Expat Women on the Move:
Endurance queens, changemakers and time seekers.
The best ideas usually come when you least expect them. Earlier last year, I was running my weekly laps around Mona Dam in Kingston, listening to the sounds of nature, and decided to start an interview series about expat women working and thriving abroad. Telling their stories, and sharing their struggles, secrets and milestones with the goal of inspiring other women to maximize their impact, wherever they live.
The Interview Series Expat Women on the Move was born.
After having interviewed 25 expat women based on almost all continents, in the US, Jamaica, Europe, Dubai, Asia and Ethiopia, it is time to share findings and insights with you. I’ve interviewed mums, soon-to-be-mums, singles, long distance relationship rockers, single mums…, all the while searching for common themes. Each story is unique, each assignment and move are unique.
What did they have in common?
Listening to the stories, I was amazed by the boldness and incredible drive all women shared. Their eyes lit up when they told about the change they created or wanted to create. Every woman I interviewed can be described as change maker. They did not choose to work abroad for a higher pay check or promotion. They all described the change they wanted to create and the legacy they wanted to leave.
Most of my interview partners are endurance queens. They manage to work hard, with high investments of time and energy, and are trained to outperform. They set their own bars for success much higher than expected and view their personal success as critical.
I’ve been listening to stories of greatest success, failure, anxiety and stress. So, let’s dive into the 5 struggles most of them shared:
- Time, time, time.
Almost every woman said that at the end of the day, they miss having time for themselves. Juggling a global career, family, friends and social responsibilities means that “me time” often comes last. No one has found THE secret to carving out time for themselves, yet almost everyone had a cautious focus on doing so, seeking anything energizing: a hot yoga class on a Caribbean island, a power bootcamp in Ethiopia, painting, marshal arts, your hammock…you name it.
The importance of time became more intense when talking with expat mums, who also juggle kids, routines, presence at schools and sometimes even pick-ups. What came out:
- Bias and gender roles.
The interviews carved the essence of any bias around women in leadership roles, which can be even more pronounced abroad: Almost everyone has experienced bias towards her role or standing on her team. Sometimes it was a perceived bias – limiting beliefs inherited from the home culture or assumptions taken on. Mostly, the women I spoke with are the only females in leadership teams and feel a lack of support. In certain cultures, it is quite uncommon to see a woman in a leadership role, especially a young woman. All woman I interviewed agreed: We are here to disrupt, to create change and to show the world that the times of “good old boys” clubs are over. Most women shared that being present for post-work drinks and networking gatherings is hard when combined with family – and it’s even harder for single mums working abroad
- Let go of control and truly build a support system.
Through my conversations, I found that women tend to like to be in charge of things: at home and at work. Letting go of duties, responsibilities and projects at home is not easy. Most women described those additional projects (name it: picture books, presents, travel planning…) as time consuming, but had a hard time completely letting go or delegating. Delegating and building a support system for yourself is key.
When you have kids, and you want to be a present mum and present leader at work, you make conscious choices where to be present. One of my interviewees said:
‘I’ve mastered over the last years to be present with my kids when I’m home. No work e-mails, no calls. And I am fully present at work, love it, give it all, know my boundaries and when my batteries start getting low’.
Wohoo – that sounds like a secret path
- Being your hardest critic
Most expat women shared that they are critical of their own successes and failures. Being kind to themselves and acknowledging that mastering life, career and a balance while abroad is not easy, and does not come naturally. I’ve heard the sentence ‘I need to overachieve, I am a woman, I’ve always felt like I need to work harder than the rest’ many times
- Leaving your focus, before you actually leave
All women are driven by a change they want to create that impacts people at larger scale in the country they live in. Questions like ‘When to begin a family? Is now the best time to make a move?, When to settle in an easier country’?…are the constant rollercoaster of thoughts they experience. Career or family? Or both? How to have both?
Read more about secrets and strategies on how to work with those struggles in next week’s post. Every two weeks, we will feature a Rockstar Expat Woman, highlighting the story, journey, and the good and the bad of expat life on assignment.
Stay tuned, and keep on rocking, expat ladies on assignment!
Is this you?
Send me a message via firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m curious to connect!