You are not alone.
Without trying to see like some sort of lifestyle guru or inspirational poster, I think the simplest thought or feeling is often the most compelling. I tend to get a lot of emails from you guys wanting to change your lives and move to Italy, and it is worth thinking about why you want to in the first place. Moving to a new country, one that you don’t speak the local language or know that many people comes with a fair amount of hurdles. Ones that most people never imagined might exist. Even something as simple as paying a bill at the post office could result in tears of frustration, and well filing your taxes? We all need to throw back a shot of strong liquor and a therapist after that experience.
Something that I don’t often see on these ‘life in Italy’ or ‘I quit my job to travel abroad’ articles you often see in major newspapers and magazines, is how easy it is to fall into feeling stuck and sad as illustrated in this article by the NY Times. This can easily happen when you are on your own, looking for a job –money running out quickly, having to accept shitty work situations. Too few people to talk with who you can relate to. So many of us are very proud, independent folks who probably hate asking for help. Also some people get the ‘Peter Pan’ syndrome of never wanting to grow up and essentially party a little too much. You don’t really want to be Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused if you get my drift.
Who wants to admit that maybe that impulsive choice wasn’t the best idea? That perhaps changing your life should have started at home, in a place where you understand the language and culture. Just moving somewhere isn’t enough to solve your problems, your problems are immune to any change of zip code. My friend Misty of Surviving in Italy touched on expat depression in her blog which gave plenty of really good advice, and the reason I am today is that with the increase of emails asking me for life tips, why not share what I think directly on the blog.
For those who think that us in Florence have it easy, our lives just one wine-filled event to the next, traveling every weekend. Bloggers make a ton of money right?
Well you’d be surprised.
Yes those things do happen, this year there seems to be more exciting events than ever that are fantastic excuses to meet up with friends and celebrate something spectacular, like the opening of the new Opera del Duomo museum after three years of renovations. But if I tell you all of the things that happened to this point, well that is less attractive than holding up a cocktail to a sunset view on instagram. And blogging doesn’t make as much as you might think, if at all — in fact most of us have other jobs with the blog being passion projects. A great platform to be sure, but one that takes a lot of work and time. I love it.
But rotating to the life abroad is flippen amazing conversation, I have to say there are also many hard moments as an expat abroad. Lonely moments. Which is probably why I see groups on facebook like ‘Life in Italy: When “la vita bella” isn’t so bella…’ gain popularity.
From personal experience, working as a freelancer has plenty of pitfalls — highs and lows that tend to come in waves. Clients not paying on time or at all, a byzantine tax system that ensures you need strong medication of booze to get through a visit with your commercialista. There is also the inevitable fear of the unknown and being out of work in the near/far future. I have felt these things, and I know my friends have too – just read this post. Also let’s chat about the feeling of being so overwhelmed with work, projects and deadlines that you end up working until 3am to finish it all.
That said, I feel very fortunate in that I have a career that excites me and that has proven to be a good fit. These past two years I have been in plenty of situations work-wise where I have been thrown into a mess but came out feeling like I accomplished something. Life lessons come in a variety of packages, often those really difficult to open-double-taped versions.
One interesting option for expats who feel ‘stuck’ or those who are looking to move abroad but are not sure why or what they want to do. Hire a life coach. I used to be true skeptic for these sorts of things, I envisioned some sort of Scientology-like guru telling me I had to drink less caffeine and if I ‘believe it – it will come’.
Be afraid not of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still. — Chinese Proverb
Let’s face it, while The Secret is bullshit and though I’ve envisioning winning 300 million dollars in lottery winnings, that still has yet to happen so. And I’m pretty annoyed it hasn’t. However, what I do know — is a really good friend of mine named Sophie. A Dutch girl who has lived in Florence for many years now, she’s the one who introduced me to this world of life-coaching and what it is, and more importantly what it isn’t about. Which is actually almost more important to understand.
A life coach will not tell you what to do, make your life plan happen, give unsolicited advice, or wipe your bottom. Sorry guys!
What will they do? Ask a series of questions and get to know the root of what you are looking to change in your life, and why. You would be surprised how much you already know yourself — sometimes you just need to say it out loud, in front of someone else. Which already goes a long way into making your goals much more accountable, and tangible. An excellent idea for someone who is looking to move abroad and needs to talk with someone, or a person already abroad but feeling ‘stuck’ and frustrated.
I did a half-hour session with her, just to see what it’s like and I left the meeting very intrigued and much more clear-minded. Unlike therapy, which is a different concept all-together, this isn’t about that. This was like more like talking to yourself, through another person. My own obstacles and goals revolve mainly around career longevity, being more organized in every sort of way. I realize that there are many small changes that I could make now, that would help tremendously, but that I just have constantly been avoiding. It was just one lesson, but I want to go back for more, because we all could use a bit of self-improvement.
For those who need a few tips avoiding expat burnout from a non-expert (aka me), here are a few tips
- Surround yourself with the right people. Be around a bunch of complaining people who hate their jobs and let everyone knows about it, well it’s bound to bring you down too. While a whinge every now and again is totally normal, pick your friends wisely. People that you admire, that are positive, fun and easy. Which is what friendship should be about in any case. In Florence? Here are a few options to meet people.
- Don’t let one sucky situation define your week and give you a reason to have that ‘lets evaluate my life’ conversation. Often enough when we get to that bad place where life looks about as attractive as a slice of crap pie just because of a single bad encounter or situation. I’ve done it to myself and it is a slippery slope. Take a walk, see a friend, eat a fantastic meal — all will be good again soon.
- Hate your job? Well, you aren’t married to it… I get that it is not easy to switch careers, especially in a place like Italy where actual career growth can be laughably horrible. One thing that I really think a life coach could be very useful is talking about work situations and options because often we are so scared of any sort of change and talking to someone who doesn’t know you super well is a great idea. They are more apt to ask you those questions that your friends won’t. I know people that in real life are awesome, bubble and fun to be around but become totally different at work. As cliche as it sounds, hating your work and not doing anything about it is pretty insane in the long term.
- Travel. Seriously, I get those weeks when staring at my computer for hours on end can turn everything into a strange blur. All it takes is a hop in the car or train, get out of the city for a while to visit a small town or take a walk. It does wonders for the soul, a change of scenery is extremely necessary from time to time. Alternatively, working out and taking walks also really helps when you are very stressed. I have a beagle so she certainly keeps me active regularly as I mentally go insane planning an international wedding.
- Give yourself time. The Beatles sang ‘all you need is love’ and though I can’t hold a tune for shit, I can say — don’t be so hard on yourself. Sometimes all we need is time. To think, to ponder, to envisage. I always sleep on important decisions and allow myself to write people back to say I need a bit more time, which was hard to do as since I often prided myself on being quick to respond.
For those interested in contacting Sophie for a session (first one free) you can reach her via email firstname.lastname@example.org, her website or facebook. She is available for life & business coaching in Florence and beyond. Sessions can be held either in English, Italian or Dutch, face to face, by phone or on Skype. It is also worth noting that she is ICF accredited and Acceptance and a Commitment Training professional.