I think the best decision you will ever make is to drop what you are doing, book a plane ticket, fill up your backpack, and leave the country tomorrow. Let me explain.
My family ranks among the millions who have moved to the United States for work. I grew up in a tiny town on the coast of North Carolina, mostly known for a river, a beach, and a Bosch plant. We spoke English. We went to a Baptist church. I played soccer and rode horses. Like many school-aged kids below the Mason-Dixon Line, my sister and I were homeschooled in a co-op. This was due in equal parts to the abysmally underfunded, inept school systems within a 50-mile radius of our house and the rife, deeply conservative Christianity practiced by seemingly everyone we knew.
In high school, my immigrant heart started unbearably pounding for more. I read everything I could get my hands on about international politics, about sports, about music and literature, about medicine and science and research.
For three years, I joined humanitarian aid and teaching trips to Asia on my school breaks, where we ran sports camps for kids and taught language and the arts. When I moved on to college in Washington, D.C., I spent seven months in Germany, my family's home country, in a research program for social psychology and sport science.
Here's what I learned:
In America, I learned about diversity. It is impossible to create something expansive and impactful with one voice; a good philosophy can stand up to challenge. Questions are welcome.
In Thailand, I learned about adaptability. What you expect to happen probably will not. It's truly best not to be angry about it. Find another route.
In China, I learned about realism. The process toward a goal should be executed as efficiently and effectively as possible within time and resource restraints. Don't be fancy; make it work.
In Indonesia and South Korea, I learned about mentorship and teamwork. There is unspeakable value to be founded in people who hold the same vision as you and push you into refinement as a result.
In Germany, I learned about failure. It can be sad and scary, but it is not inherently bad. If you are still breathing after an experience, there is something to be learned from it.
I was incredibly privileged to have opportunities to travel and work internationally at a young age, and this is not always an option for people. Maybe you can't book the plane ticket tomorrow.
If you can, go. If not, ask.
Especially if you work in a helping profession of any kind - that is, a coach, doctor, lawyer, consultant, psychologist, etc. - you should go. Find an international opportunity. A position. A continuing education course. A conference. A service trip. A networking event. Anything.
Find something that interests you, even if it's not directly in your line of work, and go.
If you are strapped for resources and can't afford a $700 plane ticket, event entry fees and week off work, find something feasible that is still out of your network and, maybe, comfort zone. A different hospital. A workshop. A state conference. SWSX. Something.
I beg you to go.
If you are truly tied down, find some people who did go, invite them over for dinner, and pick their brains for an hour. Ask questions. What were the three things they took away from the experience? How will they implement what they learned into their practice? How did it impact them outside of work? Ask everything.
"If you're alive, there's something for you to learn." -Claude Kelly of Louis York
On expansion and self.
I work in the sports industry. I finished my Bachelor degree in America, completed internships at NCAA Division I institutions, and became certified through US organisations. I moved back to Germany not long after for graduate school, doing research in the vast European (sport-)science network and working in the national leagues.
Yes, I learned a lot of great qualities. Yes, I saw a lot of the world. But the most important lessons to me were those that tested my life mission, my coaching philosophy, my favorite programs and exercises, my worldview, and forced me ask questions about my "why". As a result, my conviction to my "why" became stronger and I met others who strive for the same.
I'm not asking you to sell your house, take your life savings out of the bank, move to a foreign country, learn a different language and figure it out.
What I am asking is this: please look to expand your vision. Find a way to swap opinions on work philosophy with others in (and out of) your field. Test your thoughts and opinions against other people's and other cultures. Examine different systems of practice. Learn new techniques from foreign counterparts. Meet other humans. Join a different network. Change something.
Experts estimate that we spend one-third of our lives at work. People who serve and help for a living owe it to themselves and those they work with to expand their views. When we become comfortable and stop developing ourselves and our professional work, we surrender the opportunity to do the most good. Part of our craft goes to sleep.
In my experience, the best way to combat this is immersion. Go somewhere else, where you might not know anyone, be quiet, and learn. Ask hard questions. Do the work. You will thank yourself.
Whatever you are, be a good one.
Julia Eyre, CSCS/FMS-2/USAW