That is what happens when you focus. Like really focus. Yet we are only human and sometimes; especially when you’re trying to meet a personal goal, negativity will filter through and attempt to knock you off your path. Why? because it is easier sometimes for people who do not understand your journey and your goals to watch you fall. It somehow distracts them from their own lives which are full of discontent and lack of self-belief.
I recently met with a friend who I had not seen since I returned from working abroad in the Caribbean. In talking to her I realised I had parked a lot of issues that I had about my experience, but I also had the opportunity to talk about all the beautiful experiences I had too. The fond memories of my work and time in Trinidad came flooding back. Remembering my sweet friends who I miss dearly. The mouth-watering food, the distant memories of weekends in Tobago where I spent the weekends enjoying the sea, and baking under the glorious sun rays. Drinking Carib beer whilst dancing to local music on the beach. Adopting new interests such as Dragon boating, rainforest hiking, ‘liming‘ round friends whilst they cooked up a storm of local food, counting the days down to carnival where we partied on the street from sunrise to sunset adorned in bejewelled bikinis and beautiful headdresses. I can smell every experience as I write and cannot help but smile at the wonderful memories. So blessed am I to have experienced the glory of T&T. Oh, how I miss the land of the hummingbird. But it was not always easy. My skin had grown an inch by the time I landed back in ole blighty having decided to move back home. Making the bold move to relocate to another country was no easy task. Only a handful of people who I had grown close to there really knew my journey and the reasons I ended up in Trinidad where I worked as an Export Manager. Some chose not to care, but to make up their own obscure reasons why this foreign girl ended up on those shores. So I am going to share my story in the hope that someone somewhere reads this and it encourages them to follow their dreams….
January 1st, 2006. Tired of London and drained from the rat race I decided to write some personal goals. The big 3-0 was approaching and there was a strong determination to go forth into my 30’s satisfying some goals I intended to make. Right there on the top of my list was visiting the land where my father was born. To me personally as a bi-racial woman who had grown up in a predominantly white society; I had a vested interest to go discover where half of my bloodline was from. At the time, I really did not know many people from a Caribbean background. Purely because I had grown up in the North-East of England, and back in the 70’s there were very few who resided there. Funny things happen when you commit to something on paper. When you focus on that commitment and visualise what it would feel like to meet that goal. I did this every day from the moment I put a pen to paper, and it was from that point I started to meet people in London who had a Caribbean background. I started to talk about my need to go visit the islands. No one around me really understood this dream. Nor did I care. As everyone knows us Brits love to take off for a few months at some point in our lives. Some choose to escape to Australia, others to Thailand or to explore the rest of Europe. The bold, brave and risk-taking travellers do the full shebang and tour the world. I thought about taking one of these options but the more I thought about it the more the Caribbean kept playing on my mind. So I decided that I too would go travelling but I chose to kill 2 birds with 1 stone. To take 6 months out to travel but to also explore the culture of the ancestors I shared a bloodline with. So with the help of a new connection who had a contact who owned a bar in Tobago I put my belongings in storage, packed a suitcase and flew to Tobago to work there for 6 months. Just like that. Done. I was a terrible barmaid 😉 but it was a great experience and actually the best way to meet local people and truly get a cultural experience. I was in awe of how happy people were. It was such a breath of fresh air having been working in London and battling people on the tube every day in rush hour; where people avoid eye contact and God forbid anyone break the atmosphere by saying ‘Good Morning’. But like any city it is not that people individually are miserable; it is just that people are hustling to get to work and sometimes it is just easier to plug in your earphones or read a book and zone out until you reach your stop.
So there I was in the Caribbean serving drinks to the locals (something I had not done since my university days) with only 2 months to go until I hit the age of 30. Goal achieved and crossed off the list. However, I just felt that there was more to see and more to explore and that for some reason there was a part of me that felt that I would be back later in life after my working vacation to learn more about this beautiful part of the world. So in preparation I caught a ferry to Trinidad and went to apply for dual citizenship. I had learned that as my father was born there I too could acquire a Trinidad passport if I had both his birth certificate and mine sent over. Of which I immediately did. So before my 30th birthday I had not only visited the Caribbean I became a citizen of the Caribbean. Amazing.
Now in working at the bar I just could not switch off my interest in business and just enjoy my working vacation. I started to notice how one of the brands (Carib beer) was marketing their product. I loved the energy of the brand and I had actually been searching for Account manager roles in the drinks industry back home before I took off on my travels. So I then created a new obsession. What is this brand and how do I become a part of it? So I started investigating which countries they exported to. Who were the main players in the business? What products they manufacture etc. I was lucky enough to have met a great set of people in Tobago and within that set was a good friend who actually worked for the brand and he gave me all the info I needed to know. So I made up my mind that I was going to work for the brand. I set up a meeting with Export in Trinidad and with my bold self caught a ferry over there to tell them why I needed to work for the brand in the UK. Of course, there was no real role. I just made it up and of course told it was great to meet you and best of luck for the future. Ha
So off I popped back to the UK ready to throw myself back into the grind. But I just could not get Trinidad and the Carib brand out of my head. I then heard there was a role coming up in the company based in Trinidad and I got back in touch and showed my interest. A few months of badgering and telephone interviews later I got my wish and found myself packing up again and returning to take a leap of faith in the next rung of my career. I was pumped.
Now what I experienced next is in no way shape or form a representation of the country I had chosen to move to. The experience and lessons learnt are what people go through the world over. This is just my personal reference and one that is close to heart. I have many more that derive from my home country and of which I will talk about in other articles. So I want to go back to when I mentioned how people will try to knock you off your path and how it is so important to stay focused. Now here I was in Trinidad ready to face my next challenge which was essentially to grow markets in the region I was responsible for. But there were major obstacles I had to overcome. a) I was a foreigner b) I was working in a male dominated environment c) it was a new industry (I came from a fashion sales/marketing background). There were people waiting for me to fail. I could feel it. And my gut flipped for at least a year into that job as I tried to gain acceptance in both the working environment and external environment. It was the biggest challenge I have ever faced. But I got through it. I made mistakes along the way but I learned from them and evolved,and in the end I left T&T with a success story both in the results I achieved at work and also personally. My father has passed now, but nothing makes me smile more than picturing the day when he travelled to visit me and the place he was born having not been back since the age of 14. When he turned round to me with tears in his eyes and said ‘Thank you for bringing me home’ It made everything I was going through on a day to day basis worth it. I also had the opportunity to see many of the islands in the Caribbean via my work and for a woman who had not stepped foot on the Caribbean soil until the age of 29 that is a major achievement. I probably experienced more of the Caribbean than most who were born there. So I feel very blessed and appreciative to the people who accepted me for who I am. The wonderful people I had the opportunity to work with and the beautiful long term friendships I hold close to my heart. To the people who said I would never last and who attempted to knock me down with lies and deceit; to them I want to say thankyou. Because if it was not for you I would not be the person I am today. A stronger and better version of myself.
Today I face a new breed of haters. The “So what is it you’re actually doing?” “Don’t you want a ‘real’ job? “It must be nice not to have any real worries” The last comment being the most disillusioned so far. Like raising a child and sacrificing to build a future for him is not worrying enough. Just because someone does not file into the city with the crowds on a Monday morning does not mean they do not have worries. Where were they at 2 am that same morning when you were working your way through a to-do list at home?
I will be launching a consultancy business in a few weeks and the gut feeling has come back to the point I feel sick. But I now know it is normal. The most successful points in my life started off with that feeling and the easiest thing to do is to give up because it feels awkward. Just remember that if you haven’t experienced that feeling, then you have not lived. Nothing comes for free in life. You have to feel pain before joy. That is just the way it is.
The day I left my job in the Caribbean to come back to the UK I was late in leaving the office as I was depending on a friend to collect me. However, if they had not been late I would never had the opportunity to receive the email I did. It came 30 mins after I should have in reality been out of the office; never to open another work email for the company again. It was a letter of thanks and acknowledgment of my hard work from the top of the Hierarchy. I saved that email and still look at it today whenever I doubt myself and my strength. It reminds me of the challenges I faced and overcome.
My favourite quote from the book ‘The Alchemist’ sums up exactly what I mean-“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself,” the alchemist replies. “And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”:
You see it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, or what they may say about you. What matters is that you keep on going. Follow your dreams. There will be people watching you always, but it is at the right moment when you hear the voice that matters. The rest is just noise.