Easing into the new year

As I wrote in my previous post, over the past month (nearly two) I’ve taken a break from working on my various projects. Now it’s January and I’m beginning to ease into the new year. I am taking my huge to-do list and breaking it down into manageable pieces. I’m trying to prioritise which projects need to be completed now, which could slowly use a little attention, and which can wait. I’m trying to balance passion and practicality – while keeping a firm hold on my health.

One decision I’ve made is that while I want to get back to posting regularly, I will not try to write new blog posts every week in January.  Instead, I am going to highlight some previous posts that have been popular. I will share some of the comments I’ve received from readers.

I also plan to start sharing the backload of Recommended Reading, but to begin with I may end up with simpler comments rather than full summaries and reflections. I need to start somewhere, and I’m trying to start small.

After that, however, I want to get writing again! And I’d love to know what you’d like to see me writing about. Do you have any questions about TCKs, the Third Culture, expatriate life, what it means to grow up cross-culturally, or anything else? Send me your questions! I may not have all the answers, but that will just give me more to learn so I can share it with you.

What would you like to learn about?

What would you like to share?

What do you want to know?

What do you wish others knew about your experience?

My inspiration for writing has always come from people. Sometimes it comes from listening to struggles – parents who feel guilty or discouraged, TCKs who feel confused or misunderstood, expatriates who feel alone and disconnected. Sometimes it comes from listening to joys – celebrating lives of cross-cultural confusion and joy, finding your own way through international life, or fondly reminscing over a time and place and community that may no longer exist outside memory.

Whatever is on your mind, I would love to hear from you.

I look forward to hearing your stories, as I always have!

Sorry-not-sorry: taking a guilt-free break

I started to write a post apologising for my silence lately, my lack of online presence, the lists of great expat and TCK related posts I haven’t got around to sharing, or even more than skim read. Then I realised I don’t need to apologise – hence the sorry-not-sorry title for this post.

I don’t need to apologise because I haven’t done anything wrong. I have actually done something right! It’s something I need to learn to do better – and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

I took a break.

I’ve previously mentioned the health difficulties I’ve faced over the past two months. A chest infection triggered severe acute asthma that eventually landed me in emergency in the middle of the night. I’ve seen five or more doctors in two countries. I’ve been prescribed over a dozen medications (I can’t be bothered to count them all!!) The bottom line is that I’ve spent a lot of time really exhausted. I haven’t had the energy to physically look after myself appropriately let alone focus my mind on work. It’s been very challenging, very frustrating, and progress has felt FAR too slow for my liking.

I was just started to feel well when I went on a trip to Australia. I did a lot of things but the main reason to go was to meet my two new nephews, as well as see my toddler niece again! I felt fine at first but started to struggle again resulting in more steroids. I also brought a case of gastro back to Beijing with me (a gift from my nephew) but at least I’m now feeling more on top of the asthma, really for the first time.

Through most of this time I was working to keep this blog updated, respond to emails, prepare the next stage of work for my next book, write articles requested of me by various publications. But I wasn’t managing it, couldn’t stay on top of it – I was falling short on every metric. I couldn’t take care of my basic needs, and yet I still feltIMG_20181122_093918_297.jpg the pressure to keep up with external activities.

After landing in hospital a week before my Australia trip, I finally decided to stop. No work until January. I wrote to a few people who were waiting on me, explaining the situation. I let go of a bunch of projects I felt an urgency to be working on. I let a lot of things lapse. And I didn’t feel guilty about it.

That’s the hard part for me. Not identifying that I need rest, or what I need to let go of, and even more than actually taking a break – taking a true mental break. Not even THINKING or worrying about the things I think I should be doing, and not feeling guilty for taking a break that was much needed. I know I’m not the only one. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Perhaps it’s a false belief that my worth lies in what I can DO for others. If I’m not doing something useful, who am I?

Perhaps it comes from caring – and a false belief that worry shows care. If I’m not doing something, and I’m not worrying about that, do I really care?

Perhaps it comes from insecurity about the value of my work. If I’m not taking every opportunity, pursuing every connection, squeezing out every drop of effort, will I ever get anywhere?

Perhaps it comes from using busyness to crowd out the needs of my heart. If I can’t hear my feelings, I don’t have to deal with my hurts.

It’s probably all of the above, for me. Perhaps some or all of these are true for you, too?

What I do know is that stepping away from a lot of things in order to focus on my health and my family was the best decision – even if it feels irresponsible or lazy, or any other accusation I throw at myself!

As I’ve talked with thousands of TCKs over the years, many have expressed a sense of pressure to excel, fear of failure, and a compulsion to keep moving – whether phsysically moving to a new location, emotionally never stopping to feel, or non-stop perfectionist working. And especially as I think through my new project (a book for twenty-something TCKs) I suspect that this season of struggle is particularly important. I have been forced to rest, and forced to face the reasons I resist rest. Perhaps the lessons I’m learning now, in doing “nothing”, will benefit others down the track.

I’ll close this odd little post with good wishes to all of you – that you will take your own guilt-free breaks, long and short, wherever you can find (and make!) them.