4 countries, 5 cities, 9 different homes, 6 years later. If someone had said to me 6 years ago that this is what I was going to experience, I would have thought they were crazy.
I had just got married and we had bought a new home. I was in a strong professional career with over 15 years experience and excited to begin our new life together in our new home, when my husband received the request to go and work in Uganda.
Excitement, adventure, uncertainty, overwhelm, exploration, fear.
A rollercoaster of emotions soon occurred as my familiar world as I knew it was about to be turned upside down. I had many questions on my mind, such as “How am I going to keep professionally relevant or earn income if I can’t work in the country?”; “Am I going to find friends, because I am quite an introvert?”; “As a newly wed couple will we be happy in a new country away from family and friends? What about starting a family and the medical facilities? This flurry of questions occupied my mind.
6 years later I think back on this first move, the first country and although with each change, there are similar emotions, each move has brought new experiences, new skills and better ways of approaching the change.
Change is about perspective and people
With the first change I had great difficulty in accepting the fact that I couldn’t work and earn my own income. I had been in a long-standing corporate career and a year before we left for Uganda I just started a small business in my own country, contracting out business management services. My professional career formed a large part of how I defined myself, so when I had to face the fact that this may not be possible, I really struggled. I felt insecure and undervalued.
My go to response at this time was to “at least keep my resume alive” by doing an online course or learn a new skill. I chose to learn something different to what I was used to and completed an online feature-writing course, while also learning practical photography. The learning was enjoyable but I never imagined the additional insight I would gain from this learning that helped me shift internally and that I’ve used for our other assignments.
Telling a story or taking a photo is all about perspectives and the details attached to those perspectives, which can be adjusted as easily as they are created.
Let go of the old picture and create a new one
When you look through a camera lens you are using perspective and structure to create a picture. That perspective, however, is actually created by you and what you see. Each person that looks through a camera sees something different. You can move the camera in any direction and take any picture you want to and that picture is what you see and not necessarily what someone else sees. Change the lens, change your angle, your stance and you have a new view, a new picture.
This is what I needed to do, change the picture I was used to seeing, to a new one. My old picture was “ Corporate professional with a regular monthly income either from a corporate career or regular contract” and the fact that this was changing was actually what I was not accepting. Changing this view helped me accept the change and start creating a new experience.
My new picture is now; “Adventurer and Professional, learning and applying diverse skills that can be applied to diverse project work, earning variable income, in any location”, and; “Having a diverse experience with diverse friends “. Letting go of my existing definition of work and opening up to the possibility of new forms of work felt exciting. This helped me deal with the overwhelm and fear that I was experiencing with this change. Accepting the change needed to occur in my mind first.
I started to think about what this would actually look like, i.e. if I were telling the story of this new picture, how could that story possibly play out in the country I was in. Since then I have managed to be involved in various projects and worked on projects both related and unrelated to my set of skills.
A story is not a story without its characters
In order to adapt to the new country and realise this new picture, I knew it would be important to meet new people, create a circle of friends and a network of business associates. Being an introvert and in a new country, this felt very uncomfortable but I knew I had to do it and taking a step, any action was more important than making sure it was the right or perfect action. So I started with whom I already knew.
I identified people I knew in my home country who I thought might know people in Uganda. This created some introductions for me and made it easier for me to meet people, as there were mutual connections.
Being required to complete some practical assignments for the photography and creative writing courses I had to find people and stories of interest to do so. This was very beneficial as it created a great way for me to meet diverse people.
Not having children we didn’t have the benefit of the school network at the time but we were fortunate to make friends within the network, which lead to wonderful friendships and introductions for potential business.
I soon discovered that it wasn’t too difficult to meet new people and again with each new country tried new ways of meeting people for friendships as well as potential work projects. It is all about trial and error. I tried joining associations, special interest groups, attending local and international business network groups such as “Here we are”, looking for local chapters of Tedx, attending exercise classes and other social activities. I also kept a close eye on some of my clients who were looking to expand to the region.
What I’m currently thinking of is how to offer a service through an online business that is geography neutral. Although work permit issues are a reality and need to be understood there are ways to keep relevant and find work to do, it’s really more about the connections than a fixed idea of the type of work to do.
Each country and each change brings new characters, new story lines, challenges, accomplishments and new tales to tell. Within these tales lie many new beginnings such as new jobs, new routines, new grocery stores, new schools, new friends, new cultures to understand, new languages and much more.
The one element that is common is change and having to deal with change and uncertainty on a frequent basis. Neuroscientists tell us what an amazing organ the brain is but as amazing as it is, it likes the familiar and dislikes uncertainty. Once we understand this we can build our own store of strategies to help us with each new beginning.
For me understanding what that picture of familiarity is and letting go of what doesn’t make sense in my current situation has helped me to take action for the place I’m in at a personal and professional level. Each person is different and responds differently to situations. Knowing where your familiar is and point of security is a good starting point to help understand what about your picture can stay the same or needs to change in order to foster acceptance and move through the change practically.
Zee-Caroline Pitt is currently based in Ghana and still enjoys the discovery of new people and places, finding new projects to work on. Check out a photo book project she completed in Uganda to support a boxing NGO (E-book available for iPad)