Please look under your car for penguins!
If you saw this sign would you pay attention?
A colleague of mine, previously an expat for 14 years in Japan, shared that after years of using Japanese, learning the language and really paying attention and listening deeply, he found himself back home needing to acclimatize in surprising ways. He missed the effort and the attention required to understand what was being said. The focus, the exercise of leaning in and listening was missing.
Free of the “struggle” to communicate, comprehend and understand all day long, he found the return to his homeland a bit of a let down, like there was a challenge missing. He finally came to the conclusion that his brain was no longer stimulated in that particular way.
He shared that life back in his home country was almost nauseatingly boring, that he missed the challenge that his brain had been programmed to adapt to. Expat adaptation arrives in so many packages, and language is probably one of the largest. Making oneself understood and learning to communicate in new ways is one of the joys and challenges of living in a foreign land.
“Perhaps ease and familiarity are really not that beneficial”, was the conclusion he drew. Ease can make life unstimulating, boring or uninteresting. Returning home has an element of reorientation, like discovering where you are and then finding your new true north and setting course towards that. Perhaps settling “Up” towards some aspiration or visionary state, as opposed to settling “down”, is the way to create new adventures and wonders.
I have a talk called “Returning Home: Without Settling For Less.” The topic of creating a vision of a new adventure, along with many others related to the culture shock of returning to your home country, can help you prepare for return, or cope with the return if you are already in process.
You are probably wondering what this has to do with penguins under your car! Well, if I found a penguin under my car, even in winter in Colorado, I would be exceeding surprised – and quite frankly delighted. I believe that finding and even creating surprise and delight for ourselves keeps us alive. May the fresh, the uncommon or the tiny differences be the things we notice. Watch for the warning signs of complacency or normalization settling into your daily routine! Is the average day becoming dull, predictable and stale? – if so, look and see, are there any penguins under your car?