“Experience” is not what happens to you…


Bringing Books to Baku Azerbaijan- A Life-Changing Experience: Seeing, then Doing

A Life-Changing Experience: Seeing, then Doing

“Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you” — Aldous Huxley

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I saw these quotes recently, not together, but they seemed to belong in the same thought. They made me think about what we do with our experience. How do we invest what has happened to us into making things better, different or easier? How has the world changed for you, or, how have you changed the world for others?

When we start to add up all the impact that expats have made, it’s quite a sizable contribution. I’m not sure society at large realizes how much expats bring back with them when they repatriate. It’s been well documented that employers don’t always realize what value they have in returning staff. Attrition rates confirm that expats too often feel like fish out of water when they repatriate.

But the stories and experiences we share with our neighbors and friends, the show and tell items our kids take to school, the lessons learned we write about on blogs, the work of organizations we contribute to like FIGT and more, they all add up.

Azerbaijan International magazine

Azerbaijan International magazine, Modern Math, or When 1+1=135 story of books and giving

The books above are the result of a visit I made to Baku before I moved there to open my business. I had visited our exchange student’s family before she came to live with us, and thought a unique gift would be an Algebra book instead of chocolates or flowers, or some schlocky U.S. Capitol made of plastic. It turned out that both the mother and the father were professors of mathematics in a school that had no classroom sets of books. They would take a lesson, translate it and then copy it for the class. No one had a book to take home for homework or reading. (Our kids might love that at first, but would quickly see what they were missing!)

When I returned to Houston, the mother- Elmira- casually asked me for another book to help  in her teaching of geometry. Hmmm… an opportunity!  As the business year-end was coming, I heard that the oil company I worked for had charitable funds left and was searching for ideas. What happened next was written about in ‘Azerbaijan International” magazine (Modern Math, or When1+1=135, by Anne Kressler) and shared around the world, sparking many such sponsorships and gifts of school supplies. One act led to many, and each one helped many.

The cup below is another reminder.  It was presented to me after a talk given to the Rotary Club of Copperas Cove Texas.

Copperas Cove Texas Rotary Club "Thank You" Speakers Mug

Copperas Cove Texas Rotary Club “Thank You” Speakers Mug

A chance meeting turned into an opportunity to share my story of travel to Azerbaijan to teach young people business skills. I was given 30 minutes plus time for Q&A. After 45 minutes the questions kept coming. Though the meeting had to adjourn,  the group asked if I would stay on. An hour more and people finally decided to take this up at a second meeting. A charitable project was adopted and an orphanage benefited.

I got a cup, but babies got a new washer and dryer… seemed like a fair trade to me.

So, what can you do with the knowledge and memories that you have?

Can you talk to a children’s group at the library? Share stories at a nursing home? Join an intercultural discussion at the local community college or high school social studies class?

There are many places where people would love to hear your side of life, and it might spark a connection that starts a ball rolling somewhere. Are there other places that you have already shared stories that we could add to this list? Tell me about what you do. Give me ideas about what else I can do!

10 thoughts on ““Experience” is not what happens to you…

  1. Many thanks, Margo! I’m glad you enjoyed this one. All our experiences have value somewhere…

    (My apologies for missing your comment while I was away in Tennessee… seems I’m still catching up after the reno marathon! But, I do appreciate your feedback and encouragement, as always!)


  2. There’s a lot of history across that border for sure. But I must say, whereas you might get the stink eye for leaving, the Canadians I have met while travelling through to Fairbanks have been the most wonderful hosts, and most congenial people anywhere. They hide their disdain well, even as we snicker at the Loonies and Two-nies (sic?)


  3. Pingback: Ex-Pat Living: Will That Be Cash Or Credit? | Life Lessons

  4. Pingback: What Do Your Memories Smell Like? | Life Lessons

  5. Thanks for the heads-up on this article. Well done. It was good of you to find the textbooks they wanted. Math doesn’t change so much. I bet they still use them today.

    It’s nice to think that others could benefit from my experiences. Having only moved away 6 months ago, I’m still early on the exit path. I don’t know when or even if I’ll return. What are the odds? Do you know the statistics for ex-pats that repatriate and when? Just curious if anyone makes the new home, permanent and why.

    All the best.


    • Glad you liked the article. Thank you.

      As I re-read those last lines I thought about how your experience will be of value where you are, the conversation, your mental health perspectives- you’ll be holding forth somewhere, I predict!

      Those are good questions about the statistics.Collectively, there are many that do make the jump and stay. Many like Margo are very happy- even more “at home” than being home here.

      I would say, from my time abroad, there were always about 10% of the guys who went native- they just retired and stayed (usually left a 30 year marriage that went stale to live with a 20 year old who likes the life).

      Then there were a few who retired to Mexico or somewhere in Europe. The vast majority went on to new assignments in opposite hemispheres to discover something new.

      Many of my expat friends continue to take assignments because they can’t imagine living at home again, but they need to work, so they just postpone the inevitable.

      I’ll bet the folks in the Expat Partners Coffee Online would have real information, as opposed to my thumbnail recollections from my 10 years abroad.

      Let me know if you post that question on the Facebook page and get a response. It will be interesting to see what they say.


      • I “hold forth” on my blog a lot it seems. I loved being interviewed this month. If holding forth can be considered a contribution, that’s for me. 🙂

        I wonder what “going native” would look like here in France. Baguettes every day? After-lunch-naps? Being okay with tiny showers? Thinking the cheese aisle smells lovely? Having trouble imagining life without a bidet? 🙂

        Thanks for the conversation.


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