People who know me and haven’t seen me in a while ask, “What are you doing these days?”.
I don’t know what to say.
So much has changed, so much has been learned, unlearned and evolved I can’t begin to express the magnitude of how the choices I’ve made have fundamentally changed the way I look at life, work and where I find joy.
With so many people transitioning roles, careers and finding themselves in situations they never thought they’d be in – there’s a lot of time to ponder. On where you are, and where you are going and the answer to the question, “What are you doing these days?”.
Confinement again in Europe, job changes including redundancies and stress on small businesses have all provided a unique time to pause and reevaluate.
What are you doing these days, and are you really okay with that?
The last 6 years have been tough. From a promising career in professional capacity in Australia I took a year-long sabbatical and then, made the decision to immigrate to a country where I didn’t speak the language. I returned ‘home’ this year completely changed. Professionally, personally and ideologically.
It’s easy to summarise in a paragraph the geographical journey but the reasons I made the choices, the logic, why I I wanted take these leaps which pushed me to some extremes is not so simple. The rewards for embracing change, the hard times turning good, and the experiences (good and bad) are all a part of this story. So here I go…
The choice to take a sabbatical was a no-brainer for me. It was something I had planned for a very long time – even if it was a surprise to many colleagues. I had planned the gap year or as I called it ‘pressing the reset button’, and reconnect with my values of freedom and creativity.
I left behind security and comfort to explore how others lived and how I could learn from them. Security and comfort came into my life automatically having a great job out of university but these values were not inherently what kept me going. I wanted more…something was missing and I was going to find out what.
That year I took was for me. I will always remember the people, experiences and time I took to think, reflect and just be. No regrets. I stated a travel blog ‘My Manifesto’ to begin writing again and document my encounters with our beautiful earth. I visited places as a tourist, stayed a while like a local and tried to embrace this gift of time.
I learned a lot about myself during that year. A year of doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. Complete and absolute freedom. Yet, it is funny how that wears off after a while. I began to crave a ‘home’, some of my ‘things’ (comforts) and naturally, my friends and family.
After 10 months I was ready to ‘go back’ to a life more ‘normal’. More of what it was like before. Before the 15 hour bus rides in South America, before the bed bugs in Cambodia and before the earth tremors in Chile.
It was when life took me to France that the foundations of who I thought I was became cracked.
My husband’s work took us to Paris, where the plan was I would find work after spending a few months getting the lay of the land. In short, this didn’t happen.
I was demoted from my french class, cause my french was ‘that bad’ and the countless applications I submitted I competed with bi or tri-lingual professionals who could write and converse in fluent english, french and *insert another language here.
From a confident, English speaking subject matter expect I was thrust into French speaking scenarios which rendered me useless and pushed my personality and expertise to the background. I became mute, unable to express my personality, my words, my experience. Unless you have been in this situation, you cannot begin to empathise how tiny you feel.
I was forced to just listen to words I couldn’t comprehend, watching gestures and tones in voices just to laugh when I thought the topic was funny, or frown when the group moved to a more serious tone. All this to feel like I could just fit in.
But I didn’t fit in. Not at first. My stubbornness refused help with translation. I didn’t want my colleagues and friends to repeat, stall or slow down the conversation on my part. I wanted to feel part of the group, the team, the culture. So I persevered.
I recall going home in tears after a meeting which resulted in being ‘talked to’ for 30 minutes, with the only word I could get in being “Oui”, and only picking up that I needed to be somewhere, next Tuesday at 2pm. WTF!
I was in over my head. My usual confident self had taken so many knocks that I was defeated. I started to refuse to answer my phone if the number was a local French number. I just refused to speak French.
I started to think about how strong I really was. How fearless I could be. How far I had come and how much further there would be to go. Different challenges, different scenarios and how different I was becoming.
In the 5 years in Paris, I interviewed and got 2 jobs. I met CEO’s of billion dollar companies and helped them with their business English. I became a mother and I started my life as an entrepreneur in France helping others gain the confidence and skills to do what they wanted to do.
I won’t gloss over the hard parts. These are some of my favourites:
- I very closely avoided a scam by a ‘chimney sweep’ which would have cost me 200 euros and resulted the building’s Guardian calling the police to my apartment.
- The time I found 3 firemen in my apartment at midnight when the ‘babysitter’ thought she was having a heart attack.
- When learnt to inject myself with new medication (in French) after being re-diagnosed with Chron’s.
- I can’t forget the numerous times I risked my life cycling around the ‘Arc de Triomphe’ at peak hour or;
- The time I was tear-gassed in the Metro during the ‘Gillet Jaune’ riots.
All quite stressful at the time – let me tell you.
What’s the secret? Special sauce?
Just getting out of your head and doing IT. What ever IT is for you.
Trying, failing, trying again. Putting yourself in vulnerable positions. Learn to swim in a feeling of depletion, give up hope and then come to the realization that’s just not you (that’s not who you are) and trying something different. Talk to different people. Get creative. A combination of it all.
At some point I realized that I was already vulnerable. Not knowing the language, being an outsider, deer in headlights in all work or social related conversations but I knew this would sort it self out – eventually. I had some optimism.
What I hadn’t taken into account is that although everything around me had changed, my values of freedom, creativity, curiosity, generosity and more importantly courage had not.
I roamed the streets of Paris, talking to Uber drivers when I would go to Clients, asking questions in French, apologizing for it being so bad and having a laugh with anyone who I would strike up a conversation with.
I invited existing and new people in my circle out for wine or coffee to talk about opportunities and how I could help them and, I kept on going. Courageously and sometimes, stupidly fearlessly, driving into scenarios which would test me. Sometimes, it would result in frustration and tears, other times joy and a renewed feeling of ‘I can do this’.
Funnily enough it is now the stories that make me giggle. The more difficult the scenario, the crazier the position I put myself in, I now look back and smile.
What I valued and what I stood for became clearer. It was always me – just amplified.
So no matter what situation you’re in right now, think about who you are. What you stand for and how you show up in the world – it could make a big difference in what you do today, tomorrow and the day after that.
So when people ask me, “What do you do these days?”, I smile. Because, I’m not defined by what I do, but who I am – and who I am is okay.
Tell me your story of courage, I would love to hear from you. email@example.com