Moving... away from myself?

When the opportunity to move to Geneva came up, I saw it as the escape route from an existential crisis.

I had been working in market research for three years. It was a job full of challenges and that put my passion for analytical thinking to intensive use. It was hectic. I worked long hours at the office and sometimes from home on weekends. And it was fun. I made good friends at the office and I daresay that between one ad pre-testing and a quarterly consumer habit report, we did have a blast.

Yet, I kept asking myself if there was purpose in the work I did. I felt guilty for doing something ‘superfluous’.

I felt a growing sense of urgency. I have a vivid memory of that morning in early 2007 when the newspaper cover was dedicated to IPCC’s report that introduced us to a future between 2 and 4 Celsius warmer. The world is crumbling, I thought, and here I am helping to sell confectionery and shampoo.

I needed to do something. I couldn’t simply carry on with my selfish little life.

But what, and how?

With my friend Leticia. I created a workshop to raise awareness on climate change and the concept of ecological footprint and presented it to our work colleagues as part of a knowledge exchange program.

I considered looking for a job in corporate social responsibility or within one of the new companies offering carbon compensation services. However, all this seemed too far-fetched and I had no idea where to start.

I felt confused. The anxiety started to affect my sleep and my general well being.

It’s easy now to look back and say to myself, well, you could have contacted people working with carbon compensation to find out more about it. You could have proposed your workshop to NGOs and foundations in the corporate social responsibility sector. You could have looked for a coach, for heaven’s sake, so that you could acquire the tools to take charge of the situation!

It is easy to say that in retrospect. And perhaps someone else in my place would have done all of this. But I, the Maria Alice I was back then, wouldn’t, for several reasons.

One of them is a reluctance to ask for help. It took me more than thirty years to realize that I could actually ask for help when needed. And for that discovery I have psychoanalysis and Amanda Palmer to thank.

Another thing, this feeling that you are not entitled to such bliss. What? You want to dream, and make it come true? To earn your life doing something that will change the world? That’s for 1) people who are a lot smarter than you, 2) people who have money to spare in pursuing their dream (because of course dreams, or your dreams at any rate, bring no return on investment whatsoever), 3) people who actually know what they are doing. So. Not for me, I concluded in this internal dialogue with my tyrannical ego.

I don’t know how much longer things would have held before they came to a breaking point (burnout or epiphany).

Then this job opportunity for my husband showed up in Geneva. My savior.

I was all too glad to take the ride and just watch the view for a while.

I was all too glad to take the ride and just watch the view for a while.

It took a few months before we got a definite response, and I don’t remember ever feeling so anxious. We spent Christmas in suspension, not knowing if we would be an ocean away from our families and friends in a few weeks’ time.

I remember sitting at the cafe inside my favorite book shop in São Paulo (conveniently located right across the street from where I worked) perusing a Lonely Planet Switzerland guide, right after my husband signed his contract. The fact that I was moving to a city a I had never set foot in was sinking in. Switzerland. Wow.

I felt relief. I could start over, get things right, find meaning. Moreover, I was able to say goodbye to my work colleagues on a high note. It would have been too difficult to quit to pursue my own projects, but because it was for my husband’s work, it felt ok to do so.

It is amazing how we play tricks on ourselves. What I needed wasn’t another city, or another job. It was confidence and kindness to myself that were missing. The ability to value what I had to offer to the world, at work and in everything else I do. And this discovery process simmered over the years since I arrived in Geneva, until my daughter’s birth prompted me into an intensive period of self-development for the sake of survival.

[to be continued]

Maria Alice StockComment