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  • Sana Z

Meet Laureen


"WE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR LOOKING AFTER OURSELVES"


LIFE ON YOUR OWN TERMS

I started working for an international organization in refugees' resettlement right after graduation. It was a very rich experience—for four years, I got to see the realities and challenges of refugees' resettlement in several places like Kenya, Togo, South Africa, Cameroon, and Burundi.

A year ago, I came back home to Belgium with my husband, who is from Burundi. I wanted to settle down and try something else professionally. I started working for an international NGO focusing on policy issues, but within a few months, I realized that the job was not the right match for me. I felt depleted and decided to resign, without having anything else lined up. I think I was still digesting my experiences with refugees in very volatile environments. It also took me some time to re-adjust back “home”, I had somehow idealized what it would be like to be back.


Within a few months though, I managed to turn things around. I am in a much better place now. I work as an advisor for asylum procedures at the Belgian Red Cross. It offers me the perfect balance between working on something concrete, something where I feel I am making a contribution, without having the constant pressure that I experienced in the field. We are also starting a new chapter of our family life, as I am currently pregnant.


Living life on my own terms means not feeling like I am “being lived”, like someone else or my environment is making decisions for me. In our sector, we often think ahead of time about the next step, the next move. Living on my own terms means that I can decide not to move again, or not to work long hours. It's about breaking that cycle.



ROOTS AND SEEDS

I'm from Belgium and lived in Kenya, Burundi, Togo, South Africa, Cameroon, and now again Belgium.


WHAT YOUR FOUR YEAR OLD SELF WOULD TELL YOU TODAY

Not sure about my four year old, but my seven year old self would find this life I created for myself “quite cool”.


SUPERPOWERS

The courage to take a leap of faith without freaking out. Also, being self-aware helps. I'm more and more capable of knowing what works for me and what doesn't.


ENOUGH IS ENOUGH MOMENT

When I started dreading Monday on Sunday morning (instead of Sunday evening!).


When I came back to Belgium, working for an INGO, I stopped seeing any meaning or purpose in what I was doing. At least, in the field, I worked really hard but could see the impact of my work. I started noticing signs of burnout. Every task felt like a drag, like responding to emails, or even cleaning my kitchen's table. Once, I slept for an entire week and still felt exhausted. This is when I reached out to a coach and asked for help.


MOST EXCITING HIGH

It gradually happened, through small steps. I slowly regained my energy and started planning small, simple things, like preparing a good meal with friends. Deciding to have a baby definitely means that I feel I have enough energy and stamina now!


MOST CHALLENGING LOW

Quitting a job that looked perfect on paper after only five months. I felt I was burning bridges. I also felt bad about leaving my colleagues down. I was under a lot of pressure to have a job to get a visa for my husband, but I knew I had no other choice than to leave. Ashigh-achievers and value-seekers, we sometimes need to own our part, and not only blame the organization. We are responsible for looking after ourselves.


BEST PIECE OF ADVICE

Your inner voices of “should” are the voices of fear, not the voice of reason.


WORST PIECE OF ADVICE

You should stay in a job that everyone wants. Don't change jobs too often because it will look bad on your CV.


BOOK OR PEOPLE THAT HAD AN IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE

“The Idealist's Survival Kit,The 75 Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout”, by Alessandra Pigni.


Working with a coach has also been key. One thing is to read a book, another one is to actually apply and integrate those insights into your life. It's amazing when you can get to a certain level of awareness yourself!



BIGGEST LEAP OF FAITH

Quitting a good job, knowing that someone else depended on me (i.e. my husband for his visa). That felt very scary.


FEAR OR BELIEF YOU LET GO OF

Sometimes it's fine to choose a job that you like, that brings more balance but that pays less. It doesn’t mean that I am not having an enriching experience or that I'm not progressing in my career. I just want to slow down at this stage of my life.


IF GIVEN A CHANCE WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY

When I came back from Burundi, I applied to jobs too early, which was mostly due to the pressure of fulfilling visa requirements and partially unfounded fears of not finding a job. I could have focused on recharging and taking a step back to think about what I wanted to do next. There is always a ‘rational’ reason to start working immediately, but in the end things work out fine most of the time.


RESILIENCE TIP

Dare to try something new. I had tried yoga and meditation and didn't like both at first, it felt too “New Agey” to me...but since I discovered the Headspace App, I started a daily meditation practice that I really like. I even took a class on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), it's really helping!


HARDEST PART ABOUT BEING A PERSON WHO LIVES ON THEIR OWN TERMS

Periods of transition are always going to be more uncomfortable, but when you look back, you see it actually makes sense and you did the right thing. It often seems like your immediate environment gives contrary advice, but often when you do take the leap of faith, you get more support than you might have expected.


WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO LESS/MORE?

Be more successful at shutting off my inner critics. I still need to do some work around dealing with this unsettling feeling that things can go horribly wrong – I picked it up in some places where they sometimes did. I want toregain the trust that things will be fine.


WHAT'S NEXT

I am pregnant and due in December. It's a new adventure, a different focus in my life. People say that having children take you away from focusing on yourself. Children are very good at becoming the centre of your attention: this distraction is sometimes very refreshing!


Being married to someone from Burundi also means that we'll go back there at some point. I'm grateful that I didn't cut out all bonds with that part of the world.


WORDS OF WISDOM

Living on my own terms means that I can decide not to move again, or not to work long hours. It's about breaking that cycle.


Your inner voices of “should” are the voices of fear, not the voice of reason.


As high-achievers and value-seekers, we sometimes need to own our part, and not only blame the organization. We are responsible for looking after ourselves.



© 2018 by Sana Z. All Rights reserved.