I came to London at the end of my visit to Munich. I hadn’t originally planned on it but an opportunity to pick up a freelance assignment partly there / partly remotely from DC for the month of October came up. London was calling. Naturally, I extended my 7-week Bavarian visit another week and headed for the island.
I’d visited London earlier in the year, as part of my February European tour. This trip would be different: not so much touristing, pretty much all business. After talking about nothing but going back to work in Munich at networking events, a conference and countless blind dates with ladies from the Global Digital Women network, I was ecstatic to actually be going back to work, even if just for a short time.
Leaving Munich felt like leaving home on any given previous business trip. A short plane ride, a train from a suburban airport location to the city center, a hotel room check in and settling in for a four night stay. Besides the inappropriate size of my suitcase, a long line to enter the country and a tiny bed, I was right back and found and ironic comfort in the travel for business game.
Caroline, the Consultant: I was excited to return to being consultant in a large corporation. After months of soul searching and experimenting with the career I want to create, I saw this assignment as a really unique opportunity to “exercise my consultant” again, and as a bonus, in a global setting. I would spend 3 days being immersed in a transformative digital marketing initiative and be responsible for providing insights, observations, recommendations, plans and strategies to my client’s marketing team members. After a few hours of meetings, I was delighted to feel my consultant turned on again: it wasn’t long before I became aware I could really add value. To add value & be valued – oh how motivating that feels…
An Awesome Team: On my first day, I met a fantastic and extremely welcoming client and agency team. I almost immediately realized how lucky I was to have scored such an awesome client (and to this day, I continue to rejoice about it). My new colleagues, to my delight, mostly women for a change, are smart, approachable, professional and extremely knowledgable about their complex business. They share a camaraderie I haven’t witnessed in a while. And everyone has a sense of humor. I am grateful they dedicated so much time to me. I felt so cool and already integrated when I was invited to join them for happy hour on Thursday evening…
The Buzz of Transformation: It didn’t take long for me to recognize that this place isn’t just talking about transformation; it’s actually doing it. I can’t think of any other client I have ever worked with that is so committed, from top to bottom, to the hard work it takes to plan for and execute a transformation agenda; and this one is aggressive. The spirit of responsibility for change is remarkable, palpable. And everyone I spoke to about it is excited, supportive, and enthusiastic about the future of the company. No shit-talking, no sarcasm; just positivity, realism, engagement and willingness to do the work. What. A. Treat. I’m in!
Seeing Some Friends: As a bonus, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, I got to share a meal in the city with two of my girls: one from the lululemon tribe, one from the IBM tribe. We recounted meaningful life moments and engaged in inspiring conversations.
I let my guard down.
Thursday evening. My last night in London. My last night away from home in almost 8 weeks.
Sipping on my second pint, feeling good at the pub, hanging with the ladies from the office. Reflecting on a great week of work, each of us sharing stories of pride for being part of this company.
I stepped away to use the loo.
Then I squeezed amongst dozens of pub-goers on my way back to our banquette and reached for my lipstick in my bag I had left on the floor close by my seat.
Except no bag. It was gone.
In the span of 3 minutes, my whole world changed. This cannot be happening to me. Not now.
Yet it had. And all I had with me was my cell phone and a tribe of 3 women that were strangers 3 days before.
Pause to answer the burning questions:
-My passports were in my hotel room
-But everything else I care about was in that backpack: laptop (the one I had been without a few weeks before in Munich, remember?) and all its peripherals; wallet inclusive of ID, cash, card; glasses and sunglasses; a scarf I had just bought in Munich; my notebook; and a few valuable sentimental items.
I felt like I became paralyzed. I wanted to start crying. But I knew I needed to try and keep calm. Becoming hysterical would be completely counterproductive, let alone make a bad impression on my new colleagues… But I was in shock.
Sophie took charge, thank the lord. We stepped outside for a little quiet and decided it was a good idea to call the police. She handled that call while I made the list of what was in the bag.
Then I had to take the reigns and notify my 3 banks. Have you ever tried to call your US bank’s 1-800 number from a foreign country in an emergency situation and follow that IVR tree? How’s that for a pain point you think?
I sucked it up and about 45 minutes later, all of the immediate to-dos were under control. I made a list to take care of the next morning, rejoined the team and enthusiastically accepted their offer of another pint.
I sat there and tried to engage in the conversation as much as I could. Be present. There is nothing more you can do about this now. It’s gone.
“Caroline, how much money do you think you need to get home?”, Rosie asked.
Oh yeah fuck… I realized in that moment that I had absolutely nothing with me. I’ve never traveled this light.
“Let’s go to the ATM and get you some pounds for the trip home”, encouraged Laura.
In a moment where I was the most vulnerable I have ever felt in my entire life, three practically strangers were there for me. Thank you ladies. I am extremely grateful.
As soon as I stepped into the taxi to my hotel, the tears started flowing. I practically didn’t sleep that night.
The next morning, as I visited the hotel’s front desk to ask for a late check out, Robyn, the hotel manager asked me: “Are you ok?” Did my poofy eyes give it away?
I answered frankly: “No, I am not. My backpack was stolen last night. I am so violated…”
She empathized with me as she recalled her purse being stolen in Istanbul a few month previously. “I understand how you feel. It’s awful to be a theft victim, especially in a foreign country. Yet, this is an opportunity to get creative and to start over. You will be ok.”
It was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed my feelings acknowledged. I needed words of affirmation and encouragement about creating a different story.
And she was right. It’s been a few days now, and with the help of another amazing woman, my friend Stefanie, I’ve already started new and am eager to continue to create.
It was time for a new laptop anyway, wasn’t it? So, obviously, I went for gold.
Asking for help, to get out of the low…
I am ok.