I often find this emotion with expats, even with myself. I guess that it is natural, but it doesn’t mean that it is pleasant. I guess we know that we are going through a process and sometimes it makes it easier, but sometimes it just doesn’t. It is funny how we react when suddenly everything that we know is taken away. You grow up, you study, you learn the ropes, you can explain, help, delegate well and with confidence and the suddenly you sit somewhere totally foreign where you cannot even help yourself, even if you wanted to. The only way that you can help yourself is by asking for help, researching or finding out how it works in this new environment and asking for help and waiting to be helped are not necessarily everyone's strong points, but indeed skills that an expat needs to acquire to survive and avoid frustration.
To put it bluntly, expats sometimes feel dumb. Dumb because they have to ask so many questions or have to learn so many new things (from social interaction in a new culture to basic administration). And the smarter you think you are, the dumber you feel. We are not used to feeling helpless, clueless, powerless or unconfident in our home environments, but now in this new adventure it is inevitable. Things don’t run at our pace and there is very little that we can do about it. Maybe you are used to a fast paced environment where you can easily and confidently play ball all over the court, but now you only have a thin stick and a golf ball and you are supposed to play this fast paced game on a court that you don’t even recognise as being a court. So you feel dumb and you maybe start to think that everybody else thinks you are dumb as well. It gets frustrating. You know who you are inside, you know that you have potential and you even love yourself, but often you just feel like you are tramped in the body of a headless chicken or a clumsy Michelin man. Maybe you are even trying to convince people that you are not normally like this...
Frustration. We need to figure out where it is coming from. Yes, we are overwhelmed and exceptionally stretched, but what is lying under the frustration? What underlying emotion is driving the frustration? What is the sentence that we hear in our thoughts that creates the underlying emotion? For example, you might have the thought “I don’t want people to think that I’m dumb” and then you place extra pressure on yourself to prove yourself, but then you end up feeling helpless, because you can’t possibly know everything and do everything perfectly in a new environment. There are too many variables and things that you cannot possibly anticipate or predict. This then leads to the frustration and maybe even a sense of failure or embarrassment. :/
Ask yourself some questions.
Why am I frustrated? “I’m frustrated, because the lady keeps telling me what to do.”
How does “the lady keeps telling me what to do” make me feel? “It makes me feel incompetent.”
Am I really incompetent? “No”
What does “feeling incompetent” trigger or remind me of? “It reminds me of my teacher telling me that I’ll never make it to university.”
So the negative thought (lie) creates the feeling of incompetence which drives the frustration. The key is to keep track of your thought patterns and try and identify what thought drives the underlying emotion which in turn drives the frustration. Get hold of the thought and you can disable or lessen the frustration. It is not always as simple, but I have had such amazing results and eye opening moments while doing these exercises with my coach. At the end it is totally worth it and very freeing.
As expats we are surrounded with change and we need to stay flexible whether we like it or not. My advice is to find someone to talk to. An objective ear is always good and can help you get some fresh perspective in your situation. Take a deep breath, accept what you cannot change and stay focused, flexible and motivated, you are brave just for taking the leap to another country!
Picture credit: simplelifestrategies