20 years ago this week I embarked upon a year studying at the Université de Savoie, in Chambéry, France. In contrast to my largely theoretical Economics & Politics classes in Exeter, in France I joined a Languages and Business faculty, where the courses were very much simpler and more practical (and, gasp, perhaps actually useful!?).
Two of those courses were about market research and communications strategies, and they were perhaps the longest-lasting discoveries of that brilliant year. Having been fairly academic (and proud of it!) up to that point, I started to consider more practical approaches to the world, and this set me off down a career path where it’s actually possible to make a decent living out of applied common sense (oops, that’s the cat out of that bag…).
Stepping into the unknown has proven to be a source of great discovery for me on more than one occasion during my life. Sometimes I’ve made the step willingly, relishing and leaping at the opportunity. Other times it’s been made for me (when I was made redundant). On other occasions, however, I have delayed and delayed making a break from my status quo; making excuses why I don’t ‘need’ to move on, or why ‘it’s not the right time’, or just being plain afraid.
Moving to a new space or place has given me the chance to reinvent myself, or more accurately, to reassert myself, to become the person I want to be, rather than the person I may have become.
At school I was definitely ‘The Academic’, top-of-the-class, socially awkward, defintely not ‘in’, but kind of hovering on the fringes of the cool crowd. During my Gap Year before university, I spent 6 months at a school in Princeton, New Jersey: this was a revelatory experience for me. Noone there knew me from Adam, noone cared if I was brainy or not. I was the British Exchange Student, and suddenly I found myself taking classes in American Literature, World Religions, Screenwriting and Creative Writing: the school lent me a saxophone and I learnt to improvise playing jazz. It was a million miles away from the narrow rigours of ‘A’ Levels.
It became clear to me that I could be the person I wanted to be, not just accept the labels that others gave me or indeed I gave myself. Entering a world of strangers allowed me to be defined by my actions, not by my history. It’s all-too-easy to settle into comfortable, familiar surroundings and routines when in fact they might be limiting your potential.
On more than one occasion I have let myself become (and indeed believed I am) a victim of my circumstances. I’ve allowed myself to be defined by others, and I’ve convinced myself that it’s not my fault or there’s nothing I can do about it.
When I was in Chambéry, I became a secret fan of George Michael’s album ‘Listen Without Prejudice’, and especially the song ‘Freedom’. Forgive the self-help pop-psychology, but this song resonated with me very strongly when I was 21. I needed ‘faith in my sound’, and I wanted to believe that ‘sometimes the clothes do not make the man’.
As George asserts, ‘your sound’ is the one good thing that you’ve got. Look forward to embrace the opportunities of change, be open to new environments, and believe in your own abilities to be better than you might currently be allowed to be.