Just Be innovating

Mastering life of an expat on the v-curve


I relocated to Jakarta from Washington, D.C. in the midst of a snowstorm more than two decades ago. The first leg of my journey out of DCA was delayed multiple times. My sister waited with me for hours at my departing gate until she had to run to her own departing gate back to Dallas. She came specially to see me off. Back then, it took a couple of connections from the US east coast before one could get to the trans-pacific leg to reach Asia. Delays at the first leg of my journey resulted in missing my trans-pacific connection. I was eventually re-booked on a different carrier to arrive in Jakarta via Taipei more or less as scheduled on New Year’s Eve 1996. Miraculously, all my bags, including an oversized cardboard box, arrived with me.


It was exhilarating to be in Jakarta in time to celebrate the new year with my boyfriend (became my husband 17 months later), who was already in country for six months. I welcomed the warm weather and knew that it would be summer every day. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of the haves and have-nots seemingly thriving harmoniously in Jakarta and exquisitely captured by Ken Pattern’s many lithographs, invoking Susan Cain’s bittersweet.




The honeymoon high of immersing in a new language, experiencing a new country and culture, making new friends, and living with my partner for the first time soon down-shifted into the doldrums of culture shock. Very quickly, by the end of the first month of my arrival, I took up an advisory position with IBM in the design of a weather forecasting system for the Indonesian government, a logical extension of my research work at NASA.


The transition from culture shock into an intensive period of multidimensional roles adjustments, from domesticity to board rooms that comprised c-suite executives, account managers, ministers, and directors-general was a steep climb for me at that time, a climb experienced by just about any expat executives taking up posts in new countries and characterized in Hal Gregersen’s v-shaped transition curve. As predicted in Gregersen’s v-curve, I eventually managed to scale the adjustment wall reaching the coveted plateau of mastery. I started to speak a bit of the language and was able to adjust to my work and nonwork stakeholders dynamics with some ease.


Languishing at the plateau


Whitney Johnson’s s-curve of learning dives deeper into that upward swing from the launch point at the bottom (culture shock) to the sweet spot of exhilarating learning and rapid growth (adjustment), gaining in on towards the plateau of mastery. I have been at that plateau enjoying the mastery a few times when everything is in place and that I feel I’m the right person at the right place doing the right job.

In the wake of intense learning enters this sense of inertia and dread that Adam Grant refers to as languishing, that state between burnout and depression. The state that a lot of us have experienced during waves of Covid lockdowns over these past 18 months. Grant suggests that the antidote to languishing is flow, the state when we are fully immersed and focused. Johnson switches it up and advocates that when we no longer are excited, this is the time to switch gear to start something new, or risking to have our plateau become a precipice. So if you become not able to flourish at your plateau and start to languish, approaching the precipice, how do you embrace what Rachel Botsman calls the trust leap into the unknown?


Innovate is the antidote to disruptive change


Shirzad Chamine believes that “The power to innovate is needed when the old way of approaching a situation, or the more obvious ways of dealing with it, does not suffice. A new outside-the-box approach is required.” This outside-the-box concept echoes Johnson’s learn-leap-repeat s-curve of learning that allows us to innovate and flourish in times of disruptive change. In order to reframe a seemingly very bad idea, Chamine advocates the yes-and construct to broaden possibilities and to enhance the power of innovating. The construct assumes that for any bad idea, there must be at least 10% of it that is good, which is the launch point to innovate: “Yes, what I love about that idea is … and …”


What is your antidote to disruptive change?


I’m curious and would love to hear from you on what it’s like to be an expat nowadays.

  • Where are you on the v-curve of transition and s-curve of learning in your expat experience?

  • How do you use the power of innovating to flourish instead of languishing at the plateau of mastery?

  • When does flow happen to you?

Do join the Just Be community and share your thoughts in the comments below.

And follow Just Be, my monthly blog for expats, to explore how being, rather than doing, can better support us through uncertainty, living at the periphery. If you want to dive deeper, do connect with me for a chat.




This post appeared first on LinkedIn on October 27, 2021



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