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Do we disrupt ourselves for growth by crossing countries as expats?

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

This article was first published on LinkedIn

I have been on pause. I have also entered a new launch point of what Whitney Johnson callsS-Curve of Learning. Once again I packed my household goods into another forty-foot container. This time is to Oxford, UK from Tainan City, Taiwan.

I left Taipei Airport a month and a half ago and flew to Oxford with my 16-year-old Domestic Short Hair, 12-year-old Scottish Terrier, and my 86-year-old Mum via Amsterdam, where my cat and dog crossed the English Channel by car with their minder, and I flew with Mum to LHR. There were long delays at AMS for my Mum and me as well as at Calais for my pets. So symbolic, with stops and starts, as I scale the S Curve. I am in Oxford now, for just over a month. The container is still enroute to Oxford, for another month.

“Growth is our default setting”

Shirzad Chamine states that “we all knew how to explore in a pure way, experiencing great curiosity and fascination in discovery.” And that it is the Sage way to “activate this exploration mind-set even in the midst of a great crisis.” The ability to explore therefore opens up space for discovery, to be in awe, to be fascinated. At the first phase of the S-Curve of Learning, the Explorer phase, Johnson outlines seven questions or reflections as a guide through the exploration.

1) Is it achievable? I remember nine months ago, as I flipped through my various passports, there was this overwhelming sense of loss, feeling like an alien living in my parents’ passport country, even though I was speaking and reading the local language. Triggered by my landlady informing me that she was not to renew my lease when the lease expired in six months, and with the daily multiple defensive sorties overhead (The Economist did brand Taiwan “The most dangerous place on Earth” the previous year afterall), I started the process of renewing my British National Overseas (BNO) passport that had lapsed. I received my brand-new BNO passport a month or so later. It was another month or so later that I submitted my BNO visa application, and was subsequently granted entry clearance to the UK. It was not yet clear then that I was to disrupt my life yet again by relocating to the UK.

2) Is it easy to test? I decided to move to Taiwan five years ago and completed the move three years ago after detailed planning and multiple trips over to get acquainted with the place that I would call home. Somehow I never felt settled even though everyone thought I would, with in-country family members and familiar culture, food and language. I continued to feel stagnant. Maybe it was because of the pandemic. Intuitively, I knew it was more than that, and I felt I was what Adam Grant called languishing and there was no catalyst to regenerate, to snap out of it. Once it became evident that Taiwan would not be my forever home, I knew I needed to disrupt myself. Somehow I was not ready for the familiar US that I had called my home country ever since I lived and worked in Indonesia for two decades. The move to the UK was almost by default. The US was not novel. When I mentioned to my Mum that I was considering moving to the UK pending paperwork, she said she would come along for a long visit.

3) Is it familiar yet novel? I went to the UK for two years for my A-levels more than four decades ago. Cloistered in this little boarding school all those years ago has forever romanticized my memory. After sitting my A-levels, I left for the US to visit family for the summer and stayed on for college, grad school, work and marriages. There is definite familiarity to be in the UK. There is yet more novelty embedded. It is like life not yet lived in the UK.

4) Does it fit my identity? My first passport was British. Back then, there was no BNO designation. I started my expat life when I left my parents’ home in Hong Kong as a teenager. I have never felt completely home anywhere since then. I have instead morphed into an adult third culture/cross-cultural kid (#TCK/CCK). Coming to the UK enables me to launch a new S Curve, to find my tribe, to build my belonging.

5) Is the reward worth the cost? The tension between known and unknown is the tension between trust and uncertainty. Rachel Botsman defines trust as “a confident relationship with the unknown.” She describes “trust as a remarkable force that allows us to overcome uncertainty, to be vulnerable, to try something new or do something differently.” She further depicts trust as “the bridge or the social glue between the known and the unknown.” My relocating to the UK encapsulates at once the anguish (the uncertainty and unknown) and excitement (the trust and known) espoused in the S-Curve of Learning.

6) Does it align with my values? For me, it is bliss to unlearn, learn, relearn, and repeat. Of all the uncertainty, to be living in Oxford, the City of the Dreaming Spires, I believe I will continue to aspire.

7) Is this my why? I believe I am at the precipice of formulating my why.

Are you embarking on a new S Curve?

Johnson’s recipe for the S Curve is to “grow yourself to grow your people to grow your company.” I’m curious and would love to hear from you.

  • In the post-pandemic world, are you launching a new S-Curve?

  • What are your reflections on the seven questions for the Explorer phase of the S-Curve of Learning and Growth?

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 #TCKs/CCKs. This is the first of a series modeling the S-Curve of Learning and Growth. If you want to dive deeper, contact me to explore how coaching can support you.



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