“What a man can be, he must be.” - Maslow The same applies to a woman.
Let's take a moment and address the potential bias in Maslow’s framework. Having conceived it through the lens of his own cultural background, Maslow’s hierarchy cannot be applied equally to every person on the planet. For example, the need for belonging might be more important in communitarian cultures. The need for self-fulfillment takes different definitions in cultures driven by achievement or ascription, whether there’s a belief in destiny or personal influence. Still, I hope you found the pyramid useful as a reminder to consider priorities and potential pitfalls in international relocation.
What international assignments help us realize is that we usually function on the higher levels of what is important to us. At home, we have the basic needs covered and take them for granted. Finding yourself in a new country means you get a blank slate. A do-over. Go back to square one. And this can be quite disconcerting. Be patient with yourself, and with your family members, as they may progress through the stages at a different pace.
This fifth level brings together the main lessons for expats from the other levels of needs in a nutshell, as moving abroad forces you to confront critical questions:
1. What can you eat, how can you cover yourself, and where will you sleep?
2. Is it safe, do you have to look over your shoulder, and will your family grow up healthy?
3. Whom can you trust, who will support you, will you have a mate?
4. How do you feel about yourself, what is your contribution, is there respect?
5. What is your purpose?
An international relocation will change how you see yourself, because it gives you new directions. If you’re a spouse who has to give up working, it can interrupt your quest for achievement in your current career. But it can also open your eyes to new possibilities you never even dreamed of, put you in touch with your passion, and strengthen your relationship through shared experiences.
Most of all, it helps you practice patience, planning, and persistence. You’ll learn to choose your response to tough situations. You’ll be responsible for what you make of your time abroad.
There’s a sense of empowerment as you flex your resilience muscles, and all these are life skills that will easily translate into other areas of leadership and personal growth as well.
At no point are you asked to give up your unique identity or cultural background. In fact, bring your diversity to the table and enjoy the synergies that arise! Being mindful of your own biases will help you differentiate between what’s personal and what’s cultural.
Congratulations, you are an expat!
Image by Emilia Garassimo, Flickr, Creative Commons License.