Dateline: Derry, Northern Ireland
If you’re a person who makes a living through entrepreneurial pursuits, whether it’s business, investing, or consulting, you already know that you frequently need to be a creative problem solver. That’s practically common knowledge.
What’s less commonly known is the role that travel and exposure to other cultures and perspectives can have in boosting that creativity.
Travel to a new environment often forces us to reexamine things we’ve taken for granted all our life. Seeing first hand how other people solve a problem can cause us to question things we’ve always taken for granted. Questioning is the first step on the path to new understanding and personal growth.
Travel as reinvention is another well-known theme among expats. Almost to the point of being a bromide. Stories like Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun solidify etherial academic concepts such as ‘attention restoration’ and ‘viewing our lives from a distance.’
But the stories are based on a real phenomenon. It happens to us even when we go on a short vacation to a place like the Caribbean. You sit on a beach and watch the moon rise over the ocean, listen to the waves wash against the sand and suddenly your problems feel distant and manageable.
But that’s just a snapshot.
For an expat who makes the move to a new place to live, those affects not only continue, they are multiplied. The disconnection from the relentless manufactured TV news cycle, the exposure to new sights, new observations, and to different people day after day all bolster our sense of confidence and accomplishment. Fears are diminished with each new experience and each successful outcome. Fear is displaced by self-confidence. Uncertainty becomes a welcome challenge.
Living Abroad Increases Creativity
A study conducted by Columbia University and published in the Academy of Management Journal revealed that professional experience abroad resulted in more creative and innovative output from people working in an organization. No doubt, the same phenomenon is true in individual entrepreneurs, who are already primed towards creative problem-solving.
Further, another study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that living abroad – not merely being a tourist – had a direct correlation with increased creativity.
Skills for a New World
Look, we are all reminded every day that our world is changing at an accelerating rate. To thrive in this New World we need to cultivate and exercise some particularly useful skills.
Dealing with uncertainty and complexity, risk-taking, self-confidence, self-motivation, general creativity, and plain old cognitive flexibility are going to be very valuable personal traits this century. These are all traits that expats exercise almost daily. Perhaps the guy working in a cubicle ten miles from where he grew up doesn’t get the same opportunities to develop those personal traits.
All this is to say, if you have been thinking about becoming an expat, moving to a new place and giving yourself a fresh start, there are deep personal advantages that will pay you dividends for the rest of your life. It’s not all just about the increased income, the lower taxes, and the improved standard of living because you get more for less. It’s also about improving yourself. Best of all, that personal improvement, increased sense of creativity and heightened well-being is something that can never be taken from you
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