The Expat, the Writer, the Worker

Are we inspired to do things we wouldn't normally do because we live abroad? Are we driven to increased creativity because of where we now call home?

Some people might say that travelling overseas and living abroad changes us. That moving away from our country of origin unlocks something inside that brings out the explorer - we yearn to get out there and see unusual sights, sample exotic foods, meet interesting people, and explore where, previously, we would have stayed indoors.

I wonder if living overseas unlocks another door.

As explorers, we consider options that we wouldn't have considered before, that may have been hidden in our previous lives. We see new possibilities and we spend time investigating avenues that once were disregarded out of hand. We encourage skills that lay dormant and we look at opportunities through a different lens - the lens of a traveller, the lens of an expat.

For some, it can mean bringing out the entrepreneur from within. For others, it's about working cleverly and innovatively in a way that suits the lifestyle best - working virtually as a consultant, coach, translator, graphic designer or social media guru. When we're away, we might start to identify with less traditional roles or we simply think about work differently.

Whatever the role or skill set, it seems to me that the life of an expat or traveller (or someone whose world revolves around their unique lifestyle) is a life that somehow encourages us to try careers or projects or ways of working that we wouldn't have tried in the place we left behind.

In my case, living abroad brought out a desire to work intelligently and to write.

Photo credit: Spaceamoeba (Flickr Creative Commons)

It wasn't always this way for me

In the UK, work was work.

Career was the be all and end all, job status and title was king. I commuted, I worked, I commuted some more. I asked no questions, never challenged what I did. It was all that I knew and I was happy to settle.

For a while.

I don't remember a specific time at which I had the urge to explore work in a different light or to write with passion - not in my work or in my private life. I worked in the office, drafted letters, sent emails, created reports and presentations, fact sheets and templates. It was routine stuff and not particularly inspiring.

And I didn't have that much to write about. With a handful of travel experiences under my belt, I had no real motivation to share.

I needed inspiration. I needed something different.

Living abroad changed me

I suddenly wanted to share my stories of life overseas. It started with a blog, led to articles and interviews, guest posts and features, eventually culminating with a decision to write on a regular basis.

There was something about the grand adventure of living in a foreign country, a sense of being able to give almost anything a go, and the realisation that after going through this much emotion and upheaval, I was capable of more. This finally gave me the motivation I was secretly looking for to dabble in writing about my life and consider options for truly embracing my expat lifestyle.

I'm currently going through a major transition process.

I'm working with the team at Global Niche to understand how I can be passionate about my life and my work- and how this could look on a full-time basis. What is my niche, how can I build on what I've already done, and how can I share my value on a broader, international scale? Two weeks in and I like what I've seen from this community of globally-minded people working hard to create location-independent lives.>

I'm also writing fiction.

Since last year, I've been part of the #38Write workshop series designed for place-passionate writers around the world. I'm writing fiction, I'm developing storylines, and I have several novel ideas that I'm working to develop. It feels good to say that I'm finally writing in a particular niche that fits me.

We're two months into 2013 and this week has already seen a flurry of unexpected offers that have left me chomping at the bit and eager to share.

Call it karma or basic fate, I'm starting to believe that if I hadn't made such a monumental shift to my life back in 2003, then I wouldn't be sitting here writing this down right now.

The truth about expats and travellers

The thing is this. Expats and travellers have undergone a massive life change - and generally they were well up for it.

They've taken calculated risks and tried something radically different. On the whole, they're not risk averse, they're not especially hesitant, and they've demonstrated a desire to embrace change.

The day I moved abroad I made a statement: I wasn't afraid to step outside my comfort zone. I was available for opportunities and game for trying new things. For me, it was only a matter of time before I documented this journey and I feel that expat life was wholly conducive to this. This blog gave me a means to share and, with it, ignited a deeply held passion for the written word and for seizing opportunity wherever it lay.

And I'm hooked.

Look across the online world and you'll see thousands of people like me who are also hooked. A world of bloggers and global nomads sharing their stories, engaging in virtual conversation about overseas travel and expatism, while constantly innovating and experimenting with their working lives.

It's exciting to watch and even more so to be a part of.

Has living abroad nurtured your creative and entrepreneurial side? What are you doing now that you couldn't have imagined doing before?

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Katie Gunston said... Add Reply

Very interesting piece. I agree that giving up all that you know for the unknown is a great confidence builder - and when you realize that you can totally rebuild your life, smaller changes aren't so frightening.

It's hard to say how living abroad has changed my views career-wise as I'm a full-time Mom now. Although I imagine living in Australia helped me decide to stay at home with my kids as it seems to be a much more common situation there.

I think my (quite!) varied career path (ie. serial job-hopper) has been a result of my travels. I have never had job stability, so I embrace variety and change. For a time I thought that the many twists and turns would hurt my resume, but I have always found employers who appreciate the diverse skills I have accumulated though the variety of jobs I have worked in.

I would say that the biggest difference I have felt in my career path from living abroad is that, once I left my hometown, my home country, my history and my family and friends, I had no one else to define who I am. I was free to be whoever I wanted to be - and to discover who I am completely independent from who I was (or who I thought I was) as reflected by those around me. I believe that makes my career path more liberated as well - as there's not the same second-guessing myself and trying to meet the expectations or follow the influence of others.

And I guess, once you've given up your foundation, you realize that you can always rebuild elsewhere - anywhere. So you don't tend to abide by the same limiting beliefs that you once had.

Adventures said... Add Reply

Liked this thought piece Russell. I think that dealing with, surviving and learning to embracing major change in one or more areas of our lives sparks a willingness to consider change in other areas. I believe that changing one's entire life by moving across cultures certainly qualifies, although I don't think it's a requirement (i.e., moving within your home culture can be the catalyst to life overhaul as well). When you've had to think outside the box over and over again (or on many different fronts), you get comfortable with change. It's also about realizing our time is finite so why spend time/effort doing things that don't fulfill our sense of what our purpose is? Glad you've been asking the deep questions, you're making big changes and they in turn are spawning new offers and opportunities :)

Jack Scott said... Add Reply

Although we’re now repats rather than expats, I wouldn’t swap our Turkey years for all the tea in China. It made an author out of me, quite by accident. We were changed by the experience. Back
in the pay day, I had a fat salary and bloated service to mismanage. Now we make do with less and life is sweeter because of it.

TheAmericanResident said... Add Reply

INTENSE. Great writing here. I have lived overseas over half my life now, so in a way I assumed I don't really fall into the stats that talk about expats and change and all that... but actually, even as a long-term expat I think there's been a lasting effect on me. I feel more free to be me, rather than be what I think others want me to be. This means I push myself further. I try new things. Im more brave than I might have been.

Susanna Perkins said... Add Reply

So true, Russell! Here's another thing. . . perhaps not the same for you since you went from one English-speaking country to another, albeit with wildly different ways of speaking. I noticed very quickly after moving to Panama that my writing improved.

I think that, because EVERYTHING was new to me -- the people, the geography, the language, absolutely everything -- I became hyper aware of everything and simply started thinking in different ways. And it made me write better.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Absolutely agree, Jack. And you wouldn't have made many of the connections you made, including with Jo Parfitt, which no doubt kept you moving forward with the book. Pleased to see online that you're onto the next book(s).

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks Michelle :) Appreciate the insights too. Do you think that if you returned to the US, you might hold back on more? Or maybe restrict yourself? It's an interesting conundrum - stay away and push yourself further or return and risk holding back... or maybe that's not the case at all?

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Wildly different ways of speaking! ;-) I can't comment on the language differences but I could imagine that would be the case - and you'd no doubt become protective of the language and ensure it was used properly. Interesting stuff.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Cheers Linda. Your point about the finiteness of time is true. You don't want to waste time on things that don't matter or have meaning. I agree that once I started looking deep within and made changes in the right direction, the offers started to come in. I certainly plan to share more here as and when I can... Thanks for stopping by.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

I've found the same, Katie. Employers that value the job changes in terms of skills rather than look negatively at the various moves. I too have also found that moving away reduced those prior limitations set by folks back home. It's interesting when I return that I get a sprinkling of negative perceptions towards my plans as in "you're going to that how exactly?". I think moving away also moves you out of the box/comfort zone that others can occupy. It's both liberating and entirely frightening. You just have to embrace the scary part and accept that it goes with the territory. And then let the good times roll!

Kym Hamer said... Add Reply

I think that moving overseas is a manifestation of a daring to think things could be different. Not the only manifestation but it's a pretty daring one.

There's a line in one of my favourite movies, You've Got Mail, that goes something like 'closing the store is the brave thing to do. You are daring to consider your life without it.' Quite profound for such a light rom-com.

Before moving to the UK, I hadn't written anything since I was at high school (except business stuff). Perhaps I felt no need (everyone knew me) or no audience (people had already decided who I was). But all of a sudden there was space to express myself - both physical space as I sought to bridge the geographic gap and the emotional space provided by living in the midst of complete strangers. It was sometimes lonely but more often than not, it was liberating.

And it was as if one part's liberation rippled out into other areas of life. Theatre, writing and music are things I actively seek out now and London is the perfect place to do it!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks for sharing, Kym. I think you've found your spot in London given the theatre, writing and music passions. You raise an important point that the audience changes when you move abroad - people either don't know you or those that did now want to know more. I've certainly found this in my experiences overseas.

Miss Footloose said... Add Reply

I was lucky to start out my serial expat life as a "trailing spouse" (a term my husband finds insulting ;). I had time to follow my passion and write, selling some 30 plus Harlequin romance novels. What I had not expected was to find no success selling my non-fiction opus, lighthearted tales about my (mis)adventures living abroad in exotic countries. I was told by agents and editors that they liked my writing, enjoyed my stories, but Americans are not interested in reading about places they wouldn't go to on vacation, hence there is no market (big enough)for the book.

Miss Footloose said... Add Reply

I've been an expat so long, I don't remember who I was before I started my adventures abroad. I feel most like myself now as a "foreigner" some place, in an international setting. I think it is because there are fewer expectations of how you should be, and because your peers really are now fellow global nomads, a tribe that is not rooted in one culture or country.

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

You can definitely feel a greater connection to others like you, who have pulled up their roots and dipped their toe in a number of countries. Could you ever go back to the person/way you were before though?

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Now what you'd have expected, I'm sure, especially with a track record in writing. I think in your case self-publishing would be the right thing to do - test the water, build an audience, go back to the publishers and see what they now say. Keep me posted on it all...

Dawn said... Add Reply

I love this post, Russell. I think it's a little bit of the chicken/egg conundrum. Many of us become expats because we're seeking change and ready to take risk, so we're already at a point of acting differently or creatively. However, once into a new life setting, we need to consider ourselves through that new lens as well. For me, moving to a small island after a lawyer life in Chicago was a dramatic change in and of itself - something I couldn't have imagined doing before. Now that I'm here, it's definitely nurturing my creative and entrepreneurial side. Like you, I am blogging and writing. I'm also stepping into freelance writing and online business for the first time. A steep learning curve, but an exciting one! Thanks for sharing your insights and resources, too. I always enjoy your posts and count you as an inspiration, so thank you! In fact, I gave you a wee shout-out in a recent post: http://choosingthebetterlife.com/2013/02/anniversary-thanks.html I'm excited to see where your transition takes you!

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply

Thanks, Dawn. That's a lovely comment from you and it keeps me motivated on this journey! I totally agree about your point that, deep down, we're already seeking new things on every level - in life, work, location, and so on. Your move was certainly dramatic and I think it was nothing but all good!

I'm off to check out your post and I plan to write soon on an exciting recent development in this transition phase. Life is good :)

Dawn said... Add Reply

Life IS good! :)

Russell V J Ward said... Add Reply


Taiwan101 said... Add Reply

Good stuff Russel! It's true, being an expat opens your mind to so many
things that weren't possible living back home. It changes your life in a
way that almost can't be described in words, but only experienced. As
an expat for about 7 years now, living and working in 4 continents, and I
know exactly the feeling you describe, that nothing seems impossible

When you get a chance, feel free to take a look at the expat article on
our blog, passionately discussing how he made the plunge to become an
expat, as well:


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