I remember years ago when I did a work placement at a newspaper, I sat next to a friendly, well-spoken old journalist. He'd obviously led a long career but had fallen on hard times.
In an industry in decline, he was deemed surplus to requirements and had been reduced to working a few shifts a week. I heard him talking about how he needed a full-time job as his son was still at university and he had many bills to pay. Although he tried to hide it with his unfailing politeness and cheery demeanor, I saw a man who suddenly felt irrelevant and unwanted in the workplace.
He had likely been in the same job for most of his life and felt he couldn't do anything else. I sympathized with him but, like most Millennials, I probably thought "that'll never happen to me. I'll keep up with the times and I'll always be an asset."
Ten years later however and now I'm not so sure of myself.
Hooked on Thailand
Within the next year, I will be returning to my homeland in the UK to live permanently after seven years as an expat in Thailand. I never intended to stay here for so long.
After I completed my education I started to drift, unsure of what to do next and lacking self-belief. After experiencing a few rejections, I lost confidence and stopped applying for jobs. At some point, I decided I needed to do something radical (well, radical for me) so I signed up to be a volunteer English teacher in Thailand. I thought this might be something I could do for a year or two, before heading back home and starting a career.
Like a lot of expats in Thailand however, I ended up being seduced by the lifestyle and soon vowed never to leave. I had become a little lost back home and my lack of confidence had hindered my personal life as well as my job prospects. I found it hard to make friends and I was awkward around people
In Thailand, by contrast, I found it easier to be myself. The beauty of travelling is that it automatically makes you more interesting and nights out always involve meeting new people and sharing stories. Everyone you meet seems to be on a mission to find themselves and there is a strong camaraderie among travelers and expats.
My main reason for staying though, was love. I got married to my girlfriend in 2013 and we moved in together; everything was perfect for a while. I was content with my life as a teacher and my wife and I planned to open our own language school in her hometown.
A new arrival
Then everything changed. My son was born and I suddenly realized I couldn't raise a family working in such a precarious industry. Although happy at my school, I was essentially doing a job any random backpacker fresh off a four-week TEFL course could do. More importantly it doesn't pay nearly enough money.
For a few years I thought I might be able to make it in Thailand doing something else but I was kidding myself, it was time to make a change. If I wanted to make any kind of life for me and my family, I had to return home. I was nervous about telling my wife however. She has studied abroad but at heart she is a hometown girl and I worried she would be reluctant to leave her family. Fortunately, she understood and agreed with me. As much as she loves her hometown, our son's well-being is paramount and he should have the best opportunities.
Looking to the future
So now I must prepare to rejoin the workforce again and while I feel fairly confident I can find a good job, part of me is still terrified I'll meet the same fate as my old colleague at the newspaper.
My biggest fear is that things may have changed so much that my skills will be inadequate and I will be overlooked in favor of people who have spent their time investing in themselves while I, in the eyes of a potential employer, have been messing around in Asia for the last seven years.
What will recruiters think of someone who has spent such a long time living abroad? Will they be dismissive of my ESL experience? Will they look at my CV and see a 32 year old who has no marketable skills and very few career accomplishments? Will I even fit in anymore? It's very scary indeed and not how I pictured my life at all.
Thankfully I have a lot more self-belief these days and I've heard a lot of positive reports from other former teachers who have returned home and found their ESL experience was looked on favorably by employers.
Despite the life-changing experience I've had as an expat, I've always felt a lingering sense of failure. I'm envious of my friends, all of whom have been at least modestly successful in their careers and I find myself avoiding them because I know hearing about how well they are doing will make me depressed.
At heart though I'm a positive person and I feel excited about the prospect of finally achieving my potential. Nothing is guaranteed but I know I'm making the right decision for my family.