Success. It’s Different To What I Thought.

March 3, 2015

When you live in a country that doesn’t speak your native language, a good day is the feeling you get when you realise that you’re understanding the world around you, you’re hearing words that actually mean something, and you’re able to communicate in some round about way. What I thought was ‘success’ has completely changed.

How many times do you express yourself in one day? About 48,356. Trust me. I moved to Germany and struggled to buy carrots, I called chicken ‘schinken’ (…which, if you’re wondering is ham, definitely not chicken), and it took me weeks to get the hang of everyday sentences like “Could I please get past?” and “Yes, I’d like that to take away but I don’t need a bag”.

If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country you know that trying to carry a conversation with a casual ‘who, what, where, why, and how’ is harder than you ever thought and requires some serious creativity of filling in blanks and reading body language. I like to call learning a foreign language, ‘character building’.

How can it be that in the space of a 24hr flight I went from an articulate, educated young woman to feeling – no… knowing! that a 5 year old child had a bigger German vocabulary than me? I’m the first person to admit that this hasn’t just been an adventure, it has been a whirlwind!

Let every experience be what it is,

and not what you think it should be.

Learning to listen when you can’t talk is a wake up call. You realise that whatever your life was before is now kind of irrelevant. That it’s a good day when you can talk to a stranger for 5 minutes without them pulling the ‘I know what you’re trying to say… but you’re not saying it right’ face. And it’s a great day when you can pinpoint just one word you heard, remember it and look it up in the dictionary later. Feeling completely incapable of expressing how I felt and what I thought has completely changed how I define success.

When I realised my insignificance, I discovered that anything is possible. Despite where I had come from and what I had done, getting a job in a cafe and speaking German all day was successful. It didn’t matter to me that by the end of a long shift I was so mentally exhausted that I couldn’t string a sentence together, it was a success! And living in a foreign, non-english speaking country was possible.

Success is as simple as expressing myself, as straight forward as making a phone call, as rewarding as making something a possibility. It’s a nicer way to look at it than I have ever thought before and it has made surviving the daily adventure of living in Germany a big deal. I don’t work in a cafe anymore, and as irony would have it, I work mostly in English (for now) but I landed the job through the job if that makes sense. ‘German me’ is slowly feeling more articulate and I’m really proud of my own version of success, even if sometimes I still can’t string a sentence together. It’s different to what I thought success would feel like – it’s better!

Sometimes insignificance is actually the silver lining – it’s the ability to create your own direction. That is success.

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