Hack, cough, wheeze, spit, sniffle.
That pretty much encapsulates my previous week. When things get stressful, as soon as the storm blows over, I get sick and sick I am. I always wonder why the loss of so much fluid through constant nose blowing and coughing doesn’t equal a nice weight loss bonus. Life is just unfair that way.
The stress is actually not even over, rather it’s going to become more a part of my daily life than ever before. But that’s a good thing. I have a new position at my company with a lot more responsibility and – for the first time – leadership of my own team. It’s quite a big step, made more significant for me by the fact that it was totally unexpected and almost didn’t happen. It’s a great opportunity and I totally deserve it. I’m glad that I’m still here to receive it.
The new suit totally kicked ass in the boardroom by the way.
It’s taken about three years to catch up to where I think I would have been if I’d never left. I would have liked it if I’d managed to do it faster of course, but I’m happy to have gotten to this point at all. Moving abroad was nothing if detrimental to any notion of a career and I credit my blind optimism for allowing me to blandly overlook that fact when I decided to give Germany (and the German) a try. I had a round-trip ticket and an invite to grad school and I tossed both and stayed. It has taken some effort to get back on track. Actually, make that a lot of effort, networking, creativity and a good dash of flexibility. I gave no thought to what I would be doing in five years when I moved over. Deep down, I don’t think I was that sure I had a future here. We were at a point where I needed to find that out before I could make any decisions that would make a life together impossible, or at least really difficult. And so I came and so it turned out that I stayed. Five years later, I’m still here and happily, I’m living a very similar life to the one I would have had in San Francisco. I guess this means I did good.
When I was thinking about moving abroad, I scoured expat blogs looking for a pattern, a trick, a solution for finding a career. I didn’t find many women abroad at the time who were leading professional lives. Most, if they were working at all, were working from home, doing freelance, volunteering or weren’t saying. When I got over here all the expat women I met in my language school fit into the exact same pattern: they were housewives. That was it. That scared me.
In the first year, I was worried that what I saw as the easy route would become the only option and I would find myself getting married (the easiest way to get a visa) and starting a family (the easiest job to occupy me). This is not meant as a slight to those who choose that route because they want to, but it wasn’t my dream before I came to Germany so to have taken that route would have been surrendering, giving up. There’s a strong lazy streak in me, so I had reason to be worried. Luckily I’m just as – or even more – stubborn and independent. Those qualities saved me and kept me out of a traditional role I never would have been happy in. Instead of staying at home, I went out, learned the language and got jobs that led to this one.
I have to echo Jen and say that all of this isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work and maybe a stroke or two of luck. Over the years I’ve met or heard from expat women looking for advice and even help. Although I’d searched for it once, someone to give me a step or a hand up, I tell those who ask me for help that I can only give a bit of advice. There isn’t anyone out there who can help them. No one other than themselves that is. It sounds cheesy but I believe it to be true. If your goal is to stay here and succeed, you need to decide what’s important for you to happy and go after it. And you have to do it. Living in a foreign country is harder than at home. On top of all the everyday work of just living your life, you have the added challenge of language and cultural differences. It’s frustrating and disheartening at times. Easy things become huge undertakings. To be able to do the long haul abroad takes backbone and determination and that isn’t something you can get help with. Living in Europe is wonderful and I love all the history, architecture and all the different countries that are within reach for a weekend trip, but that doesn’t erase the frustration of not being understood or taken seriously on the phone when I need to change my phone plan.
If you don’t go abroad for professional reasons, getting into the workforce on your own is daunting. It’s tempting to stay home. There’s a hell of a lot of effort involved in just walking out the door and trying, but if you’re able to take that first step, then next one will come and eventually you’ll find yourself back in the place you wanted to be.
Now if I could just get rid of this cold…