Thursday, July 24, 2008

Swiss Dip

A friend of mine who recently returned from three years in London described the Expat Curve to me…

There’s the euphoria of embarking on a new adventure. The dopamine is pretty high.

But then things start to fall apart. You have to deal with setting up the utilities. You begin to think the supermarkets and the electrical outlets are too weird. You miss hamburgers and TiVo. You realize you don’t even know if they get Lost and The Office in this country.

But then you start to climb back out of the rut. Life becomes livable. All the new experiences you have begin to outweigh the fact that there’s no Netflix, peanut butter, root beer or Famous Dave’s All-American Feast.

Looking at this curve reminded me a little of Seth Godin’s book The Dip. Subtitled, “The Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit And When to Stick,” it’s a brilliant read, and an easy one.

I received my copy of The Dip when Seth Godin came to Chicago a couple summers back and spoke to a crowd of 250 at Magiano’s Banquet Hall. (While I enjoyed the book, nothing really compares to seeing Seth speak live. If you get the chance, take it.)

It’s a book about quitting – a heretical notion in business, but Godin makes a great point. He asserts that when we’re pursuing what we want, we often find ourselves in the Dip – the long slog between beginning something and mastering it. For doctors, the Dip is organic chemistry. Without that barrier in college, there’d be a lot more doctors. It weeds out those who aren’t fully committed.

But sometimes we find ourselves in cul-de-sacs – the pursuit of what we think is attainable, but really isn’t. Or we’re in a Dip with rewards that aren’t worth the effort on the other side. It’s those cul-de-sacs and those projects that aren’t worth the effort we need to quit so we can redirect our energy to the Dips that will be worth making it through.

I don’t know if Seth considered expat experiences when he wrote the book, but I think they apply. While Suzy and I knew bailing on Geneva wasn't an option, having lived in Europe already was still no preparation for our first week in Geneva.
  • Our neighbors smoke - all our neighbors.
  • The problem is exacerbated by the fact that with no air conditioning (AC is rare in Geneva), we have the windows open a lot.
  • Our three kids (raised with a big yard in the suburbs) are loud.
  • There’s too much trash on the street for it to feel romantically European.
  • Someone has spray painted a four-letter word on the electrical box just outside our apartment. 
  • The six-year-old boys in the neighborhood have pierced ears and we’re afraid Henry’s going to think that’s cool.
These are just a few things that threw us headlong into the Expat Dip. But we’re getting through it. Weekend trips to mountains, picking up a few more words in French every day, the kids making good friends, and me loving my first week in the office are all a part of it. Even the orchid I picked up at Ikea (didn't have to use an allen wrench on it) makes a difference. And I'm surprised at how a couch and DSL exponentially improves our outlook.


Guy said...

Glad to hear that - despite the dip - you know there's more to the Swiss thing than smokers, litter and kids with pierced ears...

(Still, they're banning smoking in public over the next few months - sadly they've got no plans to eradicate kids with pierced ears anytime soon).

But you're right about the conciliation of escaping mountains - I quit my job in a London agency four years ago and still love it. Now I teach skiing in Verbier - a substantially better view than one from a West End office.

Anyway, look forward to reading more about how you're getting on with The Dip...

diane said...

Hi! I am Amelia's friend Diane. I think she told you about me and my husband moving to Budapest. I like your curve. I have been trying to image what it is going to be like to not have every minute of every day occupied with family and friends telling us how excited they are for our new adventure. It is good to see the curve works it way back up:)

Jeremy said...

I would have been one of those doctors. Now I make ads! Thanks, Dip! (Freeze frame. Jingle plays.)

mollie said...

"The Dip" worked for me! At least in Spain. Let's see if it applies to my New Yorkian city life now.

And Greg, could it be that those 6 year old pierced hooligans are actually girls? Although, Henry may think that's cool too. Watch out.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for this curve to show a friend of mine about to start her expat journey. I'm about to go through repatriation and am desperate to find a graph for that!