How to reconnect with yourself after becoming an expat partner

I recently took on a personal challenge; I agreed to sing at a Friendsgiving expat event in Madrid. Although I am a transition and career coach, this isn’t as leftfield as it might sound.

I have always sung, as a kid, through school, and when I was 15, my dad bought me a guitar and from there flowed a series of self-penned introspective songs about my life. Writing them helped me process what I was feeling and experiencing around me. Through university, I sang with a ten piece funk band called Blue Ramboni. I collaborated with friends across many different genres, and I loved all of it. Being a singer was part of my identity. It was connected to how I saw myself and how others saw me.

Fast forward 15 years, marriage, two kids and three international moves, and I still sing, but mostly to myself in my living room and to any late-night dinner guests who haven’t made a fast enough getaway. Though I don’t promote it, there is a part of me (that has been) lying dormant… but it is still there.

So, this request threw me a tantalising opportunity to see if I could still do it. When I arrived with my guitar, some people looked surprised; they know me as a fellow expat, a friend, and a coach, but not a singer. Putting this part of me back out there was scary; what if I forgot the words, my voice failed, or I just bottled it? But by then it was too late to back out.

Getting up on the stage following the other performers was 100% out of my comfort zone, but singing in public again was elating. I made a real connection with so many people I had never met before, and I felt more ‘me’ than I had in years. I’m grateful for the opportunity to remind myself how much I love creating a connection with others through music.

A Colombian woman called Claudia sang right before me; she was phenomenal, and rumour has it, used to be signed to Warner. She hadn’t performed in twenty years. I went up to her afterwards, and we bonded over our experience. She revealed that she had been so nervous beforehand that she was shaking. I hugged her and said, “you are amazing, why did you stop?” She replied, “you know, life”.

The same could be said of my situation. Life happens, and little by little, we can lose touch with some of the essential parts of who we are. Music was like an old friend, it was never intentional, but we gradually lost touch. We mould ourselves around others or our circumstances and move into being other things: a partner, a mother, an expatriate, a dreamer. Especially for anyone who gives their all to making someone else’s dream possible, they can lose sight of themselves in doing so.

Getting back in touch with the old me

We are all multilayered, and at times it can be hard to focus on the parts of yourself that aren’t obvious and don’t demand so much attention. In my work coaching expat partners I see this all the time. But there are ways that each of us can reconnect with our authentic selves and take back the control over who we want to be. Here are three ways that you can start to do that now:

1 – Be Brave

A friend came up to me afterwards and said – “Holly, I didn’t know you were so brave.” I was shocked and a bit taken aback (it must be my British side!), but what she said made me think. Maybe I had been brave by showing a part of myself that I hadn’t shown for years and, in doing so, made myself vulnerable. What does being brave look like for you? What do you daydream about doing? What are you putting off doing for fear of failure? Write those things down, tell them to someone else, or better still, speak to a coach about them.

2 – Follow Your Curiosity

If you can’t find your passion or don’t know where to start, follow your curiosity to try the things you think you might like. Writer Elizabeth Gilmore (Big Magic, Eat Pray Love) talks about this concept. If you can’t surface what you’re passionate about, ask yourself what you have a ‘modest spark’ for. Try out new things, and you might find your hobby soon turns into a passion.

3 – Return to Things You Used to Love

Many of us move away from the things we loved to do (and were good at) when we were young for many different reasons. But it’s never too late to reconnect with that part of yourself. You can make the decision to invite that part of your past into your present. What did you love to do when you were young? How could you get back to doing that more?

No matter what it looks like from the outside, living abroad is hard, you can either curl up into a ball or be brave and try new things. Say yes to opportunity, the world on the other side of your comfort zone is bold and bright and alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Photo: Khoa Vo

Holly Roberts

Holly is a career and transitions coach supporting expat partners to find their path abroad, so they can regain their confidence, redefine their purpose and restore the balance in their relationships. Email hello@makeyourmovecoach.com.

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