Katia Vlachos

Founder of Great Moves

Katia Vlachos is a writer, coach, and experienced expat. She writes on cross-cultural adaptation and the rewards and challenges of expatriate life. A global nomad by choice, Katia was born in Cameroon, raised in Greece, and spent two decades living and working in the US and various European countries. In total, she’s lived in eight cities, seven countries, and three continents. She’s moved as a single person, as part of a couple, and as part of a family with children and has experienced both extremely successful and utterly disastrous moves.

As an expat coach, Katia provides transition coaching services to expats and globally mobile professionals at various stages of their great moves. She also works and partners with employers, HR solutions providers, relocation services, and many other organizations in the expat ecosystem. Her services include coaching, training, custom workshops, guest writing/blogging, and public speaking. Katia is a researcher and defense analyst by training, with a PhD in policy analysis from the RAND Corporation and an MA in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Where did the idea for Great Moves come from?

Great Moves was inspired by the title of my book – A Great Move: Surviving and Thriving in Your Expat Assignment (LID Publishing, 2018) – which, in turn, was inspired by my mission, to help people make successful (great!) international moves and thrive in their global lives. Great Moves represent my coaching work, supporting expats and globally mobile individuals as they navigate different kinds of transitions – geographical, career, relationship – that are often part of a global lifestyle.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m more productive earlier in the day, so I try to take advantage of the mornings to do my creative work, that is to write. Also, by character, I need variety in my work, so there’s always a combination of different activities in my working days and weeks: writing (working on my new book, but also writing articles for publication or interviews like this one); coaching (sessions with my expat clients); and speaking (in-person engagements, podcasts, etc.). I like structure, but these activities also require me to use different skills and parts of my brain, so I try to block time for each one of them. For instance, over the course of a week, I dedicate two or three blocks of time to my coaching clients and try to schedule all my calls then (I have clients in many different time zones, so I need both morning and afternoon times). I also schedule time to write every day, even if it’s only half an hour. If I don’t, I can procrastinate, so this discipline has allowed me to make huge progress.

There are three things I try to do every morning: meditate, read for half an hour, and write for half an hour. Sometimes, on busy days, it’s a challenge to fit them in, but these three habits help me feel grounded and create the structure to make the rest of my day much more productive.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When it comes to making ideas a reality, focus is my superpower. I’m not one of those people who have a million ideas a minute, but when I do have an idea, I give it my full attention. Discipline also helps immensely. Once I commit to do something, I usually don’t give up. Finally, over time, and with the help of some great mentors, I learned to break down every idea and goal into smaller chunks and those chunks into even smaller ones, until I have a set of concrete, measurable goals and steps. That makes even big, ambitious ideas much less overwhelming or intimidating, and allows me to get things done.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I work with expats and am a longtime expat myself. Up to a couple of years ago, anything that had to do with expatriation and expat life was a niche topic. Now, with globalization, but especially with Millennials who are much more globally-minded and eager to move internationally than previous generations, there’s a noticeable change: moving abroad and the challenges and rewards of the expat lifestyle are becoming much more mainstream topics. I am pleased, not only on a personal level – because these issues are worth discussing widely – but also because this increased awareness and visibility allows my work to have an even bigger impact.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I set no more than three goals every day and I make sure they’re small enough and measurable enough so that I know at the end of the day whether I’ve achieved them or not. The sense of accomplishment is immensely energizing. I set my goals for the day already the previous evening, so when I get to my desk in the morning, I know what I need to tackle – after my morning ritual of course!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Align with your purpose and your values. Find your “why,” like Simon Sinek says. Ask questions such as: What do I really want? What’s important to me? Does the way I lead my life – or plan to lead my life – honor my core values? I didn’t ask myself these questions when I was young. I focused more on doing what I thought I was good at or what was expected of me. While I was very successful, I didn’t clearly articulate my values or find a sense of purpose until I was in my early forties.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Being structured and organized is as essential a skill as being flexible, open-minded, and adaptable to change. A lot of people think that it’s enough to be structured and in control to be successful, but it’s not. My experience as a very structured individual leading an expat (i.e., largely unstructured) life is that, while organizational skills come in handy, being too focused on your structure can make you resistant to change and unable to handle uncertainty. Knowing when and how to let go, accept, go with the flow and make the most of every situation are also crucial skills, not just for expats and entrepreneurs, but also life in general.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

As its core, entrepreneurship is about finding solutions to problems. Seen in that light, expats build up their entrepreneurial skills on a daily basis. There’s a lot of change and uncertainty involved in an expat lifestyle, which requires one to be flexible, creative, and think on one’s feet. However, like entrepreneurs, expats have to embrace the right mindset. Making a conscious choice to focus on possibilities rather than obstacles and managing your state and mindset to feel empowered rather than a victim, are critical to navigating both entrepreneurship and expat life. We always have choices and we need to have the right mindset to be able to see them.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Keep showing up and be patient. Don’t give up even if nothing happens for the longest time. If you work hard and do your best, it’s just a matter of time until you reach that critical mass or that tipping point.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Saying yes too often, overcommitting myself and then ending up doing things that don’t align with my values and goals. After a particularly frustrating day, I decided to write down a list of criteria – based on my goals and values – for taking on new projects or commitments. Everything else is a clear “no” and there’s no guilt involved. It sounds simple, but most of us don’t sit down to think through those criteria, even less put them in writing. The printed list has a prominent place in my office. It makes my life easier.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A cocktail delivery service. 🙂 A friend of a friend in Greece just started a business where you order customized cocktails through an app. I tried it and it was great.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Last week, I took my two teenagers out to dinner at their favorite restaurant, rather than cook at home. Those who have teenagers will understand how challenging it is to connect with them when you’re competing with devices, friends, homework, etc. Having a whole hour and a half of quality time with them at the restaurant was worth every penny.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’m a writer and a coach, so my work is relatively low-tech. I find Trello great for managing projects when I’m working with others. And, of course, Zoom is essential to running my coaching business, which is almost entirely virtual, since my clients are spread out around the world.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance” by George Kohlrieser. The author applies insights from his career as a hostage negotiator to leadership, such as the importance of establishing and maintaining secure emotional bases, acknowledging loss and grief, building trust through dialog, managing conflict and, perhaps most important, maintaining a positive state. These are all extremely valuable skills and mindset shifts if you’re a leader in the conventional/business sense but also for anyone who is looking to manage their life and impact on the world.

What is your favorite quote?

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
– From the poem “Our Deepest Fear” by Marianne Williamson

Key Learnings:

• Have a morning ritual to give structure to your day and set you up for success.
• Break down your goals into small chunks to make them more achievable and less intimidating.
• Be clear on what you say “yes” to and why; same for what you say “no” to. Align your goals, values, and actions.
• Keep showing up and be patient. Results will follow.