When Will I Go Home?

Preoccupation with Next Steps is the Enemy

Your first year in an international assignment is difficult for many reasons. But during this time, there is a question that is constantly bouncing around in your mind filling you with worry and uncertainty. And it’s likely a question that you don’t feel comfortable asking anyone.

That question: “When will I go?” Almost always this question is paired with “where will I go?”

You don’t ask that question because you’re counting down the days and minutes to when you can go back (or maybe you are). You’re asking this question because you are preoccupied with your own performance:

  • How long will it take me to accomplish my goals out here?
  • If I do a good job, will they want me to stay?
  • If they want me to stay, will I WANT to stay?
  • I’m grateful for all of these experiences, but I do miss home. Is that ok?

It costs a tremendous amount of money to send a high-performer across the globe. You likely have received a long list of things to improve, to change, and to implement. Your special expertise is necessary to make it happen. Now you’re feeling the hot spotlight the company has put on you: the expat moving to a new place and making some big changes.

A 2 or 3 year contract is typical for international assignments. Once you’ve settled in, you’ll find yourself on one of two typical paths:

  1. Enjoying and fully embracing the personal and business challenges: the expat who truly loves the experience, the job, the difficulties, and the overall “newness” of it all.
  2. Or, you’re counting down the days until the move back home: either for career progression, family reasons, or just dissatisfaction with living in the host country.

It doesn’t matter if you’re living your best life in your host country or if you’re dreaming of your hometown and favorite restaurants every night, you are always wondering:  When will I go home?

First up, when is the right time for you to go somewhere else?

You may start asking the question of when it’s time to go multiple times in the posting.  They all can be scary or exciting or emotional…and for different reasons.  The most common situations that make you ready for a change might be:

  1. Your performance is amazing and it’s time for you to go somewhere bigger and achieve more! Yes you are amazing and the team has responded well and everything is beautiful. Get your things ready and let’s move on.
  2. Your performance is right on target and the company likes what it sees. You can stay and do more here…or maybe you have options to go elsewhere. Honestly, we love what we have seen and it’s kinda your call. Want to stay another year? Learn more? Experience more? The company is cool with keeping you here because it’s all seeming to go really well.
  3. Your performance is not so great…in fact you haven’t adjusted well and there needs to be a change at some point. Can you bounce back? Your thinking is probably “Holy s#!t this isn’t the way I want to ask the question ‘when will I go home?’”

The cold truth is that it is extremely rare for an expat to find herself in situation 1 soon into an assignment. Hopefully, you have the self-awareness and a good boss/mentor to help you figure out whether you are in situation 2 or 3. Patience is the key here. You may feel you have gained all the experience you need after a short period of time. But it takes time. It takes patience. It takes someone to help you see where you actually are in the process.

And, I say again, it takes patience.

Preoccupation with Next Steps is the Enemy of Today’s Success

So. Much. Stuff. Going through your head in addition to work.  Work is overwhelming. Your family’s life abroad is a deep concern. Your boss(es) are demanding that change you were charged with making. You are going through intense evolution yourself. In that whirlwind of change, many of us start thinking about next steps.

It’s time to realize that you cannot do it alone. You cannot process the depth of the change you are immersed in alone…you have to have folks around you who ask the tough questions but to also keep you focused on the issues at hand TODAY and not the next steps of tomorrow.

How do you keep from falling into the “When do I go home?” trap?

  1. Pretend— hard—that this is the last job you will ever have. Focus on the day-to-day and don’t allow yourself to fall prey to the “next step” discussion. Your team will feel this focus and dedication. You won’t be labeled a “short timer” who they don’t feel the need to develop loyalty. But most of all you will be less likely to daydream about where and when you leave. Focus on the now.
  2. Deepen and enrich your relationships with colleagues, peers and friends: When I first went overseas I sometimes kept people at arms length because I thought it would be useless to develop deep relationships…after all, I’ll be leaving soon. This is a reinforcement of what you DON’T want to think. Seek out your casual friends, your work colleagues, your peers and subordinates. Drive deeper relationships. Find your truthsayers and soothsayers. Reach out to them for honest advice. What can you do better? What should you see that perhaps you aren’t seeing? Are there cultural elements that you’re missing? Encourage candor and don’t punish or judge when they give it to you.
  3. Avoid competitive tendencies: Get over the feeling that you are in competition with your peers and ask for honest advice and feedback. You don’t have to act on it…but it’s great to know what they see that you may be missing. Thank them for the feedback…it’s a gift.
  4. Beer (with friends): You are not alone. Go out with your other expat friends. Most likely they are dealing with the same stuff you are. Beware: misery loves company…if you find a negative Ned/Nelly in your group, either refocus on others or gently encourage them to be positive. Negativity breeds negativity…stay away! Search for positivity and grace. Focus on how you can make a better tomorrow through positive solutions. Campai!
  5. Find yourself a coach: Best way to be accountable to change? Find an accountability partner who will ask you the tough questions, force you to see different angles, engage in some candor. Find a professional whose job is to get on the journey with you, providing the space to think deeper and more holistically and drive you to better results.

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