The end of the year begs for a bit of reflection and resolution making. Moving abroad has that same vibe and urges many of us to make big plans for life in a new place. I suppose turning over a new leaf is universally appealing because let’s be real, telling ourselves we’ll be good tomorrow justifies some indulgence today.
I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions and grand plans. On the one hand, I love structure and lists and goals. On the other, I kind of suck at the discipline required to follow through with them. It won’t surprise you then when I say that contrary to what I expected when I first said adios to the U.S. in 2014, I’m still over here struggling with the same things.
I’ve said before that living abroad will not make you a happier person. Today I am realizing that neither will it make you a different (which most of us assume means better) person. I hate to break it to anyone who’s out there idealizing life abroad but it turns out that the old cliché of “wherever you go, there you are” is oozing and overflowing with truth.
Psychologists say that 80% of New Year’s resolutions are long forgotten by the beginning of February. And although I haven’t read any studies, I know the same can be said for the grandiose intentions we expats set for our new lives. I left the U.S. dreaming of Spanish fluency and an outgoing personality only to find myself in Colombia, still an inert hermit.
A big reason that resolutions (and grand expat plans) fail stems from our expectations. We think that if we lose weight, get organized, or have a magic opportunity to start over that we’ll be happy or fulfilled or whatever. When that doesn’t automatically happen, we revert to old behaviors and likely kick ourselves a time or two on the way back.
While we’re planning and dreaming, we also usually completely ignore the fact that whatever obstacles we face today will find a way to follow us wherever we go. I know I did—hi, I’m still over here procrastinating! I always want to tell future expats (or those who wish they were) that hinging a complete 180° shift of your habits on a moment doesn’t really pan out. True, moving abroad offers a big catalyst for change. Just don’t forget that you won’t get a new personality with your new zip code.
Ok, ok, I’m not still the same person as I was a few years ago. It’s just that the changes I saw were a little slower and harder fought than I anticipated. So in light of the new year and resolutions and all that, I say start with smaller, more measurable goals. Focus on changing one habit at a time, instead of going for it all at once. Celebrate the baby steps toward your goal.
Most of all, keep your focus on mindfulness. Staying in the moment means you’re happy and fulfilled now, instead of putting it off until you achieve XYZ. Being in a new environment and having to build a life from scratch does give you a unique opportunity to reinvent yourself. But you also don’t need to wait for it.