Rethinking Transition Time (it doesn’t have to be time lost)

Times of transition are hard. That’s not new information.


We have training for this. Brochures. Books. Blogs.

It’s all good information that helps you push through the hard times but even for the shrewdest, sharpest most well trained serial expats, time spent figuring out a new normal can feel like time lost . . . or stolen.

The Newby fog is only mitigated by one thing.


It gets better.


They tell you that at the training. You believe it six to twelve months later.


Two quick disclaimers


ONE: There is no universal timeframe for “transition”. You’re not magically through it at six months nor are you required to feel it in any specific way. Every experience is different and each one is filled with variables and nuance.

TWO: Transition is NOT something that ONLY happens when you move from one place to another. Global lives are filled with transition whether you move or not.

But just for the sake of the point lets do some math.


If you spend six months at the beginning and end of every major life change in some kind of limbo it looks something like this.

You ramp up to the airplane and then you ramp down. The chaos gets more intense around the big move and it takes a while for it to level out.

Now let’s say you do that once every five years for 30 years.

Sidenote — If you’re not (or have never been) an expat those numbers may sound ridiculous. “Who would do that?! That sounds horrible.” If you are an expat you may have trouble remembering the last time you stayed in one place for five years. You are both normal. 

Just for the sake of the math . . . let’s say that’s you — that means you would have spent SIX YEARS in the fog of transition. That’s a LOT of time lost.


Here are five ways to shift that paradigm and salvage time that would otherwise be lost. 



Life is frustrating when you have no furniture and only one fork — but those are the magic moments. That’s the stuff that you’ll talk about 20 years from now. It takes time to get settled. It won’t stay that way forever. But while it lasts enjoy the picnics on the living room floor.



You already know how important it is to maintain your existing traditions. That’s what they tell you at the seminar. However, if consistent change is going to be a staple in your life then it makes sense to build your list of traditions specifically for times of change. Hang your family photo on the wall on the first night. Have jet lag parties. Make a big deal out of buying forks.

Get creative but do it every time.



Transition feels like the time between times. The adjustment phase between the real stuff. Try reframing your thinking to allow it to be a time of it’s own. Have conversations early about what Limbo will look like. Don’t reduce this sacred time to, “we’re gonna’ make it through this” or “it will be better when . . .” Let Limbo be a destination and enjoy it while you’re there.



They have seminars for this too. People pay a ton of money to learn how to reduce the clutter in their lives. Empty your closets. Trim the fat. Turn down the noise. Simplification is a counterintuitive discipline that most people find hard to embrace but love when they do. Good news — Times of transition are natural simplifiers. Don’t get too eager to restock everything you let go of to move. Take your time replacing all of the busyness of your former, more settled life.



I know it sounds cooky and cliche but it is SO packed with truth.

Words are powerful.

It’s not magic, it’s just the reality that you will be a character in the narrative that you speak out loud. If “Transition” is an excuse for you, you will constantly find a reason to place that blame. If you “can’t wait to be settled”, you’ve already prescribed yourself to be miserable until you are. If you say you “hate being the newby” . . . you will.

Don’t lie about it but don’t forget to tell the other side of the truth as well.

“We have gotten good at transition.”

“We make the best of the hard stuff.”

“We own jet lag!”


If transitions are (or you anticipate that they will be) an ongoing, significant part of your life, don’t settle for the lie that those months are a lost cause.


Reclaim your transition time.


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Jerry Jones

Jerry lives in China with his beautiful blended family. He is a trainer, a speaker, an adventurer, a culture vulture and an avid people watcher. He writes about all of that at

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