Tag Archives: vulnerability

Cracked.


I was sitting here working on the interviews I did recently and suddenly felt inspired to share with you all the experience I had a couple weeks ago. As you know, this expat journey has been an interesting one for me. I have felt challenged in every single way and have been fairly open about it. It is authentically me to be open, and my dear friends and family can attest to that. Vulnerability is not for everyone though, I get it. I get the risks in being vulnerable, especially publicly. The word ‘vulnerable’ is literally about risk and is an inherently negative word. I often question if it’s the right thing to do. But sitting here, rewatching the interview videos and again listening to these intelligent business and political leaders talk about it, confirmed that it’s the right thing, for me. Because it is authentically me. I say all this about vulnerability because I am about to share this photo….

Yep, that’s me. Cracking on stage. In front of loads of people. And it was caught by the camera. Oh, lord. The thing is, I realize there have only been a handful of meaningful connections since I moved abroad. In this photographed moment I was asked what I valued most from the summit. And in that moment what I realized that I valued was more than just the topic. It was human connection, a community. The value of my people, for me, is beyond measure. But for two and a half years I have just been putting my head down and getting through it. Without many people. I get to travel a bit so I can’t be struggling that badly, right? It must just be ME not being able to find a job or a community that I fit into. What the hell is wrong with me?!

I have been hesitant to write it out loud because one, I do not want make broad, general statements about a culture and two, what if my future Dutch employer reads this? But a funny thing happened when I had that vulnerable and, truthfully, embarrassing moment. My internal hurt was exposed and I was horrified but, rather than judgement, there were many kind women that approached me with love and support. Turns out the struggle is common and oh so real here. Not just for me. It’s not just me. There is nothing wrong with me. And every day this struggle is confirmed by more and more expats I have been meeting, who all nod their head knowingly like “Yup, that’s the expat struggle in this land…” As for concern number two? Well I am convinced now that there will be no Dutch employer per se. And that is also quite common for an expat here, sadly.

I don’t know how I actually became “Chief Interviewer of Some Pretty Amazing Keynote Speakers” (not the official title) at the summit, but I did. Actually, that’s not true. This year has been unfolding right before my eyes and I can tell you exactly how I got to each milestone. What was meant to be blogging for the summit organically morphed into researching the speakers, watching their presentations, and then having the opportunity to sit down with them individually to interview them. And this wasn’t just any summit, it was a summit about empowering women for leadership and impact. This year has been unfolding in ways I couldn’t have imagined and, truth be told (because that’s what I do here), I am terrified. I realize now that my community is going to be different than what I had expected and I am pretty excited about my new people. The overall message that I really connected with at the summit was this: be thoughtful about what we want — first know our purpose, our why, then gather our facts, then come to the table with this package. And don’t stop showing up to the table. It was about understanding that we have a choice in the type of organization or community we work for or with. Or live.

Please Excuse My Absence

I did not publish a blog post last week because of the attacks on women’s rights in the United States. My blog is essentially about vulnerability and I struggled to focus, reign in, “control” my emotions, because there were a lot of them swirling around in my head and my heart. And I just didn’t want to be publicly vulnerable, about anything. In a sense I felt like I was letting myself down as I’m just getting started on this blog thing. But I am old enough now to know that if I don’t want to, I don’t have to.

In the end I emotionally fell at angry. Angry that women have to keep reliving their pain publicly just to have what respected global organizations, like the United Nations and World Health Organization call human rights. (Let me be clear, this is not just about abortion for me. This is about the autonomy of our bodies and the rights of women to determine their own family planning. I know women who have struggled in a variety of ways on this subject.) So I did not share last week. And to be honest, have struggled to finish any post this week. I have several unfinished drafts sharing my expat story but am struggling to find value in any of them at this particular moment. I may be an expat but the US is my roots, my culture, my people. I am still a voting US citizen. It will always be home. And what is happening there terrifies me.

A friend of mine had a great idea about sharing the cultural differences on the subject, and at some point I will write a more eloquent piece explaining how domestic and world politics affect ones decisions and life as an expat, but for now I am unable to put it into words.  For my American readers there is no need to explain the feeling. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum there is just… denseness in the air.

The purpose of this blog was really to show that no matter where you live, there you are. The things that affect you don’t change because you’ve changed location. But it is also to inspire a community where it is okay to share our stories, if we want to. And just by reading your comments and seeing what you are all doing, I believe I am already successful.

Suck It Up, Buttercup

I never considered a static life. I suppose many of my friends and family would not call their lives static but to me, never leaving where I grew up seemed fixed, not growing, not developing, static…(don’t @ me, I understand life differently now). I don’t know why I came to feel like this. Maybe it started because I was born on foreign soil, but was not there long enough to make memories, and that fact about myself always intrigued me? What I do know is that where I was, was not where I belonged.

The intention of this blog is to have open dialogue about vulnerability so I have to tell you that I have almost always been what I called a “nervous child.” I remember very clearly the day when my father and I were driving in the car and he said to me, “I think it’s important for you to be involved in a sport. What sport would you like to play?” And my answer was, “Well, what did YOU play? I want to do what you did.” And this is how I came to be a competitive distance runner at five-years-old. I was winning Women’s Divisions at a very young age. I was good, really good. I share this story because this is when I distinctly remember the “nervous child” kicking in. I always, and I mean always, worked myself up into a terrible stomach situation before a race or track meet. No matter how good my odds for success were. This carried on into anything I did that made me uncomfortable, and still does today.

Turns out that “nervous child” syndrome I diagnosed myself with is actually anxiety. Give me any amount of time and I will consider every outcome a brain could possibly imagine. But when I was younger I was never allowed to “quit.” By today’s standards it would probably seem cruel but I think my dad’s “suck it up buttercup” attitude helped me do things that my brain and stomach would have talked me out of (it is also why I have made some terrible decisions -the “just do it” attitude swings too far sometimes- but that’s another blog…). Basically, I can talk myself out of ANY opportunity in three seconds, flat.

We took a family trip outside of the country when I was 14. At 17 I traveled for the first time without my family. At 18 I moved across the US with the intention of never moving back, having a career that required me to travel all the time leaving no room in my life for kids, maybe not even a husband. What’s that poem about the best laid plans going awry?! At 23 I finally had my first chance to travel to Europe (sans that birth stint). After many years filled with more opportunities to travel, I sold nearly all of my things, gambled on a potential job opportunity (well I was gambling on the whole thing really), packed two suitcases, two waist-high boxes (this was mostly clothes and shoes that I had no business bringing to Northern Europe by the way) and became an expat.

I never really had to think about it prior to now, but I believe that my “suck it up” upbringing, exposure to travel, my intrigue with different cultures and lifestyles, and my “nervous child” syndrome is what has allowed me to do anything in my life that might look amazing. Some that know me would say that I am a “jump feet first” kind of person; That I don’t consider the “negatives” enough. But those that really know me know that I painstakingly consider all details, of everything, all the time, to the point that it can be debilitating and THAT is when I say, “Fuck it, Buttercup. We’re gonna do this.”

But, Why…?

In my brain I assume that three to five of my friends and/or family will read this and quietly criticize me, but cheer me on to my face (“You’re doing great, sweetie!”) because, well, that’s just what my brain does. But a few things have happened recently that brought me here. One, I saw Michelle Obama speak on her book tour. Two, I have been without a job, in a foreign country, for two years and have been on a journey (and I do not use that term lightly!) to find the “right opportunity.” Three, I posted something on social media recently and was taken aback by the comments. Not because they were negative but because people said things like: they admired me, that I was adventurous, that I was gutsy… and I felt like a fraud.

“You are connecting with my vulnerability, and that’s the opposite of what we’re taught. We are taught to hide ourselves. Particularly women and people of color. People who feel marginalized. People who aren’t wealthy, who don’t have status. People who are working hard everyday who feel unseen. Because the truth is […], we don’t all hear our stories told in a profound way and […] that creates a level of invisibility, so we hide ourselves. But I think that the opposite is true. That, if we can open up a little bit more to each other, and share our stories, our REAL stories. Our pain and our triumphs, our hopes and our joys. In the little journeys that we all take, that’s what breaks down barriers.” -Michelle Obama Ziggo Dome April 2019

“Dare to be Vulnerable”

Maybe my expat life looks like a gutsy adventure to someone else. When I asked friends and family what they would like me to write about it was unanimously my American in Europe experience. I imagine the social media lens has a lot to do with that, but the reality for me is that this is the most difficult time in my life. I try to be honest. I don’t go on social media to create an image or ideal, I truly just want to share what is bringing me joy. But I am also not posting photos of my therapist-prescribed Mindfulness Group. Or the two years worth of job rejection letters. Or writing manifestos about how I feel this move aged me faster in two years than the previous 40 and I’m just not okay with that yet. That I loved my experience at an elephant sanctuary soooo much but REALLY REALLY (like a lot) struggled to post photos of myself blissed out, because I was in a bathing suit (I prayed to Chrissy Teigen for the strength to do it). How many of us relate to THOSE stories? Most of us.

“You first have to believe that your story has value and we all don’t believe that. Most of us don’t.”

So that is why. Maybe only three to five of my friends and/or family will show up here and quietly judge me. Maybe there won’t be many people willing to ACTUALLY be vulnerable because, let’s be honest, that shit ain’t easy! But what Michelle Obama said really spoke to me; In order to break down barriers for women and people of color we need to tell our stories. Maybe I stop waiting for the “right opportunity” and create an online community of regular folks, who feel unseen, sharing their REAL stories. A place where our stories have value. A place where we say, “Wow. THAT PART. I have felt that too and felt really alone until I heard your story.” Tell our stories. Become less invisible. Break down barriers.