Any big change involves some risk — but not changing is risky, too! Just ask the company that used to make vinyl records, or the transportation firm that thought those new-fangled horseless carriages were just a fad.
Some people have a high risk tolerance. Would you be comfortable packing a few changes of clothes into a backpack and setting out for parts unknown? I wouldn’t — but some people do just that.
Then there are those who have to plan every tiny detail. In the end, they don’t go anywhere because they’re too frightened of the unexpected.
Fortunately, most of us fall somewhere in the middle.
How can you balance the adventure/risk component of moving overseas against planning and safety?
For starters, you need to know yourself pretty well. . .
Know Your Risk Tolerance
Sometimes it’s obvious. If you thrill to jumping out of an airplane, can’t wait to try that really big bungee jump or stake your entire life savings on one card in a Texas Hold ‘Em poker game, you have a high tolerance for risk. You’d probably be comfortable with the backpack-heading out scenario, so this article’s really not for you.
Conversely, if you wouldn’t dream of stepping outside to go to the mailbox without checking the weather first and putting your extra money into a bank CD is the only “investment” you’ll consider, you’re very risk averse. This article probably isn’t for you either.
But if you’re one of the majority in between those two extremes, you need to figure out how much risk you’re willing to take, how much planning you’ll do to minimize the risk, and how much ambiguity you’re able to tolerate. What kind of expat will you be?
You can start with some personality tests. There are plenty available online — here’s a list of the more common tests. There are also tests to specifically measure risk taking. You’ll find quite a few if you Google “personality test risk taker.”
How Well Do You Plan?
Even the jumper-out-of-airplanes plans ahead to minimize risk by strapping on a parachute (or sometimes two!).
In the movie One Fine Day, Michelle Pfeiffer’s character carries a purse that seems equipped for any possible eventuality — even creating superhero costumes for the kids on the spur of the moment. “Where do you get a bag like that?” George Clooney asks her.
Easy. She’s a super-planner. I have a friend like that. Need a bandaid? Safety pin? Spare anything? She’ll have it with her. Super-planners know exactly how much they spend on everything and what their savings or investment account balance is at any moment.
At the other end of the spectrum is the person who can’t plan what route to drive to the supermarket.
If you’re going to become an expat, planning is a necessity.
Are You Comfortable with Ambiguity?
Change and ambiguity go hand in hand, and the bigger the change, the greater the uncertainty. Are you an “everything is either black or white” person, or are you comfortable with shades of gray?
Use Your Past Experience
If you’ve moved before — and most of us have — you have some personal history to help you figure out how you’ll handle an overseas move.
Your experience with any major life change can be put to good use, in fact.
Think about some of your biggest life changes. They might include
- applying for/choosing a college
- entering the job market
- changing jobs
- overseas travel
- having kids
- changing careers
- going back to school as an adult
Chances are, none of those events happened by accident.
Think about how you felt before, during and after any of these life-changing events. Happy? Excited? Overwhelmed? Scared? Angry?
What did you do to tone down the excitement levels, reduce the fear or manage the overwhelm? How did you cope with the people close to you who told you that you couldn’t/shouldn’t do that?
Did you envision what your life would be like after the wedding, the graduation party, or the baby’s birth? How close was the reality? How did you handle the differences?
Use those planning and coping skills you’ve developed throughout your life to smooth your overseas move.
We’ll be talking more about this over the coming weeks and months.
How do you plan in order to minimize the risk of a big change? Share your strategies in the comments section below.