I love talking with people about happiness, interviewing them and reflecting upon their lives and lessons. But one thing that I realised is that everything starts with a beautiful snap shot of the present moment and continues with a beautiful story of struggling behind. I think that happiness is linked to the process of learning appreciation of life in all its beauty and richness. Most of our families tried to teach us gratitude but it is in the middle of the direct experience that we eventually understand it.
Take Laura for example. She is a beautiful woman, happily married, mother of three, a real international citizen with roots in three countries, an accomplished professional with creative skills, strategic thinking and outstanding career. You look at her pictures and you see the perfection of life on earth. She has it all. It all looks so easy, so natural.
But what does it take to get there? I’ve been thinking about it and this is mainly the question that I have asked her.
Dear Laura, are you happy?
Actually, I am. Every morning when I wake up I feel good. I have my sad moments too. But my husband is by my side, I kiss my children and I feel gratitude. I feel gratitude for what I have and for coming from where I come.
Where are you coming from?
I am born in Germany, from a Romanian mother and a Spanish father. They got separated when my mother was still pregnant and I have been raised by my grandparents in Timisoara, Romania. Nobody in the family anticipated the end of communism so when I turned six, I joined my mother in Germany. They all considered that I would have better chances in life if I lived in an occidental country. I entered the French-German school, as my mother was a true Francophile and I mainly studied languages. During all this time, I kept a very close relationship with my father. When I finished high-school, my mother wanted me to enrol in the law school but my father considered that not only I was too gifted for languages to study law but that law was mostly national and it would prevent me from going international which is my true nature. So I decided to go to Spain with him and to study economics. I did my last year in Italy and, by the same occasion, I learned Italian.
A real globetrotter! What a chance to have met you! You could’ve been anywhere else on the Globe! When we met you were living in Croatia. Now you are living in France. And I know that you just came back after five years in Mexico…
Indeed, I have been living in a lot of places. After my graduation in Italy, I went back to Germany. I wanted to do an internship to make sure that what I wanted to do was really suiting me and after six months as an intern, I have been hired and my company sent me to its headquarter in France. I worked there for 18 months and then I was sent to Belgium.
Better than a travel agency!
Right! But all that came with a price. In Spain, my father helped me on the financial side. In Italy, I had an Erasmus grant. In Germany, I stayed in my mother’s house but I had to commute every day between Bonn and Dusseldorf (70 kilometres), waking up at 5:30 in the morning and working hard for my internship. When I got hired in Paris, I was finally earning my own money but my beginnings there were not that easy. I wasn’t expecting to experience a cultural choc. Despite my understanding of the French language and culture, my idealistic image of this country almost vanished when I arrived. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be sent for a field training on the east side of the country where the context was closer to what I knew from Germany. So I survived.As far as Belgium is concerned, I mostly followed my heart. I had a boyfriend there that I wanted to join. I did my best to get the job but the price was that working in a subsidiary was very different than working at the headquarter. The rhythm was different and not necessarily in a good sense for me, the relationships were different and I had quite a hard time working in this environment. Even my love story ended so I finally got back in Paris.
Le parcours du combatant as the French would say…
But here comes the best part of my story. Once I joined the headquarter again, I started working on the Eastern Europe Zone. I enjoyed it very much and after two years, when they proposed me to go to Croatia to build the subsidiary, I said yes. So far, so good.
The problem is that just two days before leaving for Zagreb I found the love of my life. We knew each other since I was working in Belgium but this is the moment when we realised that we were really in love. Bad moment for this kind of epiphany. But it got even worse.
The first couple of months we managed to see each other regularly. But after four months, he was appointed by our employer in the United States… That was the turning point.
He proposed me and I obviously said yes!
On the other side, the company is not expatriating couples so I had a very hard time convincing them to send me with him. I was in a bad position as I asked for the transfer in Belgium and then to be taken back, now I was just being appointed in Croatia and I asked to go to the US. A visionary character of the company understood the situation though and he credited my added value. I finally obtained the transfer.
So we were missing the United States on the list.
Absolutely. The American experience was both tough and beautiful.
We got married in New York and we had first Raphael and then Benjamin.
On the professional side, the experience was really tough. I was speaking earlier about the cultural choc that I had in France. Well, it’s nothing compared to what I’ve experienced in NY. The business unit I was working for had only American employees. I missed the true international environment and I had a really hard time to build a new network, to make friends. My Latin way of being was very different then what I found there. I remained with a bitter taste after my American adventure eased though by sweet memories of my wedding and my babies.
And they lived happily ever after…
We finally left the United States for Mexico. Same company, hoping same arrangement. My husband was appointed on a new position and I hoped to obtain a new job as I did before. But Mexico turned out to be a wonderful five years’ experience made of birth, grief and reinventing. Pure joy and pure sorrow, all at the same time.
Useless to say how happy I was to have my third son and to enjoy my beautiful family. We made a lot of friends in Mexico and we created a perfect cocoon. We were privileged to have all the logistic support a five-member family would need – house keeper, nanny, driver – and to enjoy this beautiful country.
You said that Mexico was also the moment of grief. What do you mean?
Professional and personal.
I had to renounce to the company I have been growing with for so many years! What hurt me more is that I didn’t get a new job because my husband was already working there. I can understand the conflict of interests but I know that I am damn good in what I am doing and that, in other cases, the company accepted to have both spouses working together. It felt unfair and disloyal. It took me a lot of time to accept it.
But the most difficult was to lose my grandmother. We were very close. She raised me. She was an example and a pillar for me. It was hard. I am an atheist and I believe that we only live once. It was hard to accept that this is it, there is no other chance. How do you deal with that…? I worked a lot on myself to get over it. Still grieving from time to time but that’s life.
You also mentioned the reinventing part.
I reinvented myself several times in my life. But in Mexico, my professional path changed completely. Once I accepted and let go the company in which I invested all my energy and hopes during so many years, I decided to create something on my own.
I have a strong expertise that I decided to build on and looking around I realized that in Mexico people are very creative but they lack strategy. I am an expert on luxury products, I know several different markets and I have a deep understanding of the trends. Besides, I have a strong network and brilliant friends so I first created a consulting firm for retail education, then, I created along with two other friends a website gathering data for companies. Digital business is so fascinating!
Being an entrepreneur is very hard and starting on an unstable market as Mexico is even harder. But I did it for three years, working 16 hours per day and we are eight people now. Since I left Mexico, I am only managing the strategic subjects and somebody else took over the operational part.
This is impressive! Mother of three AND entrepreneur! How do you manage all that?
As all the mothers, with a little bit of guilt and the concern not to raise my kids in a perfect virtual world. As I said, from the logistic point of view, we had all the facilities in Mexico to take care of our three kids. What was a little bit harder was to stay calm in the interaction with those very different characters and to build peer to peer relationship with each of them.
The oldest, who is also a pre-adolescent, has a very strong personality. He is nice, curious, intelligent but he is very self-centred and in competition with my second son who is sociable, funny and generous. My second and my third ones are like twins, perfectly getting along together.
All those differences generate tensions like in any family and I had to work a lot on myself to manage the situation accurately as a perfectionist that I am. And the fact that I have to be the bad cop (daddy is always the good one…) makes things harder. I am doing my best to put limits, to teach them discipline and to protect them from the dangers of the world.
Motherhood implies that there are hard days but there is so much happiness in having these kids. I chose to have them, I enjoyed being pregnant and, even if sometimes I feel angry and frustrated, it is part of life. As it is said: happy mom, happy kids! Happy wife, happy life!
So, what is the key of your happiness?
I think the key is gratitude.
As I said, we came back in Paris after years of expatriation. Last Saturday, we went to a diner with friends and we spent the evening listening to the complains of people around us. All the discussion was focused on problems but never on solutions. French people think that they have problems but it only depends on what you are comparing yourself with and on where your landmarks are.
As far as I am concerned, I know what real difficulties are. I inherited it from my family and from my own life. My grand-grandparents were deported and they didn’t have civil rights when they came back. My grandmother was so impacted by her past that she was simply unable to throw away a piece of bread. She suffered from a facial paralysis because of the cold she was exposed to. As far as my own childhood is concerned, it wasn’t that easy either. My mother was the only child in her family and she only took care of herself. She never changed her way of living for her children. I took care of my younger brother when our mother was out. I didn’t necessarily suffer from it, it made me more autonomous and independent. But it is also what made me crave for a real strong family cell.
From a material perspective, I didn’t even imagine that I would have what I have today. I had very little financial security in the past and I think that this is really precious. My grandmother would say: what do you want more? My kids are doing well and I am trying to prepare them for life without closing them in an imaginary perfect world. My marriage is going well for 12 years despite the stress, the relocations, the job issues. We had our tensed moments. But even during all those tough times I was happy. Everything I did opened new doors for me. If I suffered in a way, it was for a better outcome. I lost my company but I discovered the reality of the digital world and it added a lot of value to my own expertise.
The key of happiness is not first being unhappy but it still contributes to the learning process of appreciation of what we have. This is why I am saying that I am happy as I feel gratitude for what I have and for coming from where I come.