was right in front of my eyes.

I was lost. Forgotten who I was. Had no real goals, only broken dreams. I hit rock bottom.

And then I started to climb out.

My writing helped me rediscover myself, find my true passion and re-evaluate what mattered most to me.

I was writing.

One day I finally convinced myself I was a writer. A genuine, legitimate, real-life writer. With that, I turned my back on fourteen years of bad choices, ill-fitting jobs and a working world that wasn't right for me and unfair on those around me.

And now...

Writing was there from the start. It was a part of me and who I am. I've got a long way to go. I'm still learning, still growing, still restless to know more.

I'm not there yet but I'm on my way. I've made a career of one of the world's oldest and greatest professions and I care passionately about what I do.

Importantly, I found myself.

I found a way to write about my life.

In doing so, I found a way to start creating it.

Is this familiar to you? Have you struggled to work out what you want to do with your life? Let me know in the comments below.

The Worst Advice You'll Ever Hear About Making Life-Changing Decisions

With every major life decision I've made, good and bad advice has been freely given.

Moving to Canada in 2003, someone dear to me advised that family wouldn't forgive me for the move. I was told my girlfriend (now my wife) wasn't right for me. Assured that friends from home would abandon me.

I'd be alone and left to live an unhappy life far from those I knew and cared about.

Twelve years on, I'm still living abroad. Getting by. And friends and family continue to care.

When I returned to university as a 28-year old, dissatisfied with my corporate career and the killer commute, I was advised I was too old. The university, in its right mind, should not accept me. Fellow students would shun me.

And I probably wouldn't get the grades because being older somehow meant having less intelligence than those around me.

So I graduated with an A-grade Master of Arts. Avoided the school bullies. And my brain didn't implode.

Then I quit my steady government career after seven painfully long years to create a writing company off the back of this blog's success. I was immediately told I'd fall behind if I set up my own business. It would likely end in tears and I could fail financially.

Never be able to afford another house. Forget financial security. Kiss goodbye to a proper career.

Enough already.

With every major life decision, I've received great advice from trusted sources. But I've also heard some of the worst advice about changing my life for the better.

And you'll probably hear it too.

Confused | Shutterstock

1. You will not be forgiven.

Loved ones won't forgive you for moving abroad, leaving a great career or dropping everything to travel the world.

You turn your back on them. Give up family commitments and responsibilities as they grow older. Swan off on that incredible adventure while they deal with life on their own. How could they ever forgive you for that?

But it's just not true.

They might not be happy with your decision to quit a good job. They might rue the day you decided to head overseas because of a deep sense of wanderlust or a need to spread your wings. And, yes, you'll miss family events and annual celebrations.

But there's nothing to forgive.

Because you haven't done anything wrong. You didn't commit a crime and you didn't set out to hurt anybody.

You were restless, unhappy, uneasy with life. You wanted to change things and it led you down this path. It's true that you looked out for you, but then somebody had to or you might have gone mad.

If friends are true friends, they'll always be there for you. It will be a struggle but you'll fight to keep the connection with those you miss most.

You have a shared history with the people you leave behind. They get you. They understand you.

They will forgive you.

2.  You are too old.

Too far advanced in a career. Too old to get a visa. You left it too late. And where is all this leading? We don't understand. Grow up and stop gallivanting around.

I've heard it all before.

There's a perception that when you make a drastic life change, you have to do it before you turn 30. Or earlier.

That if you don't change a job, sell your house, travel or move abroad before this point, then you'll jeopardise everything you've worked hard for.

I gave up the steady corporate career - the car, the perks, flash title and fancy suits - to return to student life.

And I loved every minute of it.

I left my homeland in my late 20s and, at the age of 40, I wouldn't say no to another grand international move. It's in my blood and it's the way I'm built.

It's not about age. It's about you.

If you crave change, are willing to open yourself up to it, ready to step outside your comfort zone, then it becomes a choice and has nothing to do with age.

If you want it badly enough, you'll find a way.

3.  You will fall behind.

You can't afford to do this. You won't be able to buy a house, start a family, move up the career ladder.

Making a decision like this is flakey and selfish at the expense of everything you've achieved and everyone who supported you.

You know who always says this? People who have money. 

No-one drowning in debt will ever say something like this to you. We have an unhealthy obsession with money and too often associate our happiness with wealth.

Of course, it's easier to be happy when your refrigerator is full and your bills are paid, but you still have to face the job you dislike or the commute to work that you cannot stand.

Making a decision to change an aspect of your life for the better may impact on your finances but, equally, when you do something you love, you often become great at it. And, with passion and success, should flow a decent income.

We need to stop hearing this because it’s too short-term.

There are so many ways to change your life. Embrace a different diet, try new things, sell a house, get fit, move abroad, transfer to a new job, do something that scares you, even alter your daily routine.

Change is hard, it's intimidating, and we need to know we're making the right decision. Life is full of new beginnings based on good (and bad) advice.

So it's perfectly normal to listen to others when considering something new, just don't let them become a hurdle.

Don't let them hold you back.

What's the worst advice you've heard? What did you do about it?

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6 Reasons Why You Must Drop Everything To Travel The World

We all make New Year's resolutions we can't keep. A drunken promise, a throw-away comment, a non-committal remark. We quickly forget the resolution made or struggle to stay true to the words uttered on the stroke of midnight.

So let's forget talk of resolutions as the New Year approaches.

Instead, think about how you spent your time in 2014 and whether you achieved all that your heart desired. And if not, why not?

Did you spend your days chained to a desk dreaming of vibrant city getaways but the dream never became a reality? Did you research the road trip by campervan across Europe but it became too hard too fast and the trip never got off the ground? Did you contemplate a longer-term move abroad but the moment passed you by?

We dream and we wait. We prevaricate and we obfuscate. Time passes quickly and we grow old so fast. We are constantly restless - the urge to explore never goes away - but we're caught up with our chores, commitments, careers, families... our lives.

The thought of travel or an international move remains a thought.

Life is too short and all too fleeting. We can't have regrets. I reached my own personal milestone in December when I turned 40. They say life begins at 40 but it can't be true because if life begins at 40, then everything that went before was a prelude.

And it wasn't. Not for me.

Turning 40 did remind me how precious time is and why there is still so much of this planet left to explore. 2015 will be the year I commit to travel further.

So why not let 2015 be the year you make the decision to head overseas, to explore and to wander? Here are the reasons why you'll know when it's time to go.

Travel Further | Shutterstock

You crave adventure.

The monotony of life leaves you feeling unfulfilled and empty on the inside. When you look back, you want little regret and many moments to feel proud of.

There are things you want to see and share. There is great risk and adventure to be experienced by setting foot beyond your comfort zone. You want to appreciate the "here and now", enjoy every minute, find and try new things, taste, learn, listen and love.

Travel will give you this and more. It will let you live life to the fullest, not watch it pass on by.

You have to find yourself.

It may sound like a cliche but travel and life abroad is the ultimate experience for helping you find yourself. Nothing beats the survival instinct that kicks in when you wander off a beaten trail or lose yourself among the strangers of some vast continent.

Travel allows you to step away from everything that is familiar and gives you the room to breathe, to reflect, to consider and to assess what is important to you.

Travel lets you find out who you really are.

You need to satisfy your curiosity.

You are endlessly curious and there is always more for you to learn. What is it like to live among a foreign culture? What are the people like? Are the sights as impressive as they seem in every book you devour?

You need to put yourself out there and experience new, unusual situations. You need to travel beyond your local borders to see and appreciate other people's perspectives.

You need to be shown what else is out there.

You finally realised it's not about the money.

Too many times travel is considered expensive and unaffordable. You put it off for long enough but a life abroad doesn't have to cost the earth. You don't need to travel first class or stay in the finest accommodation.

Think outside the box and consider your longer-term goals. How many weeks or months do you plan to be away for? Where will you visit or choose to live? Is this a permanent move?

Work back from those end goals and come up with a plan that doesn't break the bank.

You can't have regrets.

You cherish where you're from but you know there's more to life. Family will disapprove if you go, your departure will be upsetting and you do love them dearly. Your emotions are in a state of upheaval and you're unsure what to do.

You are torn.

It's stressful to be where you are right now but it's also clear something has to change. Is it worth crossing your fingers, hoping for the best, and jumping headfirst into the unknown? Of course it is.

Don't hold back or make excuses. Face your fears head on and wait no more.

It's all going to be worth it.

Travel, expat life, an overseas excursion... call it what you will. These things may bring upset, financial stress, uncertainty and unease. You may hate it. You might resent a loved one for pushing you to go. You could regret leaving.

But you probably won't.

Over time, you realise that these issues aren't issues unless you choose to let them become so. What matters is the journey to get where you're going and the outcome once you get there.

The control you now have over your life's direction. The emphasis on what matters most to you. The opportunities coming your way if you stay the course. The life you've always wanted.

It's time to go. Let 2015 be the year you do it.

4 Ways Living Abroad Changes You Forever

It was in the summer of 2002 that we first decided to move abroad. The kernel of an idea was already there but, during that summer, we began to turn an idea into reality.

One year later and our first stop was Vancouver, Canada, where I turned my back on the corporate world and returned to student life. It was tough to begin with but things got easier as time went on. And we moved on.

To Ottawa and a job with the government, a new set of friends, our first Canadian house and a more settled way of life. But we were young and so we grew restless.

With the quest for travel and adventure still burning brightly in our hearts, we quit Canada in 2006 in search of long hot summers and a laidback lifestyle near the beautiful harbour city of Sydney, Australia.

In almost 12 years, I've lived in several countries, visited countless more, embraced foreign cultures and traditions, faced uncertainty and accepted frequent unease, met interesting people and collected friendships to cherish.

In my own way, I've tried to live life to the fullest.

Because living abroad is one of the most satisfying and challenging things I have ever done. It has altered the very core of who I thought I was and who I am now. Living abroad has fundamentally changed me.

I believe there are four ways living abroad changed me. Four ways it will also change you.


Living Abroad Changes You | Shutterstock

1. You're not the same person you were. 

Living abroad is one of the most profound undertakings a person can do.

You don't change job or move house, you do that and more. The scenery changes outside your window along with everything and everyone you once knew. The impact on you personally is huge.

You might not realise it immediately but over time, one day, you'll see it for what it is. You've grown, evolved, moved on, faced setbacks and dealt with them on your own, overcome obstacles, beaten back the naysayers and you have the scars to prove it.

Some scars are good, some are bad, but nothing can ever be the same.

Things that were once important no longer matter. Things that didn't seem important before now matter more. The value of friendship is paramount. Familiarity is a forgotten concept and you take nothing for granted.

The act of moving abroad makes you quickly realise that "things" don't equal happiness. In fact, you start to redefine your original ideas of success.

On this international journey, you learned more than just differences - people, places, language, culture. You learned about you.

You faced challenges, got to know parts of you that you never knew existed and you're amazed at what you've become. You're amazed at the world.

You are different now. You changed.

2. You can never go back home.

You could if you really wanted to but it won't ever be the same.

While you've been having adventures at breakneck speed and the movement of time in your world slowed in order to incorporate all of these experiences, everything at home carried on as before. People went to work, they came home, they holidayed, they had birthdays, they got married, they changed job and sometimes they moved house.

And while everything appears to have stayed the same, the truth is that life moved on without you.

This is a huge price to pay with moving abroad. You can have the adventures and the experiences but you can't have "them". You're missing everything from the life you had before and all you can do is watch from the sidelines as people carry on.

At some point, you realise you couldn't go back even if you wanted to. Some have tried and succeeded, others have failed. The problem is that your former life moved on, you moved on, and all the time you both moved apart.

Over time, phone calls drop off, emails are less frequent, contact lessens. You'll never lose your friends and your family will always be family. But you'll matter less to them and they'll figure less in your new world.

It's a harsh reality so face it. Or go back while you still can.

3. Your world became a whole lot bigger. 

The moment you set foot abroad, the world grew in size.

New sights, smells and sounds opened up before you. The boundaries of your former life pushed out. The addiction to exploration became a permanent fixture.

And now there's no turning back.

You always knew the world was this big but only when you stepped upon its far-flung corners did you truly realise just how big it is. How unfathomably amazing it is.

Knowing this, marvelling at its size and scope, how could you ever give this up? The answer is that you won't. You can't.

You'll never stop searching for more.

Living abroad encourages independence, responsibility, respect and an opportunity to appreciate everyone and everything around you. These lessons will stay with you and shape the person you become.

Embrace the scale of what you're doing. Rejoice in it. Because it's all good.

4. Suddenly anything is possible.

The hardest part was leaving. Now that you've left, anything is possible.

Remember that you've changed and the old "you" is a distant memory. Think about what you can now do and what you've achieved.

You can travel further, speak another language, cook diverse foods, embrace different cultures, understand local traditions and festivities, open your mind to opportunity more frequently, approach relative strangers with confidence, kiss former comforts goodbye.

You proved that you can live abroad - and you survived. You went for it and followed your dreams. Sure, you opened Pandora's Box and you'll not be able to close it but you're a happier, more content, less restless version of the former "you".

And finally you're free. You earned true freedom. Freedom to explore. Freedom to choose whatever you want. Freedom to be yourself.

You ditched the creature comforts and made a life for yourself thousands of miles from home.

You did it.

So pat yourself on the back, allow yourself a smile of satisfaction and get back to doing what you do best.

Because it's working.

How has living abroad changed you? 

Never Stop Searching

At 23, I worked in a job going nowhere. At 25, I'd spent the best part of my early years in a place that didn't inspire me. At 27, I led a lifestyle that left me wanting for more.

By 30, I had changed it all.

In my twenties, I quickly realised I'd given up any control over my life. I only saw longing and regret stretching out before me.

I needed to take the control back.

I knew there was more to life and I wanted to discover my calling at work, home and play. I needed to go out into the wider world and find something different. Discover my true passion. Create the life that I desperately wanted to lead.

I knew I had to search for my life less ordinary.

Ten years on and I know one valuable thing. I couldn't wait for someone else to create the life I wanted for me. I had to go out there and create it for myself.

I also learnt that I could never stop searching, exploring or looking for more so I could constantly grow as a person and achieve the most from my time on this planet.

I think about and work hard to create the life I want to lead every single day. 

It's not a one-time decision or sudden flash in the pan.

I didn't move abroad to rest on my laurels once I got there. I didn't find my own tiny piece of paradise to then sit still and kick back. I didn't choose to work the way I do only to tread water without progression. I'm always searching for ways to make life better.

For me, the path to a more meaningful and fulfilling way of life rests on three key elements:
  1. Location - finding the environment that brings out the best in you, both home and away.
  2. Lifestyle - being active, healthy, with family and generally outdoors.
  3. Occupation - the job that lets you live that lifestyle and a way of working that gives you the freedom to lead the life you truly want.

I work on these areas every day to create the life I want to lead. And they are at the core of everything I write about and everything I do.

Location. Lifestyle. Occupation.

L. L. O.

Life. Less. Ordinary.

I look at where I live and whether it's still right for us. Are we connected to, and inspired by, this environment? Can we afford this life without losing our quality of life? Is it right for us longer-term?

I consider lifestyle and challenge whether I'm travelling enough? Am I active? Spending enough time with family? Healthy in body and mind?

I assess my business and how to make it better fit the way I want to work. Do my clients match my life philosophy? Have I created true location independence? Am I writing the kind of content that keeps people coming back for more?

I review, revise and move forward. Search, discover, create.

I've found that unless you're one of the lucky few that always knew what they wanted or were happy to accept their lot in life, you can't afford to sit back.

You have to be curious, open-minded and action-oriented. But, most of all, you have to be brave.

The brave strive for more, push harder, look deeper. The brave don't accept the way things always have been and the way they will always be.

The brave want more.

If you think you've created the perfect life, don't stop there. Adjust the edges, widen the boundaries, broaden the mind.

Never stop searching. Never stop discovering. Never stop creating. 

Never stop looking for more.

How do you ensure life is lived the way you want it to be? What do you do to make sure this is the case? Share with me in the comments below.

What Does Success Look Like to You?

I always wanted to be the high-flyer. I saw myself as someone who would excel in the corporate world or become a leader in international business. But I eventually accepted that being a major corporate bigwig wasn't my thing.

So I dropped the idea.

I've wasted too much time trying to impress others and gain the respect of people who feel that money and jobs and houses and cars are the be-all and end-all in this life.

I towed the line and I never challenged the status quo.

Then one day I realised how much time and energy I was spending on seeking the approval of others for ambitions I wasn't even that vested in. I wasn't focused on the things that should have been important to me and I wasn't content with this idea of success.

So I revisited what being successful meant to me.

And I recognised that it wasn't about money or a job title. It wasn't about power or the pats on the back from admiring colleagues. These long-held ideas on success no longer sat well with me.

I don't think they ever did.

Corporate Success by Shutterstock

Success was, and still is, about how I look after the things that matter most in my life - my wellbeing, family, the way I live my life, how people remember me.

Not jobs or houses. Not the area postcode or the label on a new shirt.

It was always going to be hard returning 'home' this summer because wealth and possessions still matter to a lot of people I know.

Popular opinion these days says you must have a top job and talk about it. Often. Your house must be sizeable and close to a good catchment area for your kid's school. And you must drive a fancy car.

I felt inadequate at times with my lack of 'things' around me. And certainly not their idea of a success. 

I lost track of how many times I was told "so-and-so now works as a Director for that bank in London" and "did you know how much ole whatshisname's house is worth?"

Don't get me wrong, I live in a place which has taken wealth and expense to a brand new height. But I asked myself whether I should compare the life I've created and talk about on this blog to these wealthier, more powerful lives? And should I then consider mine a failure because of income or personal wealth, the age of a car and whether I own a big house?

Or should I judge myself against other criteria?

The life experiences I've had, places I've seen, the family I've helped grow and the life I'm building from our dreams.

Importantly, the space I've created by ditching things to ensure I'm always around.

Should I take note when people ask what I do and remind me of the dizzy heights others have reached in their careers - the frequent business travel with first class airfares, the posh nights out in London and the five star holidays?

Or should I accept the way things are?

The fact that as my beautiful boy grows up, I can look him straight in the eyes and know that I chose what was best for us based on values other than the size of my job title and the price of the meal at the swanky lunch.

I know which life I choose.

I choose the life built on my terms with no regret.

What about you? What life would you choose? What's important to you?

Minimalise Your Life

Minimalism is often seen as a dirty word.

Getting rid of everything you've worked hard for. Giving up prized possessions for little or no return. Ditching the radio, phone or Internet. Losing a cherished car or abandoning the beloved TV.

The truth is that it's none of this.

Minimalism is about reducing "stuff". Minimalism is eliminating unnecessary acquisitions. Minimalism is decluttering, eradicating, freeing, cutting back, letting go.

I've become increasingly minimalist over time. To declutter is to cleanse. Removing unnecessary items brings me a sense of peace, of calm. I can think. I can breathe again.

I think that moving around the world led me to this.

Minimalise Your Life: Venu Gopal (Flickr Creative Commons)

When we travel, we need less. When we move, we have to take less on the road. We become stricter with our choice of belongings and we make decisions to leave certain possessions behind.

Travelling and moving abroad forces us to be minimalists. They dictate that we approach our lives without clutter and meaningless things.

Longer-term travel to the UK has brought minimalism to a head.

We've left behind our worldly goods. We carry only what we need and what is important to us. This trip has taken us out of our comfort zone but helped us question the things that we thought added value to our lives.

In fact, they didn't. None of them did.

I haven't thought much about the house we sold or the excess items we packed away. I don't miss the material possessions I left behind in the storage depot and I don't pine for the earlier symbols of our Northern Beaches home.

It's funny how you don't miss these things when they're gone. And to think they seemed so crucial not long ago.

Gone are the materialistic excesses that meant nothing and added no value. We've learnt to live with less and made room for better things.

We spend more time together on the things that count. We have less distraction and increased time together as a family. We've learned to care about more.

We've simplified our lives and it's a freeing sensation. Our homes are often overrun by stuff that threatens to overwhelm and creates additional noise. So we've cleared a path for the things that matter most: relationships, health, well being, growth, passion, experiences, time.

Minimalism needn't be a bad word.

It's just a different way of saying I don't need this anymore. Because I want room for more.

What will you get rid of today so that you can live with less and care about more?

The Double Life of an Expat for Me

Did you hear the one about the two women in my life? One is the girlfriend and the other is the mother.

Bear with me a moment while I explain.

Living abroad is like having two lives. You slip into your international life, which is exciting and energising. And it's not unlike having a new girlfriend, where every moment together is original, each experience to be savoured.

But fragments of your former home remain.

Its comforting presence lingers, trying to lure you back to a place of familiarity and favourite things, to the safety and security of the family home. It's not unlike a mother, nurturing and ever-present, a cherished part of your life.

I'll shortly be returning to the comfort of Mother England, grabbing my plane tickets, passports, travel insurance, warm pants, brolly, and Pounds and Pence to make the long journey home.

So what will I be leaving behind and who am I going to?

Photo credit: Expat Key from Shutterstock

The lover

Sassy, confident and intriguing, Australia is fun, fun, fun. She's relaxed, carefree and, of course, divine to look at. But she's not just a pretty picture.

She's interesting to hang out with and bursting with positivity. She's dangerous, dramatic and often unpredictable. She's a charm and a keeper, and I know I'm lucky to have her in my life.

With Australia, I'm a different person.

I adopt an adventurous spirit and embark on thrilling things. I feed off the environment and embrace opportunities that may have been avoided in the past. She's not always easy to be with and I watch what I do in her company, always careful with what I say and how I act.

With Australia, I'm still me but I'm not quite the same.

Am I a better "me"? A more content "me"? Whatever it is, it works. We work. And I know she makes me the envy of some.

Yet still my thoughts return to Mother England and the life I had with her.

The mother

I can't forget her because she's important to me, a part of who I am.

It's as if a piece of me still belongs with England and, when I visit, that piece surfaces with a vengeance, resurrecting the person I was before I left long ago.

England is steadfast and homely, recognisable and reassuring.

It's easy to slip back into my life with her - simple, straightforward, uncomplicated, without effort. Familiarity quickly takes hold. She is the calm, unchanging presence in my life, as reliable and consistent as the setting of the sun.

Around her, I eat my favourite foods. Rekindle friendships. Visit old haunts. I think that I'm more sensible around Mother England. I challenge less and I'm content to accept the status quo.

I am the person of old when I return to England. I find the earlier me. But I'm not sure if it's the person I want to find and, after a while, I realise much has changed.

Something inside me has shifted and things no longer seem as they were.

Living with both

I am split, divided, assuming two identities instead of one.

Half of me belongs with my sweetheart but a part of me remains in my old home, only to be revived whenever I return.

I lead a double life. I have two places to call home, two locations, two families, two groups of friends. I am incomplete.

Or not.

Because you can love both people in your life - each offers you different things. Living with both is difficult, each one fighting for your attention, each laying on their own form of guilt.

But we expats and travellers are blessed, not cursed.

We get to enjoy the best of both worlds.

We love where we live, with passion and zeal. We wander along beaches, hike through forests, sail across harbours. We sit under stars in the four corners of the planet and we soak it all up, inhaling each personal adventure.

Still, we're taunted by thoughts of returning to where it began, comforting and familiar memories persisting. A deep down yearning for a former life. A natural instinct to go back. An inner voice telling us to go home.

We will always have two lives, two identities, two homes, two conflicting personalities occupying our journey.

It comes down to whether you choose to embrace these many lives or struggle until one lone person remains.

Oh, the double life of an expat for me.

Humour me. How many lives do you have? Who is the girlfriend/boyfriend and who is the mother or father in your life?

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