5 things 5 years (in Brussels) have taught me

There is nothing quite like hitting a certain milestone to get you thinking. Recently eye cream made it into my life. When I arrived in this city, I never imagined I’d be here long enough to be in the eye cream market, or to afford eye cream for that matter. I certainly never imagined I’d have to make decisions like do I buy the night one or the day one or both? So in light of this major rite of passage, I feel it’s time to share some of the collected wisdom the five year journey to eye cream has brought me. Some of it might be useful. Most is probably not.

1.

Interns have interns

I remember the first conference I spoke at in Brussels clear as day. It was a conference for interns organised by interns, because you are nobody in Brussels if you don’t have a conference bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders for dialogue on the mutually beneficial outcomes of working towards a common strategy. Plus they provided lunch. When one of the previous speakers (another intern) told me her intern had prepared her note cards, I realised I was in a special place where interns are to Brussels people what company cars are to real people. Everyone wants to have one. Nobody wants to pay for one. So to interns I say, relax. In three years you’ll be line managing six people in an American consultancy for twelve hours a day somewhere near Place Luxembourg. Then you’ll wish you were an intern again.

2.

Tip your beautician

The woman who threads your eyebrows − or waxes your back for any gentlemen wondering if this post will get too girly − holds the keys to your success. Looking good equals feeling good equals rocking that presentation you have on Tuesday. Perhaps I’m just decadent… I am decadent, but I perform better after a Thai herb wrap. So if your gal is good, hold on to her like your long lost sister and make sure she’ll book you in for a manicure at a moment’s notice. Likewise, if you find a hairdresser who doesn’t make you look like one of your old school photos, slip them a twenty at Christmas. It’s an investment in your future. You can save up for an MBA later.

3.

Definitely ask for what you shouldn’t get

Over the years I’ve asked for a range of things from meetings with people whose office I really shouldn’t be in, to holidays that are way too long, to trainings that are way too expensive. It is surprising how often the answer was yes. It is even more surprising how much better your life will be when the answer is yes. So don’t be afraid. Trust that you are a person who works hard and deserves to spend Friday at a mindfulness workshop. Your boss may even respect you for valuing yourself, your time and how you choose to spend it.

4.

How we network here is not how they network out there

After five years in Brussels, there is not a networking event on earth that could faze me. Gone are the days in my first few months when I stood awkwardly in the corner sipping enamel-melting concentrated orange juice and trying to make the canapé guy speak to me. Why am I here? Oh yeah, they provide canapés. Look important. Turn and laugh without sounding weird. Hahaha ha… These days me and my beautician have networking covered. Networking on the way to the office bathroom? Covered. Networking in the canteen line? Covered. Unexpected networking at a bus stop with somebody I met three years ago for 8 minutes and can’t remember their name? Covered.

At least I thought so, until I set up a meeting recently in my home city in Scotland. I pulled out all the stops. I was engaging, witty, insightful, helpful. I’m not certain, but I think the lady I was working hard to charm had her eye on a nearby security guard, just in case I needed to be carted off into a white van and disposed of. My mistake. When not in Brussels networking megalopolis dial it down a notch.

5.

Your best friends will leave

Everyone tells you this when you arrive. Brussels is such a transitional city. People move on. Your friends will leave you. You will be alone and it says no pets in your rental contract. Still, I had no idea just how much my world would change every time the people I’d shared this wonderful bizarre journey with did eventually move on. I’d ask myself what about me? Should I be moving on too? How will you live without me? But here’s what people don’t tell you, you stay in touch. You visit them. They visit you on their glamorous transatlantic business trips. Friends made here are bonded by an eternal bond. Ambition, frustrated ambition and Airmiles.

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Taken in Ghent before she had a need for eye cream, though you can’t really tell

Article by Laura Hemmati, Cofounder Leadarise

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