I’m going through a process of complete reinvention. As those of you who have read my earlier posts know, and those who stumble upon the gaps and broken links will guess, I don’t have a background in computing, writing, or anything remotely techie. I did a BSc (Hons) in Nursing, stumbled into teaching, and spent 10 years doing something I loved, working with people who inspired me. And then the next 10 years relocating over 3 continents, complete with dogs, kids and dinner service.
When the latest move came around, it was time to reinvent. It was glaringly obvious that I wasn’t going back to my old job without considerable retraining, and I needed a sense of purpose and achievement that related solely to me, without reference to anyone else. I wanted my son and daughter to understand firsthand that women work too, that change happens and we can adapt to it, and if we want success, we actually have to go out and find it.
I’m a slow learner. I spent 3 years of relocating just adapting to the transition from equal partner to trailing spouse – if that term doesn’t sum up the determination required to successfully relocate, it does at least give a sense of the ‘last to know ‘ feeling that constantly wrestled with. I call it an undefined life – I had no external indication of a purpose other than spouse or parent; no recognition of years of study and experience, no opportunity to display skills or expertise. It’s not exclusive to relocation; marriage, divorce, becoming a parent, losing a job, all these spark the same sense of bewilderment at the change, and the insecurity of not knowing where you go next and how you fit in. It’s also frustrating to realise just how many of your boundaries with your family are defended by working outside of the home – it is understood that you are ‘at work’, and not available to give rides, drop off forgotten homework, call the plumber, assume sole responsibility for household chores, walk the dog.. As you can probably tell, I speak from bitter experience as someone trying to work from home and defend my computer, printer, scanner, office and time from the onslaught of school projects and sporting commitments.
What I also didn’t foresee is the need for a strong, established support network around you, that is provided by your employer in the workplace. Jo Parfitt, in her book Career in Your Suitcase, refers to it as your ‘success team’. It’s not just the people whose names you fill in on the emergency contact form; it’s also the people who make up your cheering section, the people who give you a fresh perspective, and the people who give you constructive feedback. In the professional setting, your productivity is enabled by the team around you; once you leave that cocoon, you suddenly have to build it for yourself. Some will be close friends, some will be simply acquaintances, and some will be people you have just met whose comments make you realize where you need to go or just how far you have come.
There are also the inevitable little voices who make you question your sanity, feel inadequate or burst your bubble, often unintentionally. Ironically, if you can learn to take it in your stride, these people are often the catalysts for your success; they force you to look hard at what you are doing, to take it seriously, and to develop a bulletproof elevator pitch about the value of your work, whatever it might be. In the workplace, they are known as energy vampires; in my world, my mother.
In professional terms, I am inspired by friends and acquaintances, which sounds like a trite cliche, but is literally true. My social network has replaced a more traditional learning model; I watch people who display a characteristic that I would like to possess, and I simply copy them. I am able to learn at my own pace, and to my own personal curriculum, and I learn from my many mistakes. I ask endless questions, about the stupidest things, but gradually I discover enough to take the next step. I pay people to do something for me, and then I pay them to teach me how to do it. And I work on the assumption that I can figure it out eventually, whatever it might be.
This incarnation of the website has taken over a year to achieve. I bored people rigid with various scenarios before I finally put pen to paper, and it has morphed through three versions on different website frameworks, some of which were abandoned because I couldn’t work out how to use them myself and am to much of a control freak to hand over eternal design control to anyone else. What you see is actually the fourth version, and is the result of the ‘trial and error’ university. The development has been cyclical – some days I make real progress, others I am convinced that no-one is remotely interested in what I am doing. But if you think I have any great skill or natural talent, you would be very mistaken. What I have found is something that I enjoy doing, and am willing to put time into on a daily basis. It is the little things that make a huge difference; a well known blogger actually responding to an email, an article being forwarded to a famous author, a new subscriber who hasn’t been emotionally blackmailed into signing up. If someone shares a post on Facebook or via email, the ripple effect kicks in, and the number of people visiting the site increases exponentially. Those little successes are enough to keep me going to the point at which you are reading this. It’s not perfect, but it’s here.
So there you have it – the secret to my (so far, limited) success. Keep plodding in a general direction until the light dawns and you can see where you are going, and then copy the behaviors of the people who are doing it the way you aspire to. There’s probably a much quicker way that involves, planning, implementation, assessment and evaluation, but that would mean knowing what you were doing at the outset..
So that’s my story, now what’s yours?
Expat Women (Lois Freeke) – Expat Job Search in the Digital Age
Expat Women (Amanda van Mulligan) – Job and Career Change Abroad