Was changing country 10 years ago a worthwhile move?

Next year will mark my 10th anniversary as a migrant, and I am asking myself “was it worth it?”

Leaving friends and family is challenging, it is a huge sacrifice that I never really considered when I started travelling. I remember my first year in a commercial environment in one of the biggest city in the world being a total disaster. Several years later, I realised that the accumulated learnings made me a better designer with a unique perspective.

This post is a retrospective of my immigration path.

From a small country town in Belgium to Paris

I left my cozy little town in Belgium to take part in the French society in one of the most competitive city; Paris. I took my first job in a web agency and had plenty of misconceptions about the real world. I move to Paris without doing any research, I simply jumped on an opportunity and took a risk.

UX Design was barely something, the iPhone was just released and one of my colleague at the time told me that responsive design wasn’t that important because “you could simply zoom in on your iPhone”. I knew from that precise moment that I needed to expand my horizons if I wanted to harness the coming changes. So I took a step back and reinvented the job I had without quitting.

I worked in an agency, and working with as many clients as possible was my saviour. I got exposed to big French corporations, new colleagues, saw different teams dynamics and technologies; the diversity was my fuel. Working in Paris was a huge step forward considering that I came from a town of 5,000 people in Belgium.

I also learnt that I was mentally vulnerable, moving in a big city can be a lonely experience, especially in Paris where the vibe was just not compatible with who I was at the time. Moving to a big city by yourself, in your early twenties, can be exciting, but I have also tested the limit of being alone.

I eventually burnt out, didn’t see a great future ahead, so I sold everything I had, quit my job to travel with a light backpack.

From Paris to Australia

There is no doubt that Australia is more advanced than France and Belgium when it comes to technology. Not to mention that the UX Design industry is also much more developed in Australia. Here is the catch; I didn’t know any of that until I arrived. I did zero research, had no plans, but I had the mindset of an explorer and I was travelling light which enabled me to move fast.

It has been eight years since I have landed in Australia. Eight years worth of learnings, and in English please. Surprisingly after eight years, I am now in a position of understanding how to influence team dynamics, executives, create new things and take everyone on a journey while exploring new possibilities. That was my very first learning after two years in Australia; I can use my explorer mindset and take an entire team on the journey with me.

My second learning, after being in Australia for six years, was to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of having a “day job”. It is one of the worst things I ever came across, “having a day job”. It is such a strange way to nurture creativity and create surprising moments in your life. Seeking new perspectives is not about rhythm and being steady, to the contrary. I believe it is about challenging the status quo, help people seeing new perspectives and inevitably going out of my comfort zone, exactly like travelling. I would have never adopted this way of thinking without meeting top talents and leaders in different countries.

Nurturing a purpose

Migrating in two countries was an experience, an enriching one. It does come with colossal trade-offs; fading friendships, distance from family, it is hard.

Although it is important to note that these trade-offs gave me something unique; by being isolated from a comfortable environment, I was forced to cultivate an independent thinking, push the limit of my limits and seek new learnings while overcoming difficulties. I have grown rapidly without even realising it. The diversity of the people I have met enriched me, and there is no price I can put on this.

I have now found a purpose in my career; taking teams on a journey while enriching their perspectives. It is not easy and requires much work, but my travel experience revealed that purpose.

Thinking about the question “Was it worth it?”, my answer is yes.

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