The Qatar Professional Women's Network became desperate, they needed a speaker, and after scraping the bottom of the barrel, up I popped, in a sparkly top with jazz hands, okay so I had a sparkly top, but my jazz hands didn't make an appearance (it was a dry event).
It was one of those great Doha nights, a sea of headscarfs, suits, saris and abayas. Thank you for smiling and giggling at the right spots, apologies to those who had a mascara malfunction.
I've been asked if I would post the talk I gave that evening, which provides me with a "cut and paste" opportunity, and being Australia Day....it is a holiday. Right?
Here it is:
Thank you for the introduction:
When I started thinking about what I was going to say tonight (which may have been this morning) I typed “thank you for the introduction” and that was about as far as I got.....but as my mind began to wander I went back and read the sentence again, "thank you for the introduction".
Have you ever thought about how you introduce yourself?
Or how many times you've had to introduce yourself throughout your life?
As a child it starts at school. My name's Kirsty will you be my friend? My name's Kirsty will you play with me? As a teenager, the terrifying my name's Kirsty, would you like to go to the movies with me? Remember waiting to see if the guy you considered as “your boyfriend” was going to his introduce you as “his girlfriend”. During your College or University years it was my name's Kirsty, and I'll be your waitress this evening, your barmaid, and then finally after a big night out (for those of us who enjoy a drink), after waking up in the morning................ my name's Kirsty and I'm an alcoholic.
When I think of others introducing me, I immediately think of family, "Hi, I'm Lizzie's Mum" or "I'm Greg's wife". My mother, still to this day, will remind and introduce me to people as “this is our baby”.
When I was in my Twenties I started my career in Human Resources with an International firm called Kelly Services, or simply KELLY. I became "Kirsty from Kelly". It's quite hard to say that a lot, Kirsty from Kelly. Each time I picked up the phone “Kelly Services, this is Kirsty” Or "Hi, I'm Kirsty, from Kelly". It was worse for a couple of the girls I worked with though, particularly Shelly. Shelly from Kelly, always got a giggle. But the surprise favourite was Jenny, in our open plan office, there was nothing better than hearing a tongue tied Jenny, mix her words up and become Jelly from Kelly. Hi Jelly.
As my career progressed with Kelly, the job title was thrown in as well. I was this our “Account Manger Kirsty” and then when I thought I'd really hit the big time I was “our Major Account Manager Kirsty”.
BUT, what happens when it all disappears? What happens when we suddenly become just Kirsty.
There are all sorts of women in the room tonight. We have women who have relocated on their own, for their own career. Women who have relocated solely for their partner's career, leaving a career behind, hoping they can piece something together when they get here. We also have local women who have watched Qatar amplify and thrive, transforming into an International city.
All of us have something in common. We are all surrounded by foreigners, and with that, actions that are foreign to us.
When I entered what was a very foreign expat world to me, I was 6 months pregnant and had left a career, that I loved. On arriving in Jakarta I knew the decision made financial sense, I knew that we were about to have an experience of a lifetime, but I still felt a little lost. I was jobless, friendless, homeless and really FAT. None of these things, will build your self esteem.
Every single one of you who has relocated, has been through a similar process. We've all had to attend that dreaded introductory coffee morning or company function. Usually you arrive late because you've managed to get lost, you're looking disheveled and out of breath because you've run to make up time. You're possibly living out of a suitcase and discovered you've packed none of the right clothes. You can't find your favourite brown eyeliner. You're in need of a good haircut, because you didn't quite manage one in the rush of packing up at your previous location. Then you find yourself approaching a table full of strangers who are all mid conversation.
For me, that's when for the first time, in a long time, I became "just Kirsty".
It's the opportunity we all get given when we relocate. We get a fresh start. Many of us mourn the loss of the life we left behind, but some of us are blissfully happy to say goodbye to it.
Some of us do it with ease, some struggle for months trying to find our niche, others can be floating along for years and then suddenly realize that they're not really sure how they got there.
I learnt in a very tragic and disturbing way, that I had to keep sight of what was right for me as an expat and as a woman. I had to be happy with my introduction.
The company my husband and I had previously traveled with, has an incredibly huge and helpful spouses association, I believe its one of the largest in the world. Through this association I met a woman, a German woman who had been married for around 20 years. I would have said we were acquaintances more than friends, we were at different stages of our lives but we ran in to each other often at the usual venues.
After meeting in Jakarta, we then, by coincidence, ended up then living in KL at the same time. When I met her there, I noticed the change in her immediately, she was drinking heavily, she'd lost weight. She was a different person.
A few months later, on a trip to her home country she received a phone call from her husband, he told her he was relocating, but she wasn't. He wanted a divorce.
She immediately hopped on a plane, she wanted to talk to him face to face. She arrived at their apartment in KL and found his girlfriend. A woman he had met in Indonesia, he had been having an affair for some time. It was the typical cliché, she was half his age.
She left the apartment, devastated, but she came back later on her own.
Their apartment was located directly across from the office, there were people working in the office that day who knew the woman, they watched first with interest and then with horror, as she put on her eye mask, inserted her ear plugs and jumped to her death from their highrise apartment.
I guess she couldn't imagine an introduction that didn't involve him. She didn't know who she was if she wasn't with him.
The impact of her death on the expat community was initially huge. The news seemed harder on the younger women. Conversations like “I'm not going to follow my husband around for 20 years only to be traded up or discarded for a newer model” were had. Couples asked to be relocated home.
A lot of the older women saw it simply as the tragedy that it was. They had the wisdom and the experience to see just what an idiot the husband was.
I was shellshocked, it wasn't that I ever felt like the situation could happen to me, but I wondered how I was going to keep a little piece of myself. I seemed to be perpetually pregnant or breastfeeding and my career was a distant memory. Meanwhile my husband's career was skyrocketing. I wondered if I was ever going to get back to work?
For the next few years I did what a lot of traveling women or women at home do. I avoided the question of “what do you do” at dinner parties. I despised those horrible forms at the airport that asked you to fill in your occupation. I refused to write “housewife” and “home duties”.
So, I started making things up, we've all done it. If I was feeling arty I decided the dance last night at the kitchen table qualified me as a “dancer” There's the other ones, the more serious Mummy ones, Life coach, Domestic Engineer, Parent rights advocate. My husband would learn over my should to see who I was going to turn into each flight, lover was his favourite, castrator had him cautiously handing me the butter knife.
After a few more moves and a few more children, I found myself in a position to go back to the office, firstly part-time which quickly turned in to full time. My life changed drastically to early morning meetings and high speed chases to make it to school concerts and field trips. I guiltily hopped on flights, hoping that cough wasn't going to need a doctors appointment. I traveled at least once a week. I didn't need to make up anything for the airport forms, I had my title back, I had my business card.
If I hadn't have been walking around in a guilt ridden sleep deprived haze, life would have been perfect.
After 2 years of the balancing act of managing 4 children and a full time job, I realized something had to go. I was going to have to sell 2 or maybe 3 of our children........unfortunately that was wasn't going to work, I needed a solution.
But of course, for all expats, the solution for every problem is the same. Just wait long enough and you'll be relocated. Sure enough, a move came and I had to resign. The result was a much more relaxed Kirsty and a Kirsty that knew that her career would always be there, although the 8 til 6 at the office wasn't going to work right at that point in my life, there would be a time when it would. And for the first time in a long time, I relaxed and enjoyed the present and stopped worrying about the future. I was very happy with being “just Kirsty”.
Having worked in the business of HR, I know that women have a higher emotional intelligence than men. It's a proven an indisputable fact. Having a higher emotional intelligence often means that women are far better managers, socially it means, what we as women have known for years.
We make much better friends.
There's nothing like a really good girlfriend.
This being the case, it is our job as women to USE this emotional intelligence. Particularly in the expat world, it is not only our job, but it's our responsibility to look out for each other. I'd like to think that if I met the German woman now, I'd be a bit more useful.
It is a “career” on it's own to pack up a house and start a new life in a new country. Particularly if it's your job to find the supermarket, the insurance office, the school, the friends (and the good quality cheap handbags). If you're at a stage of your life that you can also fit in a job outside the home, you then have the added stress of the job, the new boss and the new rules and regulations. Finding the balance is something we as women, struggle with on a daily basis.
My new career as a writer, allows me to have that balance. It took me 11 years to find it. If I had to introduce myself, to me, now, I think I'd have some advice. Just relax, it's okay to just be you. Just enjoy the ride.