Last week I went to see my son ‘graduate’. When I say graduate. I mean the transition from infants school to primary school. A big deal in any child`s life and they take it very seriously here in Catalunya. It’s a scenario I could never have imagined in 2003, the beginning of my Barcelona story.
I first lived in Barcelona just after the Olympics and instantly fell in love with it. My own dream was to come back and build a life for myself here one day. I returned to London with that firmly in my mind, despite the fact I was about to embark on a career in TV journalism, a career in which I ended up working for the following 12 years.
It was during a period of job insecurity (for which TV is renowned) and feeling pretty miserable about that and other stuff – friends getting married (very inconsiderate), the English weather, the local pub closing down (disaster) – that I met a rather lovely chap at a wedding, as obsessed with all things Spanish as I was. Despite his outward warm persona, the more we spoke the more I realized that he also was feeling fairly miserable about his career path.
For the rest of the wedding we planned our journey (and lives) to Barcelona.
To cut a long story short, we kinda got together and within a year we really did move to Barcelona, within 3 we were married, within 4 we had set up our own businesses and within 5 we had had 2 kids.
We had completely re-invented ourselves.
If you had asked us at the time we met, out of ten, how happy we were with our work situation, we probably would have said 2 or maybe a 3 out of 10. If we were a 5 or 6, we probably would never have made the dramatic move we did. But by doing so, we turned our 2 out of 10 score into 9 out of ten score (it took a while admittedly). I’m a great believer in something good coming out of something bad.
So, if any of you are feeling disillusioned with what you are doing and have the urge to do something completely different, to re-invent yourselves, (for what it is worth) here are my top ten lessons that I learnt along the way:
1. Go with your gut instinct
It has often been said that one’s gut is one’s ‘second brain’. We all know those feelings of cramping apprehension or the butterflies of excitement. You might feel it on a first date (good or bad), looking at a prospective property or equally at the promise of a change of job or career. If it feels right, then sometimes you just have to roll with it. We all know the saying ‘don’t regret what you do, but what you didn’t do’. My husband and I would constantly ask ourselves ‘what is the worst that can happen?’ before we decided to make the move to Barcelona. The answer: well we could end up in the gutter! So if we did, we’d brush ourselves down and start again! (it didn’t happen luckily)
If there could be a city that epitomizes the art of reinvention, then Barcelona is it. Its transformation in time for the 1992 Olympics is well documented. Prior to this date, it is incredible to think that the city still had its back to the sea, and to the wider world it was in the shadow of Madrid.
One of the members of the British Olympic sailing team once described how they trained in a sea full of debris including ovens and fridges ahead of the games – that stretch of water is the Barceloneta seafront.
Indeed, in preparation for the city being showcased to the world, beaches were built, new roads constructed and tired areas of the city totally regenerated. Barcelona completely re-invented itself and people’s perceptions of the city were changed forever. It had used its resources to the best of its ability and seamlessly became at ease with itself in its new role.
If Barcelona were human, you would credit the city with a whole load of self-belief! A lack of self-belief, however, can be a big obstacle in changing direction. Self-belief creates confidence, and confidence enables you to move forward. I know a whole host of hugely talented women at MumAbroad who have begun to use skills which have been lying latent for years – bringing up kids or stuck In a job they don’t enjoy – but they lack the confidence to market themselves on the bigger stage. It is hugely frustrating, as many of them have so much to offer.
3. Don’t fear failure or of the unknown
I think just about everyone has a fear of the unknown. By nature, we are less likely to take risks if it means giving up the traditional “dream life” that we think we should be living. In a conventional world, that’s the 2.5 kids, a nice house in the suburbs, a dog, 2 holidays a year. If you are happy with this life, then don’t change it! But, if you are feeling unsettled and frustrated then don’t be put off by the fear of failure. And there will be many challenges and frustrations along the way. Our team at MumAbroad is constantly facing challenges, either from rival companies trying to compete with us or from frustrations developing our own business. We have spent the best part of last year redeveloping our website. We had underestimated the scale of the project and time it would take to do what we want. On many days I had just wanted to find a bucket of sand and stick my head in it. But with the vision of what we wanted to achieve, we carried on and are (hopefully) nearing that goal. Confidence is not just knowing you will probably succeed but knowing you can manage failure.
You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to have disappointments and you’re going to have to deal with scary stuff, some of the time. The most important thing in the long run is to just work through it. Keep going.
And to echo the words of Winston Churchill “Success is lurching from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm”.
4. Make your own luck and take responsibility
It is your decision to change the direction your life is going in so don’t expect things to just happen to you.
There’s nothing special that happens to the people who choose to reinvent themselves and chase their dreams. It’s not any easier for them than it is for you. It’s just that at some point, they choose to put in the hard work and take action.
Going from out of shape to the best shape of your life is hard work. Reinventing yourself and developing a new skill is hard work.
You need to do your homework, learn new skills (something which these days can easily be done online), network, network, network! Speak to as many people as you can, ask for advice, find out about grants and then, enjoy using all the new skills and information that you have acquired. My dad once told me “Build your own dreams or someone else will hire you build theirs”
Remember you are in control of your own destiny – how exciting is that?!
5. Find a team you trust
There is a saying “Teamwork is the secret that makes common people achieve uncommon results”. Trust and understanding between team members is vital to a business’s success. It can be a bit hit and miss at the beginning whilst you are building your team but once you have found your dream team – remember good teamwork halves the workload and doubles the success. Don’t be a control freak. Delegation is healthy and gives you time off for lunch!
6. Try to have different income streams
On average it apparently takes about three years to make a decent profit from a new business, so it is always useful to have what I call ‘bread and butter’ money – an income that you can rely on when financially things are tough. When I decided to move to Barcelona, I was aware that things were not going to happen overnight for me and I carried on commuting to and from London freelancing in the TV and radio industry .The money I earned from that gave me the freedom to explore new avenues and do my research for my new business during the time I spent in Barcelona.
I also currently work as a PR consultant for an International Property company. Bills have to be paid and the kids fed so it helps me to have more than one income stream. An emerging trend, especially for those moving abroad, is to have a portfolio of mini careers, so as not to put all your eggs in one basket.
Being able to divide your time between different incomes also give you options, as sometimes a change of direction or career isn’t for everyone. This interim period is a time when you can test the water.
But if you make the decision to change career, then it is worthwhile thinking BIG. Be ambitious. If you have a dream then pursue it! MumAbroad started with a different name – Barcelona Mum, as initially we thought our idea was only relevant to Barcelona mothers. But it soon became obvious that this was a business that could quickly grow elsewhere and within a couple of years we were established across Catalunya, the whole of Spain, France, Italy and Germany and now we are currently working on a plan to launch in the Middle East.
7. It’s never too late
My mum passed away suddenly last year and it left my father bereft. They had been married for 49 and a half years and had lived a cosy conventional existence. Despite my mother having worked full time, she took full responsibility for cooking, cleaning, gardening, bringing up the kids – the usual stuff. In her absence, my father could have turned to a life of ready-made meals and self-inflicted loneliness. But a year or so on, he is a man I barely recognize. He takes huge pride in keeping his home clean and tidy, cooks nearly every night, has begun to compose music again and is writing a novel. I admire him for embracing the challenge of his new life and it has meant he has kept his youthful spirit and ‘joie de vivre’.
8. Don’t feel judged
I came across this great story on the internet about a New York journalist who earned 95 thousand dollars year but was disenchanted with her life and gave it all up to become an ice cream seller for 10 dollars an hour in the Virgin Islands. She said the hardest part was convincing herself to do something for no other reason than to change the narrative of her life and not to give in to her parents protests that her degree from Yale university warranted a higher paid job.
I used to present the news on some of the UK’s leading television networks and interviewed some fascinating people (also a lot of dull ones). But I came to a point in my life when I knew I didn’t want to do it forever and that gut feeling about moving to Barcelona never really left me. A lot of people were surprised and also quite judgmental about my decision to leave what was on the surface a buzzing and exciting industry (but they didn’t have to get up at 3am and deal with the inevitable backstabbing that the TV industry creates). I did leave the industry, followed my gut but the experience in journalism I had was invaluable as it gave me the tools to be in control of my own career path.
9. Relish the challenge
Once you have got over your fear of failure the next step is to embrace the challenge that lies ahead of you. By stepping out of your comfort zone, you automatically put yourself on a steep learning curve. And then your own experiences will not only enrich your own life but they can enrich the lives of others. Think how much more interesting you could be at dinner parties?!
10. And finally , remember, today is the start of the rest of your life.
Reinvention is about loss as well as gain. It involves the shedding of an old life, a life that may not fit any longer, but a life that was known to you. It involves the creation of a ‘you’ that didn’t exist before, it involves hard work and heaps of self-belief. And, as with all new ventures, it involves failure.
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, who knows a thing or two about success says,
‘Careers are jungle gyms, not ladders. It’s not like you see where you’re going, and you’re just going to get there. Instead, it’s going to wind around. So, enjoy the experience and run for it”
So going back to my little 6 year old graduating – I sometimes think of his own childhood dreams – maybe he wants to be a singer, a football star, a vet or a writer. He and the millions of children across the world have that one thing in common – the ability to dream. We should never let them lose that ability – as we all know, dreams really can come true.