It’s now 2013. A new year and a new start for us all. A year ago, I thought things would have been very different now; I was setting up a new company, lauded as London’s hottest financial start-up, I was on track to beat my triathlon racing times and, most importantly, I was in love. It’s now 2013. I am unemployed, barely managed to finish my Ironman race in November and single.
For those that do not know me well, I have had a pretty privileged life. I grew up in sub-saharan Africa, went to a school that barely had electricity but I was blessed with incredible parents. I ended up in England where I studied and finished my PhD at the age of 21. From then on, everything I touched turned to gold. I landed a role in one of the best financial institutions in the world, learnt how to swim and bike in 2009 and completed my first Ironman (competitively) in 2010. My success was on an upward trajectory and now, for the first time in my life, I am at a sharp correction.
I guess things began to fall apart after my 30th birthday in Beirut. My upbringing was very much centered around ability. Study hard and you will achieve, eat well and you will grow up tall and strong, treat people kindly and it will eventually come back to you. Sadly, I did all these things. I studied hard, but not smart, I ate well, but not for my soul, I treated people with respect but forgot to listen to myself.
When I returned to London, I wanted to be surrounded by people I cared about and respected. For the choices they made in their life and for the support they provided me throughout mine. I started a small experiment. Firstly, I cut contact with pretty much everyone, and then I waited. I waited for people to reach out to me, I waited for support. Secondly, to those that listened; those that paid attention and followed up. Finally, to those that were warm; those that opened their homes, and their friendship as I had always done.
To begin with, things took a turn for the worse. By the end of July, I had sunk into a deep depression. For a few weeks I could not get out of bed. I could not fall asleep, nor could I move. Everything tasted the same. Each morning, my alarm would go off and the thought of going to work was unbearable. I felt a noose around my neck, slowly tightening like a cable tie with every movement. Clicking and not letting go.
This post is mainly about me and my choices. So I shall leave a lot of the references out as they are unimportant. But someone dear to me during this difficult period reminded me of something: you cannot choose your family, you cannot choose who you fall in love with, but you can choose your job.
I resigned immediately.
When I think back to the options I had as a student, I chose the path of least resistance. An engineer earns more than an artist; a Doctor will find a job easier than a Masters student. Wise words. Actually, honest words, practical words, rational words, logical words, but not wise words. I followed them nonetheless, did what I had to do and, through a series of fortunate events, found myself at the top of the finance world in London.
Where did I end up? Feeling unfulfilled with the choices I made and torn between what I believe are my core values and my loyalty towards those I worked with. So what do I believe in? A sense of belonging, a sense of direction and a sense of impact. Knowing the actions I take leave a footprint that is worth leaving.
I slowly dug myself out. The people that mattered reached out to me, my family were by my side and my goals changed.
The last point is probably the most relevant. I remembered the times I was proud to finish a race, without the pressure of an excellent time. I remembered the reasons I joined finance; not for the money but for the experience and to build my contacts and commercial acumen. I looked closely at the reasons why I surrounded myself with the people I did and raised the bar, this did not just apply to friends, but colleagues and love too.
I am not sure where I stand now. All I know is that I am scared. Scared of starting all over again and scared of failure. However, what I am hoping is that the decisions I make in my life from now on will make me proud. This year, I will have impossible goals and dreams and I will aim higher than ever. Because if I fail then, it would still be worthwhile.