What Living Abroad Taught Me

Ok. Ok. I fully understand that blog posts on this subject have been done before. I am not the first and certainly not the last person to write about it.

That said, it is easier for me to write about what I learned while abroad than to keep it to myself. Posts I wrote while living abroad are scattered among this blog and another one, (https://jasonoffthepath.wordpress.com/). The latter was created specifically to chronicle my time in Costa Rica.

As background, I left my post at a reputable, hometown corporate law firm in 2015 and moved to Costa Rica. Previous to that, I battled the job-loathing and loneliness that comes from being unsuited for my work and living as a single person in a town full of young married people for 3 years. Toward the end of the third year, I devised a plan to vagabond in Latin America for 4 months and then continue on to Asia for 1 year. My extended travel itinerary, however, didn’t go quite like that.

I went to Costa Rica for 7 months instead of 4, because I wanted to perfect my Spanish (no esta perfecto ahora). Then, I returned to the USA and begrudgingly job searched for 5 months until I found a “real (soul-crushing) job.” Wanderlust still close to the surface, I could only fake it in the real job for 4 months. So, after a frustrating stint as an account executive with a fortune 500 company, I reset my sights on finishing my originally planned adventure.

Months later, I boarded a plane for Hong Kong and made my way to Shenzhen, China where I would spend the next 6 months. Neither time nor money can replace my experience there.

All in all, it took me 28 months to leave my lawyer job and return home from China instead of the originally planned 16. It was all well worth it, but I was a donkey about it. I will explain the reference later.

To encapsulate everything I learned while living in foreign countries would be to trivialize it, but here are some of the things I feel are too profound to keep to myself.

  1. Being US American and speaking English equals being in the world’s 1%–In my second post on my Costa Rica blog (https://jasonoffthepath.wordpress.com/2015             /08/21/first-impressions/), I eagerly documented this understanding. It hit me like a ton of bricks right after I set foot in Costa Rica and in China for the first times. This is two-pronged: First, being from the USA comes with innumerable advantages. The least of these advantages is the standard of living. In no way is this a knock on anyone, anywhere, but to appreciate this everyday is mandatory for living happily in the USA. Second, speaking English as one’s first language is perhaps the single greatest advantage ever enjoyed by any person in the history of the human race. English is the international language of business. Training centers and English schools thrive in nearly every country in the world. In the USA, however, we do not have reciprocal training in foreign languages. Is this because we are lazy? I say “NO.” English-speaking Americans are not punished for being monolingual. English is where foreigners from different nations meet. We are as others would be in our circumstances.                                                               As an example, I regularly attended a workout class while in China. The instructor was from Brazil and most of the other attendees were Chinese. Neither party spoke English as their first language, but the class was given in English. English was the meeting point and the most commonly discernible language. Being a native English speaker is a greater advantage than almost anything else.
  2. Living abroad probably WON’T lead to career progress–This one was tough to swallow.  On one hand, I steadfastly believe that adjusting to living in a foreign country is challenging and rewarding no matter who you are.  For me, it required perseverance and adaptability that I may not have been able to gain otherwise. We are creatures of habit and habitat and are bound to get a little disoriented if moved to a strange land. Learning to survive abroad requires tenacity, stick-to-itiveness and character. These skills are valuable intangibles.         Gaining these intangible skills, however, does not necessarily translate to career advancement. I no longer expect potential employers or colleagues to see these skills as a direct indicator of future career success.  Realistically, US employers want a candidate to have direct successful experience doing the exact thing they are hiring someone to do. Do you know any companies looking to pay someone to live abroad and tell people about it? I don’t.                                     Personally, I will always treasure what I learned from living abroad and wouldn’t trade it for any amount of career success. That said, my career is not any further along than it was when I left to venture out of the USA.
  3. People don’t really give a $h!t–Taking the plunge to remain in a foreign country for an extended time is a fascinating undertaking, but don’t expect everyone you know back home to understand that.                                                         I previously completed law school, but equate going abroad as “Life School.” I learned as much about myself and the world in 13 months abroad as I did from 6 years in the working world of the USA. I wanted everyone back home to know what I found out.                                                                                           Unfortunately and fortunately, friends and family went on living their lives. People have to eat, sleep, drink and be merry whether you go to China or not. They are interested in things you can tell them about life abroad, but I would probably have had this realization one day whether I stayed in the USA permanently or not.                                                                                                               This is a commonly recognized phase of reverse culture shock, which I talked about in one of my YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0204Q1dg03s&t=9s).
  4. Good People are Everywhere–I need not delve into generalizations made about people from different cultures. Before I went to China, a friend, who was opposed to me going, told me, “the people in China suck.” He had never been to China before saying that to me.                                                                                                If you are abiding by the Golden Rule while living abroad, you will attract others who are doing the same. You may not be able to climb the social ladder as easily as you can at home, but you will find good people if you act like a good person. This means multiple things in different situations and you do need to be careful about who you involve yourself with, but, if you keep integrity and kindness at the forefront of your principles, you will be fine.   If you do the above, here is what happens.                                                                                         You will arrive wide-eyed in your new country expecting to take on all of the experiences the new place can offer you. At first, you may agree to doing exciting things with people you may not normally associate with, because you are in your new country. After spending time with these new acquaintances, you will discern whether they are good for you. If so, great! You have found some people who will comfort you while you adjust to being there. If not, you should, and hopefully will, slowly distance yourself from these new people, because your survival may depend on it. Then, you may be lonely for some time, but you will eventually find the right people.                                                     At the beginning of my time Costa Rica, for example, I was introduced to someone who seemed to like a lot of the same things I did. Additionally, he went to college in the USA and spoke perfect English. I realized, however, he was associated with some of the less polished people in town. He, for example, told me his friend pulled a gun on someone in the previous week. I quickly took this to mean he wasn’t careful about who he was friends with and that I wasn’t really interested in meeting any of his associates.                                                       So, I stopped responding to his messages and stayed lonely for a few weeks until meeting a great group of friends whom I am still close to today. They didn’t hang out with people who pulled guns on people. The point is, you can find good people if you are willing to step away from bad people.
  5. The good ones make all the difference–Doubling down on my previous point, being around good people provided me with as in-depth of a cultural experience as possible in both Costa Rica and China. Hospitality is a virtue shared by good people everywhere. Once you feel comfortable among who you associate with in a new country, you will let your guard down and allow yourself to take in everything that comes your way.                                                   In contrast, if you are concerned about the character and quality of the people you interact with, you will subconsciously put your guard up hindering your ability to fully embrace the new culture. We are the average of the five people we most associate with. This is truer when you are in a place in which you don’t know anyone.
  6. You will never fully close the door–I cannot fully grasp this, because I haven’t lived the rest of my life yet, but, so far, Costa Rica and China are still a part of my life. I hope it stays this way forever. I don’t ever want them not to be. The people I made friends with, the world knowledge I gained and everything else I got from being abroad won’t just disappear now that I am back.                                      A beautiful thing about life is that you can’t retract the boundaries of your horizons once they have been expanded. I cannot unsee, unfeel or unobserve what I experienced while abroad. This was the whole point.
  7. “Don’t be a donkey.”–I learned of this philosophy from one of my favorite podcasts. It comes from a fable in which a donkey is equally hungry and thirsty and is placed equidistant between some hay and water. The poor animal cannot decide whether it wants to eat or drink and eventually ends up dying of thirst and hunger. Here is a link to a better explanation of this fable: https://jeangalea.com/dont-be-a-donkey/                                                                   I fully confess that I was a donkey toward the end of my time in Costa Rica. Earlier in this post, I told you I originally planned on going to Asia after Costa Rica. Unfortunately, I acquiesced to what other people wanted me to do and moved back to get a real job between my Costa Rica and Asia time. I hated it, but more painful than that was that I still wanted to live in Asia while trying to get a new job in a new city.                                                                                         Instead of fully completing my travel and THEN re-entering the US working world, I went to Costa Rica for 7 months, got nervous about my career prospects, came home and wasted 5 months looking for a job I didn’t want, re-entered the working world prematurely and then quit so I could move to China for a while. As you know, I ended up getting to Asia, but wasted a lot of time and money figuring out that that was where I really wanted to be for a little while. I was a donkey.

In sum, no matter how much time and energy I spent away from home, it will prove to have been more and more worth it as time goes on. Some of the lessons I referenced in this post may be things you feel like you already know. That may be the case, but my personal understanding of them is to astronomically deeper than it would have been had I not gone abroad.

My only regret is not fully committing to living my fullest life abroad sooner, but that’s just another thing I learned from doing all of this.

 

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2016 Wisdom

By all negative or positive metrics, 2016 has been one hell of a year. Personally, it will be marked as a year of drastic geographic changes. I started the year in Central America, then moved back to the Southeast United States and am finishing it in California (pictured).

PCT straight.jpg

As a man who appreciates the growth that comes with struggle, I will look back on 2016 fondly. Nonetheless, I am eager for this next January 1st and the 364 days after. Simply stated, I look forward to 2017.

I documented some of my adventures and musings on this and my other blog throughout the year. I told you about my time abroad, my music preferences, New Year’s resolutions, eating habits and gave you other glimpses into my life.

In this post, I have copied memorable quotes from books, movies, meditations, and articles I came across this year. Some of them are more profound than others, but drafting this post will have been well worth it if one of you finds one of the quotes useful.

The final two evoked the most visceral response for me. The last one most closely aligns with the most significant event of my year, which involved the death of loved one. It came from a scene in Westworld in which Delores (Evan Rachel Wood) explains the benefit of leaning into grief. It hit me hard.

Enjoy these and my favorite picture of the year. Comment if you like!

“The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings”

-Ryan Holiday-

“Some of us find humor in everything, some of us do not. It’s important too—but those of us that believe it and live our lives by a certain sensitivity cannot bully other people into doing so too. That sort of defeats the purpose.”

“If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.”

“Control and discipline of one’s own reactions make for a successful person and a functioning society.”

From “The Art of Manliness” blog

“While you may never have to fight off an armed attacker or save someone from drowning in a river, there’s a 100% probability that every day you’re going to need the qualities of courage, hardihood, resilience, and so on to deal with life’s little annoyances, lead your family, and excel in your career. Thus, wanting such training, and desiring such qualities, is the most rational thing is the world.”

“Because if there’s one thing you should be paranoid about, it’s living a life in which you never develop your full capacities as a man.”

The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz

“[He] was a brilliant thinker who could encapsulate complex ideas into pithy sentences with ease”

“Humans, particularly those who build things, only listen to leading indicators of good news.”

“There comes a time in a company’s life when it must fight for its life.”

“All the mental energy you use to elaborate your misery would be far better used trying to find the one seemingly impossible way out of your current mess.”

The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene

“Do not imagine that your master’s dependence on you will make him love you.”

“By knowing other people’s secrets, by holding information that they wouldn’t want broadcast, you seal your fate with theirs.”

“[He] knew that most men build up defenses against the crooks and other troublemakers. The con artist’s job is to bring those defenses down.”

“An act of kindness, generosity, or honesty is often the most powerful form of distraction because it disarms other people’s suspicions.”

“[He] was already a millionaire through strong-arming and deception.”

“During social gatherings and innocuous encounters, pay attention. This is when people’s guards are down. By suppressing your own personality, you can make them reveal things.”

“If people suspect you are worming secrets out of them through conversation, they will strictly avoid you.”

“Give them a false confession and they will make you a real one.”

“An understanding of people’s motives is the single greatest piece of knowledge you can have in acquiring power.”

“Never discriminate as to whom you study and whom you trust. Never trust anyone completely and study everyone.”

“To some people the notion of playing power games—no matter how indirect—seems evil, asocial, a relic of the past. They believe they can opt out of the game by behaving in ways that have nothing to do with power. You must beware of such people… they are after often the most adept players at power.”

“If you attempt to treat everyone equally and fairly, you will confront the problem that some people do certain things better than others. Treating everyone equally means ignoring their differences, elevating the less skillful and suppressing those who excel. Many who behave this way are just redistributing people’s rewards in a way they determine.”

“Honesty is a power strategy—convince people of one’s noble character. It is a form of persuasion, even a subtler form of coercion. Those who make a show of innocence are the least innocent of all.”

“An emotional response to a situation is the single greatest barrier to power – anger the most destructive of all emotional responses.”

“You must learn to judge all things by what they cost you – apply this to everything –including whether to collaborate or come to people’s aid.”

The Match, Mark Frost

“Not enough of the meaningful prizes in life are contested solely for honor anymore, for the love of the thing itself, or the undiluted satisfaction of testing your mettle against the best you can find and, win or lose, walking away the better for it because the truths it enabled you to face and find out about yourself.”

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaMohsin Hamid

“Achieving a massive bank balance demonstrably attracts fine physical specimens desperate to give their love in exchange for affection. Achieving love tends to do the opposite. It dampens the fire in the steam furnace of ambition, robbing of essential propulsion an already fraught upriver journey to the heart of financial success.”

“There are times when the currents leading to wealth can manage to pull you along regardless of whether you kick and paddle in the opposite direction.”

Moonwalking with Einstein, Josh Foer

“Brains are notoriously trickier to quantify than brawn.”

“Normal is not necessarily natural.”

“Monotony collapses time. Novelty unfolds it.”

“If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend unmemorably into the next and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our own memories.”

“Creating new memories stretches out psychological time and lengthens our perceptions of our lives.”

“…you’ve got to work on the assumption that you’re going to do better in practice than you’ll do in the tournament.”

(Quoting Bruce Lee) “There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you.”

Oprah and Deepak—21 Day Meditation

“There is nothing enlightened in shrinking so that other people don’t feel insecure.”

Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo

“Authentic happiness can only come from the long-term cultivation of wisdom, altruism, and compassion, and from complete eradication of mental toxins, such as hatred, grasping, and ignorance.”

“(Quoting Melissa Cardon) “When you are passionate about something you can’t help yourself from thinking about it, acting on it, and talking about it with other people”

“The passion that man has for his personal growth is the most important thing.”

‘(Quoting Dale Carnegie) The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus.  And  put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?”

“The ability to tell a story is an essential trait of authentic leadership—people who inspire effort.”

“90% of all businesses fail, yet 80% of business owners never try a second time.”

“People don’t know what they want. And if they do, they have a hard time articulating what they truly desire.”

“(Quoting Isabel Allende) Nice people with common sense do not make interesting characters. They only make good former spouses.”

“Power posing increases testosterone and lowers cortisol levels in the brain.”

“I like to refer to dopamine as the “save button” of the brain. When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we remember it; when it is absent, nothing seems to stick.”

Seeing What Others Don’t: the Remarkable Ways We Gain Insight, Gary Klein

“When we put too much energy into eliminating mistakes, we’re less likely to gain insights.”

“…..Four stage model of insight: preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.”

“While the idea of deliberate preparation appeals to our work ethic—and is, of course, crucial for many types of work—it was not the factor in the insights attained….”

“Insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were in before.”

“We tend to notice coincidences, associations we don’t fully understand based on relationships we can’t articulate. People who can pick up on trends, spot patterns, wonder about irregularities, and notice coincidences are an important resource.”

“While the idea of deliberate preparation appeals to our work ethic—and is, of course, crucial for many types of work.”

“Curiosities are unlikely to get us in trouble. If we examine a curiosity that doesn’t lead anywhere, we’ve just wasted some time. In contrast, coincidences can mislead us.”

“People aren’t accidentally stumbling onto insights. They are actively searching for them”

“All we can conclude is that we’re likely to miss the insight if we rely on a flawed belief.”

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman

“You’re alive Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, its gone, over. You’ve made what you’ve made. Dreamed your dream. Written your name. You may even be buried here. You may even walk, but that potential…. Is gone.”

Westworld”

Delores: “You think the grief will make you smaller inside. Like your heart will collapse in on itself, but it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside me like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.”