Career in Your Suitcase
A practical guide to creating meaningful work... anywhere

Find Your Passion

This is a preview to the chapter Find Your Passion from the book Career in Your Suitcase by Jo Parfitt.
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Your Calling

Finding our passions, which we can also think of as our vocation or the work we were uniquely designed to do, can be a challenge. Converting these passions into a career requires ingenuity and persistence. To unearth our passions we need to look inside ourselves. When we seek to translate what we love into work, then we need to look outside ourselves, the topic of subsequent chapters.

How I (Jo) Found My Passions

We firmly believe you can do what you love and earn money from it. I (Jo) had always believed this — until the day at school when my careers adviser informed me, at age 14, that writing was not a career option, but just an indulgence! That was when I began my attempts at conforming. And though I had written my first poem at six, my first play at 13, kept a diary since age 11 and penned hundreds of letters, I shelved my dream.

I loved French though. And for me that included the literature, the language, the people and the country. I found my French teacher, Mr Feather, inspiring, and received my best marks in French. So I went to university to study French. I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher, nor a translator. Somehow I realised I had to be creative, and so it was during the year I spent abroad in France, teaching English conversation to a group of despondent teenagers, that I found the perfect outlet. I would write a book called French Tarts. Not once did it strike me that I couldn’t cook. I knew I had a great idea and a great title, and my pursuit of authentic recipes from real French people would get me a few dinner invitations.

My plan worked. Octopus, the first publisher whom I approached with my idea, snapped it up. I quickly taught myself to type and use a word processor so I could produce the manuscript. The book came out in English in 1985 and then in French, in France. I put this immense good fortune down to beginner’s luck. I had become a writer after all. I was 24 years old. I was doing something I loved and earning money.

Yet, despite getting an agent and deluging her with many other ideas for cookery books, I guess I was let down by the fact I was neither a trained nor an experienced chef. With hindsight, I realise my enthusiasm didn’t quite match my skill and some of my ideas left a lot to be desired. After spending a year churning out synopses while I worked as a temporary word processing secretary, I decided it was time to change direction.

Instead of finding more work as a cookery writer, I found myself teaching word processing
— the skill I’d only learned in order to produce the manuscript for French Tarts. But I found I loved the work, particularly when I was required to create typing exercises for the students. I also liked producing the documentation and course handouts.

Surprisingly, the work energised me. I would never have dreamed my creative soul would enjoy something as technical as word processing — but it did. I found I enjoyed the lessons, meeting new people and watching the students learn and grow. In my own small way I was changing people’s lives for the better. My enthusiasm must have shown because one of my clients asked me to go and work for him, developing new computer training materials. The idea excited me and so, aged 25, I went freelance and have never looked back.

A few lucky breaks later, I found I had written 13 computer handbooks in plain language for some of England’s largest publishers. Two years later I was in partnership with two others, running a thriving computer training and writing company.

Then I fell in love with Ian and we decided to get married. The trouble was my new husband had been ‘temporarily’ posted to Dubai and refused to cut short his assignment and come home. So I moved abroad.

Life without work

When I (Jo) arrived in Dubai the day after my wedding, they put a stamp in my passport that read ‘not permitted to take up employment’. I was devastated. I had a few writing contracts to complete that I’d brought with me, but would have to spend six weeks waiting for my computer to arrive so I could begin work. Until this moment my work had been my life and my passion. I’d developed few other interests and knew no one in Dubai. With no company support, I had no idea where to look for friends or things to do. Work was all I knew. By then, ironically, I had become quite a good cook, but knew no one to invite for dinner.

Six weeks later and two days before my computer arrived, Ian came home from the office to find me crouched on the floor of our beautiful apartment, ripping a newspaper to shreds and crying my eyes out from sheer frustration. Without work I was a fish out of water.

Of course I could have attended Arabic language classes, or learned to paint in watercolours. I could have joined the gym, or asked my husband to introduce me to the wives of his colleagues and friends. I could have taken advantage of the wonderful swimming pool and tennis courts that went with our apartment. I could have taken a taxi and explored the city. But all I wanted to do was work, and nothing else would do.

I had lost my professional identity. My personal identity too was so intertwined with work I had forgotten who I was without it. I had no idea that volunteer work or taking classes might have fulfilled me. Being beholden to my husband and his company made me feel impotent, invisible. We had maid service in the apartment, so I had little to do. Shorts and tee-shirts didn’t need much ironing. Despite the fact I soon had a driving licence, I was nervous about taking to the roads alone. I felt like a ‘hollow woman’ as Valerie Scane, writer and speaker on expatriate issues, would say. I didn’t feel whole without my computer and some work to do.

Women, returning to work after taking time off to have children often find their confidence at a new low. But this is not reserved for mothers. It happens to lots of people after a career gap or during a career transition. Add to this living in a strange place, maybe with a new language, unfamiliar customs and unfathomable laws and your confidence can sink lower still. After so many knocks it can be hard to get going again and start looking for work.

It had always pleased me to have a label. I was a ‘writer’ and a ‘computer trainer’. I was not ‘just a wife’ and the very idea made me feel hugely uncomfortable. I realised I had a personal need, not only to have a professional identity, but also to earn my own money — however little. I didn’t want to have to ask my husband for the money to buy him his own birthday present.

‘You need guts. You need to have the courage to say “I am going to do this.”’
Belinda, Dutch, The Expatriate Archive, OAC5/3/3

‘It is like this everywhere, change. Everything is new, so your confidence needs to be very strong just to say “Okay, here I am, wait for me, I am coming.” … I came over here at 24 with my first born son, three month old, and I didn’t know where to go, what to do. My husband was flying round the world … [I thought] Okay, what do I do here? And you just feel you don’t really know where to go, what to do, or if you are doing things right.’

Flavia, Italian, The Expatriate Archive, OAC5/3/3

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