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Getting Past The Honeymoon Phase

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The “honeymoon phase” is something that happens with all new things.

With a new relationship, it’s the exciting time when love blinds you from the imperfections of your partner.

In relocation, it’s a time when new opportunities and adventures trump the challenges of starting over.

For a new business, it’s the early months when passion and ideas rule, before the financial realities and pressures of sustaining success set in.

You’ve probably experienced the honeymoon phase, as well as the inevitable drop that follows, at least emotionally, in different areas of your life.

In the world of international education, in which I worked for several years after college, there is a well-known graph called the “Cultural Adaptation Curve.”  It looks like the letter “U” starting off high with the Honeymoon stage. 

Cultural Adaptation Curve

When I was living in Switzerland for a year, this is how I described the experience in the early weeks… “Everything is new and exciting, and I do mean everything. Going grocery shopping is novel because of all the new foods. If I managed to have a conversation with someone, I was thrilled. Just waking up in the morning, I would think to myself, ‘Holy crap, I’m in Switzerland!’”

As you might expect, this level of excitement can’t last forever. At some point, all the little things that used to be exciting just aren’t so exciting anymore.

Some people, when they leave the Honeymoon stage, fall rapidly into “hostility” as the graph suggests. They often feel frustrated, depressed, lonely, and upset. 

I think this is part of the explanation for why so many businesses don’t last beyond a few years. Dropping out of the honeymoon stage can often feel like failure. But it’s not the end of the story.

A New Model

My experience in Switzerland mirrors the experience I’ve had in business. After a while, I noticed that my feelings weren’t matching up with the nice smooth “cultural adjustment curve.” After nearly a year, I thought, “Aren’t I supposed to be adjusted by now? Shouldn’t I be on a nice, smooth upward path toward feeling ‘at home’ in my new culture?” But I wasn’t. 

Sometimes it was great, sometimes it was … well, not so great. And it often changed several times a day.

This is similar to the feelings and patterns of running a business or being in a relationship. So, I went in search of a new model, and I found it! The “Stress-Adaptation-Growth” model was described by Young Yun Kim in her 2002 book about Cross-Cultural Adaptation.

She sees the cultural adaptation process as a spiral in which each new stressful experience contributes toward personal growth. Sort of a one-step-back, two-steps-forward approach. 

A challenge arises, and in overcoming that challenge, we rise above our prior level.

This is much more reflective of how the journey goes in the long run. Many more ups and downs. This model is much more volatile than the original curve, and there is no “peak” in view toward which we aspire. We simply take each challenge as it comes, and do our best to use it as a catalyst for growth. 

And we recognize that, without the challenges, there is no growth. That feels like a universal truth, whether you are growing a business, adjusting to a new culture or location, or navigating a long-term relationship. 

Which of these models best describes your experience? How are you overcoming your current challenges to continue on an upward trajectory?

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