Recently stepped in my thirties, approaching a new turning point marked by the end of a life experience of more than two years in the United States, it’s time to take a first look at the situation because “YES” it’s frightening, but at 30 years old we start this kind of reflection. Through this article, I retrace my academic and professional career since obtaining my high school degree (freedom ticket) in 2006 until today, October 2018. Decryption of my choices of post high school, year of break abroad, multiple changes of companies and freelance jobs, to finish with a new project of a world tour in January 2019.
The message I want to convey in this article is that no matter what roads we take, each of us has the potential and opportunity to do something exciting and meaningful. Sometimes we are the only ones to set our own limits, for fear of failure, of not fitting into a mold, of not being suitable for a group or for multiple personal reasons. It is important to step back, listen to yourself, follow your instincts and give yourself the means to achieve your goals. Everyone is the master of his life, of his choices, you are the only captain on board and it is up to you to find the courage to dare and to undertake if you want change in your life.
This type of written exercise is new to me and as you will discover later, I have never been the best student in French (or English for that matter). All this to say that I have no pretension other than to share with you a feedback on a course marked by many 180 degree turns. I just hope that this story will be inspiring and motivating for some, disconnected for others, utopian or even revolting, simply that it will arouse an emotion in you.
OBTAINING THE HIGH SCHOOL DEGREE
The first part of my life was devoted to sport, more precisely to the basketball. Leaving the family cocoon at 13 years old to join a sports-study and then a training center, basketball has punctuated my life until I graduated from high school. Changes of clubs, colleges, high schools, teammates, boarding schools, these sporting and nomadic years have given me the “love” of being in motion! After obtaining this famous high school degree and these years exploring the gymnasiums of France on weekends, the big question of higher education came up. Ouch! What to do? What job? I had never really taken this question seriously before. I was clearly not talented enough to break through as a professional player and above all I no longer had the desire or pleasure to play. My objective was to get out of this bubble, to discover other things and experiences than this sport. So, I had to find a direction, a plan B, a school or a job, in clear a project.
MY CHOICE OF POST HIGH SCHOOL STUDIES: 2 YEARS WORK AND STUDY TRAINING PROGRAM
Apart from the PSE, the courses up to the high school degree had not fascinated me much and did not have the aim of integrating a specific school in order to access a defined position or sector of activity, it was difficult for me to choose a direction. Passionate about sports, I thought to integrate a sport university but I wasn’t enough academic, I needed a minimum of management. After several researches, I oriented myself towards a BTS MUC (Business Unit Management) a working and study program. The best formula for my profile; two days at school studying more technical subjects than in high school and three days in a company. The training lasts two years, the company for which you are doing your work/study program pays your school and give you a salary corresponding to a percentage of the minimum wage (450 euros/month at the time). In concrete terms, you are considered as a part- time employee with 5 weeks of paid annual holidays (yes, my American friends, in France we do have 5 weeks of paid holidays). As a result, I started my professional career “relatively” young at the age of 19 years old as a saleswoman in a group specializing in sports equipment. These two formative years and with a high dose of personal investment allowed me to obtain my diploma with notes that exceeded my expectations but also a job offer as an executive in this group. I passed into the good student category and above all I discovered that I had a certain ease in oral exams during my presentations of projects conducted in my company. I had gone a long way since the French oral on Les Fleurs du mal of Charles Baudelaire, which had given me a monumental belly in high school. Concerning this job offer, even if it’s true that at 21 years old it sounded a bit like an “El Dorado”, I decided to refuse it for fear of locking myself up so young in a sector of activity. I wanted to push my education to the maximum in order to open as many doors as possible and as always try new experiences.
A BACHELOR DEGREE IN A WORK STUDY PROGRAM
I continued with a new year in a business school that offered the possibility to validate a Bachelor degree in ” Business development and Marketing” in 1 year after a post high school degree +2. From a professional point of view, a 180-degree turn to integrate a start-up company specializing in the development of industrial-scale renewable energy projects. My role was to clear and draw up an inventory of the methanisation market in France in order to understand the creation of a future commercial offer for this industrial process. A radical change since the sale of sports equipment to the participation of meetings of local authorities, visits to slaughterhouses or farms to try to quantify the organic waste generated by these activities. This atypical professional experience has earned me an unusual subject for the writing of my thesis and to obtain a A+ for my final oral presentation in front of a jury of seven professionals.
At the end of this second cycle of education post high school and in all honesty, I had no more ideas about the “definitive” profession to which I could aspire. I was thinking, “You’re going to have to choose a position or a company for the rest of your career. A completely crazy idea when I think back to it today. However, I had discovered affinities with certain classes, I was very attracted by Marketing and its specificities such as diagnosis, research, analysis, or even the creation of commercial offers but I also liked financial analysis, sales, or even business law. It was clearly impossible for me to choose a specific branch and I still hadn’t decided to go 100% into the job market. I had to find an orientation, a plan B, a school or a job… In clear, a project!
In the blur of the moment, I turned to the possibility of continuing my Master studies to acquire new knowledge and give myself a little more time to reflect on my professional future. I have taken private business school exams that I failed because of my written results. In parallel because you always need a plan B, I had prepared many files for the integration of Masters in University (finance, entrepreneurship, international trade, purchasing…) I tried everything! In parallel application (off a classic university past), the places offer are “very rare” and I have only had refusals except to access at one oral selection for a Master degree in Management and Strategic Communication at the University of Lyon, France. For information, my TOEFL was bad, my GMAT worst, 13 places available for 800 applications, the person who received my application read my cover letter and wanted to meet me. Thank you! During my oral, I would always remember these two very emblematic university professors who told me: “but sincerely, you will be bored, you will be sitting next to academics, you have been working for 3 years, why you want to do a Master? ” Whatever their comments, I wanted to access it and was overly motivated by this possibility. A few days of endless waiting, a positive response, an immense joy, the planning for the next two years was drawn up. The integration of a Master degree at the University of Lyon, France with the discovery of new subjects, the completion of two internships or the possibility of an exchange in a university abroad.
THE MASTER DEGREE: THE END OF STUDIES
The university was a new concept for me, I would always remember my first strategy course in the amphitheater. I wondered if the teacher was speaking French because I didn’t understand anything about these theoretical concepts. The first semester, the “core curriculum”, the study of generalist subjects alongside very good students from all specializations was difficult. I was discovering studies, the real ones! Books to read, exams, assignments to give back, papers… A big challenge for a profile like mine, which until then had been a little academic. I spent hours making revision sheets, learning theories or working on endless papers. An investment rewarded by the close validation of this year.
At the end of this first academic year, I had to do an internship. By chance or by destiny and following a Facebook post from a friend I met a passionate entrepreneur who was looking for a person to help him in the organization of the first edition of a trade show specialized in mountain decoration and design in Méribel in the French Alps. The character and his project seduce me and it’s without any hesitation that I decide to embark on this adventure for these few months. After a few meetings to understand the overall business strategy of the event, I worked very quickly and independently from his office based in commercial premises shared with other companies. My missions were polyvalent, such as managing exhibitor registrations, sales follow-up, prospecting, accounting, writing press releases and radio spots, or managing press releases… The keyword was adaptation. Every day was different and unpredictable, I waited for the entrepreneur’s brief and adapted to the needs that the project required. This first edition, which was certainly a little bit rambling, was a success and an incredible professional experience. I loved that internship! A written report and an oral presentation later, I was ready to start a final year of study.
The last year of this 2-year university course was divided into 2 parts: one at school focused exclusively on classes related to my specialization: communication and the other by a final internship in a company. The final step was the redaction of a thesis and an oral presentation. For this last internship, I had the opportunity to work again for the entrepreneur for whom I had completed my Master 1 internship but I wanted to challenge myself on another project that allowed me to have a potential post- internship visibility that clearly marked the arrival this time on the 100% job market. Consequently, a new 180-degree turn to integrate a global construction engineering company with no Marketing and Communication department. Everything had to be done, the missions were diverse and the projects undertaken offered me the creation of a position of Communication and Marketing Manager within this group.
THE JOB MARKET: THE BIG JUMP
After a year spent in this engineering group, the end of my contract was approaching and I didn’t want to continue in this sector of activity, although the conditions were favorable, I had to turn to another project. I was divided between looking for a position in Marketing and/or Communication in a large group offering attractive conditions, career opportunities and the “passion” project in a start-up. It was hard to position myself! One thing leading to another, my path crossed over that of the entrepreneur for whom I had done my internship 2 years earlier and I decided to set off again for a new adventure at his side to develop the 4th edition of his event in France but also in Switzerland. Based in Lyon, I worked remotely as a Project Manager for this entrepreneur and at the same time I developed projects in events and communication on my own. The story had been repeated by a new end of contract and the desire for a new project but this time internationally.
ONE YEAR ABROAD WITH A WORKING HOLIDAY VISA
After these years of twists and turns, school and business changes, I decided to take a year off to explore a part of the world and improve my English, which I must admit was deplorable. I opted for a “working holiday visa” allowing me to work and travel to New Zealand for one year. I will not go into the details of obtaining this type of visa, but it is very easy for French citizens under 30 years old to obtain it online for many countries (the cost varies depending on the destination). After a month exploring in a van the Australian east coast, I headed to Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, to start this new stage. First in a youth hostel, then in shared accommodation with roommates from all over the world, I quickly found a work in a catering company (the job of all the backpackers in the area) and then a short replacement in a web start up. Perfect opportunities to cover both my local expenses and to be flexible and travel whenever I wanted through this sumptuous country. New Zealand is breathtaking, as much for its beauty and diversity of landscapes as for the kindness and generosity of its inhabitants. After this New Zealand year and on the way back to France, I took the opportunity to explore for two months some South East Asian countries (Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand) in backpack. Youth hostels, meetings, discoveries of countries, foods, incredible places, for me it was life, the real one, and I didn’t want to waste a minute of these precious moments.
I encourage and recommend anyone who is hesitant to take the next step to experience this type of adventure abroad. Dare to launch yourself, get out of your comfort zone and confront other people, cultures, and customs… A year is nothing at the end in a life, a career, it’s just a break that will allow you to bounce back on other projects that you might never have thought of. I cannot describe the many positive aspects that this type of experience will bring you… And in the worst case if it does not suit you, you will still have the opportunity to go home, but at least you will have experienced it. Last important point, forget the idea that you have to be “rich” to be able to live this type of adventure. If you leave without first finding a job, it is obvious that you will need to have some money set aside before you leave to finance the three basic needs once you arrive on site: housing, food and transportation. There is no precise amount, it will all depend on the costs related to these three basic needs depending on the selected country and the time it will take you to get your new job. Keep in mind that there are solutions (woofing, au pair, internships, VIE…) to anticipate your departure and get you there by limiting your costs on site.
THE RETURN TO FRANCE: CLEAN SHEET
Returning to France early following a failed proposal for a business takeover, my goal was to find a job quickly in order to bounce back on a new professional project and hope this time to settle down somewhere. With my updated resume and cover letter, I started applying for Marketing and Communication positions in many local companies. Passionate about many sectors of activity (sport, travel, fashion, food, cosmetics…) and with a polyvalent profile I was not closed to a type of company, a sector of activity, a position or even a salary. I was “simply” looking for a structure where I could be challenged by a project, missions, and where I could invest myself daily with enthusiasm. To my great surprise, I quickly obtained interviews locally for large groups and small companies to finally accept a 6-month fixed-term contract as a Business Developer in an advertising agency based in Annecy, France. In terms of “conditions”, it was clearly not the most attractive offer on paper, but the agency’s development project, the business sector, potential assignments, as well as a good feeling after several interviews with the CEO made the difference. It took me 2 months after my return to the territory to start this new activity, which was fortunately a quick rebound. After a 6-month trial period, the time to get started and prove myself, my adventure continued on permanent contracts (like following my instincts was the right choice). I spent two excellent years with this agency with a team, clients and shock partners before leaving it (and leaving everything for that matter) for “a personal project”, that of following my partner in California. I will go into the details of this experience of living in the United States in my next article.
When I look back and make a first analyze, I’m proud of this atypical journey. I never thought I would be able to get a Master degree in Business, travel that much, meet so many people, or work for a dozen companies and on my own in France, New Zealand and the United States. These 10 years of hyperactivity have allowed me to live incredible personal and professional experiences across the globe and I am grateful to the people who have accompanied me for one step or during the whole way.
As we approach the end of an American life stage of more than 2 years that will mark a new turning point, I’m already looking forward to write the next during a world trip scheduled for January 2019. It’s on the blog “Slap This Life” that I have just created that I will share with you with passion and sincerity my adventures, these moments of life, these encounters that are close to my heart.
I hope that this “academic and professional” retrospective of the years since the high school degree will show you that even if you take different paths, the result can be positive. Trust in yourself, follow your instincts, work harder than others and go to the end of your projects. This combination is a magic formula that I have tried to follow (trust has been earned over time, I grant it because it was not earned). The most important thing is to be active and not in expectation, to undertake and try things that make sense to you and not to others. You are the main actor of your life, it is up to you to slap her to make her look and feel good. If you think it’s possible, that there will always be a solution, then go ahead, listen to yourself and give it all! Keep in mind that there are no failures, just experiences that will make you stronger, more mature and prepared to undertake new projects later. Taking “measured” risks, wanting to surpass yourself, challenging yourself, persevering is better than many diplomas or elitist careers, so go for it! You may not have the standardized path that some companies are looking for, but don’t worry, your atypical profile will always open doors, here or somewhere else!
Thank you for taking the time to read me.
Last thing, if you have reached the end of this article, I owe you a coffee: )