The Support Act


A girlfriend of mine believes that while some of us have stars  we require to shine brightly, others do not. “Not all of us want to be the person in the limelight, some of us are happy to be in the cheer squad.” She uses her children as an example, while one of them prefers to be front and centre, the other is happy to bask in his brightness, to be his wingman. I asked once if it worried her. “No, I was the same as a kid, I’d much rather be the supporter, the person behind the scenes, as long as I felt I was part of it all.”

I read a brilliant post yesterday about expat women who hold it all together, who “keep the show on the road”. I nodded in agreement at the acknowledgement of the pool of talent you’ll find at a coffee morning or school gate. I thought of my Canasta buddy in Jakarta who was a rocket scientist, my English friend in Houston an experienced GP; both were taking a break while their partners took an overseas assignment. Many expat women (and men) momentarily become supporters of someone else’s career while they focus on establishing a new life in a new country.

I think often as a mother you tend to be in the cheer squad. Yesterday I watched three lots of sports practice. “Did you see me catch it Mum?” asked the second little traveller. “How come you were only there for ten minutes?” said the second. “Where did the ball go when I had the big hit?” asked the first.

Although G and I don’t discuss his work, I do take note of his travel plans and the hours that he’s putting in. I congratulate him on his bonus and smile at the joke he shares from the office. And while I’m happy to coach every one of my family from the sidelines, I am surrounded by evidence that I need to invest some time in my own self development.

I see the friends whose marriages have fallen apart. Friends who’ve needed to get home and find work in a hurry. Friends who found their own sponsor, got their own rental allowance and worked under their own visa. I have a friend whose husband suddenly became ill, another who lost her partner in a work accident.

I spent my first few years of expat life consumed with small children and moving, the next few were back at the office and when we arrived in Qatar I realized I was presented with an opportunity. A small window of time to think about what I would do if I could anything.

In my first few months here I went along to a Qatar Professional Women’s Association event. I was blogging sporadically (I think I managed about 40 blog posts in that first year), and was yet to consider a career in freelance writing. As I scanned the room I noticed a woman in front of me who was wearing a great set of glasses, when we were introduced we acknowledged our mutual accents, and within minutes realized we had quite a bit in common. Pip had also worked in recruitment, she’d lived in Asia and had been traveling with her husband. Her little guy was just a bit younger than Henry Hotdog. We both agreed that we’d felt anxious about arriving at an event for professional women without a whiff of a career in our sights. There was no business card to throw in the bowl, our answer to “so what do you do here” began with a clearing of the throat and a long winded explanation.

A few weeks later Pip and I met for coffee, we talked again of our previous careers, what we’d do now if we could do anything. I remember at the time I was hesitant to admit out loud that I’d been thinking of becoming a writer, those dreams were for people with English Lit degrees or journalist weren’t they? But I’d discovered that I loved blogging, there was a thought brewing in the back of my mind. I asked Pip what she’d do, what would she choose? Her eyes lit up as she talked about design and art and what she’d loved as a teen, she told a story of making her way to an art school interview and how she’d lost her courage at the last minute when it came to presenting her work.

Within a few weeks Pip was painting, a few months later someone asked me if I’d seen how fabulous her work was, and within the year I wandered into a friend’s house and saw a “Pip Hoy” on the wall. I’ve been to a few of Pip’s shows now, her work is beautiful, fun, funky, moving, and for me on a personal level, inspiring.

Pip’s business is now in full swing, she’s doing something she loves, and it’s a portable career. We talked recently about our chat in the coffee shop that day, how worried we were about putting ourselves out there, about taking a leap of faith. We both agreed expat life had provided us with an opportunity, a chance to explore something we probably wouldn’t have had the guts to do at home. I started with a clean slate here, there was no-one to tell me I couldn’t be a writer, that that wasn’t who I was.

I agree with my girlfriend that not all of us want to be in the limelight, but I think if you’re too busy being someone else’s support it’s easy to forget about yourself. Perhaps we need to keep searching for the undiscovered dream. Whether it’s going back to school, becoming a yoga teacher or setting up an office from home. This could be your chance to do something completely different.

It’s admirable to keep the show on the road, but when the show stops you’re going to need a new gig. This is either going to be terrifying or exhilarating, you get to choose.

If you’re interested in having your own Pip Hoy (that’s one of her paintings up there at the top of the page), please go and check out her website, she’d love to have a chat to you.

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  1. You both inspire me. I watched Pip sit in a lovely, light filled room in Paris and struggle to say “artist” when asked that uggg question “what do you do?”. Yet she stayed vulnerable and courageous, as have you, and now owns that little title like a pro – as you do the title of “writer”. I hope I, in turn, can do some justice to the role of helping others like us (those who have supported someone else’s career by standing out of the limelight a while) find their new gig now that the show is somewhat on the road as you say. I reckon its safe to promise that the new gig will be BOTH terrifying and exhilirating: they are not far from each other on the spectrum of life. love and light to you both. As the song says “keeping shining …”

  2. As expat partners you have to adjust to a different life each time you move. It is
    often at these points in our lives where we face the greatest changes and
    challenges, but also where we have the most exciting opportunities to redesign
    our lives to reflect what we want and value most.
    You explained it so well in this blogpost!! Thanks.

  3. Excellent post! Keeping the show on the road is an incredible job (even if we didn’t exactly listen to our mothers 🙂 but if we don’t keep our *own* show on the road (and find that undiscovered dream), no one else will.


  1. […] my friend Pip? I wrote about her last month. I’m in the process of finally setting up our playroom. G and I wanted to make it all about […]

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