Meaningful Life Or Staying In The Comfort Zone? – The Potential Trap Of An Expat Life And How You Can Overcome It

A high salary and pleasant lifestyle can both be a solid foundation and an obstacle to inner satisfaction.Are you an expat with a good life but dream about making a change? Don’t worry, you are not alone. Article by Nóra Szűcs, PhD University Lecturer & Coach for Expats

The Potential Trap Of An Expat Life

Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)

A high salary and pleasant lifestyle can both be a solid foundation and an obstacle to inner satisfaction.

Are you an expat with a good life but dream about making a change? Don’t worry, you are not alone.

In this article I explain some of the excuses we sometimes use to stop doing what we would like to do.

‘I wish I had chosen a profession which is closer to my passion’

One thing I often observe among my clients is that, despite their good circumstances, they are often unhappy and long for something different. ‘I wish I had chosen a profession which is closer to my passion’/…which contributes something to society.‘I wish I had followed my heart and moved back closer to my family.’ But, there is something that stops them: they earn too much and their lives are too good (or in other words: not bad enough) to make a bold step and do what they really want to do.[1]I earn enough to have a good life, how I could finance myself otherwise?’ or ‘What could I do now? This is how it is now, I can’t do anything.’– they say.

Expat Press Magazine-The Potential Trap Of An Expat Life

So, how can a good expat salary and a pleasant life be an obstacle to your dreams?

A good expat salary and a pleasant enough life does not incentivise you to make changes that living under bad conditions or an undeniable deadline for change would immediately prompt you to. Why? Because the situation is not that your circumstances would be intolerable, where you have no other option but to change, and more that your life could be better, something different, something that has more value for you.

You can equally decide to stay in your comfort zone and do everything just like in the past, and this will not harm you, or you can also decide to take a risk and experiment with a new venture. Both options are fine. It is up to you which one you choose. Besides, your deadline for making your mind up could be extended almost endlessly. You can reflect on the different risks and options, postpone taking the step almost as long as you want to. Hence, collecting motivation that is both enough and big enough for doing what you would love to do becomes your responsibility, the situation itself does not provide it for you.

Expat Press Magazine-The Potential Trap Of An Expat Life

‘the expatriate lifestyle seems to be like winning at the lottery’

For someone who is unfamiliar with the challenges of living abroad, an expatriate lifestyle seems to be like winning the lottery: you have an exciting international life full of adventures, without any problems or difficulties (they think).

Hence, if they see you giving up part (or all) of this seemingly perfect life, you might attract your friends’ and family’s dislike, judgement or disapproval, which is sometimes hard to cope with and can discourage you, if you lend too much importance to other people’s opinion. This also implies that you need to be a very stable person – fully aware of your skills, limitations, goals and values, and able to make independent decisions – to be able to pursue your goals regardless of what your environment says about them.

‘by making a change you will say goodbye to a few things’

Being an expat and having a good salary does give you things that you like; things that can compensate you for the lack of inner satisfaction (a comfortable life, prestige, recognition, acknowledgement, travel, good food, international friends, etc.). The fact you have many assets in your current situation might suggest to you that there is much to lose here. It is certainly true that by making a change you will say goodbye to a few things, but instead of focusing on measuring your losses, I suggest you answer the following questions:

  • Do the good things at present compensate you enough for not being satisfied?
  • If you measure your current assets against the potential gains of a new life, which side would weigh more?

You need to be careful with this assessment though.

Your mind, or rather your fear, is a tricky thing that can magnify your losses and discount your gains just to protect you. One way to avoid making a biased decision is putting your situation into a longer-term perspective and asking yourself: if you looked back at your life aged 80, which attitude would you have appreciated more: one that aimed to maintain the status quo, or the one that experimented with change?

Expat Press Magazine-The Potential Trap Of An Expat Life

‘Building up a new life in a new country definitely takes a lot of time’

Sometimes our mind gives us the false impression that just because we worked so hard to achieve something, we need to continue it forever. Building up a new life in a new country definitely takes a lot of time, effort, money, energy, persistence and endurance etc., there is no question that you have put a lot of investment into being where you are now. But it does not mean that your future needs to be like that too.

And still, people sometimes use their past successes as excuses for not needing to make a change: ‘I have spent so many years building up my social life in this country, I already know this country so well and I have a flat here, so I would rather just stay here’, or ‘I already have a good network and reputation in this profession, it is just easier to remain in it.’ In fact, the investment you put into your past is a sunk cost, which has nothing to do with what you would like to do in your future. It does not make much sense running at 200 km/h towards a goal you do not like, it is better to stop and make a change in the right direction.

Do not let yourself rest on your current circumstances, rather, start making a plan for doing what you want to.


[1]Here I am not talking about situations where your responsibilities like children, elderly parents or a mortgage require you to develop your transition strategically (please note, however, that even in those situations you can do something to achieve your goals). I am rather talking about the situations when your own fears and fear-induced ’yes, but…’ sentences hinder you from taking the step and getting what you want.


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