Defying Space and time: How I Make Sense of My Multi-Country Job

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us… Marianne Deborah Williamson.

Imagine it’s the last week of the school term, the kids have many activities lined up for the week, I have two vacant positions within my team I need to conduct interviews for in Lagos, a 3-day senior management team offsite meeting scheduled to hold in East Africa the following week and I will be facilitating 3 separate sessions, an extended family wedding over the weekend and a pending appointment with the doctor for a routine health checkup. This looks hectic, right? Welcome to my world.

I have had to deal with weeks like these over the last 18 months and how I scaled through can only be linked to a personal decision to create the right career and life balance.

Many people see Work-Life balance as a myth, but I believe Work-Life balance is what you make of it. We are the architects of our own lives, we must be prepared to fight the good fight of balance, prioritize based on immediate and sometimes long-term need(s), and be ready to take ownership of the outcomes.

When faced with a typical scenario as I described above, I have had to lean into my key relationships and support systems, making calls to prioritize what is important at each moment. I have had to take advantage of some work benefits like flexible working, delegation, and having skype meetings rather than face to face meetings all the time. It has also taken canceling some appointments, trips and sometimes even went ahead to book some trips ahead of plan so I can make room for some future engagements.

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Sure, this takes a lot of planning, and even when I seem to have planned it so well something unexpected comes up, like a child down with the flu and having injections twice a day for 5days or the unexpected resignation of an employee or a planned strike by the labor union! Again you, prioritize and make the call. Ask yourself, what is important in this instance?

I haven’t always been able to juggle priorities. The foundation for knowing what is important at any time was laid in my first job. Starting my career over 13 years ago with a multinational company in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industry as a Management trainee was the starting point for having to make some key decisions on personal growth, taking ownership for my decisions, and defining where I want my career and life to go. With a rotation that took me to HR, Marketing, and Corporate Affairs in the first year, I had to step back and assess where my strengths were best served. I was good at all three but felt the nesting of strength in HR. From this perch, I understood channeling one’s energies to areas of greatest returns.

After working there for a few years and though I was enjoying what I was doing, I started to feel the itch for a change. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew I desired more and was ready for something new. And then came another opportunity for my current job. It was a total change in the industry – now Life Sciences and even bigger scope – I would now be responsible for managing HR across 4 countries and within 3 years in this new organization, I was given further responsibility to oversee an entire affiliate – over 49 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

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This is where the redefinition of career and life balance took a new form. Working out of two countries – one in West Africa and another in East Africa, across different time zones,  having teams in over 47 other countries requiring frequent travel to ensure I truly transform the HR experience beyond just paper policies and procedures to real business partnering does take its toll.

As a woman, wife, mother, daughter, a worker in a volunteer organization, and juggling many other roles, I have had to take the driver’s seat for my life and career.       No one else must carry the full weight of my involvement in life. Not my personal ambitions, not my husband, not my children, not even my work. I take responsibility for how I account for these roles.

Each time I’m faced with a conflict I go back to reflect on my life purpose which is helping people become moreand I can only do that when I keep growing and have something to give. I have chosen to be a good person ready to show kindness, respect, and empathy for people, remain a responsible and committed family woman, and an astute professional HR person. When I have cause to travel I try to cherish every interaction, every opportunity to connect and see what new thing can I learn not just for myself but to enrich my relationships, a chance to learn a new way of greeting, taste new food (without looking for the nearest Nigerian restaurant in town), adjust to uncomfortable weather and give people the benefit of doubt that we all have good intentions – until otherwise proven.

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Have I experienced burn out before? Sure, I have and quite a few times I must say. There are times I know I have pushed myself to the limit and what helps is accepting the fact and taking a deserved break to recuperate again so I have more to give later.

We often don’t know what we are capable of until we face a challenge or given a task or project seemingly bigger than us, then we try to produce something out of it. I have learned not to run from daunting tasks but to ask how I can break them into manageable things to do. By this,  I have unlocked more possibilities for myself because I am wired to run towards change and not away from it.

You should try this too.

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