In our FIGT Focus on Career, FIGT member Nikki Cornfield shares how her global journey uprooted her career path, but led her on a journey to find her authentic self.
By Nikki Cornfield
As a newlywed and in the first bloom of pregnancy, the paint was barely dry on the wall in our beloved new home when he dropped the bombshell question-
“So how do you fancy living overseas?”
The question hung heavy in the air between us.
I was in the glorious nesting phase, and finally putting down roots after a career in the skies. We were still reeling from the shock of 9/11, swiftly followed by the collapse of Enron, and his career; two bowling balls that had been thrown in our path sending us in a spin and the search for work. This was a time before the internet, a time before online working and a time before the term ‘global nomad’ or ‘expat’ were commonly known.
I followed him to The Netherlands with a six-week-old baby, in the middle of winter and to a house I had never seen. Who was that woman? I don’t recognize her now.
I was naïve then, I hadn’t put much priority on what I wanted, my own dreams and aspirations I had somehow allowed to be pushed to one side. I remember the grief of leaving everything I loved behind. Without any secure foundations, those delicate first few months of transitions into motherhood were traumatic. This was the slippery slope to post-natal depression and the first layers of unresolved grief to be laid. In a time before zoom, messenger, and social media, my life in each new country was at the beginning isolating, a blank slate to fill. Communication to friends and family overseas not the ease it is today. Not having a portable career proved my downfall but this was a time before online business was the norm. I took opportunities as they came along, spontaneity opened doors. Often, this happened without me even looking for them.
And sometimes, the best opportunities were the ones that didn't feel like "opportunities" at all. The freedom of time and choice meant I didn’t miss a single second of my children growing up. I was there for it all. It also allowed me time to travel, to explore places and be with my family in the long summer hols back home. I had time to study, try new things, just for the hell of it.
So, I don't look back with regrets, or wish I’d done things differently. I made decisions with what I had at the time.
Have there been tears? Bucketfuls.
Laughter? So much.
New friendships? Too many to count! Some beautiful, some short, some intense and long lasting.
Lessons and education? Yes, along with a deep respect for anyone regardless of race, background and education.
Sadness and grief? Yes...
...but it’s all part of the human experience.
Loss and a sense of missing out on family, special events, and life back home is an inevitable part of expat life.
Was it worth it in the end?
I would not be who I am today, if I had stayed put. I love the lenses through which I now view the world. They are clear, wide reaching and have a depth and clarity on the important things that make life special. And I have a memoir written that without my journey would not exist. It is through the journey after all, that we find the road home to our authentic self.
So where am I now in my career? Right at the beginning and a feeling that I was left behind. A good dose of frustration and a feeling of not quite knowing where I fit in to this new fast paced online world. But, I am building my career, my way, and my unique experiences give me strength, and confidence as I move forward.
“So how do you fancy living overseas?”
To anyone facing this same question, my message is one of preparation. Don’t do what I did and become unhappier with each move, less and less confident and falling completely off the bottom ring of the career ladder. Instead, ask the questions, voice your needs, they are just as important regardless of your earning capabilities.