The Unexpected Ways You Can Grow as a Person

An Expat’s Unexpected Personal Growth

Sometimes the biggest lessons in your personal development come when you’re least expecting it.  That happened to me in the last few years. Things were kind of looking down for me so I took the opportunity to move to Cebu Philippines.  I have been living in the Philippines for a bit more than four years now.

Though I didn’t move for personal growth, it has turned out to be one of the biggest benefits of my new life in the Philippines. I primarily moved for the lower cost of living. I did gain that but I have also seen a remarkable improvement on my outlook in life.

Here’s how:


Personal Development Though the Culture of Others

It started within a few days of moving to Cebu. I was sitting on the back of a motorcycle with a large sidecar attached. I looked around at all the poverty, the wild noises one will hear here and the unsafe mode in which I was traveling.

I thought to myself, “What have you done?”  That was a moment of fear and thinking I had made a huge mistake. Then I looked around and I saw all the happy people. Filipino people living with far less than I have. These people are often living in huts with no air conditioning, sometimes with no electricity, in homes that look like they are falling apart and often even without running water.

I noticed how happy these people are and I thought to myself, “There are millions of happy people here. If they can do it, I can do it.” Though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was the beginning of a journey. This journey didn’t require a plane or a car, it required an open mind.

I then began to delve into the culture of the Philippines. I began to ask a lot of questions and many times when I asked Filipinos my questions they seemed to be defensive. I often explained, I do not think the Western way is better. I simply am seeking to understand. Once I did that, I found the defensive answers would disappear.


As I began to understand, I thought about why these differences would come about. I concluded that the differences in our histories are the main factor. Humans adapt to their environment and the environment of the USA, England or Germany is very different from that of Asia and the Philippines.

With this open minded approach to the Philippines, I found myself beginning to take on some of the culture of the Philippines. As I did, I became a more contented person. Some of this I feel comes from understanding how much I have in the way of material things. I find it harder now to complain about things that don’t go my way when I have so much going my way.

I not only grew in my outlook toward material things but more importantly, I’ve learned to relax a bit. The Philippines has a curious combination of formality yet casual. Filipinos are quite formal, especially in dealing with people they are not close to. However, they usually do it in a rather causal way.

For example, there is a concept here known as “Filipino Time.” This is something that often drives Westerners insane. Myself, I’ve learned to laugh it off and I notice many Filipino take the same approach. Filipino time is not a time zone. If it is, there are about ninety million times zone equaling the number of Filipinos living in the Philippines.

When trying to arrange a get together that includes Filipinos, it is generally a complete waste of time to try to setup a specific time. Recently a friend of mine sent me a text message stating, “I’m suppose to meet four people at the same time in different places.” I could only laugh.  He had spent most of the day trying to put together an outing with several of his friends.

Filipinos have a habit of showing up mostly late but often early but rarely on time. They just arrive when they get there. While this isn’t something that would go over well in the West, it is completely acceptable in the Philippines.

This laid back approach to life is something I have absorbed into my own life. This is really about control. Westerners are sending themselves to an early grave by trying to control that which we cannot control.
Filipinos seem much better at going with the flow of the life rather than fighting it. Some Westerners complain that is why things don’t improve in the Philippines and there might be some truth to that. However this is usually overstated by those that travel to the Philippines; I can’t say there is no truth to that at all. I think though the benefits far outweigh any negative consequences.

I have noticed that others that live in the Philippines for an extended period of time often become more relaxed too. An American I know related a story to me regarding this. He has been living in the Philippines for more than twelve years. Once he was trying to park and someone beat him to a parking place that he was really in position to claim. When he didn’t go ballistic after his parking space was taken, his wife said something like “I can’t believe that is my husband.”  Based on the first part of their life together in the USA, she expected him to make a scene. He referred to himself as a reformed “Ugly American.”

It seems he too has become more laid back, more relaxed and accepting of things the way they are. Really, what good would have it done to get upset and make a scene. The chance of a positive outcome in such a situation is rare. How often has loosing your temper resulted in anything good?

I worry too much, I probably always will but I also notice a clear difference in my attempts to control the things that I cannot control. Many times, these things do not really matter. After observing the more laid back approach of Filipino, I worry less about the things I cannot control. Also, I am far more aware of things that are not deserving of my attempts to change them or even worry about them..

An Open Mind Enhances Growth Potential

Though moving eight thousand miles is not something everyone can do, it certainly took me out of what was common to me. Stepping outside the familiar with an open mind can clearly lead to growth. You don’t have to travel such distances to accomplish this though.

There are vast differences in people where you live. If you can open your mind and learn from those differences, you might discover which ones could benefit your own life. This can assist you in your growth as a human being. It could just make you a happier person.

I have clearly become a happier person since I made the big move. I expanded my opportunities in life sustainably by moving to a developing nation. My own personal development came about as a completely unexpected and beneficial side effect. The change in me has been substantial. At the very least, traveling to a developing nation will open your eyes to how much you have, especially if you live in the USA.

I write about my life in the Philippines. Follow me in the Philippines at Cebu Experience.

Photo credit: ‘Philippines‘ by Big Stock


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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