On 13 May I was invited to give the key note address at the European Families and Spouses Association (EUFASA) conference being hosted by the UK's Diplomatic Service Families Association (DSFA) in London. The audience of delegates came from across Europe and represented over a dozen national families associations, supporting diplomats and their families posted around the world. The topic of my presentation was 'A Creative Life Away from Home' and focused on how to develop and sustain a creative career as an expat.
It was (and remains!) a topic very close to my heart and it was a pleasure to give the presentation alongside having a rare opportunity to see and catch up with people I'd met at post and while working for the DSFA nearly two decades ago. As a young diplomatic wife the DSFA was both the support network that kept me going at post and one of my first employers in the UK.
I also must mention the setting for the event: Lancaster House. Some of you will know it best as background sets for Downton Abbey and The Crown where it doubles up for Buckingham Palace, but I'm not so clued up. For me, the gilt and gold was an unexpected surprise and I was only grateful I didn't have to dress for the surroundings!
As for the talk itself - I focused on those day-to-day necessities that are key to anyone trying to develop a creative career regardless of where they are - whilst also highlighting the amazing opportunities that might present themselves in a peripatetic lifestyle.
In my list of advantages and opportunities I included:
meeting other artists; developing an international network which might lead to new opportunities; taking advantage of specialist local skills to learn a new craft; creating self-defined residencies to pursue current passions; having the freedom to try new things (especially if working visas aren't readily available).
Truly there is nothing that can prepare a creative person for the opportunities that arise when they have the chance to follow their curiosity in unexpected and serendipitous directions just to see what happens.
Short answer: magic happens.
That said, the day-to-day stuff is also important, including:
giving yourself time to adapt to new surroundings; looking after your own well-being, especially when things aren't going well; creating a working routine and sticking to it; staying visible to those you've met along the way whilst also creating new networks to develop your ideas, projects, and opportunities going forward.
Be braver than you thought you were. Be curious. Take tiny steps.
The don'ts, there's just one:
Don't give up.
Social media and the internet have made it much easier for us to stay in touch and to work remotely. In many ways, they've made it possible for creative professionals to do our thing from anywhere in the world, with greater ease than ever before.
That said, it's never going to feel easy. It will require dedication, persistence, ingenuity, and hard work every step of the way.
I'm not telling you it is going to be easy ...
Especially as there are no rule books on how to do your own special thing - you're making it up as you go along. And while that might be hardest thing about creating and maintaining a creative career away from home, it's also the best thing - because you're going to stand out from the crowd where ever you go and if you can turn that to your advantage you're halfway home already.
I am telling you, it's going to be worth it.