Someone I know has just done her A-levels and is about to apply to university. At the age of 18, she is choosing her pathway for life. I remember having to make the first important decision about which school to take at 14, and then what university to go to at 18.
Funnily enough, I was pretty sure what I wanted to do when I grew up, since I was about 6 or 7 and it was to be a schoolteacher. I started working as one at the age of 19 and by the age of 21 I had enough.
When I was a kid we had a super popular TV show called Pepper and Vanilla, hosted by an amazing married couple Elzbieta Dzikowska (Polish art historian, sinologist, explorer, documentary film director, author and broadcaster) and Tony Halik (a Polish-Argentinian film maker, travel books author, explorer and a polyglot speaking English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, German and more). They were our David Attenborough. I was glued to the TV every week and I dreamed of travelling around the world.
I started my adventure with travelling when I found a job in Italy cleaning rooms and operating a massive dishwasher in a hotel for two consecutive summers. I fell in love with the country a summer before, during my first holiday abroad near Venice.
I used the opportunity to learn the language and as much about the Italian culture as I could when working there. Finally, I left my teaching job to become an au-pair in Italy. I also spent some time working in Italian bars.
Since I caught the travelling bug I decided to qualify as a holiday rep/tour guide and I spent two (or was it three?) summers in the same place in Italy managing between 60-200 people coming from Poland by buses for a two week stay.
I wanted to stay in Italy, but Poland was not in the EU then so legal work was not an option (I was always employed by Polish companies but working in Italy). I just knew I loved travelling.
Next step was London. First as an au-pair for a good 9 months. During that time, I got into salsa, I signed up for a course in Italian (first formal language course in a language I was pretty fluent in but never studied) and I did a short course in PR. I was spending a lot of time in the library reading up on Italian mafia. For the first time in my life I was free to choose what I wanted to study, and I could study precisely that.
After working as an au-pair I went back to Italy as a holiday rep and then ended up back in London. I started working in an Italian restaurant in a kitchen, as the prep person. Then I moved onto the floor answering phones with orders, then waiting tables and finally a couple of years later, managing it.
I still didn’t know what I wanted to do though. What was my path? I did an intensive CELTA course, so I was now able to teach English as a second language, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into it. I just wanted to be able to do it. I still liked teaching.
Next, I found a job in a translation agency booking interpreters for the legal system (prisons, courts etc) and looking for translators of a vast array of languages. The job was exciting, and it cemented my love of and fascination with languages. As part of this job I was also introduced to doing credit control. Another skill I gained was taking succinct but detailed messages which were super important as they could be submitted as a proof in court.
With time the job became too stressful and I moved onto another one. This time I was working as an administrator for a chauffeur company. We had some high calibre clients like the Sainsbury family. I was responsible for maintenance of the vehicles in the fleet, processing any repairs and accidents, arranging MOTs etc. I knew nothing about cars beforehand – I don’t even have a driving licence.
After a couple of years, I had enough. I was working weekends in one of the London GAP flag stores at the same time, so I was working 7 days a week. In that time I went to visit my family in Canada and it only reminded me how much I wanted to travel the world. These two jobs were not going to make it possible.
I quit and I was looking for something else. I was working from home as a telephone interpreter for the NHS, police, DWP etc. It was exciting but stressful at times. The money was ok, and you could work in your PJs. I also found a Saturday job in an estate agent.
My next job was for a big event company, but I only stayed there for a few weeks. The pay was awful and the hours ridiculous.
I decided to start temping and did various data entry and receptionist jobs around London. Finally, they sent me to this small firm who were looking for a temp receptionist. That was 14 years ago, and I am still there.
I started on reception, then used my credit control experience and finally started helping in accounts department. After a few months they offered me a permanent position. About a year or two later they offered to pay for my accounting degree.
I was working there happily for a good few years, when I decided to do a personal training course. That led to a qualification in indoor cycling and in 2012 I taught my first spin class.
For a while I was working full time in the office and then teaching in the evenings, mornings and on weekends. But I was getting restless and I knew I was spending too much time in the office job and I wanted to explore more options. I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.
I decided to go down to 4 days a week and do a diploma in sports massage. Two years later 4 days became 3, teaching indoor cycling became the main passion and resulted in me publishing a book on the very subject.
Have I finally found my THING? Am I in my dream job? I think I am getting there. I would love to be location independent and be able to travel wherever and still do the job just using a laptop and internet connection.
I think I have fulfilled my childhood dreams. I have travelled quite extensively and visited the countries I always wanted to in South America. I speak a few languages, too so I think I could shake my childhood’s idol’s hand proudly if he were still alive.
Years ago, I fell out of love with teaching but now I have found a subject I am so passionate about that it brought back the passion for it. Working with people with Parkinson’s has been a great experience as well.
I have been watching this amazing series on Amazon: Eat. Race. Win. It’s about one of Tour de France teams but it’s told from the perspective of the team’s chef. Yes, as in the person cooking for the riders and the staff. This amazing Danish chef Hannah Grant who found her unique path. She pours all her passion for fresh, high quality food and cooks amazing food for the team during the tour. By her own admission “cooking a dinner for 9 tour riders is like cooking a dinner for 27 normal people”. They travel with the food truck where they cook the food. As the riders are riding, they look for farms en route and buy their meat, veg etc from the local farms and get the food ready for when the riders are done.
I mean what a fantastic way to combine passion for high quality cuisine, travelling & languages! No two days are the same. And she did that working in a profession where you automatically assume you would be tied to a location. She has even done the Dakar Rally as a chef!
To sum up, never settle for a job if you feel like this is not what you would do if you had a choice. Keep looking for what ignites that spark in you, the excitement. If you don’t feel like you have a job, if you could talk about what you do for hours and you always see the room for growth – you are in the right place. Keep collecting your experiences and be open o opportunities. Once you find what you were meant to do, you will not regret it.