Expat Living: What Good Is An Identity Crisis If You Can’t Enjoy It?

“Alan, you seem to think we won’t like you unless you do things just like everyone else. Have you ever thought we might like you because you’re different?” 
― Tamora PierceAlanna: The First Adventure  

One of the great joys of being an expat is forever meeting new friends…likewise, one of the great difficulties of being an expat is losing good friends every other year or so.

It’s like the tides… high tide brings new project teams and families that tag along looking for the ready-made expat community that company jobs create (mostly). I find that each time friends leave, a part of me leaves with them. I’ve been fortunate that a few of them have landed in Washington DC, not so far away, but we now have so many other obligations, we don’t get together like we used to when we were all we had.

Consequently, I feel kind of like I have been in this low tide period since I repatriated. Waiting for the tide to come back in, or for me to be tossed back into the sea by some force of nature.  “Oh you need me back in …? Certainly, I could arrange it, Mr. President. How could I refuse?”  Keep waiting, starfish! There are a million others now who can do what you did.

ExPat Living: Is identity based on lineage, loyalty, or location?

Do You Know Who I Am?

As I have spent these years “reinventing myself for fun and profit,” as a favorite boss here liked to say, trying to do everything like everyone else here in Washington DC (it has soooo many unwritten rules, and classes of people- more so than any foreign country I have lived in!), I have sort of forgotten who I was. I continually find I don’t really have a good sense of who I am now that I am “home”.

Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth.
                                               –Jean Baudrillard


The other night in a long conversation with a friend, the question came up, “Where were you your favorite self?”

Interesting question isn’t it?

For expats, especially, as we are always having to squeeze into new cultures and fit into new routines.  Some fit better than others, and some new “selfs” are more natural to us.

I loved my time in Baku, even when it wasn’t easy.  Why so? For me, I have always felt that period was satisfying partly because I was making my own decisions, had my own money, and had friends I loved.I had job success, and felt completed.

So what’s so different now? I make my own decisions, I have my own money, my job pays well, and I have many friends here.  Why doesn’t this feel the same?  Why am I continuing to struggle to find myself, my passion, and create a business I can fall in love with all over again? I’m plenty “busy”, don’t get me wrong-  I just can’t seem to recreate that “completed” feeling.

Elvis Presley's early stage costume

                                                  ……………………….My next incarnation…

Is that what happens? Do we just get lucky once in our lives… and then nothing else?

No, no, that can’t be right!

I mean, really…

What good is an identity crisis if you can’t enjoy it??

I just turned 60 a couple weeks ago, and honestly, I thought this had a lot to do with that.

But the day came and went, I decided against the customary birthday blow-out in favor of my closest friends for dinner on the deck and a wine tasting evening for another group of close friends and neighbors- both fairly quiet affairs.

I seem unfazed as far as I can tell. I am the same today as a month ago today.

So far, no apparent depression over the age.

No, I keep thinking it must be something else, beyond age.

“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. … But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”
― Nick HornbyThe Polysyllabic Spree

If this quote conveys a true statement, yikes!

My bookshelves are filled floor to ceiling with communication, business strategy, productivity training tools, teaching information.  But nothing that alludes to my own “whimsical purchase”.  All those books on communication and not one word communicated about who I am? How can that be? Have I gotten so wrapped up in work that I have forgotten how to live?

“who are you

you are not a name
or a height, or a weight
or a gender
you are not an age
and you are not where you are from

you are your favorite books
and the songs stuck in your head
you are your thoughts
and what you eat for breakfast
on Saturday mornings

you are a thousand things
but everyone chooses
to see the million things
you are not

you are not
where you are from
you are
where you are going
and i’d like
to go there
― m.k

My favorite lines?

…  you are not where you are from,
you are where you are going


I’m not sure where I’m going yet; America’s favorite phrase these days seems to be, “It’s complicated.”  (It always is!)

Who knows what it takes to find that passion again, to find my sense of clear purpose, of being necessary, where that sense of “completedness” can find me again, but I keep my heart open for possibilities.

 I like this quote from Steve Jobs…

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”

[Stanford University commencement speech, 2005]”
― Steve Jobs

Clearly I don’t have all the answers… If this resonates with you or someone you know, I’d love to hear how you/they deal(t) with the “what next?” questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts on finding fulfillment in the “next life”-  uh,  post-expat, I mean!

I’ll bet there are more of us having this identity crisis than we suspect… am I right?

Share this with someone you know, who might be glad to stop and know we’re all in this together!

2 thoughts on “Expat Living: What Good Is An Identity Crisis If You Can’t Enjoy It?

  1. Hi Jonelle, I’m not post-expat but I had the same dilemma (in reverse) when I moved abroad. I didn’t move with a company or have a project waiting for me. My husband had a position and it was up to me to find out what I wanted to do.

    It took a while – I worked in my husband’s business for a bit, but that certainly wasn’t what I wanted to do. I sat down one day with pen and paper and made a list of all my interests (without judging whether they were viable careers) – just anything that I enjoyed doing. Then I made another list of my skills.

    It didn’t happen immediately, but eventually it all came together, and today, I’m doing what I love. I’m writing about history, culture, travel, and I’m using my language skills for research. I think the answer has to come from within you and it will come in its own time (unfortunately) – but it will come.

    Best -Margo


    • So true! This method is a good one, and as evidenced by your satisfaction and increasing ideas/opportunities, gets to the heart of the challenge.

      I have enjoyed sharing your book and various anecdotes with friends here who are fascinated with little known history!

      I’ll continue to sort it through. Talk here is that we may indeed be headed for a govt shutdown Dec 5th. Again… That’ll give me more time to think! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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