One month ago I was working in the tropics.
Now… well let’s just say I’m not.
Taking a break from working is definitely what I need. A break that equates to time to re-evaluate my career goals and priorities in life, and an opportunity to re-energise and get a grip on my affairs. At least that was the plan.
It’s actually really difficult to stay positive when you’ve just suffered the indignities of losing your job, missing out on the vacation you were looking forward to spending with friends in Hong Kong, and being shipped home to arrive in Scotland on the morning of New Year’s Day. Friends are busy, or away, or have forgotten you exist. My parents are already asking when I’m getting a job. You have no idea how to pass the time. My hometown in a grim dump that probably is the setting for multiple crime dramas. Why bother getting out of bed?
What’s more, January is cold and dark and miserable.
During those first few cold, dark days, I found myself in a downward spiral of negativity. Everyone else was the cause of all my problems; that was the tempting thing to think. It is a chain of thought that is dis-empowering, that further adds to murky grey feelings swirling around your skull.
I was fortunate to have someone fly half way around the world to visit me, triggering me to seize the opportunity to visit parts of Scotland I had never seen in my 27 years living here (for the most part at least). We went to the Isle of Skye and were treated to epic, snow dusted scenery, saw the sights in Falkirk, Stirling and Edinburgh, and revisited my favourite spots in Glasgow. It was sort of a readjustment. However you can’t rely on having a friend visit as your reason for getting up in the morning (and who brings you cups to tea in bed when you don’t).
Getting up, getting on with your life, getting back in the game is a choice. No amount of nagging from my parents is going to get me to run back to the field; I have to want it. I have to choose it.
Running straight back to the field is also an incredibly stupid thing to do. It’s a coping mechanism that many aid workers and field professionals become addicted to. They no longer choose it; they just go from job to job, crisis to crisis, meltdown to meltdown… I don’t want to do that, so I chose not to do it.
Still I needed to do something productive with myself and now I find myself in Paris working on my French. I never would have expected myself out here doing this, but I am.
The prelude to this was that year ago I was in Liberia, working at an Ebola Treatment Unit in the middle of the jungle, having just returned from R&R leave in Scotland (which had been as cold and miserable a year ago as it had been now). At that time I had a difficult boss, whose insecurities had led them to make some bad leadership calls. In short, we didn’t get along, and upon my return to the field, their comments implied I was superfluous at that site and that the local I had temporarily ushered into my position should take over my responsibilities longer term. While this had been my plan since days of me arriving, my supervisor then told me I couldn’t be reassigned elsewhere because Sierra Leone was “overstaffed” and I couldn’t go to Guinea because I “don’t speak French”. My reply to the latter was that I was the best in my French class at school. In French.
While I never was reassigned to Guinea, it was one man’s comments that actually knocked my confidence.
Here is the moral of that story: most people (if they are lucky) only ever amount to side characters in other people’s adventures. The real tragedy however is that those who get speaking parts waste their breath on negativity. Words create, and words confirm, and their insecurity leads them to steal the warmth from other people’s lives by tearing them down, even if it isn’t their intention.
So that’s how I ended up in Paris, moving beyond Duolingo, parallel-read books, French internet radio and proving to myself that actually I am capable of interacting with people in another language beyond ordering a coffee. In fact, I can joke, sass and flirt all in a single breath. I can’t speak French my ass!
Keeping warm, staying positive despite grim weather and situations and people, is a choice. A hard choice, but still a choice (thank you to the friends that kick my butt to remind me of that). I’m glad I made my choice, not necessarily to hop on a plane, but to do something more productive with my time off than stay in bed to 3pm. I’m glad I have something to show for it, and glad I bolstered my confidence.
Screw what other people say. Stay positive. Stay productive.