Career paths have ups and downs, twists and turns, dead ends and detours. With life changes such as moving cities, changing jobs, or re-entering the workforce after raising children, come opportunity for pause and reflection on what’s up ahead. And sometimes when you set out on a path, your destination turns out different than the one intended.
Take, for instance, when I moved to Italy. I did my homework, networked and set up interviews with half a dozen or so of the Milan branches of leading international PR agencies – some of which I had already worked for in San Francisco. And through a professional connection, I somehow managed to line up an interview with a VP for Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani.
Off I went, with my new Armani suit and shoes and endless ambition, with images of me and “George” working the press at the next Fashion Week. My goal was simple: pitch Milan’s PR stars on my experience with national brands and as an ideal U.S./ EU liaison for a company. The interviews went well enough, and gaining entrance to the impressive Armani headquarters was a highlight. After weeks of making the rounds with various companies, I ended up with many well wishes, several promises of work (later broken), one especially creepy encounter (in our country, litigable) and some frank advice that even with my experience and connections, I needed to improve my Italian - particularly to communicate with local journalists. I also learned that PR as I knew it was different there, and a Nivea hostess offering lotion samples on a street corner could easily fit the description. It didn’t matter what my experience was, it wasn’t enough to get my foot in the door in Milan PR that April, let alone Fashion Week.
So I began to take on the type of work that comes your way when you’re a native English speaker in a non-English speaking country. And I had a blast. I served as tour guide translator for a Verona concert hall where I got an upclose view of Mozart’s signature. I emceed a press event for an Italian jeweler, and was later hired as voiceover talent to help promote a local discotheque. And then I met someone who owned an English school. I had never really taught before, but with a background in Journalism and English, I found ESL fairly simple to self-teach. Where I lived, there were only a handful of Americans, and I quickly figured out that 1) scarcity of competition was a good thing, and 2) that my California accent was (unbelievably) preferred to British. Or as my students put it, they wanted to learn American, not English. So I began teaching English to employees of small to mid-sized businesses. I eventually went out on my own, providing conversation lessons to working professionals, young adults, children and their families. I developed relationships with many lovely people who still remain special to me and I am grateful that they allowed me glimpses into their homes and lives, and for the education and company those conversations gave me.
My shiny, little-used Armani shoes in my closet seem to peer up at me each time I open the door, wondering what happened. They serve as a reminder that when you hit a roadblock, with some flexibility and an open mind, you never know what might be waiting around the corner. And in one Bergamo nightclub, in between rap beats and hip hop mixes, my American voice booms.