A Serious Case of Too Much News Being Bad for You
When it really matters, maybe it’s best to avoid the media altogether and go ‘direct’
I’ve been an expat – working away from my home, the UK – for over 20 years. It was never part of a grand plan. In 1999, I did secure a job in Grenoble France, working with a very reputable, global PR firm; but in the end I declined as my spirit of adventure didn’t correspond to the package they were offering. A year later, the firm last their biggest account and the firm replacing them (one of my former employers) offered me the same job.
The package was better and my relationship with my former employer (in particular, my boss) meant that that, this time, I couldn’t refuse. So I packed up and left for the Vercors; little realizing that I would never return to my home country.
There were plenty of moments when I was seriously tempted the return home; ironically, France is not the ideal country in which to learn French, since the entire population insists on either replying in English (whatever (or however) you say) or critiquing your pronunciation (‘ça ne se dit pas’ (look it up; it will be the most useful phrase you ever learn))!
At one point I found myself unemployed, while actually having two separate job offers to return to London. My late father correctly advised me: if you return to the UK now, you will never leave, and you’ll never know how France could have turned out.
At the time, ‘Cool Britannia’ was in full swing in my home country, and the streets were awash with optimism and money; especially in the City fueled by the dot com boom. France, on the other hand was spending its time and energy on introducing the 35 working week, and debating whether to reduce presidential terms from 7 years to 5.
A cursory glance at the newspapers would have illustrated the UK as distinctly forward-looking (breathless, even), compared to France – which appeared to be facing in the opposite direction.
So, I chose . . . France!
It turned put ok for me. I learned to speak French properly and built a career there. But it was idea of contradicting conventional advice that proved so liberating. “The French labour market is inflexible and inefficient”. So we recruited lots of Belgians, who were more open and hadn’t simply memorized the French ‘Code du Travail’ as a means to build a career. “International recruitment is expensive and risky”. So we placed recruitment adverts in the local Dutch/Belgian pub – Le Port d’Amsterdam; sadly, now closed – to attract suitably-minded graduates. “The French market is too conservative, they’ll never accept you.” So, we exclusively targeted international clients and made a virtue of being precisely the opposite.
I now find myself at a similar career crossroads. “Europe is in lock-down; the economy is in ruins.” So, I’ll re-define working from home as a form of convention and start again. “Stick with your day job; there has never been a worse time to start a business.” There are plenty of great firms which were started during a recession – from Airbnb (2008 in the middle of the financial crash) to Alibaba (2003 amid the ‘original’ SARS pandemic).
Now, I’m choosing Portugal. It makes perfect sense from a Latin American perspective – to connect with European clients and prospects, to remain international in approach, and situated within time-zone reach of both the US and Asia. My wife and I also speak Portuguese having lived in Sao Paulo previously. Even from a COVID perspective, Portugal appeared a safe haven last year when we were making plans.
The reality is that there are no certainties at present. It is simply impossible to plan based on newspaper reports and TV bulletins. So, we are committed.
I’m lucky enough to have a few contacts in Lisbon who are informing me about the realities of life under confinement, how long it is likely to last, and whether it is possible to relocate in such conditions. One actually relocated from Brussels to Lisbon in 5 days (arriving on Christmas Eve ahead of the Brexit deadline)!
It may appear strange from a PR professional, but these have become my trusted sources of news and information. The media narrative is (pre)set; most of them are fixated on simply repeating the approved story (of fear and dread).
This is not the first time that I’ve defied the newspaper headlines for my career. And it probably won’t be the last.