How to restore your identity when you’re a ‘trailing’ expat

‘I don’t know who I am anymore’ sad

I hear this often and it’s how most of us can feel without a job role to define us. Before I arrived in my new country I didn’t need to think about who I was. I didn’t think about what hobbies I might have or enjoy. I didn’t go to networking events to meet potential employers or meet new friends. I didn’t think about changing my career. I didn’t think about what I was really passionate about.

I went to work. I got paid. Everything was fine.

I was in my day to day routine. I enjoyed my job, not everything about it, but it gave me a purpose, a routine, I enjoyed the company of my work colleagues and our Friday lunch breaks, and most days I came home with a sense of achievement.

It wasn’t all rosy but it made me feel ‘normal’ and things were just fine.

When we moved to live abroad, things quickly went from being ‘fine’ to ‘not fine’ (I’m being polite here). I quickly became the ‘wife’ not ‘Sarah the psychologist’ or ‘Sarah from the Pilates class’. Just Sarah, Pierre’s expat wife’. Even when I opened my wallet I was reminded of my old self, my old work ID card read, ‘Dr Sarah Lawson’, sitting next to my new ID card and my new title ‘House Wife’. I felt I’d lost myself.

One of the biggest fears I hear of being an ‘accompanying expat’, is losing your identity.  Without a job to define our ‘title’ and give us a sense of purpose, most of us feel lost and this can quickly spiral into feelings of low self-esteem and low mood. Much of our self-esteem and personal identity is connected to our professional skills and financial independence.id

Now a year on and I can look back at my experience as a positive one. Taking time out from working has been really beneficial for me both personally and professionally. I am so grateful for the new opportunities that moving abroad has given me. It’s given me time to reflect on myself and all aspects of my life, not just my job. It’s also allowed me to create a career that I am passionate about and love. I won’t lie, it’s not been a smooth ride, but it’s certainly taught me a lot about myself and has highlighted the strengths I have, as well as learning new ones.

So, what do you do when you don’t have a ‘job role’ to define you?

Here are 3 ways to help:

1)      Who are you?

Most of us use our job title to define who we are, what we do and what’s important to us. When we meet people for the first time, the first thing we ask is ‘what do you do?’ However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. Just because many of us have spent years doing one thing over and over, it becomes who we are and that’s not so healthy either. Having a balanced life and view of different aspects of our self can add to a much more positive view of our self and identity.

Grab a pen and paper and complete the sentence,
‘I am…… (a wife, a good friend, an artists, a dancer’). Keep going until you have at least 15 different ‘titles’ that describe you. Think about the different areas of your life: family/ hobbies / spiritual or religious beliefs. When we look at the different aspects of our life, we see we are so much more than we think.

2)   Think about who you want to be. Our identity is interchangeable, it’s not fixed. What we think and focus on effects how we feel and what we do. Use the time out of work to think about the kind of person you want to be. What kinds of things would that person be spending their time doing, with whom? What type of music would they be listening to? What job would they be doing? I’m not talking about reinventing yourself, but most of us at some point in our life lose sight of who we are. By thinking about what kind of person you want to be, helps you see the areas you are already those things (great), areas you may need to work at and a focus of where you are going.

3)      Get busy. Depending on the job role you’re looking for and the country you are living in, there can be issues that can delay getting into a job quickly, such as visas, permits to work or finding a job that fits you.  Not having a job can feel strange because without it there is no routine to the day. Yet most people don’t actually enjoy every aspect of their job, but it’s what they get from it. For most of us it’s about connection and growth. Connecting with others (colleagues, clients) and growing through learning or developing skills. Think about your previous job role and what it gave you.

Write down the things you got from your job, what needs was this role meeting? Are there other ways to achieve these ‘unmet needs’ now? Perhaps your needs have changed and your values are different now? Attending networking events is a great way to speak to other people in a ‘semi-professional’ environment, attending a class to learn something new, paperpenvolunteering is also another great way to meet new people and feel a sense of achievement (whilst also helping others too). Set yourself a daily routine (no matter how small) and stick to it.

It can be really frustrating not working, especially when you have been used to it for many years. Think, how you can best use this time to do the things you’ve always wanted or things you’d love to learn but have never had the chance to do it. Use this precious time to invest in yourself and your life.

Interested in finding out more about yourself, who you are and what you want out of life? Contact me to find out more or book in a coaching session.

Over to you….

Are you new to expat life and currently working out what your new life has in store for you?

Have you been in this situation and now your life looks very different?

Do you want to share with others your own journey and experience?

Leave a comment below and let me know

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love & laughter

Sarah x