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“Caroline, what have you been up to?!”
This question comes up more and more as time passes since I put my corporate career on pause. Lately, after several years on the road, as I have re-integrated in the Northern Virginia region I spent the last 18 years residing in, it shows up with every encounter in my community: with dear friends at planned gatherings and with acquaintances I run into at Whole Foods, Lifetime Fitness or Reston Town Center.
“Caroline, what have you been up to?!”
For context, my intentions for this sabbatical year were to play with my curiosity, explore my creativity and reconnect with tribe, all with the purpose of enhancing my experience in genuine human connection.
Away from the rat race’s loud noises, I took a pause, followed my intuition and practiced living in the moment.
“Caroline, what have you been up to?!”
In short, the answer is: I’ve been getting ready.
Now 8 months later, I have met my objectives. I am eager to see how these last month’s experiences show up in my professional career. Four months ahead of schedule, I am refreshed, eager to return to work and am looking for my next corporate career endeavor. I’m ready.
For now, the long answer to the question. This is what I have been up to.
Three themes summarize my sabbatical experience: regroup, travel, create. (And yes, I am trained to talk in threes!)
Theme 1: Regroup
First and foremost, this break was about reassembling myself.
Priority: Sleep I’ve slept A LOT… While I have maintained a disciplined bedtime and morning routine, I’ve definitely caught up on all the sleep and for now, am no longer sleep deprived. A real luxury, je sais.
Life Admin To free my mind of those nagging to dos I never seemed to have time to get to before, I chose to take on “life’s admin” first: I put my house and life in order. I purged closets (a truckload went to Goodwill); I cleaned up all the papers and files (4 boxes went to shredding); I organized all my cupboards (and filled them up with good food); I sold some household goods I no longer needed (and made just short of a mortgage payment doing so) and I handled all my legal, financial and health loose ends. With everything in its place, I had a clean slate and freed mental space. And with the backlog cleared, momentum to keep on top of it. I plan to.
Move While still in a constant search to find equanimity, I got back on my mat and my bike, in the pool and the weight room. I’m also striving for those 10,000 steps a day. Just keep swimming.
Read I read 7 books so far. All of them recommended by someone I admire and respect. Shout out to Jason Shine, Linda Perry-Lube, Bernd Preuschoff and Adam Steinberg for these gems. Not pictured: How to Watch a Soccer Game by Ruud Gullit and Peaks and Valleys by Spencer Johnson.
Theme 2: Travel
At the onset of my decision to take a break, I knew I was going to take some time to travel before I thought of doing anything else. I wanted to connect with my family, all of whom live outside my geography. I also wanted to travel for pleasure and to (temporarily) satisfy this insatiable desire I have for intellectual and cultural discoveries. With the gift of time, I wanted to go on a big trip.
Overall, I spent just about 4 months total traveling. Here are all the places I visited.
Munich: I extended my stay beyond my last day at IBM for an additional week. For the first time, I played tourist in the city I visited for work a half-dozen time earlier that year.
Phoenix, AZ: At Thanksgiving, for some serious quality time with the Trudeau and Henry families. Undoubtedly, we danced and gave duck face.
Phoenix, AZ (again!): I had only originally planned to go once, but I returned so I wouldn’t miss another family gathering around Maman’s birthday. Bonus: a road trip to Sedona with my sister-in-law Mallory spent hiking the red rocks and chasing energy vortex.
New York City, NY: I spent the holidays with my brothers in the city. I caught up with some other special humans while I was there.
Note: I wrote a blog article about my experiences marked with a *
Las Vegas, NV*: for CES 2018. Completely B.A.N.A.N.A.S. I was lucky to be invited by a group of automotive entrepreneurs to help facilitate some creative workshops.
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico*: For a destination fitness retreat and for some warmth before the cold…
For my big trip, I went far and long (the longest I had ever spent away from home). I spent 5 weeks in Europe at the end of January and all of February.
Munich, Germany* – again
Prague, Czech Republic* – first time
Vienna, Austria* – first time
Lyon, France* – first time
Paris, France* – again
London, United Kingdom* – first time
Barcelona, Spain: first time
Munich, Germany – yet again with a day trip to Nurnberg – first time
It was difficult, but I picked ONE picture from each city for this gallery.
–My favorite city is Paris. It’s the place I feel the most connected to my heritage. The city where no two days can ever be the same. The most diverse metropolis I have ever experienced. And I just can’t help my romantic self with it. But for this trip, I don’t have a favorite city – all of them brought me a different experience I will cherish forever. I would go back to all of them. But I highly recommend Prague.
–I traveled alone and I wasn’t scared. While I did talk to strangers (désolée Maman), I was careful and vigilant. I am an experienced tourist. I didn’t get lonely as I visited with friends along the way. Otherwise, I was perfectly at ease being with myself.
–I planned my own itinerary and I was on a budget. I stayed in mostly AirBnBs and a couple of Hilton hotels using points I spent the last few years collecting. I traveled equally by train and plane. I planned as I went along, living in the moment, going with the flow, free to roam exactly as I wished.
–It was cold, but I was prepared. I only wished I had waterproof leather boots.
–Yes, I overpacked…
–It was the best trip of my life, no doubt.
Los Angeles, CA: As with every March, I visited the OC to celebrate my nephew and godson Lucas’ 5th birthday.
Montreal, Canada: A trip home for a family reunion around Grand-Maman Lulu’s 83rd birthday. A wonderful way to reconnect with my roots. Bonus: road-tripping with my brother Alex.
Lexington, KY: I was the first overnight visitor at my brother Julien and Mallory’s new house. Bonus: the Keeneland Horse Races.
New York City, NY: A former client invited me to a conference. It was a nice way to get my brain back in the corporate game. I visited with Alex and some more special city humans. Bonus: some quality time with the lululemonheads.
May, June, July 2018
I’ve been in Reston, VA for 10 weeks, which constitutes my longest consecutive home stay of the last 6 years… I love being home. But a moment of honesty: I miss traveling.
Looking back, the schedule I kept circa Q3 and Q4 of 2016 was insane and the Monday at Toyota in Plano, TX, Tuesday at Caterpillar in Peoria, IL, Wednesday at UTC in Farmington, CT, Thursday at BMW in Woodcliff Lake, NJ and back home on Friday to “work” that would have been my IBM life definitely still isn’t it, but I am confident my future at work will continue to involve some kind of travel. Preferably of the international kind. Let’s see.
Theme 3: Create
From a creative perspective, I got to work almost right away. I knew I wanted to undertake my self-discovery with some methodology, structure, support and guidance. In January, I hired a professional business coach, Jason Shine of Real Smart Consulting. To this day, we still work together.
I knew I wanted to keep the momentum I had with my writing of The IBM Seduction Series. So I kept writing and launched this blog. Sounds simple, but it was a lot of effort. I experienced first-hand the age-old saying that “Content is King!” – indeed it is. Working on this passion project has been an amazing journey.
I realized throughout the process that my voice inspires others to express theirs. Today, The Collection also serves as a platform for others to let their voices out. And soon, in collaboration with Meaghan Whalen of the Fleurt Beauty Company, we will be adding our actual voices with the GlossOver podcast. We tackle topics that are relevant in our entrepreneurial, corporate and personal lives that we simply cannot gloss over. Wait for it.
In April, I had an ah-ha moment while chatting with a former lululemon colleague and dear friend: “I should try and run my own business… Now is a great time to try entrepreneurship on for size!” Later that week, I incorporated Collective Thoughts LLC, a digital & creative consult-agency dedicated to harvesting the capabilities of humans coming together to innovate and solve problems with intent, insights and careful consideration. Soon enough, I had 3 clients. A vision I had while sitting in a Paris café, writing for the blog 2 months previously had manifested itself in my life: I was getting paid to write.
I’ve spent the last 10 weeks keeping my skills sharp while helping small and medium local clients: supporting branding, social media, marketing and digital strategy efforts for an emerging retail client, running workshops, designing operational structures and providing digital consulting services for a real estate development firm, and redesigning a website for a financial group. I’m in the most creative space I had ever been and am curious to see what else I can create.
Reflections & What’s Next
All of these experiences, along with my personality, pedigree, interests, qualifications and desires, have been preparation for what’s next in both my global career and my personal growth journey. During this break, my actions have been intentional and have generated results I am proud of. Most importantly, I’ve met new people that add tremendous value in my life and deepened my connection with those that have been riding along all along.
While I have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and I enjoy being alone and blazing my own path, I am happiest in the presence of people. Inspiring others fulfills me. I dream making a larger impact. I dream of working globally, in Europe.
I undertake everything I do with creativity, passion and emotion, especially when the subject is meaningful. In this transformation era, the opportunity to do meaningful work is everywhere. I intend to take part of the many meaningful changes our society needs.
Once again, I trust the process. Do the things. Everyday.
I am clearer than ever that I belong where I came from: in a corporate environment, where I lead a team that innovates to deliver products and services that meaningfully enhance the experience of being human with a relentless focus on customer experience, while adding business value.
Graffiti Alley photos by Meghan Elizabeth Photography
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