A rose in the desert: Navigating your career as an expat
Us expats know how it feels to arrive in an unknown country, which however welcoming it might be, feels like unknown territory. We encounter people and their odd behaviours that we just do not fully get.
A rose in the desert
Similarly, we feel out of place when joining a new workplace. During many of my coaching sessions, I tell a story of a rose in the desert to illustrate what is truly happening in these situations. This story helps us to understand our deepest needs of belonging, but also allows us to learn about our strengths such as adaptability and resilience. It illustrates a complex experience of not fitting in and the struggles and opportunities that come with it.
So imagine yourself as a beautiful rose that needs the right conditions to grow and show off all of its beauty. If you are a rose that found itself in a desert, how do you think it will make you feel? Well, let’s have a look first at the environment of this desert. It has harsh, difficult conditions along with a lack of water, lack of shade and a burning sun.
In such a place, a rose will need to constantly fight not to thrive but to survive. Deprived of the right ingredients that will feed her, it will quickly lose its beauty and eventually dry out.
You are the rose
Viewed from the perspective of an expat employee, this story of you being a rose in a desert can symbolise a few things. One of these things is the unsupportive work environment (with a potentially toxic culture) and values that exist around the employee (the rose), which are very different to the individual’s own beliefs.
But it can also symbolise the feeling of the rose’s isolation. Although other species like cactuses can thrive in the desert, the rose who feels alone and who stands out despite doing her best to fit in, could be emotionally drained.
So, what can we expats do about that?
The search for the right workplace
Your expat journey often involves searching for a workplace that aligns with your values and appreciates your unique background and skills. This may take time, but much like the rose, there's a place where you truly belong. However, as expat employees often want to get a new job quickly, we often get less picky about the environment and its values.
I always recommend to my clients to truly understand what their own work values are and to try to find a working place that matches those values. Also, it is important to look for organisations that truly value diversity and where different perspectives are welcome.
Network with fellow expats and locals
Stay open to building and maintaining connections with your fellow expats and with locals. They will help you to broaden your perspective and find the right opportunities.
Adapt to change while staying true to yourself
Just like in the tale of the rose in the desert, the rose can bring a breeze of fresh air to the environment, by standing out with its beautiful colours. Similarly, the expat employees who do not immediately fit in can offer innovative ideas and creative solutions.
So although trying to fit in lies at the deepest levels of our needs and there will be a certain degree of adapting, staying true to yourself is also crucial. However, this obviously makes it a difficult balancing act.
Over time, the rose can find its place in the desert and find sources of nourishment that it didn’t see in the first place. This could be in the form of supporting colleagues, mentors, etc. The rose can also learn beautiful lessons about its own resilience and strength.
So keep in mind that, just like the rose in the desert, you too can thrive in the most unexpected places. In doing so, you can bring your own kind of beauty to the world.
Knowing when it is time to leave
Sometimes we need to recognise that although we have tried our hardest, the desert will never be able to give us what we need.
So, if you recognise that although you tried your hardest to fit in and adapt and it is still not working for you, it might be time to leave this workplace and look for your own oasis where you can blossom and thrive - not just survive.
I believe the expat's path shows the power of human resilience and adaptability and demonstrates our quest to not only survive but truly belong and bloom in our new work environments …
Did you ever feel like a rose in the desert? What helped you thrive? Share your thoughts in the comments below.