Striking an effective work-life balance is always a challenge, but living abroad can further complicate matters and make it tricky to choose the right lifestyle for you.
Should Expats Work to Live or Live to Work?
Whether expats should live to work or work to live largely depends on individual priorities. People move abroard for a whole host of reasons – some for career advancement, others for travel and adventure, and most often a mixture of all these. They say life is all about the journey, and indeed you may spend years or even decades trying to achieve balance between the different areas of your life! But what if the trick is simply to accept that the ‘perfect’ balance is impossible, and instead trying to find the ‘right imbalance’ for you?
Is balance really possible?
Most of us place value on more than one facet of life and would be disappointed to find that we are failing in one area, even while succeeding in another. How many public figures can you think of who have achieved fantastic professional or creative success, yet at the same time leading messy personal lives? Conversely, you have a fulfilling family life while stuck in a financial or professional rut. The truth is that although we may have the best intentions to create a balanced work-life balance, our ideal is often unrealistic.
There are two main pitfalls that people fall into when managing their time. One is to only prioritize tasks which have clear deadlines and parameters. Work demands are generally far easier to determine; it’s usually obvious when you need complete a work task, and you can clearly determine what the consequences are of neglecting your job. However, personal commitments can often be put off without immediate problems. Meeting friends for coffee or taking a break for a hobby you enjoy can seem like they are not pressing matters, yet these relationships and personal interests will slowly drop off over time unless you make them a priority.
Another common problem is that people just try to fit too much into a short time span and are disappointed when they can’t manage everything. Others decide to work hard at their careers for decades and wait until retirement to relax. But this isn’t healthy and can lead to burn-out as well as a lack of personal satisfaction during what should be the prime of your life.
Everybody’s priorities shift over time and you may find that something which took up a lot of your time previously is no longer as important to you, or vice versa. Rather than trying to do everything, it’s more realistic to choose the imbalance which best suits you.
It may seem counter-intuitive to promote an ‘unbalanced’ way of living, but let’s face it: nobody can do everything! Instead, think actively and become conscious of your priorities so that you can wisely choose the focus you want in your life.
This will inevitably mean that you need to sacrifice something else, which can be a tough choice to make. If you’re having trouble deciding what to pursue and what to let go of, try projecting your thoughts to your future: ask yourself, “What will I regret not doing?”
There’s nothing wrong with devoting more time to your career, or to leisure time, but it’s important to make that decision consciously and with purpose.
Work-life balance for expats
When deciding on the expat lifestyle you want, think about why are choosing to live overseas in the first place. Are you living abroad specifically to reach certain financial goals and advance your career, or in order to travel and experience a new culture?
Many expats receive generous benefits packages from their employers, which can include anything from a relocation package, flight expenses, health insurance, accommodation allowance, assistance with school fees and more. You may feel that you need to make yourself valuable to your company to ‘prove’ that you are ‘worth’ it for them to invest all those resources in you. Salaries are often higher for expats than for local employees as well, and if you don’t make it clear that you’re worth the money, you may feel that your local colleagues will start to question the value you add to the company. Expat packages like this generally allow you to build up your personal finances quickly and are well worth making the most of, if you are working toward financial goals.
Such contracts can be highly demanding and may require you to work long hours and be ‘on-call’ at almost any time, so you may need to give up quite a bit of free time, or be prepared to be called away at short notice. If your long-term objective is to leverage this job into future career advancement, then certainly focus on building up a valuable network and skill set.
On the other hand, many people choose to live abroad to enrich their personal lives with cultural experiences and travel. If that is your primary reason for moving overseas, then by all means make that your focus while living as an expat. Since expats are often paid a higher salary than local employees, it’s often possible to lead a comparatively luxurious lifestyle, with plenty of disposable income to spend on leisure activities.
If you can, it may be worth choosing your destination based on the lifestyle you hope to achieve overseas. According to the HSBC Expat Explorer Report, work-life balance may depend on the country you end up in, and the professional culture you find there. 72 percent of expats in France, for example, said that their work-life balance has improved since moving to the country, and that they enjoy immersing themselves in the local culture. A whopping 78 percent of expats in Malaysia agreed that their work-life balance has improved. Other destinations are far more business oriented, with more pressure to succeed at work, at the cost of your personal commitments. The UK has a lower score, with only 47 percent of expats reporting that their work-life balance is better. Singapore also scores low for work-life balance, but offers excellent career opportunities and financial rewards. India, the UAE and Indonesia are also high-ranking destinations for those for whom work and financial heath is more of a priority than leisure.
So, Should expats work to live or live to work? The choice is yours! With a few important exceptions…
Whatever you choose to focus on in life, there are certain things which simply cannot be neglected; a healthy diet, exercise and enough sleep are all essential to our physical wellbeing and poor health will eventually show up in your job performance. Harvard’s Grant Study, which has measured lives over the last 75 years has found that, despite anybody’s circumstances in life, solid relationships are the bedrock of human happiness, so family and friends should feature in anybody’s priority list for maximum happiness and wellbeing.
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