High resolution

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.

Oh goody, a blank map
Oh goody, a blank map

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 words of Quiet author Susan Cain: “[Introverts] prefer lower-stimulation environments, that’s where they feel at their most alive.”

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.

Penny drop: seven seasons of watching Dexter before wondering if he's an INFJ too...  *goes online*  Ah.
Penny drop: seven seasons of watching Dexter before wondering if he’s an INFJ too… *goes online* Ah.

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?”



9 thoughts on “High resolution

  1. Rach January 1, 2013 / 12:44 pm

    Advice from an INFP who has learnt to be an ENFP to an INFJ –

    Smile, don’t be quick to judge, the most interesting people at a party are often the ones who aren’t talking or ones who are talking ‘too much’.

    It’s only by moving and adapting time and again and consciously breaking down your own barriers that you learn to bring out your ‘E’ side, it’s worth it!

    Be brave and patient with yourself, not everyone will reply when you ask them a question and try out your ice-breaker, don’t take it personally, keep trying! The friends you make when you move outside your comfort zone are often the ones you get to know the best, very rapidly! It’s amazing what can tumble out in a short conversation by the school gates!

    Use all your weapons to maximise your contact with your family and friends, new and old, wherever they are! You’d be amazed how good it feels to tell an old friend you’ve made a new friend…. Skype, Chat, Email, Phone, Letters & Cards.

    Do recharge at home by yourself but set yourself manageable goals outside too. Chat to someone at each place you go to each week, the Supermarket, the Park, the Beach, the School-gates.

    Volunteer! There will be an organisation somewhere in Doha that can use your skills, contact the British Embassy and ask what charities they support or interact with. Often a hiding place for long-term expats who know LOTS of people! Long-term Expats are often good at introducing you to other people they know who are in a similar position to you! And bonus, you get to help people out that you wouldn’t meet any other way…..

    Lastly, in the expat world, friends and colleagues move quickly, use your time to make friends whether they’re moving on or not, friends are like stars, you can’t always see them but you always know they are there. Anyone who’s been in the same position you have (and there’s lots of us) will know how hard it can be to get out the ‘ice-breaker’ and will usually do their best to respond in kind.

    Have faith and keep your chin up, we know you’re awesome and make a great true-friend, it won’t be long before more people know that too.

    Love to ALL!

  2. N Z Aria-Eipe (@dohadispatch) January 1, 2013 / 3:28 pm

    As an off-the-scale INFP, this hit so close to home it was practically in the living room! Plus the charming 3-minute video made me laugh till happy tears. Thanks for this, Nat! If you haven’t already, you must read Jonathan Rauch’s excellent guide to ‘Caring for your Introvert’. A handy reminder for spouses, friends, and all those new strangers you’re about to meet 😉 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/03/caring-for-your-introvert/302696/

  3. littlecity January 1, 2013 / 7:51 pm

    Rach / NZ: Thanks for these fantastic suggestions. I opened the link to the Rauch article and found myself nodding so hard I thought my head was going to fall off.

    My sister, who can usually be found below the line here, has emailed to say that she uses a book about raising your kids by their personality type, which is something I hadn’t considered. (I think it’s this one http://www.amazon.com/Nurture-Nature-Understand-Childs-Personality/dp/0316845132).

    She also took the time to mock me for an infamous meltdown of mine from several hundred Christmases ago, brought on by too much social interaction, which ended with me throwing an enormous strop and storming off to my room, uttering the immortal line “I *am* being sociable!”

    I think it’s the ‘going first’ aspect of my resolution which bothers me most. Imagine finally getting up the courage to open up to a stranger, only for them to not reply, or cut you off or treat you like a stalker? That sounds very personal to me!

    Maybe all the nice people could wear a badge or something, so we know who they are?

  4. Christine January 12, 2013 / 4:55 am

    Ahh, the eternal tension between extraverts and introverts. At the beginning I made a couple friends by hanging out near coffee mornings (but not actually attending cuz that would have pretty much maimed my soul). I’d look for someone who looked interesting, then make sure I got in the coffee line beside them and struck up a conversation. It felt slightly renegade and slightly foolish.

    My brain can’t decide if I’m an introvert or extravert but one thing of which it is certain is that my partner is not responsible for filling my social needs. Does your wife expect that of you or are you assuming that is one of your roles? It is possible I’ve missed the underlying point of this post. An expat life works better when partners talk a lot about all sorts of things you would have never thought to discuss at home.

    • littlecity January 13, 2013 / 8:30 am

      You say renegade, I say unusual tactics. Question is: did it work?

      As for the issue of who’s responsibility it is to fill one’s social needs, the point I was trying to make was that we’re in this adventure together, which means helping each other out. I have more time to spend on this, even if it’s not as big an issue for me personally as it is for my wife. Colloquially, I’m taking one for the team.

      Either way, progress is being made…

      • Christine January 13, 2013 / 11:50 am

        The renegade tactics worked for me. I met two people. One I lost contact with when I lost my phone but we visited parks and souqs together for awhile. The other I still have contact with even though she moved away from Doha about a year ago. And she introduced me to one of her friend’s who I did a lot of things with and also still have contact with even though she moved a few months ago.

        Of course, you’re right, everyone needs to do what works for them.

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