Linda Mueller of ‘The Expat Partner Coach’: “Start now”

Start now. The timing is rarely perfect and you will never be completely ready, so take that first step. Embrace imperfect action. Know that you will figure it out one step at a time. Do the work you need to create an action-oriented mindset. Dig deep to understand your personal values and why you are […]

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Start now. The timing is rarely perfect and you will never be completely ready, so take that first step. Embrace imperfect action. Know that you will figure it out one step at a time. Do the work you need to create an action-oriented mindset. Dig deep to understand your personal values and why you are starting your business. For entrepreneurs, it’s typically driven by more than just income. Understanding your why will keep you going when plans inevitably go awry. Aligning your goals to your why — and to your values — will put you in the flow and guide your decisions and actions, making it easier to gain momentum in the early days.

Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, 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 create a life they love and supports them through the entire expat/repat cycle. With more than 10 years of expat partner experience in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, she has a breadth of experience in the personal and professional opportunities 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 life coach.

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 had a very typical, middle-class American childhood, but looking back I see many things that hinted at what was to come. We moved around the U.S. a few times for my father’s job until settling in the Philadelphia suburbs when I was 10 years old, so I grew up thinking mobility was a normal part of life.

I devoured books and loved going to the movies with friends. Both transported me to different times and places and opened my eyes to the possibility of a life very different than my own. When I was 16 years old, I stumbled upon information about a foreign exchange program and decided to apply. I dreamt of a summer traipsing through Paris and Euro-railing, as we called it back then, around the rest of the continent. Instead, I was placed with a family in the Netherlands where I spent the summer biking through the beautiful countryside of Friesland and discovering delicacies such as Nutella and fritessaus. Although it wasn’t the glamorous urban escape I had envisioned, I developed a curiosity of cultural differences that left me craving more international adventures.

Still chasing that urban experience, I went to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., for my undergraduate degree in international business. I couldn’t wait to travel the world and hoped that this would be my ticket. Life in D.C. opened a whole new world to me in terms of diversity, opportunity, friendships, and lifelong lessons in self-sufficiency. And I finally made it to Paris during a semester abroad program and had the chance to traipse around Europe.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending. ― C. S. Lewis

This is what life coaching is all about — changing your ending. Nearly every change of address I’ve made over the years has been an opportunity to change paths. I’ve experimented with how I want to live my life and who I want to be. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, especially being too hard on myself, but I’m proud that I find a life lesson in each experience and try to do better — and be better — the next time around.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Determination — I have been very goal oriented since a young age. When I commit to something, I become laser focused on making it happen. While this has served me well over time, I’m learning to be more selective with my commitments. I’m careful that my goals are aligned with my values so that my determination is well focused.

Resilience — Living abroad has given me ample opportunity to build resilience. While I embraced each opportunity to move to a foreign country, it wasn’t always easy and carefree as my social media posts may have implied. The normal highs and lows of life were amplified by leaving my comfort zone for countries where the culture, language, and nearly anything one can imagine is different. This can be a challenge on a good day, but factor in illness, being distanced from family, natural disasters, and countless other life events and I had to be resilient to be successful.

The ability to create connections — I have always been curious about people — their history, motivation, and dreams. I love listening to a good personal story and bringing people together. When I hear that someone has an interest, need, or problem, my mind automatically looks for a connection — be it information or another person — that may help.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

Living in Washington, D.C., right after college, I fell into working in government relations. I worked for two trade associations, which threw me into a world where strategy and negotiation were as valued as networking and socializing. It was the 1990s and I was having fun, but I didn’t have a deep passion for government or politics. I decided to go to business school to put myself back on the path I had originally set out on.

After completing my MBA, I joined a Fortune 500 company as an internal marketing and strategy consultant, and that allowed me to travel internationally from the start. I was finally on the career path I envisioned in high school, and I met and married a great guy. Although we had talked about potential overseas assignments, it was still a shock when he was offered a 3-year expat assignment in Tokyo just a few years into our marriage. I had recently settled into my “dream job” as the business manager of a small, troubled business with a lot of opportunity within the company that had provided me great opportunity. It was surreal to think of stepping off the corporate ladder or even slowing down my pace. Thankfully, despite all of this, I agreed to go to Tokyo.

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 were ripped off and my eyes opened to a more diverse and personally expansive world. I took full advantage of expat life and all it had to offer. I picked up some consulting work and still had plenty of time to explore Tokyo with my husband and new friends. We tried restaurants all over the city, joined cultural classes, participated in volunteer work, and travelled throughout Japan and Asia. I didn’t recognize myself, in some ways. When our time in Tokyo ended, we moved back to the U.S. and, although I explored working for a nonprofit and in fair trade, I wasn’t quite ready to leave my comfortable corporate path. I stepped right back into a full-time corporate job.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

It has been an evolution. When I think back, most of that evolution took place in a whirlwind of international moves between 2004 and 2017. I did a lot of experimenting: I consulted, volunteered, traveled, and socialized. I kept one foot in the corporate door by doing consulting work with my former employer while simultaneously throwing myself into classes, tours, and activities; whatever there was to do, I wanted to try it. Although I was learning a lot about myself on my own, I decided to hire a life coach to help me focus in on “what I wanted to do with my life.” She made me dig deep and look at my choices, desires, and expectations from new and different perspectives. Although it took a few more years to completely cut ties with my former employer, my coach planted a seed about the possibility of creating my own coaching or consulting business. Just as I was beginning to figure things out, we were relocated back to the U.S.

Upon returning the U.S., I took a job with my former employer, remodeled our new nearly 100-year-old house, and we decided to add to our family. Just over a year later, another career opportunity for my husband led us back to Tokyo and I was finally ready to make my own professional change. I once again began coaching and consulting with entrepreneurial expat partners while I completed a coaching certification program. As I coached, I realized that most of my clients were fundamentally searching for purpose and trying to create a life they loved abroad, one that would transfer and continue after they moved on to another country or repatriated. After the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, so much shifted, including my coaching specialty. I transitioned from business coaching to life coaching as many of my clients fled the country, reevaluated their priorities, and searched for a deeper purpose.

As I began my second chapter, I couldn’t imagine what the future had in store for us. I gained an extraordinary amount of expat life experience over the next six years as we began moving, somewhat unexpectedly, every 1 to 2 years. Although I managed to coach a limited number of clients here and there, I was pulled to (and fully embraced) my role as Mueller Family Chief Relocation Officer as we moved between Tokyo, Chicago, Abu Dhabi, London, and back to Chicago.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

The trigger was a very promising position with my U.S.-based employer: a promotion into a divisional Asia-region management position. It was exactly what the younger version of me had dreamed of achieving, but it no longer aligned with my values. I did a lot of soul searching and ultimately turned down the job. We had moved back to Tokyo six weeks before my daughter was born, and I could not imagine leaving her with a nanny in Tokyo while my husband and I both traveled around Asia for work. My values and priorities had shifted, so I took a deep breath and cut my corporate ties to focus on my family as well as my consulting and coaching business. The 2011 earthquake and its after effects justified my heart-led decision in the end. My husband was out of the country when it occurred and I could have been, as well, which would have left us both separated from our young daughter.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

I learned a lot about myself the first time we lived in Tokyo. It turned into a crash course in personal development. I had to figure out who I was once I removed the corporate mask. So, I read books about finding one’s purpose, starting a business, and life coaching. I talked to people about their journeys. I experimented with new experiences — volunteer work, corporate and entrepreneur consulting, enjoying expat life, and focusing on managing our family and relocations. Most of all, I embraced the opportunities that expat life offered and let go of trying to control everything. And this combination — embracing opportunities and letting go of control — is what led me to coaching expat partners.

There were two specific tools I used to manifest my new skillset:

Is Your Genius At Work? by Dick Richards. After reading Richards’ book, I discovered that my ability to pull people together and motivate them was my “genius”. I had begun thinking of myself as a dabbler, as I had moved through various functional areas and industries throughout my corporate career. According to Richards’ theory, creating connections was the common thread. Some of my childhood friends still call me Julie McCoy, because I was always planning outings and getting people together when we were younger. Also, I am a person whom people, even strangers, typically confide in. Often, when I sit next to a stranger on a flight, I get off the plane knowing their entire life story, warts and all.

Ikigai. While living in Japan, I stumbled upon ikigai, which is loosely translated as finding joy in life through purpose. This is exactly what I was trying to do. I had grown up defining my self-worth as academic and then career achievement. When I became an expat partner, I reevaluated my life — redefined my values, my desires, and my definition of success and fulfillment.

Ikigai is the junction of the following questions:

What am I good at?

What does the world need?

What can I be paid for?

What do I love?

Reflecting on these questions as I embraced the opportunities and tackled the challenges that expat life offered led me to coaching expat partners on a similar journey. Coaching helps me make sense of the myriad of paths I have taken and use what I’ve learned to support others. Many of my clients come to me feeling stuck, as if their move abroad caused them to lose their identity or purpose, or they are exhausted from living with the uncertainty that often accompanies expat life. I help them use their time abroad to explore who they are, what they want out of life, and how to create a life they love — a life full of purpose and fulfillment, however they choose to define that. My goal is to help my clients get to where they want to be more quickly and easily.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

Things are going better than I could have imagined a year ago as the lockdown began. It feels great to be coaching again and to be connecting with and supporting women on a journey similar to mine. My business has quickly fallen into place, and I’m taking that as a sign that it’s meant to be. To accomplish this, I’ve pushed aside perfectionism and have been just throwing it all out there.

I’m getting great support from my network. My social media following is growing. I joined The Expat Coach Coalition, which is led by intercultural strategist and coach Sundae Schneider-Bean. I am a certified facilitator of her Adapt & Succeed Program, which is a set of strategies and tools that I wish that I would have had when I began my expat partner journey all of those years ago.

Without the forced slowdown of life in lockdown, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I could have settled into our new home and done all of the soul searching, brainstorming, and decision making with such clarity. I’m finding my voice and am excited about supporting my clients.

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?

Without a doubt, it is Esther Lawton. She was a trailblazer and a force to be reckoned with in the Federal Government before we met. In 1980, she retired as the Deputy Director of Personnel for the U.S. Department of Treasury and served as the Ford Foundation’s first foreign female consultant in the Middle East. That was a tremendous achievement, especially given the time period. When she graduated from college in the early 1930s, government was one of the few options for females wanting to have a career. She faced discrimination and challenges that many women today can hardly imagine. She never gave up though, not even when she suffered a debilitating stroke later in life. She made a recovery and continued to champion women’s rights and the arts.

When I met Esther in the late 1980s, she was in her own second chapter of life. I was a freshman in college, and she hired me as a research assistant to help with a book she was writing. We hit it off right away. The book was never finished, but we became family. I loved hearing stories about her career, international travels, and life in Washington, D.C., back in the day. She reminded me of my own grandmother, another trailblazer in her own right. Esther set an example of dignity, vulnerability, resilience, perseverance, defending the less fortunate, and intellectual curiosity. Although it looked like I was assisting and supporting her, she gave me so much more and taught me life lessons that I carry with me today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Arianna Huffington “liked” a comment I made on one of her LinkedIn posts and she then responded to it. I feel a bit juvenile calling attention to this, but I was thrilled, even knowing that it could have been done by her social media manager. The bigger picture of this small “like” is that it confirmed that what I have to offer is resonating with others. As I mentioned, I’ve been just throwing my thoughts and opinions on social media to see how people react to what I have to say and how I say it. It’s been exciting to watch my social media following grow organically, seeing the types of people who are finding me, and the comments they make. Having someone I admire respond to my comment made me feel like I am on the right path.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Every. Day. For my whole life, I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome. I never believed I was smart enough or good enough, and I worked extra hard to compensate. I’ve overcome it by staying very clear on my strengths and weaknesses. I build my foundation on my strengths and compensate for my weaknesses by partnering and hiring people to help me, learning what I need to know, and generally not being so hard on myself.

Doing this interview is a great example of overcoming imposter syndrome. The old me would have thought that I didn’t have anything of interest or value to share. Today, I know that connecting with others by sharing my story will show those on a similar journey that they are not alone. Even if one expat partner, or anyone for that matter, is inspired or feels comfort after reading about my struggle to find purpose after stepping off my corporate path to support my husband’s career, it will be worth it.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

Before I did anything, I got my husband’s buy-in. I wanted him to be involved and I knew that his life would be greatly impacted by the relaunch of my coaching business. He’s smart, grounded, and a voice of reason. I value his opinion. He’s my biggest cheerleader, but also calls me out on things.

Next, I confided in a few close friends and former clients who I knew would be supportive. Their encouragement and advice has been invaluable. I feel so fortunate to have this kind of support.

Also, I created a virtual support system. I joined virtual business-building and expat-related Facebook groups, participated in webinars, and listened to a lot of podcasts. While researching and networking, I found and joined the Expat Coach Coalition. 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.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

The first time we moved to Japan, a friend suggested that I blog about my experiences. I wouldn’t consider it for a moment. I felt like my husband and I were taking a huge risk, and this was very personal. I thought that I couldn’t possibly write about something so private! Fast forward 15 years and I now post about my experiences on social media, pitch articles to media outlets, and have started to blog. I’m keeping myself in a constant state of discomfort by raising my hand to be a guest on podcasts and participate in Facebook Live events — as well as jumping into conversations on Clubhouse. For years, I hid my insecurities behind a big company. That company gave me confidence and security. Now, I am my own company, and I want to put myself out there so that potential clients can get to know me and learn how I can help them.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. 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.

Start now. The timing is rarely perfect and you will never be completely ready, so take that first step. Embrace imperfect action. Know that you will figure it out one step at a time. Do the work you need to create an action-oriented mindset. Dig deep to understand your personal values and why you are starting your business. For entrepreneurs, it’s typically driven by more than just income. Understanding your why will keep you going when plans inevitably go awry. Aligning your goals to your why — and to your values — will put you in the flow and guide your decisions and actions, making it easier to gain momentum in the early days.

Begin with the end in mind. The start-up phase for your business can be overwhelming. If you make decisions based on the company you envision building instead of the company you lead today, it will help you prioritize your time and investments. As you are envisioning your business, 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 your progress. Most weaknesses can be minimized by hiring, partnering, or some form of personal development or education, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Become the best version of you and know that’s enough. We are each a unique combination of our experience, education, style, and personality. Nobody else can truly compete with that. Be aware of your perceived competition, but learn what you can from them — what they do well, what you can do to differentiate — and even look for opportunities to collaborate. There will always be those who are farther along for any number of reasons, so give yourself the same grace and encouragement that you give to your dearest friends.

The right clients will find you. Put your authentic self, or genius, out there to connect with the people you are meant to serve. Find your voice and offer consistent messaging that communicates who you are. This will enable your audience to get to know, like and trust you. This links back to being keenly aware of your strengths and weaknesses. In the book I mentioned earlier, Is Your Genius At Work?, the author Dick Richards says that 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”. Defining your genius enables you to create offerings that speak directly to the people you are meant to serve.

Take care of yourself. You are your business’ greatest asset. Let’s face it, society generally praises those who are perceived as working the hardest and giving it their all. The reality is that those who balance self-care with hard work are better positioned to succeed, as they have the clarity and energy to keep going when the going gets tough. It took me much too long to learn this, but I’ve finally evolved. It’s basic: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and practice some sort of mindfulness. Only you can define what type of self-care is meaningful to you, but keep in mind consistency in that area is key.

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. I am consistent on this value. As a society, we need to move beyond empathy and sympathy. We need to understand the experiences of others and feel inspired to take action to improve their situation. Connecting and helping each other will make a tremendous impact on society. 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 and beyond. If what we focus on grows, I argue that we need to focus on compassion to better our world.

What do you want to be remembered for the most?

I want to be remembered for raising a daughter who knows that she is unconditionally loved and supported. This will give her the confidence to do great things in this world, in any way she chooses to define success. As a third culture kid, having been born and raised abroad for a good portion of her life, she’s seen and experienced a great deal at a young age. My hope is that this has made her resilient, compassionate, and curious about the world and those around her. I started out wanting to travel the world as a successful corporate executive, but I’ve changed. I am still ambitious, but I know myself better and my values and priorities have shifted. My daughter makes me want to always do better than I have in the past. She never knew me as a career-focused person in my first chapter, so it’s good for her to see me build my business and use my experiences to serve others. She is showing interest in getting involved in it with me. I hope it will open her mind to endless possibilities.

How can our readers further follow your work online?


Twitter: @TheEPcoach

Facebook/Instagram: @TheExpatPartnerCoach

Clubhouse: @LindaMueller


Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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