As a recently transplanted Expat, you don’t yet have a familiar routine. You don’t yet have a favorite café where you’re a familiar face. You don’t know the quickest way to get to town. And you don’t know where to look for work or for pre-packaged friends. In one moment it can feel like the world is your oyster and in another it can feel like everything is up in the air.
When I’m both inside that oyster or up the air, I find myself constantly searching for things that are new, more interesting, better, or bound to make the cut for a spot in my new life in Germany. I don’t notice this constant search for the next reward, maybe because it is so common. We let our lives be run by the automatic drive to the next cup of coffee, the next project completed, the next paycheck, the next degree completed, and on and on. Recently I’ve been chasing Internet connection, and here it’s not in every shop like in the good ol’ USA. Literally the other day I was seen running down the street towards Starbucks so I could receive a call over the Internet. Two workmen, four phone calls in broken German, and seven weeks later, we still have no Internet connection (customer service is not exactly a priority here). I’m sure you all sympathize with agonies like this, but few actually question why I really need Internet in the first place… I always manage to put on a good act for myself and everyone else: based on my frustration level one would think it was a matter of survival!
Yet nothing will really change once I have that satisfying outcome. It will be quickly forgotten; I won’t spend the rest of my days putting “Internet” on my gratitude list. It is the feeling of completion, satisfaction, or having enough that we seek. This is why Apple is so successful: every two years there is a new model that we don’t have yet! This is why it is so hard to go on a diet: there is never quite enough food, not quite enough comfort. We will never be satisfied until we change something internal.
I did not reach this awareness about my chase until a social worker here explained to me during my pursuit of potential employers, “if we were friendly, then I would help you. But we aren’t—I don’t know you… I think you’ve come to the wrong place.” Granted I had no appointment and just showed up with a knock on her office door. Nonetheless, sometimes a rude awaking is what we need. This woman apologized for being direct, “maybe you’ve experienced ‘the German way’ already,” but only after helping me for twenty minutes and leaving me with several contacts. I told her I was extremely grateful (a statement way off the charts for the German emotional scale) and that I thought directness is a good thing. In Germany people don’t pretend anything or make false promises. She genuinely helped me by telling me her poor impression of my approach. Because I was unsatisfied by the answers I had gotten, I kept searching for better answers in wrong places and before my German is good enough to work.
But there is something so hard about sitting still!
As a coach, I look for these uncomfortable moments that can be turned around and learned from. This woman gave me the gift of realizing that what I was desperately looking for is what I already have. I am in German class daily and my German is getting better everyday, without even trying. If I can attend to where I am in the present moment I am constantly passing signs and advertisements in German, videos on the subway and people around me speaking German. Eavesdropping with a purpose!
Now that feels satisfying.