Now into day eight of the new year, many of us are already struggling to maintain our new year’s resolutions. Those emotionally-driven “forever” statements we make as we come off the high of Christmas and slink into the reality of the closing of one and the fresh possibilities of a new year. For some, this is an exciting time of year. We hold high hopes for great accomplishments, new relationships, or a chance to start over. For others, the invisible chasm we leap from December 31 to January 1 can be somewhat depressing. While growing up a Midwestern kid, new year’s celebrations were typically pretty mundane. The presents were opened and we had been stuck in a house with family for longer than I care to remember because the weather was just too miserable to venture out. Before you think me a wimp, it wasn’t the snow and cold weather that kept us inside. It is was the wetness of the melting snow, the requirement to wear old-school hard rubber boots to trounce through the muddy yard and pasture to feed the cows, just to watch them eat a little and then lay and defecate on the remainder. My dad use to send me and my older brother down to the barn in the sub-zero temps, sometimes amidst freezing rain with puffy coats, slippery boots, ill-fitting adult-sized gloves, and . . . an axe to break the icy stock tank water for the cattle.

So, it was with noticeable pleasure that this past new year’s transition found me at a lake-side family camp with my wife and kids. Bunking together in a rustic cabin while we spent intentional time together at meals, games, and worship. It was during this weekend that I truly appreciated the idea of a new year and the transition of crossing the great divide. It was new year’s night when we gathered to watch a prolific fireworks display (something Texans love to do at new year’s and yet another reason why Midwesterners can slip into a new year’s funk – we don’t pop off fireworks unless it is the fourth of July), among the loud explosions and displays of color that I began to drift back in history. To think what it must have been like for the scared young men of the newly formed Continental Army of what later became known as the United States of America.

It was the year 1776, a year we know very well. The year the Declaration of Independence was signed, a moment we celebrate each summer with fireworks on the fourth of July. The irony, however, is that simply signing that document to declare ourselves no longer under the rule of England did not automatically “win” the war. Actually, this document merely fueled England’s rage and desire to remind our colonies who called the shots here. So it was that General George Washington set off on horse-back from his Virginia plantation, a relatively obscure man unknowingly galloping into the history books. But 1776 proved to be a more difficult run than expected. After some initial success, Washington’s army embarked on failure after failure, in what seemed to be a test of stamina as they continually confronted and then ran from the army. This form of battle would later be lauded as ingenious as Washington drew British soldiers further and further into the colonial territories and further from their supply depots. But for now, Washington, his soldiers, and eager citizens and politicians feared Washington and the colonies were just not up to the task of defeating the well-polished British army.

As 1776 drew to a close, Washington’s troops were once again on the move, running for their lives from the British army. In an effort to put distance and a formidable obstacle between the two armies before setting in for winter encampment, Washington ordered his troops be ferried across the Delaware river. Now, it was late December and the rive was nearly frozen over. Rushing to reach the other side and relative safety, the army took many small wooden boats back and forth to ferry troops, all the while delegating at least one person per boat to hack away at the frozen river and carve a path to the other side.

This was not the close of such a monumental year anyone expected, least of all Washington. The signing of the Declaration of Independence and a little military success early-on, but now they were virtually on the run to salvage what little chance of survival they could muster. It was in this moment, the very moment that came to my mind as I watched and listened to the fireworks show over new year’s, that Washington realized that he needed to give the colonists and his army hope for the task ahead. So it was, that immediately upon reaching the safety of the far river shore, Washington cut out a detachment of troops to get back in those cold, damp boats and chop away at the ice as they made their way back across the river to face the enemy. Washington knew what needed to be done; they needed a victory.

 

You can read what happened next in your history books, but needless to say, Washington’s daring crossing of the Delaware has become one of his most famous moments as General Washington. His troops catch an unsuspecting group of soldiers and Trenton to win the day and enter the new year as victors. The task at hand was very difficult, but nonetheless, Washington and his soldiers forged ahead with an end-goal at the horizon, for the next seven year.

You would be surprised to learn just how many times I have sat across from expat candidates who score relatively low in “task confidence”. This seems to be a common thread that runs through many, but not all expats. They are simply uncertain about what the future holds in a new culture and are therefore likewise not very confident about accomplishing goals through the task set before them. You might also be surprised just how easy it is to overcome this challenge. Numerous times I have looked an expat in the eye and said, have you contacted your cross-cultural host to learn about what will be expected of you once you arrive. Almost without fail, the answer is NO. Wow, I think to myself, trying hold back the temptation to say something like, “are you kidding me?” And if that is not surprising, it is shocking to learn that many of these people react by stating that would be a good idea, but yet nearly none of them follow through. So, as you can predict, they end up have a very difficult relocation experience because they struggle to accomplish a task for which they were unable to prepare, all while experiencing the common challenges of cultural transition.

A young lady traveling to Honduras for a mission trip once displayed task confidence red flags. After a brief talk, she disclosed that she was uncertain what her job would be on the mission field. About three different times I would encourage her to reach out to her missions host, and each time she had an excuse for not getting this done. So it was that once she landed in Honduras, she was immediately thrown into a major city’s dark side of adolescent prostitution wherein she was tasked with walking alongside these young girls to show love and compassion. Now, to be fair, this would have been a difficult task for most of us, but the fact remains that had she contacted her host pre-departure to learn of her upcoming role, should could have either prepared the best she could and go in with her eyes wide open, or decide to opt out. Instead, she had a horrible experience, came home early, and will likely never put herself out there for missions or humanitarian work again. Sad. But avoidable with strong assessment and coaching.

No matter what task lies, you can be sure that knowledge is power. Learn what you can and prep as you can so that you can have your best experience in a new culture. Then, take that task head-on, just like Washington on the Delaware, and set the stage for great things to come.