I single-handedly conquered Sweden. Now what?

Could I be burned out on the Scandinavian winters, or do I just need a new challenge?


Cary Tennis
May 10, 2006 2:57PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

As many of those asking for your advice, I find myself in a situation that requires that I make a big decision and my indecisiveness is driving me crazy. For the past five years I have been living in Sweden. I moved here for the then love of my life and managed to get a master's degree and interesting jobs in the venture capital-financed biotech industry. My life here has been very enjoyable as well as challenging. I have learned Swedish fluently and become a Swedish citizen, all in the hopes that I will feel more at home here. I have very kind, loyal and generous American and Swedish friends. There is access to beautiful nature and a high standard of living. The challenges have come in the form of very long and dark winters. This combined with a relatively traditional and closed culture can really make me feel claustrophobic. My jobs have both been with very small companies with uncertain futures, which makes for a rather cold and insecure work environment. The biggest challenge of all came a year ago when my partner left me very suddenly under very hurtful circumstances.

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Instead of hightailing it home after the breakup, I decided to stick it out. For the past year, I've managed to claw my way up from the bottom of a very difficult breakup hole. I'm doing much better and feeling much more independent but I haven't the same plan for my future as I used to. I also just lost my job and now I can't decide if I should stay or if I should move back to the U.S. and try something new.

I have a job offer here with another small biotechnology company but I just can't shake the feeling that I would be happier in a city in the U.S. -- among Americans. With all the life that I've built here, friends, professional network, favorite restaurants and cafes, I still feel lonely a lot of the time. The job would be a good opportunity, but I'm afraid that I'm just putting off the difficult decision to move back to the U.S. I don't envision my life in Sweden right now but that may just be because of my separation from the person I thought was my life partner.

What do you think, should I stay or should I take a chance and move back to the U.S.? Everyone keeps telling me to make a choice and stick with it. I'm just afraid that even after I make the choice I'll still be struggling with the decision anxiety.

I know there are no guarantees for a happy future in one place or the other, but I don't know what to do to tip the scales in the direction of the U.S. or Sweden. Advice?

Solo in Sweden

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Dear Solo,

Isn't it wonderful when a choice is clear? I wish it were in this case. But it's not. It may be possible to make it a little clearer, though.

You say you don't envision your life in Sweden right now. That seems significant. Perhaps Sweden does not appeal to your imagination now because it does not seem to hold any challenges for you. I sense that you respond well to challenges. I would bet that taking on challenges is a key part of your personality.

So longing to return to the U.S. may cause conflict in you; it may feel as though to return would be to give up, to shirk a challenge. If so, consider this: You have already accomplished a great deal in Sweden. In five years you established a good career, language skills and even citizenship. You conquered a country!

True, it's a small country, but you conquered it.

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That is one way to look at it, that your mission in Sweden is completed and now you can come home. Or at least you can move on.

You have had two jobs in five years, both relatively unstable and stressful. You just lost the second job. You also recently lost the love of your life. Those are major changes. But you did a relatively courageous thing. You stuck it out. You didn't, as you put it, hightail it back home. You clawed your way back. Evidently you are courageous and highly adaptable.

But recently people have been telling you to pick a choice and stick with it. So you may be courageous and adaptable by nature but currently indecisive. Perhaps you are indecisive because there is no great challenge to inspire you. Challenges and new environments may be what you need to inspire you to make good choices. You obviously do well under such circumstances. In the absence of a challenge, it would understandably be hard to arrive at a choice. So I would ask: What would inspire you? Are you exhausted and want a rest? (You could be a little burned out as well, and just need to recharge.) Or are you looking for a new adventure? What feels right? If you are exhausted, if you really want to come home, you can come home. No matter how adaptable we are, after difficult setbacks it is normal to long for the familiar, where we can recharge.

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If you want to recharge, if you crave the familiar, you could come to the U.S. and work in biotech for a while, recharge, and then go abroad again.

There is also a third choice. Maybe you want to learn Italian. What I'm suggesting you do is search yourself to find out whether what you need is a new challenge or some time to rest.

If this is helpful, use it to gauge what you should do next. If not, perhaps some tool such as the Myers-Briggs profile would give you a clearer picture of what has motivated you in the past and is likely to motivate you in the future. That way, in the absence of any clearly superior choice, you can get a conceptual read on what your next step might be. In times like these, that might be about as good as it gets.

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Until then: Lycka till! (good luck)

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