January 26

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Managing emotions from a life-changing experience in Africa upon return to Europe: how to reset priorities in front of Europeans’rush and pressure at work?

Being back to Europe, back to a closed office with another pace at work and in drastic climate conditions changes is a real challenge after more than 6 months volunteering experience in Africa.

I was feeling a kind of “freedom” when I was in Africa, why?

  • Free from a closed office with a great chance of being able to visit local communities on the field every week and feeling this sense of purpose to every action you implement for locals!
  • Free from pressure at work: as explained in previous posts, in Africa, the sense of urgency is different, we segregate actions one by one, day by day… because the first priority is to live one more day, being able to eat “tomorrow”, to survive from any potential health threat
  • Free from endless meetings for which we often ask ourselves “why I am here?” “what is my added value?” “How can I contribute to this world?”
  • Free from discovering everyday a mailbox and dreading of it to be once more full…
  • Free to go and meet people straight in the street, exchange a look, a smile and starting a conversation…

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Being back from such assignment is also a huge challenge against ourselves. It requires strong emotional management as well as resilience management. Your emotions go through different curves: first, we deny accepting that we are really back, our mind is still in Africa. We feel like we are back only for a visit… Our heart remains there, with African people. Then, we do not accept the environment we are back in and raise a lot of questions: how could I have stayed years in such a closed office? How did I accept to participate to so many meetings a day with some of them where I do not see the point of my attendance? How could I receive and treat so many emails daily? Why so many emails? Is it really useful? Majority of emails are less than a sentence… so were these really needed? Why this individualism in the streets, in the corridors, in public places?

This is what is called a “criticism” phase. We are simply shocked by the Western working habits. Maybe it is time to make a change and bring these fresh eyes? Let’s move in the emotional curve from criticism phase to bringing something new?

What if we decline meetings where we do not see sense of purpose for us: will we bring added value? If I am not there, will it stop everything running?

What if I do not reply to all emails and send less emails: I stand up, I move, I walk, I call, I go and talk face to face?

What if I go out for a walk, take 5 minutes to look at the sky and trees around to reset thoughts and foster new ideas? What if I accept being alone, not hiding behind the smartphone and just observing people around me, their behaviours, their emotions, their faces…?

The advantage of such a long assignment is to realize the difference between 2 continents when you are back…

My first week back was extremely hard to live:

  • First of all, at the airport, people rush and walk fast whereas I learned to walk slowly and observe around me: why? Why not listening to your body and walking at a smaller pace? People avoid looking at each other; this is so sad and so selfish. Lift your head, try to cross other eyes and SMILE! Exchange at least a SMILE. Don’t you feel happy when you meet someone with a HAPPY FACE?
  • People are so focused on their smartphone when they walk, when they work… They never stop for 5 minutes and raise their head. But these “PAUSE” moments are so important for spiritual reflections. Take a step back and look around you. What is happening in your environment?
  • In Africa, I developed a strong capacity of empathy and I can feel emotions around me very deeply… Unfortunately, I felt this tension and stress around me: why? We are pushed by all these digital technologies from this new era to rush, to be fast-reacting… We jump on our emails, in our meetings, but we are losing creativity because WE DO NOT PAUSE…

How to get over all of this? This individualism, this rushing society, this over pressure everyone is creating and not necessarily justified, these endless meetings, this full mailbox….

Let’s try to re-enter this European working environment and implement little by little my learnings from Africa to keep the right balance between enjoying work, creativity, efficiency, human interactions and time for self-reflection!

  • Give priority to human interactions over digital technologies (there are helpful but cannot replace emotions and human connections)
  • Force yourself to press on “Pause” button to foster your creativity and step back before always rushing on actions and jumping to conclusions too quickly
  • Raise your head, look around, observe your environment and… simply, SMILE!

@ Photo from The Economist, Why is everyone so busy?