My new expat life means I might have to break the habit of a lifetime and make a new year’s resolution…
Sorry to break it to you horoscope fans, but trying to predict the future is pointless.
This time last year, the most exciting thing 2012 had in store for the Little Cities was something gloriously unexpected: Mrs LC had won two return tickets to anywhere in the world.
We spent new year’s having a blast working out where to go. (Eventual winner: Vietnam). And by itself, a two-week holiday without the kids (Thanks again, in-laws!) would have been the high point of any year.
But if you’d said to us that just a few months later, almost every aspect of our lives would have changed, we’d have looked at you like you were mad. None of our expat adventure was on the horizon this time last year; by the end of June, Mrs LC was living and working in Doha.
And so far, mostly so good.
But there’s one item in the ‘could do better’ column at the moment and it’s hitting Mrs LC harder than it is me. It’s the lack of an extended social circle, a network, friends to laugh with, confide in, support, all that good stuff.
It was just the same the last time we moved, and that didn’t even take us 20 miles.
Becoming an expat is the mother of all reboots. I’m sure if you’re relocating for you third, fourth, fifth time you know the short cuts, hacks, tips and tricks. But for us newbies, it’s like opening up something labelled ‘a map’ only to discover it’s completely blank.
So you need to actively get out there, start conversations, make connections. Make your own map.
It’s not that building a social circle and making friends isn’t important for me, far from it, but if ever there was a wrong man for the job, it’s me. It’s like putting King Herod in charge of a nursery, or worse, assigning Mrs LC to navigation or packing duty.
The challenge lies in the fact that I’m the one with the time on my hands to do something about it and yet as a fully paid up introvert I’m fundamentally wired to run screaming in the opposite direction.
Whoa, introvert, you say?
If you’ve met me, had a drink with me, or watched me on stage (professionally or personally) you might struggle to peg me as an introvert. But to be clear: we’re not talking about the dictionary definition of introversion, in terms of being shy (although they often overlap and are mistaken for one another).
Instead, this is about where people get their energy from. And for us introverts, our cells recharge when we retreat and withdraw.
In the past this has been misconstrued as a tendency on my part towards being anti-social. I remember Mrs LC and me arguing at Uni over a version of this right after I finished my Finals. Most people I know were looking to throw the mother of all parties. I just wanted to head back to my parents’ house, knowing they were away, and lie low.
“What are you going to do there?”
Yup, that was as insightful as I got. I couldn’t adequately articulate why I felt the need to do that.
To the extroverts of this world, who recharge themselves through social interaction (such as Mrs LC), it sounds insane. It sounded like utter bliss to me.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30s, when I took the Myers-Briggs profiling (MBTI) as part of a teambuilding exercise that I finally understood why I was the way I was.
For anyone new to MBTI, it’s hard to do it justice in a sentence. There’s a ton of material online if you want to know more. Suffice to say, it identifies basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgement, and the respective strength of those preferences.
Some preferences will be less strong than others, and may change over time, while others start strong and stay strong.
Above all, its overriding message is: different personality types aren’t right or wrong, they’re just different.
Anyway, the computer crunched the numbers and spewed out my results. My hopes weren’t high. There are only 16 types after all, which is barely a level up from a horoscope. But the results blew me away.
Turns out I’m an INFJ. Forget that this is the rarest of all the types, I was staring slack-jawed at the massive line running off to the right marking my lifelong and thus far unarticulated introversion.
From a work perspective, I found it invaluable in terms of helping to balance a team, not just by skills and experience, but also by personality.
From a personal perspective, it was like a door which I’d been banging my head against my whole life had suddenly been opened.
I’ve always known this about myself, I’ve just never been able to explain it in a way that made any sense to extroverts.
(Everyone should watch this charming three minute video which explains introverts to extroverts. I wish I’d seen it when I was 20, it would have saved me a boatload of effort trying to work out why I felt the way I did.)
So as a fully paid up introvert, the idea of actively seeking out new people, small talk, initiating social interaction… it fills me with a dread most people would reserve for sharks, or skydiving, or skydiving while strapped to shark.
But in our new expat life, making friends means someone has to make the first move, and I have the one thing which Mrs LC doesn’t: time on my hands.
She has a demanding job that takes up more than enough of her day. So the time available for her to meet new people outside of work is limited.
So perhaps by making it a new year’s resolution, by making it public, it might make it happen.
It shouldn’t be hard. After all, being an expat gives you a head start on half a dozen conversations: Where are you from, how long have you been here, what do you do, where do your kids go to school..?
But we’re here together, and sometimes you have to take one for the team.
So, my new year’s resolution is to strike up one conversation a week with a stranger.
That may not sound like a stretch to most folks, but I’d rather go skydiving with sharks, or eat a bunch of bananas – and I hate those yellow devils with a passion.
I’ll let you know how I get on. In the meantime, happy new year. What resolutions did you make?
PS – early success!
We were at the park yesterday and Kid A asks if we can stay a bit longer as she’s “made a new friend”. So, thinking there was no time like the present, I decided to follow her lead. Introduced myself to the other kid’s dad. New Year’s chit chat followed, numbers were exchanged, the world didn’t explode.
Kid A shared the news of her new friend with Mrs LC the second she got home from work. “That’s lovely, darling,” she replied. “Does she have parents?”
- Explaining introversion to extroverts (3 mins)
- Download Quiet
- Susan Cain’s TED Talk
- Susan Cain Quiet interview