Get clear on why you work — Money is a basic need, but there are a lot of ways to make it. Most entrepreneurs work for reasons beyond compensation. Make sure you clearly understand these reasons, because it will motivate you to push through the challenges that will inevitably arise along your journey. The reasons I coach are to connect, to share what I’ve learned, and to serve others. I learn something about myself during each coaching session, so I am getting as much out of it as I give
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Mueller.
Linda Mueller is a certified life coach and the founder of The Expat Partner Coach LLC, through which she empowers expat partners to live purposeful and fulfilling lives abroad and during transition. With more than 10 years of expat partner experience in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, she has a wide breadth of experience in the professional and personal joys and challenges that partners of expatriates encounter while living overseas. Linda has evolved from a career-obsessed, globe-trotting, and often frazzled corporate climber to a fulfilled wife, mother, and entrepreneur currently living in Chicago, IL (USA).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I feel like I had a very typical middle-class American childhood, but looking back I can see many things that fit my larger story.We moved around the U.S. a few times for my father’s job until settling in the suburbs of Philadelphia when I was 10 years old, so I grew up thinking mobility was a normal part of life. Around that same time, my aunt began giving me Madame Alexander dolls, each of which represented a different country. This sparked my interest in the world beyond my suburban bubble.
In high school, I was focused academically and was more interested in gaining work experience and daydreaming about the future with friends than participating in extracurricular activities. I read a great deal, which fed my dreams of life in a big city and traveling the world.
At 16, I stumbled upon information about a foreign exchange program and decided to apply. It was a splurge for my family and forced us all to step outside of our comfort zone, but it was really important to me so we made it happen. I had dreams of a summer exploring Paris, but I was placed with a family in the Netherlands where I spent the summer biking through the countryside of Friesland. Although it wasn’t the urban escape (ie, vacation) I had envisioned, I learned so much about myself and appreciating cultural differences that it left me wanting more.
Still craving that urban experience, I went to George Washington University for my undergraduate degree in international business. This experience opened a whole new world to me in terms of diversity, opportunity, friendships, and lifelong lessons in self-sufficiency. I never knew what the day would bring — Gorbachev’s motorcade passing as I stepped out of my freshman dorm, bumping into Hillary Clinton in a hotel lobby, a view of the Washington Monument and cherry blossoms from my bedroom window, and so on. And I finally made it to Paris on a semester abroad program.
As much as I couldn’t wait to grow up and leave my hometown, one of my favorite things to do is to go home to Pennsylvania to reconnect with friends and family. We’ve all changed, but we haven’t. It’s been an anchor for me as I’ve lived quite literally around the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” — Maya Angelou
Oprah Winfrey said that she repeated this Maya Angelou quote more than 40 times on her show throughout the years. As a faithful viewer, I must have heard her say it a dozen times. Yet, it never stuck with me until I saw it posted on social media a few years ago. When I researched the quote, I learned that what Maya actually said to Oprah was:
“You did in your 20s what you knew how to do and when you knew better you did better. And you should not be judged for the person that you were but for the person you are trying to be and the woman that you are now.”
When I was younger, I modeled what I saw growing up. I was very academic and then career focused. I put most of my energy there and didn’t develop many other interests or take very good care of myself. Always striving for perfection, I was hard on myself and often the people around me. In retrospect, this often made navigating life much more difficult than it needed to be.
Each major decision I’ve made related to obtaining academic degrees, jobs to take or to leave, and where to live has shifted my trajectory and flooded my life with adventure and a fair share of life lessons. The younger me would have looked at many of those lessons as mistakes, but I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. Each lesson increased my awareness and provided an opportunity to ‘do better.’ I continue to try to do better and work to help others do the same through my coaching business.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
So many! Is Your Genius at Work? by Dick Richards is a book that helped me make sense of my varied and somewhat choppy career path. He was at the forefront of thinking of one’s natural talents as ‘genius’.
About 10 years into my career, I began referring to myself as a ‘dabbler.’ I had worked in government relations, business and strategy consulting, finance and marketing in a wide range of industrial and consumer industries. This book helped me find common threads and weave a narrative of my skills and experience. Going through the series of exercises in his book showed me that my genius is ‘creating connections.’
Suddenly, my somewhat disparate skills and experiences made sense to me, and I was able to see clearly how I uniquely add value. I am good at keeping in touch with other people and building and maintaining relationships, connecting people with common interests, and motivating a team to meet a goal. At times I when I can’t do it all myself, I always know (or can find) people who can help.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Jack of all trades, master of none! Living in Washington, DC, I fell into government relations after completing my undergraduate studies. Although I enjoyed the strategy and negotiation skills required for this work (as well as the fun networking events), I didn’t have a deep passion for politics. Because business school would allow me to shift into international marketing, I enrolled at the College of William & Mary to pursue an MBA. Although I suffered culture shock transitioning to life in a small Southern town after so many years in DC, a semester in Bergen, Norway, and a January-term trip to Southeast Asia fed my desire for international travel.
After graduating, I joined corporate America in a position that allowed me to work and travel internationally from the get-go, working on marketing and strategy projects in a wide range of industries. I was finally on the career path I envisioned in high school and had married a great guy. Then my husband was offered an expat assignment in Tokyo. I was torn between staying in my ‘dream job’ and leaving to pursue my desire to live overseas. Thankfully, I agreed to go.
Our three years in Tokyo changed my life. When I let go of my traditional career and of the expectations I was clinging to, the world opened up. My corporate blinders came off as I took full advantage of expat life and all it had to offer. I picked up some consulting work that left plenty of time to explore Tokyo with a diverse group of other expat partners. We joined cultural classes, participated in volunteer work, and travelled around Japan and Asia. I didn’t recognize myself, in some ways. Cooking classes? Sumi-e painting? I realized that there’s more to life than just climbing the corporate ladder.
When our time in Tokyo ended, we moved back to the U.S. and I returned to corporate America. A year and a half later, we had an opportunity to move back to Tokyo and our daughter was born six weeks later. I decided to trade corporate life for a business/life coaching certification program to complement the consulting work I picked up again. Most of my clients were entrepreneurial expat partners trying to find a purposeful way to spend their time abroad, just like me.
As I was finishing my coaching certification a few years later, we moved back to the U.S. and began moving unexpectedly, if you can believe that, every 1–2 years after that. I managed to do a bit of coaching here and there, but I fully embraced my self-appointed Chief Family Relocation Officer role. We moved between Chicago, Abu Dhabi, and London in less than six years.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the lockdown kicked in, I had been setting up the home in Chicago that we moved into in December of 2019. This move included merging and purging all of the possessions we had stored during all of our overseas moves, as well as the memorabilia we picked up during our travels. To entertain myself during the purging, I began listening to books as I worked around the house. I was thinking about what I want to do with my time now that we were settled in Chicago, a bold statement from someone with my past. I found myself seeking out books, webinars, and podcasts about finding your passion and creating a lifestyle business.
Sorting through these boxes of memories was also a great excuse to reconnect with friends and former colleagues and clients. As I did, I heard stories about stressful pandemic experiences and what it’s like to go through this in a foreign country. I often found myself falling into coaching mode. When talking to one former client, who was also an expat partner, it dawned on me that although I was previously hired to be a business coach and consultant, I spent a great deal of time supporting my clients with general life coaching during our sessions. Often, these expat partners needed support as they navigated life as a trailing partner as much as guidance on business planning.
I recognized that I could leverage what I have learned during my own transformation from a career-obsessed professional with a solid social network to an expat partner living a purposeful and fulfilling life through many international relocations. The shift or loss of identity that many expat partners experience often brings up feelings of self-doubt, lack of direction and sadness. I have been through this and know how to speed up the process of redefining and searching for purpose while living abroad. As soon as I had this realization, I began formalizing and building my new business.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
One of the webinars I signed up for during the lockdown was Cathy Heller’s Made For This Workshop. Over the course of five days in early September, she said exactly what I was ready to hear: Just put it out there. Do it messy. People need you and your experience. If I can do it, so can you. I was motivated by what she had to say and it pushed me to formalize thoughts that had been floating around in my head for years. She helped me realize how to leverage my expat partner experience and coaching certification to make the expat partner journey easier for others.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Really well. It feels great to be coaching again. I’m taking how easily it’s all falling into place as a sign that it’s meant to be. I’ve pushed perfectionism aside and have been just throwing it all out there.
I’m getting great support from my network; word travels quickly in the expat community. My social media following is growing. I’ve begun a training program through The Expat Coach Coalition, which is led by intercultural strategist and coach Sundae Schneider-Bean. I’m excited to be part of a dynamic group of professionals serving the global expat community in areas of health, wellness, and personal development. I wish that I had this type of support when I began my expat journey all of those years ago.
Without the forced slow-down of the pandemic, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I could have done the purging, soul searching, brainstorming, and decision making with such clarity. I’m finding my voice and am excited about serving my clients and growing my business.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband. He’s helped me get to where I am, literally and figuratively. When he first proposed that we move to Tokyo, I was so torn. It seemed so risky career-wise and we would be stepping away from a pretty comfortable life. We first went on an exploratory trip. We were jet lagged for the entire three days. It rained most of the short trip. There were no street addresses to guide us. There was very little information available in English. I couldn’t imagine life without my career. Yet as we stood on a rainy street corner feeling lost on multiple levels, we decided to make the move. We began our married life on his turf in Minnesota. Tokyo was our opportunity to create a new life together.
It’s been a wild ride with extreme highs and lows, but it’s brought us closer. My husband appreciates what I’ve sacrificed to support his career and we have navigated expat life as partners. He has supported me unconditionally and encouraged me to explore and try new things. He believes in me even more than I have myself at times. Although I haven’t walked on the exact path that I envisioned in my youth, together we’ve seen and done more than I ever imagined possible.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I’ve been surprised by how easily I’ve been able to hit the ground running with my business. I have been hard on myself on occasion for setting aside my coaching certification and professional experience as we moved around. Once I defined my coaching niche and established my business, everything else began falling into place.
I’ve dusted off the ideas and plans I’ve been collecting for years. My network of interesting and talented expat partners has welcomed ideas to collaborate on some fun projects. I’m excited about joining the Expat Coach Coalition. I’ve already written and published several pieces on coaching-related issues and plan to continue writing. The International Coach Federation is honoring my previous certification and experience in my accreditation application. Nothing has been lost these past several years and so much has been gained.
When the pandemic struck, I told myself that I wanted to come out of the lockdown better than I entered it. I didn’t know what that would actually mean at the time, but I’ve achieved this with my business and feel like I have my spark back.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Get clear on why you work — Money is a basic need, but there are a lot of ways to make it. Most entrepreneurs work for reasons beyond compensation. Make sure you clearly understand these reasons, because it will motivate you to push through the challenges that will inevitably arise along your journey. The reasons I coach are to connect, to share what I’ve learned, and to serve others. I learn something about myself during each coaching session, so I am getting as much out of it as I give.
- Start with the end in mind — The start-up phase can be overwhelming. As you make decisions, do so based on the company you envision building instead of the company you lead today. This approach will help you prioritize your time and investments. Also, be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Capitalize on your strengths and find ways to compensate for your weaknesses, so they don’t limit our vision or progress.
- The right clients will find you — Put your authentic self or ‘genius’ out there to connect with people you are meant to serve. Find your voice and have consistent messaging that communicates your experience, training, style, and personality. According to Dick Richards, your genius is the exceptional power that comes most naturally to you and is the process by which you engage spontaneously and easily — so much so that you do not even notice it.
- Balance business building with execution — Although you may have to spend more time on building your business than on serving customers in the early days, be careful that hidden insecurities or lack of direction don’t keep you stuck here. It’s important to present yourself professionally, but spending hours tweaking your website when it’s already good enough won’t grow your business. In short, let go of perfectionism and keep moving forward. Having systems and support in place to free up your time to serve customers will lead to growth.
- Take care of yourself — You are your business’ greatest asset. I burned the candle at both ends for a long time and have had to learn to give myself permission to slow down and take care of myself. It’s basic — get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and practice some sort of mindfulness. Only you can define what self-care means to you, but balance is key.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
As I mentioned, I started listening to books during the pandemic to give myself a break from the news cycle and my own thoughts. I’ve listened to a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, and I always check in with myself to see what I need in terms of entertainment, encouragement, or insight before selecting the next book. I pop in my earphones and go about my day as I listen.
I’ve also focused on being kind to myself. Taking breaks when needed. Drinking less caffeine as it makes me jittery. I’d like to say that I’m consistently eating better and exercising more, but those are a work in progress. I’ve also relied on the Neuroscience of Emotional Regulation, Resilience and Wellbeing training that I did with Executive Coach Shelly Chauhan in London. I’ve never found meditation easy, but Shelly’s explanation of how the brain is wired and how it can be reprogrammed made sense to me on an intellectual level and has taught me how to find quiet.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Compassion. We need to move beyond sympathy to actually understand someone else’s situation and want to take action to improve their lives. Compassion should be taught in schools, modeled in homes, and expected socially. It can start with active listening and kindness and grow to include volunteering for good causes and performing random acts of kindness. What we focus on grows, so why don’t we focus on compassion?
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
That’s easy — Oprah Winfrey! She is a master connector and has met the modern world’s most interesting and influential personalities. I’ve learned so much from her shows, programs, and magazines. I never considered myself a groupie, but her messages always seem to make their way to me and often resound deeply. She’s part of the reason I can now ‘do better’.
How can our readers follow you online?
Like I said, I’ve been throwing it all out there so I’m everywhere:
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!