Writing Your Own Career Narrative Abroad

*For all the global-minded work expats, refugees, migrants, digital nomads... or anyone who has moved across the globe, having to reinvent his career.*

Being an expat is a promising new start where you get to carve out your life and career abroad, in a brand new place with brand new experiences. How amazing!

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Did I mention it’s terrifying too? Maybe your “uh oh” moment came once you got on the plane or a few weeks after you relocated, but it comes for all of us. At this point in uncharted waters, we crave a guided path and end up falling into the stereotypes or status quo of other expats we know — or what we “think” an expat should be. This leaves us with a structure, sure, but since it’s not our own unique way of doing things, it results in a serious lack of fulfillment — and usually doesn’t work for long. We lull in our profession and home life.

Here’s the kicker: Relocation is not the grave yard of your professional aspirations, so long as you treat it like your profession. Taking charge of your career and making it what you need lets you stay in the game and enjoy it while you play. You get to write your own career narrative abroad — and trust me, it’s more fun and successful than anything run-of-the-mill. Here’s how you get started.

1. Understand What You Want

Before you took your big step, how did you envision the best possible outcome? Did you see so many diverse projects and fun new cultural experiences with your colleagues or clients? Did you image being able to spend a certain amount of time with your family, network with other expats like you, or have a chance to actually enjoy your new area? Whatever your vision was, you may have veered off course when money problems, self-image making you feel the need to work harder or longer, or any other number of influences made you take a left when you should’ve taken a right.

Go back to that original vision — what will it take to accomplish that? If you never defined it to begin with, reimage the goal and then break it down into actionable needs, which will have actionable results. Want less time in the office? Then take steps to work remotely. Want more wacky and interesting cultural experiences? Diversify your clients, or take up a side job that you enjoy. Want more time with your family? Then consider toning back your hours or taking on different kinds of work that will pay the bills but give you free time.

You’re in charge of your own story, so know what your story is going to be.

2. Realize How Many Skills You Have, and What’s Transferable

Who says a career has to match the cookie-cutter? You get to develop your career abroad into whatever you want, and since you’ve already stepped out of the box by becoming an expat, you’re in a better position to break outside the mold than you’ve ever been.

Take a look and evaluate the skills you have — all of them, from your ability to multitask to your skill at playing an instrument to your talent with numbers. Anything you think makes you unique. Many times you have tons of unpaid skills from in volunteering, moving, managing change, problem solving, socializing, or as a hobby; this is your skills arsenal, and you can transfer it into other parts of your life. Apply them to your career, and you’ll watch as it expands and shapes into something unique, fascinating — and satisfying.

3. Make Your Goals Action-Oriented

It can seem like a lot to swallow at once, but the key to writing or rewriting your career narrative abroad comes in outlining. To start with, envision your ultimate goal having been achieved. What does your career look like in a perfect world? What are you gaining from all of it? What do other parts of your life look like? Feel free to get detailed and get creative so that your final vision is something you believe you could be truly happy with.

Now that you have this vision, hang on to it — write it down so it’s set in ink and you can’t forget the intricate details. Then it’s time to retro-plan. Start with your vision, then decide what action comes immediately before achieving that vision. Do you finally make that one social connection that opens to door to your dream? Do you finally have the work experience to qualify? Do finally have an amount of clients to keep your work thriving? Whatever this second-to-last step is, write it down, and then move to the second-to second-to-last step.

Be sure that these aren’t vague steps such as “find more time in my schedule” or “reach out to a group,” but instead more specific such as “postpone this specific thing so I have time to do blah,” or “get in contact with this person, this person, and this person.” These actionable goals will allow you to see potential roadblocks before they ever come, and even spark new ideas to advance your roadmap’s progress.

Keep up this system until you’ve inched your way back to your current situation, and then you have your step one.

4. Think Outside the Box

No one likes a book that’s full of clichés — we want something new, exciting, and just a little out of the norm. When writing your career narrative, focus on thinking outside the box and following your own unique path rather than trying to replicate someone else’s. What can you do to shape your career that no one else has?

This could be taking up freelancing rather than getting or staying with a structured job; doing remote work; taking up an internship; working a side-gig; or searching out new online opportunities such as starting a blog or a YouTube series. When writing your career narrative, throw in some plot twists and surprise developments, and this won’t only keep your vision fresh and progressive, but could open up into new opportunities you never expected to arrive.

Living someone else’s story is boring and lacks fulfillment — but the beauty of being an expat is, you’re already writing your own narrative. You’ve stepped out of the mold, and now you get to use that freedom to create something exciting, unique — and exclusively yours (even if it’s not easy at times).