Face to face with that merciless inner judge
[the suite of Moving... away from myself]
Moving to Geneva meant that for many months, I kept my mind occupied with trips to IKEA (the nearest one was in Aubonne, and I’d take the train), furniture assembling, paperwork, and generally finding my way around.
Now this was a mission I could accomplish with brio. If there was one skill I did not lack, it was ‘applied curiosity’. I set about finding what Geneva had to offer (parks, museums, festivals, sports facilities, anything that would be free or pretty cheap), learning how to cook with ingredients that were new to me, and falling in love with a city whose limits were visible just by looking around (the mountains, the lake).
I savored my days. I started translating books from English to Portuguese, something that I would continue to do all these years and that helped me to maintain some confidence and feel useful. I created a blog to share my discoveries with friends in Brazil.
Since I was living in Geneva, working for an international organization seemed like the perfect way to do something meaningful. I quickly realized that I would need a master’s degree to enable this transition, and I fell for the development studies syllabus at the Graduate Institute. It was like another world to me, those disciplines with names that inspired me to save the world like “Écologie globale” or “Sociologie politique du développement”.
I loved being a student again. I struggled with some subjects, did better at others, and it was overall a very sobering experience for someone who was used to being the best in class, because the academic level of my colleagues was pretty high, and they were on average 5 years younger than me. I had a busy social life again, which is already halfway to happiness for me.
I did internships at UNRISD and IUCN where I took my first steps in social media and website content management and discovered that, yes, I really loved doing that! I worked with a team dedicated to promoting decent work for domestic workers around the world at the ILO, in a shared space with other interns who were among the loveliest people I have come across in my life (long live office 7-123!).
It felt like things were falling into place.
And then my daughter was born. It was like another overseas move. No. It was more like I was inside a blender turning at maximum speed.
Five years after I had arrived in Geneva, there I was, forced to confront my demons, my fears, my merciless self-judgment.
This is not a parenting blog, so I’ll just say that it took a long time until I started feeling like a person again. It is not just that I was physically exhausted. It is that motherhood put me face to face with my deepest imperfections and that was too much to deal with.
I turned to a therapist who helped me through those dark times by finally directing my attention, and my empathy, to that little person inside me crushed by my own expectations. It had been difficult to give birth to my daughter, but it was even more to give birth to myself.
Moving to Geneva had meant moving away from myself in the sense that it spared me from facing the insecurity I felt back in Brazil. In my own defense, I must admit I made a sincere effort to do something meaningful and that was aligned to my values. However, the effort would never be complete unless I took charge of my life.
This time, however, there was no escape. That little person needed me, so I had to find myself in the bits and pieces that were all over the place. It required a lot of courage and goodwill (I prefer the French word bienveillance, whose sound alone already makes me feel better).
In time, I realized how much I had suffered from holding myself back, fearing I would not be up to the challenge of life. Of being an imperfect person who experiences pitfalls as much as successes.
Time and again in my life, people had told me that I would be able to make a difference in the world after I came to terms with myself. That I first had to be good to myself, so that I could do good to others. I had always agreed, but it only started to make sense at that moment, when I finally started to listen to myself.
It is ok to be imperfect. It is ok not to have the magic solution for the world’s problems (or a crying baby at 3 in the morning, for that matter). It's obvious, but one thing is to know it, and another thing is to feel it.
Acknowledging my limits and my limitations, I am finally able to be myself and discern my qualities. My strength.
There was this book I loved as a child (Aventuras no País do Pinta-Aparece) in which a boy traveled to a world where by drawing anything, he made it exist. He drew a chair, so the chair existed. He drew a bin and a broom so he could clean up the littered floor, and there they were. He drew a bus to take him home, and then he drew the road as it went along.
So am I existing, by delineating my abilities, what I find pleasure in doing, as well as what falls outside of my boundaries. The hollow places I can now light up with my own torch when needed. I am creating a path for myself by being who I am. And this, for me, is meaning.