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How to embrace vulnerability to trust-leap into the unknown

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

This article was first published on LinkedIn

Rachel Botsman considers trust to be “the bridge or the social glue between the known and the unknown.” She describes trust as the “force that allows us to overcome uncertainty, to be vulnerable, to try something new or do something differently.” Trust is accordingly defined as “a confident relationship with the unknown.”

As expats, we are constantly being asked to step onto this “bridge between the known and unknown,” to embrace vulnerability. This sense of vulnerability has been particularly pronounced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic with borders becoming restrictive and lengthy cumbersome quarantine requirements that result in family members not able to travel to be with one another, and for some, it has been for as long as the pandemic has lasted.

My husband and I are both development professionals living and working outside of our home country, the United States, for a quarter of a century now. Due to our work, we’ve been keeping separate households in different geographical areas, spanning multiple time zones, and hardly ever spent a full month together for over a decade. My work has been based in Jakarta since 1997 and my husband’s across East Asia Pacific, Ghana, and currently in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Just as my husband moved to PNG in the autumn of 2019, I packed a 40-foot container and relocated from Jakarta, where I had lived for two decades, to Taiwan, where I had never lived in, to be closer to my aging mom, and still in the same region as my husband. I continued to consult remotely and coach virtually via zoom, not realizing the emerging work-life shift that remote and hybrid work arrangements would become the norm.

As Covid-19 morphed into pandemic status, my husband was “evacuated” out of PNG, and back to the United States first because Taiwan, as with many countries across the globe, had closed its border to non-citizens and non-residents. It eventually took a couple of months for him to receive a special entry permit as spouse of a resident to enter Taiwan. In the midst of uncertainty, we got to shelter-in-place together in Taiwan under the same roof for eight months straight, a rare occasion in our twenty-three years of marriage. I also got to live in the same city as my mom, first time in four decades, contributing to her well-being, responding to her needs more immediately, accompanying her to shopping, to her medical check-ups, and having lunch once a week.

Who knows what is good and what is bad?

Shirzad Chamine retells this century-old Chinese parable, the stallion story, about this old man who initially lost his prized horse. Later, the horse found his way back to the old man bringing along a herd of wild horses. The old man’s son tried to tame one of these wild horses and was thrown off the saddle fracturing his leg. Soon after, the imperial army came through to draft eligible young men for the imminent war. The son was spared due to his fractured leg. At each of the inflection points of the story, the refrain is: Who knows what is good and what is bad?

The lesson in the stallion story is less about musing over the inflection points of one’s life—whether these are good or bad, lucky or unlucky—but more about experiencing life as it comes. In fact, in Chamine’s Positive Intelligence framework, these inflection points, where one feels most vulnerable, are opportunities to reframe and convert into gifts. He further labels this ability to turn every outcome or circumstance into a gift and opportunity, the shift from negative to positive mindset, as the sage perspective.

With the pandemic raging waves after waves, rippling from different parts of the world, and with my husband now back at his post in PNG, I find myself sheltering in place in Taiwan, my newly adopted home. I’ve not so come to grips with vulnerability, but at once buoyed by Brené Brown’s assertion that “vulnerability is the birthplace of things like love and joy.” I find myself pausing and reflecting my own life transitions. There’s this trust that I’m really not stuck in place and time.

For me, Covid-19 presents an inflection point that offers me three gifts: (1) extended time-spent with my husband; (2) adapt and adopt remote work modality; and (3) pause-and-reflect time to clarify what matters most.

How do you convert your life’s inflection points into gifts and opportunities?

Shifting to the sage perspective allows us to cultivate trust to leap into a new normal. We get to embrace vulnerability, get unstuck in the now, and design our own gifts in times of uncertainty. What has your experience been? What is it like to be an expat nowadays?

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