In her first post on ESG, Jess from New Zealand reflects back on the lessons learned as a young Kiwi "flying" her life far from the North Island and across the world, exactly seven years ago this month.  

I was 23 when I got fired. 

I had moved to London from the tiny country of New Zealand about a month prior, fresh out of university and the parental nest and excited to find my place in the world. 

Through fortuitous family connections, I had been offered a job as a personal assistant to an ex-business woman, let’s call her Karen, who had made her fortune in the fashion industry and was now spending the majority of her time navigating the high-powered world of charity auctions and networking lunches. 

In addition to being Karen’s PA, I was also her house-sitter – living and working from a drafty 17
th century Georgian townhouse in central London. It wasn’t the best use of the law degree I’d worked the last five years to get, but that was fine with me.

I’d been slowly getting to grips with Karen’s…eccentricities, working my way through the administrative horrors of my predecessor and learning how best to focus Karen’s birdbrain for the 20 minutes a day that she flurried like a snowstorm into the office. It was a challenge, but I assumed I would be amazing at it and that Karen would soon introduce me to all her wealthy frenemies as the PA she simply couldn’t function without.

And then, one Tuesday afternoon, she flurried in once more, told me it wasn’t working out, and that my employment and my tenancy were terminated, effective immediately. I had 30 minutes to pack my belongings and leave.

The next days, weeks and months were a crucible, into which I poured a vast and terrifying range of emotion – fear, self-doubt, sadness, anger, relief, frustration, joy – and out of which came the single most useful thing I have ever learned: resilience. The knowledge that even when it felt like the world is crumbling around me, I have all the tools that I need. The belief that my self-worth is not determined by others, but by me.

After the initial tears had been shed and the shock had worn off, I had a decision to make. Would I use my return ticket to go home, regroup and lick my wounds? Or would I stay and try to figure out a Plan B?

I chose Plan B. 

I got a new job, got a new flat, and got on with my life. But the wounds that I'd sustained were a lot deeper than losing a paycheck. 

Like so many of my generation, I grew up nourished by constant praise. The star pupil, the golden child, the model employee, the one who knew all the answers at Sunday School. But again like so many of my generation, that nourishment became an addiction. Any failure cut to the core, disrupting my entire self-image. 

So when Karen told me I had done, in her eyes at least, a bad job, it wasn't just a matter of shaking it off, calling her a crazy witch and getting a new job (although during the crucible period I did call her a crazy witch, as well as a lot of other things). Her negative view of me became my negative view of me. 

With my self-esteem in tatters, trying to get a new job was a terrifying experience. I had to sell myself in interviews, not believing a word I was saying and convinced my interviewers didn't either. I felt like a fraud. Eventually, a fellow Kiwi took me on as a temp legal secretary. If I thought getting a job was scary, starting the job was even worse, especially on a temp contract - I was convinced I'd be fired again within days. But as the weeks and months passed, the realisation slowly dawned on me. 

I could do this.

I was doing this.

Karen was wrong.  

Or more to the point, Karen's opinion of me wasn't the standard that I should be defining myself against. I was responsible for carving out a space for myself in the world. I decided my destiny. And the things I couldn't control, I could deal with. Resilience.

The day I took off for London in 2011, and returning home to New Zealand in 2014.

Over the three years I spent in London, I held onto that realisation through a myriad of other challenges: travelling solo, heartbreak, financial strife, health issues, and eventually the decision to come home. In this blog, I'm going to write about some of those experiences. I’ll take you through my first festival, backpacking adventures in the hostels of Europe, and adventures within the British health system. I’ll also write about coming home again, and the excitements and challenges of that process.

I hope you’ll find my stories a bit funny at the very least, entertaining at best, and maybe, maybe they might encourage you to embrace some challenges, and discover some resilience, of your own.

*As a brief post script, I need to caveat these high falutin’ revelations by acknowledging that I am the beneficiary of a great degree of privilege. I have a stable and loving family that is supportive in every sense of the word and a network of great friends. I have had a great education and no major health problems. My experience of resilience is my own, based on my scope of reference only.