top of page

Accelerating to that big sigh of arrival as an expat

I have arrived. My UK provisional driving license has arrived. I have experienced all four seasons in Oxford, my new and not so new home. The other day I was out and about with my Mum. As we were waiting for a bus to take us home, Mum commented that I really knew my way around now. Knowing the different bus routes that shuttle me to and from home is such a deliciousness in the familiarity like freshly baked bread.


And it is always the little things that you sense, beyond those you just do, no matter how many times you have moved, languages you have managed through and some mastered, that make you feel you belong, and that you have come home, a home beyond just a roof.


After a period of exploring and data collecting in a new country, in any new surroundings, getting to know where your favourite neighbourhood grocer, butcher, eatery, café, book shop, and the like are provides what Abraham Maslow refers to our physiological and psychological needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs sets physiological needs at the base, followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem or psychological needs in the middle, and self-actualization or self-fulfillment needs at the pinnacle. This hierarchy offers a framework to describe the progression of human needs and aspirations.


Whitney Johnson states that motivation to continue and confidence in the outcome are hallmarks of people in the Accelerator stage, the third stage on the S-Curve of Learning. The Accelerator stage is the first stage in the Sweet Spot phase of the S Curve. It took me a year to arrive at the Accelerator stage. It crept in quietly, without much fanfare. I almost missed it. I question, from time to time, my need for this move. I do, however, feel this big sigh of relief bubbling up and I know I’m staying on this S Curve.

Coming into confidence

At the heart of the Accelerator stage is the Self-Determination Theory, which suggests that three basic psychological needs contribute to a person’s well-being and motivation. Johnson introduces CAR as a mnemonic device for the three basic psychological needs: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness. These elements represent key factors that contribute to an individual’s motivation and engagement during the stage of rapid learning and growth. Competency involves mastering skills, autonomy refers to the freedom to make decisions, and relatedness relates to connecting with others. These aspects are crucial for maximizing performance and satisfaction during the Acceleration stage of the S Curve.


Competence signifies feeling effective in one’s actions. Competency involves mastering skills and gaining a deep understanding of the tasks at hand. Developing competency provides a sense of capability and confidence, crucial for success during the Accelerator stage. I remember the numerous phone calls I made to sign my pets up with a neighbourhood vet and the difficulties of opening a bank account when I first arrived. And then I felt confident enough to apply for a provisional driving license, which has just arrived. I have driven before, in America, some decades ago. Now I can take lessons. I know I will soon have a car and be a driver again, driving on the other side of the road. There is an equilibrium with effort exerted that yields forward movement. I am settling in my new home.


Autonomy refers to the control and choice we have over our actions and decisions. Autonomy is vital for fostering creativity, initiative, and a sense of ownership in one’s work or learning journey. According to Johnson, autonomy speeds up our acceleration. While I was born in Hong Kong and have spent decades in countries other than Hong Kong, the decision to relocate to the UK has been my choice. Once the decision was made and throughout the relocation and resettlement process, there remains a consistent and persistent sweet focus to charge forward with gear gleefully shifted up, on alert to problem-solve. I continue to believe that all will work out. 


Relatedness involves forming meaningful connections with others, building a sense of belonging and collaboration. Establishing positive relationships contributes to a supportive environment, fostering growth and well-being. Being an introvert and working primarily from home, this has been a slow haul for me. My Mum visited with me for more than nine months during my first year here in Oxford, the longest time I have spent with her since I left Hong Kong when I was 16. I somehow did not know how to extricate myself to broaden my connectedness as I navigate my new surroundings. My Mum and I are from different worlds that transcends intergenerational gap. We speak different languages that goes beyond cultures and families. Realizing that saddens me, always. I find belonging in being a third culture kid (TCK), an idea that eludes my Mum completely even though she has been the architect of the outcome. With intentions, I have made connections and developed networks.


The CAR principle underscores the interconnectedness of competency, autonomy, and relatedness in driving individual and collective success. Modelling CAR enhances motivation, engagement, and overall performance during periods of rapid learning and growth. This is the beginning at the Sweet Spot.

Are you sweet-spotting?

Let me know how you scale your S-Curve of Learning:

  • Are you going fast now?

  • Do you feel competent, autonomous, and related?.

  • What are your tips on leading your team as they sweet-spot on the S Curve?

Subscribe to Just Be with Lina to receive my next monthly newsletter, to explore how being, rather than doing, can better support us through uncertainty, living on the periphery as expats and third culture kids (TCKs). This is the fourth of a series modelling Whitney Johnson’s S-Curve of Learning and Growth, with suggestions from ChatGPT. If you want to dive deeper, contact me to explore how coaching can support you.

10 views0 comments


bottom of page