If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door

Earlier in autumn, I created a workshop for the Club of Expat Partners for an organization of the Austrian government. This article shares the insights of my work as a global HR professional and expat partner myself on the ever circulating question: How to pivot your career abroad and continue your professional path?

The world of expat partners is diverse as a kaleidoscope (see the group picture!). You can find all professions, ages, life situations and roles among the group of human beings, who chose to follow their partners and support another path and put the focus for periods in life not on your own choices only.

Living in Ethiopia and Jamaica and having re-built my own HR career again in complex markets and since the last years additionally to a remote job also an own advisory business, I have followed and met many extraordinary partners. To give advice as HR Expert, it helps to share my observations and distinguish between the three types of expat partner I met:

  • Type A: You realized that you needed to pivot. You see the assignment as a chance (now), as an opportunity to go another path in your career. You know that opportunities need to be created by YOU (and you only) and you build this door. And three years later another door in another country. You almost live a life with no regrets. And earn your own income – or not. It does not matter, and you are in peace with your personal development and freedom.
  • Type B: You feel in between acceptance and still struggling to not be able to continue your career and professional path as you wished. You try and fail. You wish you create opportunities faster and easier. You work on projects, volunteering, investigate to set up a business or remote role that you can take also to other countries. You create first independent income.
  • Type C: You struggle – some days and periods less and some more – abroad or also back home. You lost a sense of purpose and personal development completely – the only focus of your last years was to make the family happen and enable a prosperous career or your partner. Any personal plans or dreams were hidden in the backburner. You crave financial freedom and to continue your career.

Here are my 3 HR nuggets of advice for you, if you are…

Type A – the Creator

  1. Continue your path – and do not let anyone tell you that anything is NOT possible. Any work permit, any visa, any business set-up. There are always one million stories out there. Do your research, connect with market insiders, and do what you are really good at: Ask the right questions, ask, ask, ask…
  2. Find a room that challenges you. Many times, you will find yourself in a room of a lot of Type Cs and some Type Bs. Only a handful Type As or other partners who did find a job or did set up a business. You need to surround yourself with people that challenge you and inspire you – professionally and in your field. Avoid complainers and rooms of set rules how this expat world needs to function or has always functioned (many times in diplomatic circles).
  3. Create your own budget and savings – and ALWAYS create bigger visions that are a stretch for you to reach it and then take your baby steps to reach them. If not, you’ll still find yourself as restless and not 100% happy since you always strive for more in life.  

Type B – Status: ‘In Between’

  1. Congratulations! You made it out of the zone of inactivity! This is a huge and the most important step when we go through life impacting transitions. You need to sit down and ask yourself: What do you really, really want in life? Is it income, purpose, impact for the community where you live, a safe job, a safe education…what is it? We can never have it all at once, but once we know our priorities, we can get out of the struggling phases faster.
  2. You need to create a powerful story of what you ARE DOING right now. What is the financial impact on the community if you volunteer? What focus do you choose in your education? You need to write YOUR story and what YOU contribute in your country right now vs. still focusing on the ‘I am only a trailing spouse’ story – which is not the truth if we see your activities. I’ve seen many partners who were incredibly active and funded charities, but still did not see this as an achievement. Do not sell yourself short any longer. Stop waiting for opportunities and start creating doors.
  3. If you crave to have a ‘stable, (remote), pension funding’ job – get realistic. I’ve seen more nontraditional jobs of expat partners, then traditional ones. Why? You compete in traditional roles as HR Manager, Accountant etc. with the local workforce and you will in many cases not be able to show your superiority. You need to OWN YOUR TALENT and what makes you unique – this is not about knowing your strengths and weaknesses (and you roll your eyes, I know), this is about knowing what you and ONLY YOU are really good at and why any company shall hire you and say yes to a partner who will leave after some years again. There is no chance for ordinary CVs on the local and remote market – unless you are a software engineer or work in a field of ultra-high demand.

Type C – The All-time Struggler

  1. We live in a world of the highest unemployment rates in centuries. If your last paid job and professional development investment was longer ago than 2 years (or even one year in those times now), forget to get back into your career through a traditional way like a job ad, sending your CV, contacting a headhunter. We all cannot help you. Unless you are a software engineer or again worked in any ultra-high demand field. Close this dream and find peace with it. 
  2. Start your Path NOW – THIS YEAR. Do not push your education, what you really want, another year, or another assignment, or when the kids are older etc. I know of doctors who started a pilates training, and now (8 years later) are back in a clinic as private pilates trainer for handicapped patients. This is the hardest step, and might take support as a therapy to get you out of an active – suffering – struggling zone that might be the case for years. A specialist can help you explore your purpose, your own goals, your passions again and can help you to bring personal development back on your schedule.
  3. Everyone can reach Type B and also Type A. ALSO YOU. It might sound completely unrealistic today, but I highlight again – we need to get you out of inaction into action and focus. Do your personal development homework, and get your interests and passions back to your schedule. And you’ll start trusting again, that your international journey had a positive impact on your life as well. YOU NEED TO TRULY BELIEVE this fact – otherwise no statistics and no article on this planet that states how incredibly important a global expat partner workforce is and what extraordinary assets you gained abroad will help you. In the expat world, opportunities are not knocking on your door, unless you create the door.

#9 Expectations vs. Agreements during a crisis

Sometimes you listen to a podcast, and you literally feel the moment when you have an insight. Your world shifts and you got an input that will literally change how you show up in the next hour.

Today, I wanna share one podcast with you that had that impact on me – actually quite recently.

The episode Expectations vs. Agreements by Steve Chandler is worth listening a couple of times a year.

Steve Chandler talks about how to create powerful agreements in our life: with our team, in our organization, with our boss and also within our families. Expectations on the other hand lead to…expectations. Mostly one side will be happy, and the other party faces a high risk to not be as happy, or simply expected a different outcome.

Why does this matter – especially – today?

I’ve been hearing the following challenges over the last week:

  • I’m not happy with my results, and also the results of my team. How can I engage them more at home?
  • I’m struggling to find any balance between work and life – and skipped my sports for the x-time this week. I’d expected myself to be so much fitter by this time.
  • I’m handling a full time job, the household, home schooling and a huge restructuring at work. I expect my partner to step in more – but no sign of cooperation. How can I expect all family members to support me more?

The podcast gives a clue for many challenges we face.

When we start creating agreements and get on the same page with the core people in our life, we reduce the risk of misunderstandings and limited trust exponentially.

I’ll be happy to share the Podcast Recording (usually a paid download version) with you – just send me a message and I’ll send it over.

I’m curious and invite you to scan your life and work now:

  • Where do you miss a powerful agreement?
  • And if you had it, what will happen?

​Wishing you a beautiful weekend, Warriors!

Yours, Gertraud

#8 What is your Superpower?

It’s been now the second or third week in full crisis mode. I see most of you fighting, having back to back meetings. Pulling all your passion and energy into saving jobs, saving your people and teams, and trying to forecast what is actually not even possible for scientists to do.

Last week, one of my clients asked me in a brief call in between Zoom Meetings (the hate and love of all of us) from 8 am morning to 9 pm night. Non-stop. Quick lunch and bite, and next to home schooling her kids – luckily they are a bit older and get it all by themselves.

  • How can I get my team engaged?

In those times, there are no right or wrong answers. You know your team best and know exactly what they need right now. But it might be the case, that you are too committed and dedicated, and caught up in those endless meetings, that you forget about your most important asset. Your superpower. The superpower of your team. The superpower of your company.

No need to start a strategy meeting to dive into this.

Remind them and yourself of your superpower. Your strenghts, gifts, your identities, why you are all fighting together.

We’re all in this together.

During your next meeting, try this and start your time with those three questions:

  • What is your superpower?
  • What is our (the team’s) superpower?
  • And what do you think is our company’s superpower?

Take 10 min before the meeting and answer them for yourself first.

Those answers will get you on a more scenic road of the crisis.

The answers you get, will get you through this crisis all together. And your clients and everyone your team contacts next week, will feel it.

If you’re up to, share your 3 answers and I’ll promise, I’ll reply to everyone of you in person.

If you have a hard time answering them for yourself, let me know as well.

If you feel that there is absolutely no time to get those 3 questions in your next meeting – let’s keep it real.

Keep on rocking, Warriors and Worriers!

And never forget: You can juggle it all – in your way.

​Yours, Gertraud

​PS: And special shout out to everyone of you, who is juggling small kids and co-working at home and still making an impact. You amaze me and I do not have words how much energy it takes to get this really working.

#7 Sailing through rough seas…

For the last weeks, I’ve been jumping timezones and heard stories, impact, struggles, worries and leadership bravery in Austria, Jamaica, Trinidad, Italy and Ethiopia.

I had never more goosebumps and also felt the power of communities never stronger.

We’ve never experienced anything similar to those days now. Not all together as a global family.

I’m so proud of all teams in Austria, epunkt and Talentor International – you see amazing brave leadership and such high resilience of everyone going through the rapid changes.

I’m so proud of Jamaica, and how fast you took action and Lisa Soares Lewis and the @Greatpeoplesolutions team immediately supporting the nation. And I’m proud of all African leaders who protect their countries and learn from all that is happening (Go Ethiojobs.net!).

From last weeks calls, I’ve been seeing incredible women leaders taking rough decisions and running non-stop for your businesses, families, getting home schooling on and to navigate your team through all.

We have all just started a marathon (or ultra marathon…who knows). Kilometer 5 that might feel like 30 already…

Whatever Kilometer you are on right now, I’d love to help you boost your energy level so you won’t burn out while saving your world and sailing those rough seas over the next months.

If you’re in my circle, I’ll send you an energy booster every Monday via Whatsapp so you start your week with a smile and get all set to inspire your folks. Send me a reply, if you want to be added and I’m happy to share some magic with you.

More inspiring stories of women leaders who sail those rough seas to come…

Take good care…

…of Yourself.

… Your Family.

… Your Team.

… Your Boss.

… Your Organization.

… Your Community. But start with Yourself. And breathe.

Big hugs, Gertraud​

PS: This Forbes articles is a great read – two years old, but now more relevant for your power than ever. 10 habits that will change your life forever…

The beautiful picture is crafted by Morgan Harper Nichols.

#6 Women on Fire

Today is International Women’s Day and it is always a spotlight day to celebrate powerful women in our lives.

There are many opinions out there, almost similar to other One Day Events like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Yes, it would be great to celebrate every day the power of women and power of community, but we usually do not do that and get drawn into daily struggles and life.

So, let’s enjoy all the bliss, spotlight, discussions and insights during this day.

For this day, I wanted to share more insights of my recent work.

[Side Note: I’ve mostly seen those gifts and combination with women, but that could also be that 80% of my recent clients were women living and working abroad. So this is exploratory research only and sharing the themes I have seen coming over and over and over.]

Let me call this series Women on Fire for now…and you’ll understand why in a second. Let me start with the Gifts I’ve seen among so many women, who are super compassionate about their project, career or business:

  • You do not fit into any box. You are doing the exact opposite of what society would be doing, or your friends or anyone in your city. Is it that you are leaving your home country and following a big career calling in a weird country abroad. Is it that you are starting a business while starting a new job, and still wanting to get pregnant. Is it that you decide to run for an impactful big role in your career although everyone tells you to just be happy where you are. You love and enjoy disrupting those labels.
  • You really believe that anything is possible. You want to create a positive impact, inspire your team, leave a legacy. Your work is not focused to put a spotlight on you, but on creating real change for your community. Everyone can feel your compassion and see your eyes lighting up when you talk about your job, your business or your project.
  • You are always on the move. Learning, growing and seeing the next step is second nature to you. You’re always on the move, and about to create a new comfort zone. Whenever you are too long in your current comfort zone, it is time to disrupt it again…​
  • You inspire others to follow your example. All your energy is contagious and you soon see people following you, getting inspired and craving what you have. But they do not see the dark side of all your gifted life and blessings…

When looking into your Gifts, we’ve also detected in all interviews and sessions I had been working on in the last years, that although they are so powerful, they might also be working against you in some way.

  • Although you are so compassionate about all you do and glow when you talk about your work, you secretly run on an empty tank. From time to time (or also over longer periods in life) you forget to integrate self care into your packed schedule. You forget about Saying No to things that do not fuel you anymore. And secretly your resources and energy are getting low. All your compassion does not really match an empty tank, and from the outside no-one would also guess that you are actually feeling quite depleted from time to time.
  • ‚I feel that all I do is never enough. I am always striving for more, better, higher, different, more impactful…‘. This sentence pops up over and over when I work with super compassionate women. The theme of ‚Never feeling enough‚ is a recurring one and is a heavy lift.
  • Being a Beta Version of yourself. A Beta Version is an almost perfect version, but still needs to be finally tested before the big release. We can compare that status to the feeling, that you always feel like not 100% ready, not 100% experienced, not 100% the right match (yet!) when you enter unchartered territory. Unchartered territory meaning a new job, moving to a new country, a new chapter in life (becoming a mum), a new initiative…

I’d be very curious – is this you? What part is you? Are you a believer, disrupter, compassionate women on fire? Are you struggling that you almost feel that all you do is never enough? Do you feel like a Beta Version or the Best Version on the Market?

Drop me a message and share your thoughts & inspiration on today’s Women’s Day.

The Series Women on Fire will be continued over the next months and you’ll see some powerful women sharing their compassion and secrets to fill up their tanks. Stay tuned…

I wish you all a wonderful Sunday – put a spotlight on you, all you’ve created and just enjoy some Weekend Bliss. That’s all you gonna do – and that’s enough and beautiful.

Yours, Gertraud

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