February is an unusually exciting month for me. I have finally been invited to accompany M on a rather lovely business trip to Asia. Despite having lived an expat life for many years this will be the very first time I have been included on such an adventure. I felt embarrassed initially to tell people that we are not only going to Asia but that we already had a family ski holiday planned, fretting over what they would think. I have though, spent far too much of my life agonising about what others think of me, how they view my life and my choices; I worry that people think I’m over privileged (I probably am), standoffish (I’m nervous), abrupt (I’m anxious), share too much (I want you to like me) and that I’m flakey (I’m curious and love to try something new). It is only now, in my late 40s, having allowed myself some time and space to think and reflect that I can begin to feel less concerned about others’ opinions.
So you know what? I am going to embrace these wonderful opportunities and allow myself to enjoy every moment; I’m going to breathe deeply in the mountain air, ski with enthusiasm, be inspired by different cultures and soak up some winter warmth and sunshine. I am choosing gratitude over guilt.
It is of course true that I have been tremendously lucky to have had the opportunity to live in Australia, Germany, South Africa, Belgium and Sweden and to have travelled to many more places, but it’s not just luck is it? Nobody handed this to us on a plate. Neither M or myself grew up overseas and our siblings have not chosen similar paths. I think it is largely a question of both of us being intrinsically curious and willing to say ‘yes’ to opportunity.
Of the many benefits travel has brought me, friendships aside, I think the greatest has been developing a growth mindset. I am always prepared to try something new or to simply ‘have a go’. I hope that anyone who has been to a workshop with me will attest to the fact that I am a great advocate of simply doing it and not worrying too much about the outcome. This does not mean of course that I don’t experience fear and anxiety along the way, more that I have learnt that it is simply part of the process. Walking into a roomful of people whom I don’t know still ranks highly amongst the things I’d prefer to avoid, but I accept that the benefits of taking the deep breath and getting on with it outweigh the stress involved. This little video explains the concept of a growth mindset well, I think.
Moving at least every three years for the last 30 years has been consuming for somebody to whom ‘home’ is so important. Each and every time we have packed and unpacked I have put huge energy into creating a place where we all feel comfortable and happy whatever the situation may be beyond our four walls. We’ve lived in many different homes, some tiny, some big, some simple and some more luxurious, but wherever we have been we have surrounded ourselves with familiar objects which have undoubtedly eased our transitions.
I didn’t really think of myself as an ‘expat wife’ or indeed as an ‘accompanying partner’ or ‘trailing spouse’ (surely the worst moniker of them all!) until we were on our fourth overseas assignment and I realised that essentially this is what I had become. Somehow despite people’s predictable comments of ‘how amazing, what an experience that must have been’ or similar, the notion of being an expat wife is somewhat demeaning. Perhaps I am more sensitive to the stereotype than anyone who hasn’t moved around the world with their family, but the term brings to my mind images of gin swilling, tennis playing, over privileged and under employed women! I most assuredly have never met a single woman who fitted this description in any of the locations I have lived, and nor I think did I, despite my pleasure in the odd G&T!
I do appreciate how lucky we have been to be able to live in this way, but I also know that what truly counts are the people we are surrounded by. Lovely homes and familiar objects do not protect us from loneliness, isolation and frustration, all of which are familiar emotions to any ‘expat wife’.
I hardly dare write it, but since there is no move in the offing for us in the foreseeable future I am finally beginning to feel more settled and content. I wonder whether it is the lack of change hanging over us that is giving me some space in my mind to be more creative – to enjoy writing and photography as a process as opposed to feeling the need to make something more concrete to prove my worth. It is this that I really want to work on in the coming years as I seek to establish Oak Tree Barn as a really special spot, not just for us, but to share. This blog is my space to do just this, to share the photos I take of the home and garden I’m creating, and to find words that not only please me but that speak to others too.
I’ll be sharing snippets of my travels this month on Instagram, so it would be lovely to keep in touch there, or indeed if it is just too irritating to see others gallivanting around the world in February then I’ll be back in my wellies at the barn in March and will look forward to seeing you then!