Running the Expat Life

When I started running years ago, I could barely make a loop around the perimeter of the football field without getting short of breath. This didn’t really surprise me — I’d always been at the top of my age’s physical ability when it came to flexibility (touching my toes, etc…) but at the bottom when it came to endurance.

I think this says a lot about my personality: highly adaptable but super flighty and unable to hold out. Adaptability sure comes in handy as an expat. I’d say it’s the most important personality characteristic a person has to have in order to live in a foreign culture. And just after that, I’d say expats need endurance training; the only way to get through the daily struggles you initially experience is to have the patience required to see something through to its natural end.

That could be why I had such an awful time of it my first year here. I’m impatient, I rush things, I do not set goals for myself (so there’s never an end in sight), I walk away from anything that gets too difficult or just don’t even bother starting if I think I can’t finish. I cannot tell you how many times I was ready to get back on a plane back “home” after I first arrived in Germany and only stopped when I realized I had no home to go back to. Or how many times I cried when I realized I had no future plans and couldn’t actually figure out where my natural end with Germany lay. Since I could neither run away nor move forward, staying in Germany became a forced endurance trial, a long, stagnating march toward an ever-foggy finish line.

When I split from my husband and decided to spend the next year (at least) alone so I could understand myself and what I wanted out of life better, I realized I actually do have endurance. Everyone does. I just have to put it to use.

At the same time, faced with the decision of whether to stay or to go, I also realized that my time in Germany hadn’t yet come to its natural end. Making that decision was hard but the things that followed were even harder. Life is funny in the way it tests your limits sometimes in ways you could never imagine, demanding that you persevere.

This happened to me after the split and yet I just kept on trucking, even if some days it felt like living was the most difficult thing in the world to do. That’s endurance, the persevering even when you don’t see your end goal and despite the voice in your head telling you you can’t go on.

Living these experiences, both the initial expatry and the divorce and its subsequent disasters taught me a lot about my running game as well. While being flexible will always be a plus, helping you over the hurdles, the only thing keeping you from crossing that finish line, from enduring to the end, is you.

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