When I left home, Zambia, in my mid-20s to move to Switzerland, I had no clue what relocation meant for your mind, body and spirit. I arrived in a new country without a manual but ready to live there anyhow. I was also navigating a new career path without a manual and rather experimental and experiential.
I must say there is nothing as powerful as the kindness of strangers. Autumn 1998. Gland, Switzerland. Petite Village. Nothing is familiar. I start my routine heading into work the same time. I start to make friends a bit at time, mainly with the other interns. Instead of leaving work at the usual knock-off time, we all pretty much (interns) all stay there later than everyone. Staying at work later becomes a habit. Then one random afternoon an older colleague, I had no clue who he was drops by my desk. No introduction.
Him: Young lady, I do notice you send emails around at some an unkosher hour and my assumption is you are staying in the office longer than you should.
French Accent. I stare at him rather blankly not exactly understanding where the conversation is headed.
Him: Here are some pieces of advice I received from a really kind mentor of mine when I was about your age and something I truly live by.
I continue to stare.
Him: If your career is to thrive in a meaningful way, five things that you need to be totally consistent with: drink lots of water during the day especially, even in winter. It’s the gift of the Gods and food for your brain. Speaking of brain, remember that it needs to be rewired and restored. So the only time this happens is when you are asleep. Please do the full 8 to 9 hours of sleep. Seriously, I mean it! Even though you are staring at me strangely.
I continue to stare. I am just seating there, now in listening mode.
Him: Did you know that long hours of seating IS the new smoking? (He is emphatic on the IS). I bet you haven’t heard that one. Please exercise. You will thank me when you are my age about the importance of mobility and consistent exercise – no matter how busy you are. Lastly before I leave you alone with all this unsolicited advice – eat well! Remember garbage in garbage out!! Eat well balanced meals and they will show in your skin. And lastly, please manage your time wisely. What you say yes or no matters. You have that control. Ironic right (with a smirk on his face), considering that this a country that manufactures so many watches. Ok kiddo, enough for today.
And he left. Still no introduction. Nonchalantly walking away, whistling away a tune.
I walked out of the office that evening quite shell-shocked but thoughtful. I wrote everything down the moment I was back at my apartment.
With hindsight, this has wisdom stuck with me over the years so much that to this day I stick to it religiously because it’s really worked for me.
Many a time I can tell colleagues who have not had enough sleep for days on how they present themselves or perform or simply by the bags under their eyes. What purpose does sending an email at 3am really serve? There is nothing as unproductive as a human who has had little hours of sleep, no matter how many coffees you drink to stay away. Sleep. Your body needs the rest and your brain needs to get to work – rewiring this incredible machinery. We ought to remember that we are a living system that requires regeneration pretty much daily. We are our BEST asset. As my young brother once told me: take care of the body that works for you.
This liquid is truly the gift of the Gods and something one ought not take for granted. I can easily tell the shift in my skin elasticity when I am dehydrated. Its rather ironic how we forget to drink this totally inexpensive liquid. Our human bodies consist roughly of 60% water. I read once that water is often referred to as the forgotten nutrient as many people take it for granted, while its totally essential for LIFE.
Living in Switzerland was brilliant for me. In winter, I skied while in spring and summer I hiked, jogged or cycled as part of a group with friends. I was that active. I was also quite lucky to have a twin sister who loved exercising and was one to get me off my lazy back to be active. And that has continued over the years. Now, I either jog, dance or do yoga – consistently.
Good and Healthy Food
I am pretty much a foodie. I love to cook and experiment with food. But I am also very conscious of what I eat considering I am vegetarian.
As the Philosopher Hippocrates put it: Let food be thy medicine and medicine, thy food.
If there is something I learnt to respect for early in my career, it’s the importance of time. That minute lost, can never be recovered again. I have learnt to use my time wisely. Once a colleague many years ago showed up 45 minutes late for our meeting. The moment he walked in, rather unapologetic, I just turned to him and went: you know if I was your flight to some place important, you would have missed this flight and it would have cost you. I am afraid we must cancel this meeting. He couldn’t believe it. I never joke nor play with my time. Its precious.
A few weeks ago, after speaking at a conference, I walked off the podium only to be met by an older white lady who asked: Young lady, it’s great to see you girls in your 20s so energetic and driven and really going for it. And what beautiful skin you have as many black women do.
I turned to her and smiled then said: Clearly you did not read my bio. But thank you for your compliment. I am closer to 50 than I am to 21.
And laughed. She stared back at me in shock!!
My goodness what’s your secret?
I leaned forward and whispered the five important aspects of my life as mentioned above.