Breaking Bad (habits)

The expat dark side. Ask anyone who has done it.  It's there. Like "The Tell Tale Heart" beating underneath the floor boards (Edgar Allan Poe- go find it. It's a good one). And if they feel like admitting it, they will confess.  And it feels like a confession because I think the people that choose (yes, it was a choice- I remember), to do this, are pretty typically resilient and optimistic. That doesn't mean bulletproof.

What is does mean is that some days are bad. Really bad. A friend who had been through a relocation told me once someone asked how she was doing, she looked at them and said, "I don't cry everyday anymore." But most of the time, you will just smile and say, "It's great. It's really great." Just freakin great.

Some days, if you didn't have to pick the kids up at school and make dinner, you would go online and find the first flight out.  Leave all the expat stuff behind. Except you can't.  And here's the thing ...where would you fly to anyway? 'Home' as you knew it, is gone.  The house is still standing. I will get there eventually but the cars, the job? Gone. It's not like it's all been on pause while you were gone. Things are different.

Some days, you don't want to get out of bed.  And then you might get a text from someone else having a bad day, so you drag yourself to the shower, get dressed, and go find them.  Then you start to feel a bit better.  They have done this. They understand the pressures unique to expats. They are coping.  So why do some people cope better than others? I have friends here who laugh and refer to their Swiss expat experience as 'Swiss 1 or 2 or 3'- for the time they were here, left, and then came back. I know a Swiss 3, a couple of Swiss 2's and loads of Swiss 1's.

So what helps? Why do some people cope better than others?  Why do they come back? Or do it again in a different country? So, I looked around and this is what I saw.  People who seem to be good at being an expat (it takes talent, believe me) are people who have a passion for something of their own- outside of work. Outside of kids. Separate from their spouse. That and a few other things (like courage, optimism, and the ability to laugh- mostly because you have no idea what you are doing).

I think those that have hobbies or careers that can be relocated as well enjoy a sense of continuity that others lack.  Maybe a love of cooking- you can cook pretty much anywhere.  Ingredients might be a temporary challenge but that is merely a logistical issue. A business that you can manage remotely.  A hobby; photography, singing, running, quilting. An interest that can be continued wherever you go.  Duh.  I knew this for my kids.  I knew I needed to find their activities; gymnastics, fencing, whatever, to help bridge the transition.

But...I had neither a hobby nor a career that could move with me. My career doesn't exist here.  I never had time for hobbies. I had three kids and they had hobbies.  We had a house to maintain.  Hobbies were a it seemed. I am rethinking that.  I imagine that this is a problem also common to 'empty nesters' and those that are newly retired as well. How do you fill the hours that once filled themselves...

I'm starting with the basics.  First, I have to find a new word for 'hobby'. I think it sounds so banal and trite. Unimportant. Insignificant.  'Passion' doesn't work for me either. Much to self important.  Too significant. Too loaded with 'what ifs'. What if I decide I don't like it anymore? What if I change my mind?  Maybe 'interest'.  Sounds nicely vague.  Could be important.  Might be a passion.  Might be a whim.  When someone asks, "Do you have any hobbies?"  I could say, "I'm interested in writing (high interest), running (important), lemon tea cakes, pineapple upside down cake, gnomes ( passing fancies), and gardening (interest is weather and continent dependent).

This is my relocation lesson; having 'interests' is important to the happiness of the individual.  Careers change, housing changes, surroundings change. Things change.  But if you have something
portable, something that is a constant that can put in your pocket and take with you, I think you will increase the odds you will be a happier, more centered person.  Capable of change without going catatonic, rolling with it when curve balls are thrown at you (pretty sure that's a mixed metaphor- I'm not good at the sports stuff). 

Take a few minutes each day- even if you never move or change jobs- and do something that makes you happy. Make good habits.  I think this is especially important for new moms.  So easy to get lost in all that baby stuff.  It's so hard to pry yourself away from seven pounds of deliciousness but do it anyway.  I have a feeling these good habits may come in handy at some point.

That's  my 'Relocation Lesson'.  Here is my 'Breaking Bad' lesson,  Walt found what he liked. Gave him passion. A reason to live. While I don't advocate manufacturing crystal meth (that is a VERY, VERY BAD IDEA), he did find his passion.Told you passion could get you into trouble. Sticking with 'interests'. By the way, Breaking Bad is an interest (bordering on obsession).


  1. Jen this is a lesson many dont learn till the kids grow up and leave the house abd they look at their spouse and say who are you. Next thing you know your dividing up the house and are going seperate ways. You hit the nail on the head find happiness in something that isnt the kids or the husband and do it and PLAY !! I have also learned from watching my own parents find a happiness in doing something (play)together that keeps you connected. You have discovered the importance of it and its not too late infact you have already found that happiness and just think thats just the start there is so much more you can do !! Kuddos to you for you are one smart remarkable woman !!

  2. Jen, I think you can accomplish anything you set out to do. I thought you, Doug, and the kids had all adjusted to Swiss life exceptionally well. You were ALL so knowledgeable and upbeat when we were there and such wonderful tour guides, I wouldn't have guessed that any of you could be hindered too much by a dark side of it all. For me just the exceptional beauty of the Swiss scenery at every turn, would turn a dark thought to a light one. I relive that time through photos and some of those photos are right outside your door that I took from the bus stop of the hills, the watch tower, and MT Pilatus towering in the distance. BREATHTAKINGLY beautiful.. Then there are the views from the kids' school on the mountain. And I KNOW that my photos don't begin to capture the true beauty of it all. Maybe you should be a tour guide to new comers and draw on their joy of it all in seeing it for the first time. ;-) Love Pearl

  3. Jen, what an amazingly and truly insightful article AND spot on! This should be a compulsory read for all expats or anyone really that you do NEED to have an passion or hobby or interest (I like that pharse!) that stays with you no matter where you go... And sometimes it does take a while to figure out what it is... and if anything your Swiss 1 experience will help you to discover what really interests you:) xxx

  4. I really like your insightfulness. Living in three different countries has turned me into a sewer, knitter, gardener, choir singer, runner and baker. Now that I moved back to the Netherlands I have taken up rowing. An interest keeps me sane. And I do agree on the hobby/passion front. Anyone out there has a better word?????


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