04 March 2015 Last updated

Life Challenge Week 6: Paola Pani

Paola writes a letter to readers at the end of the sixth week

Aquarius magazine
22 Apr 2012 | 05:50 pm
  • Jason Mraz is providing some inspiration for Paola during Week 6.

    Source:Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Week six, day one

Don’t let the haters get you down

Should you allow people to make you feel bad if you are finally spending time doing something that you love and you are enthusiastic when about talking about it?

You know when you completely lose track of time, when there is nothing else in the world you would rather be doing at that point in time. When you are absorbed and all you want is to keep going, keep talking about it, but all you get from the person in front of you is a scowl or an unwarranted comment. Or worse, when you get a comment like “I’m so proud of you”, but the person never actually took a real interest in getting involved in whatever it is that you are enjoying?

It’s a sensitive issue, because when something magnificent happens in your life, you automatically assume that people you care about will understand, will care, will get involved – but most importantly, you expect that they will support you without expecting anything in return. Because it’s happening to you now, and you deserve it – it’s your break. And just like when you are in love, and all you want to talk about is how great your partner is, when your life is beautiful – you are back in love with yourself and you are shining – all you want is to share it. But then like the relatively unpleasant sound of an alarm clock, there is always someone lurking that wants to ‘wake you up’.


Why can’t we be happy if somebody else is having the time of their lives?

Why can’t we openly cherish those moments with them and learn something along the way?

So my message for today together with this beautiful song from Jason Mraz is:

When you are enjoying doing something that takes you to a different dimension, and makes you forget about time and worries, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it because that might prevent you from following your passion. Be true to your values and live a happy life. LET YOURSELF BE CARRIED AWAY BY YOUR PASSIONS, EXPRESS YOURSELF IN WHATEVER WAY MAKES YOU FEEL FREE. KEEP GOING AND DON'T BE AFRAID TO LIVE THE LIFE YOU DESERVE 

Week six, day four

Layer by layer

Coming into week six of the challenge I’m wandering about my goal.

I have ideas, yes. But I’m still not sure what I will do once this is all over. I feel like I’m opening a giant Russian doll and that every time I understand something and open myself up to it, there is another surprise waiting to be found.

Despite the fact that I have been working and travelling since the age of eighteen, at some point I found myself with no self-esteem – feeling impotent without a career and uncomfortable being dependent on my husband and being labelled a housewife.

Somehow I always liked the idea of having a job that would define me, because I was never one of those bright kids that knew what they were going to do when they grew up. Yes, I had plenty of imagination, but I was always in my fantasy world, wandering and dreaming to see the world. Or stitching clothes. Then would come a time when I wanted to be a teacher, then a ballerina… Sometimes I would pretend I was a vet. Then I wanted to write stories, or do something else. Even in my teen years I would spend my days daydreaming, writing long letters in my diary – or writing what I thought was poetry at that time, and reading my favourite philosophers. But my when I graduated, I had my first wake-up call. I blamed my poor scores on my teachers and decided not to go back to school. I literally burned three of my diaries, but promised myself that one day I would show my teachers how it is done. I felt betrayed and disappointed. I lost faith and felt life was so unfair. Deep inside I was afraid, I was already starting to believe I was a failure and that I would end up wasting my life.

So I dropped my dream of going to university and started working; wherever and whatever job I could find to earn money was good. Those humble jobs, however noble, would always leave me with a feeling that I was wasting my time and I felt constantly trapped.

At the age of 22, with less than Dh2,000 in my pocket, I moved to London with my boyfriend (now husband), without any knowledge of English, no job, no house. Crazy, right? But, so far, it has been one of the best moves of our lives! I could go back to school and learn whatever I wanted, without the stern look of my teachers and nobody would judge my choices. I was finally free and independent!

However enthusiastic, I was still very insecure and I didn’t know I could be whatever I wanted to be. I always thought I would never be good enough to get a degree, so I limited myself to adult education courses choosing according to what I thought was appropriate for my age – something that would give me security for the future, rather than what I really wanted to do. Slowly and deep down the feeling of being a failure was making deep roots.

After two years of several part-time jobs – and after going to my first interview in English with a dictionary trying to say words I couldn’t pronounce – to working in the administrative offices of the largest university in the UK, I now look back and think of it as a fantastic achievement. I had a job title and even a promotion. Back then though I would play it down to luck, never really praising myself because I would say to myself that millions of people do this every day – which I still think it is true! – but I didn’t want to be perceived of as arrogant, so I would make sure I would act exactly the opposite. I was very critical of myself. I didn’t know about limiting beliefs back then!

When my husband’s career progressed we moved to Muscat. Suddenly I had no job again, didn’t know anybody, I missed my friends badly… I was alone all day confined in a strange house and living in constant guilt as the choice to move was also mine. I would spend my days crying in desperation because I didn’t know what to do with myself, while my husband was doing his best to keep himself sane in a new environment. Which was hard between dealing with his job and me – God bless his patience!

I lost my identity. A job strangely always made me feel like I had a place in society – I had colleagues, my desk, my office keys and a routine. And after working so hard to earn such ‘status’, the thought of been addressed as ‘just another expat wife’ at the age of 30 made me shiver. Should a job/tile define you? It’s not what I think now but, back then, I just couldn’t accept my new situation. I didn’t want new friends because I had friends back in London and I felt I would betray them getting new ones!

Babies were not in the planning because I knew I wasn’t happy with myself, so I couldn’t possibly take on such a huge responsibility or hope a baby could fill the well of emptiness inside me. So what was left for me? I could have volunteered, I could have searched for another course, I could have been so much more proactive. But I was weirdly paralysed and simply wanted my life back. When eventually I got tired of crying myself to sleep, I once again did ‘the right thing’ – what everybody else expected of me – and found a job. But after nine months of working a minimum of 12 hours a day, looking like a ghost and feeling sick, I resigned and I went back to square one.

I decided not to despair and to get back into shape, be healthy and be willing to enjoy this time of freedom. I promised myself I would be a good wife, taking care of the house and my husband – maybe the desire of a baby would suddenly appear – and I would definitely make new friends. After only four months as Desperate Housewife’s lone Muscat representative, I started wondering again. I didn’t like the idea of asking my husband for money to buy him a present, or feeling bad about having lunch out with friends. Dubai was our first choice of destination when we left London, so in my neverending free time, I started searching for jobs, reading news about Dubai… We had been in Muscat for two years already, so it was about time to move, right?

I would apply for jobs just to feel alive and connected to the world and I would naively think that I wouldn’t have ever find a job before my husband as he has a steady career – he is brilliant , talented and focused! Little did I know that my London experience together with my just-acquired Middle East experience was sought after in booming Dubai and, during a short visit here I actually had three interviews! Paola: 3 – Hubby: 0. Wow!

Guess what? I got a job in a beautiful building that, to me, epitomised the magnificence of Dubai – the glamour. My motto was. ‘If you can get up there you can get anywhere!’ How cool was that? I couldn’t refuse, it was too good to be true - it was my Cinderella story. Again I convinced my husband that it was the best thing to do. I would move first and then ofcourse he would find a job in no time. So, I signed the contract.

Can you hear the classic descending sound like when you lose on a video game? Dun dun da da!!! Well I did clearly when, just a week before my departure, my husband got a promotion. It was great and he deserved it, and I was immensely proud of him, but what are the chances?! I was in a complete limbo, should I stay or should I go? I must have played that song in my head a thousand times, but it didn’t look as glam as the new adaptation video where Kate Moss is dancing on the pole, it was more like Gone with the Wind. So I did something crazy and despicable for someone like me. I left my husband alone in cosy, charming Muscat for the thrill and shine of Dubai. And I brought our cat along too!

Guilt, guilt and more guilt. Again not looking like myself, I wasn’t happy. I badly missed my husband and, although I loved Dubai and I met two of the women I admire the most, this was not the job for me. I didn’t have anything to do with it and faced constant scrutiny from colleagues who would always comment on my newly acquired single-married status. I was not strong enough… shrugging and burying my head behind my computer screen, I started wandering what was most important to me and what my values are, while already worrying that my CV couldn’t possibly face yet another job description.

Having worked in human resources previously, my perception was that, from an employer’s point of view, another resignation would look like I was a person that made bad career choices, was inconsistent and unprofessional, and that it would need excellent justification skills during the next job interview. Also, all the jobs I had done were different from one another so I actually didn’t have a career! I fought between thoughts such as “I’m a waste of space”, and “I’m not going to be employed ever again”, and “I will never find another opportunity”, and “I’m such an irresponsible wife”, and “I always make stupid choices”. “I always wanted to be brave in my life but instead I’m a failure!” That was my daily mantra until resignation day!

Well, you know the drill. After just six months of drama, I packed my bags and my cat and drove back to Muscat to my ever-enduring husband! Another lesson learned, I thought...

It took other six months and another cat before we were able to move to Dubai. But I was calmer, a little more focused… however very scared to face yet another tough job interview. I couldn’t find a job so I enrolled on another course while doing a little bit of volunteering. I gained just enough confidence to get through an interview and got a job.

Whenever you least expect it, insecurities and limiting beliefs are always there waiting for you, to make you life miserable again. Damn those limiting beliefs! Despite all my readings, how come I didn’t know about them?

After two years we were on the move again! This time, destination paradise – or so we thought! A tiny but beautiful island in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

I come from a small place and I left it because I couldn’t deal with the constant inspection where everybody knows (or think they know) everything about you. I didn’t want to go to the Maldives, but had to warm up to the idea before our departure. Amazing place, nature, sun and sea… what more do you want in life?

I would find solace only spending my days surfing the net looking for inspirational readings and writing. Sometimes dreaming about my future at a friend’s house sipping coconut water, complaining about having cold showers, gossiping about our husbands and fighting the war against mosquito bites! Days would go very fast, but that feeling of restlessness was always there. And everybody had children! I started to feel very uncomfortable about my ‘childless’ status and tried to go to ladies’ coffee mornings but I struggled in the conversation as I didn’t carry dirty nappies in my bags, I didn’t know what it meant doing the morning ‘school run’. I didn’t know about teething or choosing the best toy… I was 34 years old, had been married for 11 years and didn’t have children… there must be something wrong with me or my marriage!!! Again I felt scrutinised. I was the woman that didn’t like babies. I would feel uncomfortable talking about family values, and dreaded direct questions about WHEN, WHAT, WHY ... I was an outcast....

Thankfully two or three friends were more understanding, but us women are malicious when another woman doesn’t share our same values! My problem was that while some of the women lived completely for their children, and this is absolutely fine, becoming a mother started to drop down many levels on my checklist. The horrible thought of not having anything else to talk about really petrified me. Did I meet the worst of the bunch? Is this what I’m going to become once I have children?

Not at all! I now think I was feeling that because I was insecure. I was the one perceiving all those negative vibes, because of my beliefs that I didn’t have anything to offer the world. In front of all these amazing women and mothers that dedicated their lives to make sure their kids had a happy and serene childhood, I saw in them a projection of me. I was the boring one. I was the one unfulfilled and unhappy, not them!

After only 15 months, I found my escape when my husband was made redundant. As a family (I count my two cats as well here) this was major. Moving with pets and furniture around the world is not that easy. It involves lots of paperwork, permits and hard work. I didn’t care. For me, deep down I felt someone out there had heard my call.

So here we are back in Dubai, back to ‘normal’ life. Back to the land of wonder where amazing things can happen to people like me.

As soon as we were settled suddenly my world fell on its head again. I felt like all these years of travelling hadn’t served me one bit, that I didn’t learn anything from them... I knew what I didn’t want to be like but suddenly I was completely overwhelmed by the awareness that I was the one that needed to change, or else I would lose myself – or worse, risk losing the only person that has actually always been there for me all these years. My security, the love of my life, my air, my best friend, my husband.

I didn’t know what to do with my precious life but that thought really frightened me. This is when the Life Challenge saved me. I couldn’t continue this way but didn’t know how to get out of it.

Challenges and mistakes help you shape up your life if you notice them. They make you stronger if you listen. Help you grow and inspire and become your true self if you open up to them. I have always promised myself that I would never give up on the desire to learn, to listen to others’ views on life, to be the best me, to challenge myself, to discover, to make mistakes, to acknowledge my flaws and weaknesses, to fall, get up and run again with my own feet. The day you will hear me say that I have learned everything from life will be the day that I will have to pick up the paddles again, build up a new solid ship and begin my journey from the harbour again.

It’s ok to experiment, to weep, to miss, to want more... But it’s even more important to savour the days, to notice the very simple things you have in your life. And, most importantly, without the right love for yourself, you cannot find security anywhere else. There is not such a perfect life without a great sense of respect for your inner self. And even then there is always something we need to learn, or to improve. And if you feel there is something more out there for you then dare to be different. Invest in yourself for the future. Be curious to discover what truly lies beneath your fears, for it is the best present you can possibly gift to yourself. 

Week six, day five

Letter to you

Dear Readers,

Am I trying too hard here? I just can’t stop thinking about what will happen when this is over and this is keeping me from actually focusing on what it is that I want. I’m panicking a bit because I’m becoming this self-observed person, obsessed with a still nameless and unknown passion. I know I have heart, and that should be enough to fight my way through right? I’m still scared of becoming who I really am? Maybe I should just relax and stop worrying about what everybody else might think. The problem is, I don’t actually know what everybody thinks, so, again, any possible negative thoughts are all in my head (at least I’m hoping that is the case).

Maybe I'm having my second meltdown here...

At the beginning I remember I said that it would have been hard for me to be in the centre of the attention, but is it really? I don’t really have thousands of fans on my facebook page (do I want thousands of fans?). I don’t get stopped in the street or at the supermarket for autographs, so what’s the deal with me? Maybe what I’m looking for is to get noticed? OMG! Does that mean that I m a self-centred person? Is it a bad thing? I could easily tell you where I’m going and when, so maybe someone could organise a surprise for me... but then it wouldn’t be genuine. :(  

A friend suggested that what we are going through in two months is something that would take years for some people to achieve, so maybe I should just relax, give myself a break and stop expecting too much from myself and others.

Well my friends, this is one on those days where you stop for a second and think. Then think again, look inside yourself, go further down and all you can find is a big bag of insecurities.

All I know is what I have. What I want to think I have today is this imaginary and deserving audience, which I feel obliged to satisfy by delivering my true thoughts about this fabulous experience.. So I hope I’m not failing you. I hope that through my simple language I’m reaching you and making sure that you know that this is the real deal.

I’m going to have a nice shower now and go out. I need to breathe, I need inspiration and I know I will find it. Imagining that someone out there is actually reading this is already giving me strength. Thank you kindly whoever you are!!!

Aquarius magazine

Aquarius magazine

Leave a comment

Comment on this article by clicking on the box below.

Post Comment