Identifying the Skills needed for Balance
Balance is a buzzword OFTEN thrown around without a lot of thought behind it.
Who wouldn't want to be balanced? I want to be balanced, and naturally we desperately want to avoid being out of balance. But what does that really mean? Balanced is equated with harmony, peace and rest. If we can achieve balance, then the rest of our life will simply flow, be in the zone and we will succeed in all that we do, moving from success to success without so much as breaking a sweat on our balanced little brows.
But that's not real life.
Balance is not a formula. It is not a set of mantras or platitudes one lives by. It does not mean that you get to do everything that you want, when you want, how you want with effortless aplomb.
Balance is more akin to surfing. The surfers ability to anticipate a wave, vigorously move their board into position, seize that wave at the right moment, mount the board smoothly and then make the continuous adjustments needed to respond to the changing wave face. It is awareness, focus, ability, correction action, and constant readjustment all working together. It is exhausting, often frustrating and almost magical when it all comes together.
So what do we need for balance?
A growing ability to read the waves.
New cultures create a whole host of challenges, some logistical in nature, some relational and some cultural. Having the humility to become a student of culture is essential.
Do shoes stay on or do shoes come off at the door? Do you haggle over a price, or accept it at stated value? What if someone offers you tea or invites you to their home, is it OK to accept? Should you invite someone to your house? Should I loan someone money? What do you wear to a ceremony? Did I offend that neighbor? How on earth do I repair that relationship?
Developing the ability to engage a social situation appropriately, to read between the lines of a culture, and to navigate day to day life is more challenging than we'd like to admit. We're usually good in our home culture because we grew up there (although we'd like to think it's due to our innate awesomeness!) No one is perfect, and the awkwardness can take years to overcome, but becoming more familiar with the world we live in is a process that we need to engage in. Ask questions, lots of questions, keep your eyes and ears open, because you're going to need to learn a new set of rules and a new normal.
The toughness to keep falling down, and the hardiness keep getting back up.
Sometime the win is just getting out the door, striking up one more conversation, or butchering one more sentence. Your latest failure means that you haven't given up yet. Anyone can try something once, but it takes a mentally tough person to fail consistently for days, weeks and even years. It takes even more courage to continue to put yourself in the position, knowing that you will most likely fail again. Falling of a surfboard hurts, mostly the pride, but what really hurts is the pushing yourself up into standing position again and again, knowing that you'll most likely fall off in a few brief seconds. Slowly, short moment of success become longer moments of success, but everyone pays their dues, and suffers embarrassing failure at the outset.
Choosing to celebrate your small successes.
Some days you will get it right. That can be a fortuitous accident, or it can be the result of progress. Either way, you should celebrate. Achieving balance in a new culture is a life-long process with seemingly glacial movement, until you meet a fellow expat who has absolutely no idea what they are doing. And then you feel like a genius. Be sure to give them a word of encouragement, and don’t rest on your laurels. We tend to be people who forget how difficult things were in the past. Don't compare yourself to other people. Celebrate your own wins. Celebrate other people's wins. We are all working with a different set of challenges, coming from different backgrounds, utilizing different abilities, and chasing different opportunities. Seeing a good wave becomes a success. Getting on the board becomes a success. Staying upright for 10 seconds becomes a success. Don't discount your successes because someone who's spent their entire life on the beach is making it look as easy as opening a Coke. Appreciate where you are, and what you've done. There's a lot more to celebrate in life then we think, if we look for it.
Staying hydrated involves two things- self-knowledge and the discipline to actually do what you need to in order to thrive. A lot of the time it's easier to just react to life, respond to stimuli and roll with the fight / flight response when we get stressed out, even though we know fight / flight usually makes things worse, not better. Staying hydrated means that you have an understanding of what your needs are (not your wants and desires, those can be totally different things) and then taking the appropriate steps to stay healthy. Spending a day surfing in the equatorial sun without drinking any water doesn't make you tough, it makes you stupid. Americans (sorry to the fellow Americans out there) tend to excel in this particular foolishness. We like to give medals to the person who is the most tired, most worn down and most miserable. Never mind the well documented decreases in productivity, accuracy and effectiveness that come along with this dehydrated status. Never mind the burnout and danger that comes with inhibited decision making. People who are "hydrated" are able to handle stress, unforeseen circumstances, their emotional reserves help them see the needs of those around them, and allow them the resources to engage others. Staying hydrated in life isn't a luxury, it is an absolute necessity for anyone who wants to thrive abroad.
Maybe you surf. Maybe you don't. Either way, keeping balance abroad is a dynamic pursuit. You don't get to use yesterday's victories to fight today's battles. Yesterday's balance helps today's challenges, but it doesn't guarantee success. Today's a new day, wiht new difficulties and new oppurtunities, so get back out on the waves!