The Economist

It is time I tell you a little bit about who I was before this move. Because I haven’t been a diplomatic housewife all my life. I used to have a job, probably like you, except I kind of hated it.

It all started when I was about 8 years old. I was convinced that in order to be happy, one needs to be rich, and in order to accomplish that, I would either marry a prince or become the CEO of a bank. The first option became more tricky by the day as I was really bad at faking feelings (I’m still not good at this) and all the princes I “knew” weren’t that attractive. So, at 10 years old I decided to go for the bank CEO option. 

Then teenage hit me. I had a revelation, I wanted to be a hairdresser. Express my creativity and be close to people. My parents were coming from a period with high unemployment rates. They didn’t think hairdresser was going to do it. To them, a university degree equals employment. They basically told me to choose any university degree I wanted but to forgot about the styling. And thus, I took the most open degree that I could find, the only one that could get me into all fields of work and maybe even to the bank CEO option: Economics. 

I ended up getting my degree with the highest distinction. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, I was good at it, it all seemed quite easy to me and it scored good on the effort-result scale so my lazy-me was ok with it. 

Immediately after my graduation, I was hired at the University to work there and do a PHD on the side. 2 years, and a lot of fun, later, I realized this was not my cup of tea and I quit. This is when I became a real economist. 

Well, first, economist means nothing and everything at the same time. This is one of the job titles everybody can tag himself without any degree needed. (Just like consultant…) And it can mean anything. In particular where I used to work. I did project management, statistical analysis, event manager, policy maker, hostess, writer, mover, social counsellor, cheerleader …

I worked there for almost 10 years. I’m not going to lie; some moments were more than great fun, and this is where I met my husband and some really good friends (I miss you Sophie and Gauthier) so I got some good things out of it. But in general, this wasn’t the environment I blossomed in.

I was working in a very modern governmental entity. Maybe a little bit too modern for its own people. We didn’t record our working hours. We could work from home because we had no fixed office, just a locker with our stuff and empty desks in – off course – an open office with some fishbowls for those wanting a quieter environment. Not enough desks for everyone by the way, which really encourages you to work from home. We had the freedom to organize our work the way we wanted. They even pushed the system until the point where you could choose someone to evaluate you, ANYONE. 

It was great. But very quickly, the flaws of the system appeared. It seemed like 30% gradually started working less and less, gradually not even showing up anymore half of the time, 20% arrived really early so they could hide in the fishbowls all day. From the motivated colleagues half started to get very demotivated by the first two categories and the rest unleashed their motivation on another job on the side (since this first job in any case didn’t monitor hours or work presence). Some jobs on the side with a clear conflict of interest btw. I didn’t, I told you, I’m lazy time effective. One job was more than enough for me. 

On a home working day, I called a colleague of mine for an urgent question and her daughter took the call, “Mom is riding our horse, …. No, no, she’s not working today, it’s HOME working.” You have to love children’s honesty. 

We could choose our evaluator, our boss. I choose my friend, it worked. I never got better evaluations. My previous boss was great too, extremely funny, but he brought his Kalashnikov to work (don’t know if I can explain that story once…), so I would say he had some issues too and in any case, he unfortunately retired and, being the more experienced, motivated, always spitting new ideas fun guy, he left the young guard in distress. The balance between the younger and older generation was gone. Progressively this modern system was pushed towards some extremes and left to die by the middle-management. The great minds behind these ideas left the place (promoted) and it seemed like “the revenge of the 80’s managers” without them.

Then the day came, I realized I HAD to leave too. We had a colleague, let’s name him Georges. Georges has been an alcoholic all his life and now needed a liver transplant. In order to get it, Georges quit drinking, we celebrated it with him. Because we could choose our desk, Georges worked next to me from time to time. And one day I realized he carried everyday a full 2 liters water bottle filled with what appeared to be some sort of juice. The young guard thought that is was some kind of superfood treatment. With all his health problems you know. He started drinking his juice at 8am and by 3pm, the bottle was empty. But then we noticed that around 3pm Georges was always… sleepy. I decided to look what was in his bottle while he was in the bathroom. It was no vitamin water or detox mixture. It was cheap wine. I’m not easily shocked, but I felt so bad for Georges and his liver that I told my (middle-)manager. Her answer was “Yes, I know, but he will be retired in one year, so it’s ok”. And she added “If he doesn’t behave badly and can still stand up, I’ll close my eyes until his retirement.” I was in shock. What kind of management is that??? I was even more pissed to discover he was probably behind the disappearance of my mulled wine stock for the Christmas party I used to organize every year at the office. Who drinks cold mulled wine anyway? 

Then my husband got the news he was hired as a diplomat and that we would leave the country in one year. So, I informed my direction and started drinking at work with Georges. No, I’m just kidding. I don’t drink cheap wine! But Georges and I, we shared this year like a prison sentence. Looking everyday how many days were left. Although in the end, Georges wanted to stay a little longer at work. He realised he was REALLY well paid for doing 3 emails a day. Pass 10 am he couldn’t write anything in any language I know… he did try one time. Some colleagues of a very serious working group received an email from Georges saying he peed in his bed while being with a woman who was clearly in another business than us… True story, yes. I told you we had fun stories.

That’s how I made the most controversial choice for a woman: following my husband and be “just” a housewife. This is worth a post by itself, but I can already tell you people were thinking I lost my mind; I was locking myself in the lower position. But it’s quite the opposite. I felt so lucky. For the first time in my life, I felt I could make a real choice. I can finally do what I want to do and not what I HAVE to do. What a luxury. I can take care of my children who during the week I used to see 30 minutes per day only! Yes, because this insane job kept me out of the house from 5:30 am until 6pm. I remember this nurse at daycare telling me at pick up: “Are you going to make a third one?”. Without letting me the option of answering, her colleague said, “You need to take care of them first, it’s not having babies for having babies…” Was she right in all her impoliteness??? Still, I could, and should, have kicked her in the face, for the sake of all working moms.

As I was now given the gift of choice, I first needed to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. Do I still want to be a hairdresser? Because now, it is possible. No, that is not what I want anymore. People are way to nasty and rainbow hair disgust me. What do I like? Writing, social media, pictures and talking with people.

After one year, I decided to go back to University. Yes, me who hated studying, I choose to study again. Because I think learning is enriching and although the first year I learned tons of things just by moving abroad, this second year I feel like I need the adrenaline provided by the new experience. It might be a total disaster, but I started some writing classes, some social media marketing classes and I’m this close to buy a new camera to get back to photography (I’m open to any sponsoring, Belgian diplomats are poor). I have no fun colleague at the moment and I kind of miss Georges and the others but I’m sure I’ll get some other funny stories to tell! Wish me luck!

Santé!
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