Teenagers say crazy things and make terrible decisions, don’t they? With unrealistic expectations of the world and themselves, many are lucky to make it into adulthood with any sense of direction or purpose. I was especially naïve, sheltered from the world and unaware of my own capabilities. Luckily that lack of perspective led me to a pretty wild dream that’s kind of transforming my life as I realize it.
Daydreaming with fellow smartass coworkers one afternoon at the local burger joint, I boasted that I’d speak 7 languages as an adult and be a superstar international businesswoman. French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, German, Chinese, and Portuguese, if you’re curious. Now I’ve always had a knack for languages, but I had no idea it was possible to travel and speak French for a living since my career didn’t even exist in the early days of the internet. There were plenty of things I loved growing up, but as much as I loved math, biology, and the dozen instruments I played in band I couldn’t see myself pursuing any of those as a career. So, I studied French in college and focused on finding a job that would pay the bills until I figured out how to follow my passion of speaking French.
Fast forward to the present. No, I’m not a mogul, but I work for a European travel company and get to go spend time with our teams in a dozen countries. Fluent in French, I also get by with Spanish and spend more time with Portuguese, German, and Norwegian than I ever imagined. When I went to Italy I was able to read/understand about 80% of the signs, and since we work with the 3 major Nordic countries I’m often sifting through Swedish and Danish right alongside Norwegian. It’s only too bad the Latin I studied in college doesn’t get much opportunity to be used.
That afternoon in 1999 I picked Portuguese on a whim, trying to impress and out-do my friends. This was years before the birth and explosion of Orkut where we realized how many Brazilians there are online! I had no idea I’d spend 3 months living in Portugal.
I tried Arabic in college during Linguistics courses and frankly it’s totally lost on me. I traded French lessons for Russian lessons in college, but the learning was so slow going that my tutor and I gave up. Chinese never happened. It turns out that French has done more for me than I’d ever imagined, and being able to add German and Portuguese to my arsenal have opened more doors than I knew existed. Russian would also be helpful, but if I’m honest I just don’t have the time. For now.
I’ve always said that being able to speak Spanish is what kept me employed throughout school, but being fluent in French is what unlocked my current career path and has been a springboard to my professional success and happiness. Spanish never really grew on me, but relying on it for work is probably what kept that forgotten fire burning. Every time I remember my parents telling me not to study French in school because nobody speaks it, I look at my annual review and the stamps in my passport.
What other dreams did we have as teens and young adults that could also unlock our passions and drive us to happiness?