Viewing entries tagged

Self-Actualization Needs


Self-Actualization Needs

“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?

Thanks wikimedia commons
Thanks wikimedia commons

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.



Self-Esteem Needs - Confidence, Achievement, Respect

Copyright Bill Watterson, Awesomest Cartoonist Ever. This one's for accompanying spouses without work-permit in particular: If you are used to being employed, not earning a living changes your sense of self. America is the country of “what do you do?” and the common lack of spousal employment during international assignments is the biggest factor of discontent. Maybe you’re choosing not to work, maybe you’re planning on starting a family, maybe you’ve never worked, or maybe you didn’t get a work-permit: living abroad will burst open even the tiniest cracks of self-doubt.

Become aware of your limiting beliefs that affect your

self-worth. Many are tied to numbers: the scale, the bank account, or friends on Facebook. If you find yourself spiraling into negative self-talk, try a coaching process called cognitive restructuring.

Cognitive restructuring works for thoughts or beliefs that are causing you pain. It helps you examine them and find more helpful alternatives, one belief or thought at a time. There are resources like The Work or of course you can talk with your Coach to get a personalized solution.

There are many ways to make a difference, even if you’re not allowed to work. Learn something in the local college or through an online course. Immerse yourself in the language and culture, you’ll be building marketable skills for your return! Learn to measure your contribution not in money or numbers, but in happiness, or time spent with your kids, or memories created with your partner.

What plans have you always postponed that you could now make time for? Write a book, start to paint, let out all the creative energy you’ve been storing up.



It is often said, Western civilization tends to follow the “having” and “doing” path, where a person’s value is measured by achievement. Eastern civilization, on the other hand, subscribes more to the concept of “being”. Consider the cultural difference in the two approaches: “doing” implies a person is the steward of their own fate, there’s the potential of upward mobility. “Being” implies acceptance and is often tied to the social status you’re born into.

Respect is a two-way street. As an expat, you are walking, living, and breathing diversity. What were your thoughts on immigration back home? How does it feel to be a foreigner yourself?

The more you know, the more you’ll understand what motivates our behaviors. Learn about your own culture and the one you’re moving to. Recognize behaviors are influenced by our values and our different interpretations of the same. The Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do to you” does not work across cultures. Apply the Platinum Rule instead: “treat everyone the way they want to be treated”.


Love and Belonging Needs - Friendship, Family, Sexual Intimacy


Love and Belonging Needs - Friendship, Family, Sexual Intimacy

Before you move, make sure you have a good-bye ceremony to take your official leave from friends and family. Of course you’ll stay in touch and God bless Facebook, but everyone will benefit from a moment of closure before moving on to the new home. It’s helps to mourn what you leave behind to fully appreciate what you’re moving toward.

Prepare some social circles to move into. Activate your networks ahead of time to introduce you to their connections. Go hit the online forums to announce your move and see who invites you to their meetings. Don’t be pressured into joining any group in your first week or even your first month; it’ll take some time for you to set up shop and acclimatize. But doing the legwork while you’re still at home will ensure a softer landing once you get there.

The assignees have their social group automatically built-in. When they go to work, they have someone to go to lunch or work out with. They also have a routine from day 1. The accompanying partners have to make their own, especially if they’re not working.

The cool part is you can reinvent yourself. You can edit out the embarrassing bits; nobody has to know your kindergarten nickname. You’ll get better at telling your story the more often you go over it. By the third time you’ll know when you’ve gone into too much detail because people’s eyes glaze over. It’s fun.

Re-activating your professional network upon your return follows the same lines. The secret is to keep in loose touch throughout, and get more involved at least six months before you move back, or to your next destination. Unfortunately, many expats experience the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon. Keeping yourself on your managers’ radar might help secure you a position to move back into.

If you’ve always had your family close, living more than a plane-ride away will take some getting used to. If your parents are getting up there in age, or if they always used to babysit, your involvement in each other’s lives is going to change. For many expats, their family is still the first line of defense, and certainly the first source of support.

Schedule dates and times for contact on a regular basis. When you live abroad, you may not always be able to call them at a moment’s notice. Maybe because there’s a power outage, maybe because the cell tower and internet connection are down, or maybe because of your time-zone differences.

Not every expat family relocates together. Depending on where you are in life, it may make more sense not to. I have worked with many empty-nesters who negotiated longer home-leaves and frequent visits when the spouse chose to stay behind. Maybe your children would benefit from a boarding school, or your company allows for elderly parents to accompany you - it all depends on your personal situation.

Every couple’s sex routines are different, but when you notice an interruption in yours, don’t wait too long before you address it. Multiple factors influence a change in sexual appetite.

Try and develop an understanding for your partner’s experience. Everyone is adapting to cultures differently, and while you’re working on higher goals, they may still be struggling with the basic survival needs.

Keeping a relationship alive and strong is difficult under the best of circumstances. International relocation takes stress and tension to a whole new level, so you have to communicate and discuss your needs and fears even more openly and pro-actively.

The two of you are a team, now more than ever. You’re in this together, and a fulfilling sex life will go a long way in affirming your commitment and improving resilience to tackle all the obstacles this assignment will throw at you. Make time for intimacy, schedule it if you have to, and spend quality time together, in and out of the bedroom.

Image by Lori Branham, Flickr, Creative Commons License.



Safety Needs - Security, Surroundings, Health

Thanks Wikimedia Commons People often talk about the difference between our pre- and post-9/11 world, and it’s true: the days where we could walk through an airport keeping our shoes and belts on are long gone. Whether you’re interested in politics or not, when moving abroad it’s a good idea to start watching the news. At least to be aware of the general history, political climate, and belief system, and their impact on the country’s culture.

For security details, you can google CIA fact files for your destination, look through Gallup crime statistics, and research information provided by local police offices.

Depending on your employer, your position, and your destination, you and your family may go through anti-abduction training. Make time in your schedules to take part in them as they may save your life.

Familiarize yourself with your new hometown’s layout and transportation options. Not all taxis may be safe to jump into, and the busses might not run during certain hours. Do you drive? Your GPS device may not always be able to connect, so make sure to carry a paper map. Once you know your way around, you can use it as wall decoration, pinning in every spot you’ve visited.

Don’t underestimate flora and fauna. I made sure I was able to tell a harmless Mexican male Black Widow spider from its more dangerous female equivalent.

This helped tremendously every time I stepped into our garden to water the plants or hang up our laundry. For the first few weeks, we also kept our shoes and boots wrapped in bags, because neighbors had warned us about scorpions nesting in the shoe-caps. Spraying chemical disinfectant at regular intervals around all windows and doors eventually made us feel calmer. This is where my need for safety trumped the otherwise ecological correctness.

All this research can still not fully prepare you for brain shock, aka culture shock. It’s emotionally challenging to live in a place where you are the obvious outsider. On the plus side, you may be more prepared for the culture shock because you are obviously different and come to expect it. It’s a lot sneakier in presumably similar countries, where everyone looks like you, but sounds and acts differently.

If you’re moving with a company, their benefits plan will guide your care options. Ideally, you’re not the first expat couple to relocate, so people who have gone before you might be able to recommend doctors once you’re there. If not, ask your colleagues and neighbors for recommendations, google the specialists, look for magazine or blogs’ top 10 lists, and visit more than one before making a decision.

Definitely have a final check-up before you leave, maybe even schedule follow-ups during strategically planned home visits. Depending on the country you move to, you may need vaccines to protect against infections. Be careful with prescription refills; while you may want to take a year’s supply, customs might stop and arrest you for intent to distribute. Investigate the regulations for the medication you use, how much you’re allowed to carry, and what the local equivalent would be.



Physiological Needs - Food, Clothes, Shelter

Aguascalientes_chuchesFilling even basic food needs in the first few weeks abroad can be tricky, especially if you don’t speak the local language. International hotels normally offer international cuisine, and many American chain restaurants have made their way abroad. If your destination is more rural, familiarize yourself with the most common food vocabulary ahead of time. Know how your favorite ingredients are spelled in the local alphabet, so you can recognize the labels in the shops, or print out pictures to show what you need. german foodNot every country is as abundant as the USA when it comes to special dietary requirements. If you have a gluten intolerance, for instance, do some research to see which products are easily available in your host country. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, find local practitioners in food forums who can help you set up and tell you where the best farmers markets are.

Word of caution: not every country has the same hygiene standards. Consider shops that display their wares in open containers: I have seen plenty of children who take those as an invitation to touch or sneeze on.

Let climate and cultural norms determine what you wear. Your first faux-pas may be forgiven because you are a foreigner, but I advise against knowingly breaking the unwritten rules. As an expat, you are no longer only representing yourself, you are an ambassador for your country. For example, if Italian church-goers expect your knees and shoulders to be covered, cover them. If your colleagues are uncomfortable with “casual Friday”, don’t try to force it.

Doris_snowgearHaving said that, if you have old embarrassing but comfortable work-out clothes or college sweaters you love, pack them. Even if you’re moving to a hot country, because a) it’s always sweater-weather once in a while, and b) the temperature change from outside sticky-hotness to inside frigid air-conditioning is hard on the immune system. Layers are your friend!

Ladies, don’t be dismayed if European dress sizes sound way bigger, or if finding shoes above an American size 8 is tricky in Singapore. It’s not personal, it’s cultural.

You’re probably most worried about the big-ticket item: the actual house. What neighborhood is it in, how about the school district, are there enough bed and bathrooms. What to do with the house you’re in now? Working with a knowledgeable real estate agent helps alleviate many of those concerns.

The challenge is turning a house into your home. What always helped me was putting up my pictures, using my bed linen, and decorating with choice knick-knacks and pillowcases that went with me everywhere.

If you have a favorite holiday decoration, bring it. Even if the country you’re moving to doesn’t celebrate that holiday. You may want to keep the tradition alive for your kids, and yourself. In other words, consider carefully what you need, and carry anything that is vital for your first month abroad instead of shipping it.

Your living space at your destination may be significantly smaller than what you’re used to. This is a wonderful opportunity to go zen and de-clutter! New technologies allow you to store countless mementos in tiny spaces to make them portable: If your important family photos aren’t digital yet, scan them. If your music is trapped on CDs, get an iPod to upload them. If you love books, now is a good time to embrace electronic readers. As much as I love printed books, being able to carry 3,000 of them on an iPad in my purse without breaking a sweat or having to pay extra at the airline is worth it.

On a bodily-functions-adjacent note: toilets are different around the world. Prepare to squat, hover, and talk to WCs in China, India, and high-tech Japan. For a while, many German companies favored recycled toilet paper that was extremely rough, but thankfully advances have been made into greater softness to the tush touch.



Maslow and the Expat Journey

Thanks wikimedia commons People have needs. According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, you can categorize them into five levels. His argument is that as humans, we ultimately strive for “self-actualization”, but have to cover our basic needs before we’re able to concentrate on higher goals.

The Physiological level is that of basic survival needs: food, clothes, shelter, and things to do with bodily functions we won’t go into. Most likely, you have these needs covered, right up until you become an expat.

Maslow’s next level is all about Safety. Once you have your basic survival needs met, you can start worrying about the neighborhood. Is that rustle in the bushes a saber toothed tiger or a bunny? Today, you know which route to take to work, where to buy groceries, maybe you’ve even been with the same family doctor all your life. But what about that new place you’re moving to?

Then comes my personal favorite: love and belonging. Don’t underestimate what a lack of social circles, professional networks, friends, and family can do to your system.

Your international assignment can help you reach your self-esteem and self-actualization goals, but it can also drag you down. Depending on your personality type and essential motivator preferences, you'll have to have certain psychological needs met to feel good. Living in a new environment can be challenging until you figure out how to adapt your behaviors.

Maslow is also featured as the father of humanistic psychology in this book by Jessica Grogan, PhD Encountering America: Humanistic Psychology, Sixties Culture, and the Shaping of the Modern Self (Harper Perennial 2013).

This week we'll examine all of his pyramid's levels and provide some coaching tips about how to approach them. Looking forward to your comments!