In March of 2020, my personal story was selected for Dr. Susan Jeffers' Website which asked readers to share their own, "Feel the Fear and Do it anyway" story. I shared my own journey of taking a big leap to head to the Middle East to live for 13 years and what life was like through the lens of both woman and ex-pat.
Following Your Inner “Ding”
My name is Jennifer and I am from upstate New York. For the last seven years, I have been deeply indebted to Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway book for it helped me effectively steer my life onto a new path when I needed it most. At the time, it was a gift from the Gods. I was broken, and had been living in the Middle East as an international teacher for 13 years.
In 2002, I had the opportunity to teach abroad with my sister at a private, international school in Kuwait. She had already been teaching middle school French for a year and really enjoyed it.
The following year, she left Kuwait to go back home to New York, and a man from Canada took her place. Little did I know then, that he would become my beloved husband, David.
David and I began dating and eventually married. We continued teaching in Kuwait for eight more years and relished this international lifestyle. We experienced major challenges such as surviving the 2004 tsunami. Yet, ultimately, these brought us closer. Eventually though, we felt the urge to move on and ended up getting jobs in Qatar.
Unfortunately, Qatar, never agreed with me. I thought it was the country itself that I couldn’t warm up to but it was much more than that. I realized I’d been overseas for too long and missed my family back home. Within my first year, I became slowly caught in the grips of depression. I stopped doing the things I loved and felt indifferent to the life. And unlike Kuwait, one could buy alcohol in Qatar if you had permission from your employer. Alcohol would be my new crutch as it helped me numb the homesickness and depression I was feeling. I would drink my worries away, especially on the weekends. David would tell me, “Jen, you can be happy anywhere. We have so much to be thankful here” and that sounded reasonable.
So, I desperately tried to do things to perk myself up such as meditation, getting my reiki certification, exercised, read some self-help books as well as journaled. But soon enough, I lost interest even in those. David and I grew apart. He loved the overseas world and couldn’t understand why I’d want to go home. David said we had nothing in common anymore.
I would live in Qatar for three more years. I tried so hard to be happy. During that time, David reassured me that I was free to go home to live if I needed to. Yet, we never talked about our future as I knew he wanted to stay in Qatar. Intuitively I believed, that by coming home I would lose him, yet if I continued living abroad, I would lose myself. I stayed frozen in my indecision and didn’t believe I had a choice.
During the start of my last year in Qatar, I discovered Susan’s Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway book on Amazon. The title drew me in like a magnet as it completely resonated with me. My inability to make a choice and honor what I needed in life made me fearful and paralyzed. I carried around an empty feeling in my stomach that even alcohol would not alleviate.
Susan brought up the concept of the “grid of life” and asked, “How whole is your life?” This was a nine-square grid comprised of experiences and things which kept us in balance and allowed us nourishment. It involved areas in our lives that brought us joy and seemed to be deeply connected to our values. Some examples in her book included: contribution, hobbies, work, family, husband, friends, alone time, personal growth and leisure. Right away, I tried putting together my squares onto a sheet of paper and was shocked at what I noticed. I couldn’t fill my squares.
The squares I could complete included: work, David, friends (from work), exercising (at work), and travel. I filled in five out of nine. I was longing for my family square, nature & community back home in New York. That gap left a hole in me. Susan’s book put things in perspective.
After 13 years of being away from upstate New York, I felt the need to make the move back home again. My parents were getting older and I just couldn’t fathom living abroad for the remainder of my life. David did stay behind. We tried a long-distance relationship for a few years but it just was not meant to be. Five years later, he asked for a divorce. We needed to move on.
The decision to relocate back home was one of the hardest yet best decisions I ever made. Susan’s book helped me forge a new path where I found my true calling, both as writer and teacher. My squares are full again: lush and blossoming with family, friends, nature and fulfilling hobbies. I am now part of communities again: both in my small town and at the YMCA where I exercise. Wonderful people surround and support me. In fact, six years after moving home, I met a wonderful man through my squares as these are where I’m at my best. This was at the YMCA! After being on my own, developing my “squares” and being loving and kind towards myself, life came together.
Another wonderful perk is I finished with my memoir that illustrates my decision to move to the Middle East, my life over there as both a woman and expat, as well as my decision to move home and start anew. Furthermore, it is about following your instincts, taking the leap and honoring signs and nudges from the Universe. Susan is one of my nudges.
Thank you Susan for your book as I use it still to this day and recommend it to my friends and loved ones. My squares will remain on my computer as they are a reminder of what’s important in life and how I can continue to keep things joyous and in balance. I am truly thankful.
Jennifer, New York, USA