Flowers - Photography by Lola Akinmade

I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine. We were catching up on our lives, work, progress, families; the usual. I told him that while I was in a good place now in terms of truly following what makes me come alive creatively, that I was still scared of losing all those skills that fed me for 12+ years in the world of GIS and programming.

“Well, you’ve got one foot in, you might as well jump in with both feet,” he casually said. We laughed about it but that line really struck me.

You’ve come this far, what are you afraid of? I thought to myself.

That’s where I’ve been the last few months – in a semi-anxious state of slowly watching the months pass since I’ve coded a line of C# or fully geeked out with another programmer on JavaScript and .NET. I spoke about this to my husband many times.

Should I? Shouldn’t I? You know, dabble in GIS programming again?

I wasn’t sure, but I knew I needed to confront the reasons why I was still hovering in this semi-anxious state of watching hard-earned skills lie dormant.

Moving into a new culture strips you bare

It really does, and this couldn’t be more evident in a Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) language class or any other language class for that matter where the teachers instantly morph into mothers talking to babies in a tone that makes you seethe internally.

Trying to hang on to that perceived “life line” of my past life was my way of screaming, “Look! I can do this. I used to do this and I used to do it well.”

So, what exactly was the move “stripping away” from me?

This was what I had to face. I had to face the fact that for years, I’d subconsciously wrapped up my own identity as a person into what I actually did as a career.

I just didn’t realize it until the last few months.

I remember bumping into Andreas* on the train to town. We hugged each other like long lost friends. We’d both studied Swedish in the same class. I asked him where he was going. He pulled out a schedule – a janitorial schedule – and was pointing out his work duties.

I became angry. Angry internally because Andreas used to be a medical doctor in Cuba.

He wasn’t mad. But rather, he seemed happy to have a job to go to; one where he could finally learn the language through daily interaction.

I thought more about Andreas. When he moved to Sweden, all he knew was Spanish. Since English is the de-facto language here after Swedish, he spent a year in Sweden teaching himself English so he could at least communicate with a backup language before learning Swedish.

He probably wasn’t dwelling on the fact that he could no longer practice medicine. He seemed to be focused on the now. On doing what he needed to do to move to the next stage of his life because his circumstances had changed significantly.

He wasn’t hanging on to his past. He was moving on and was fully committed to the process.

And then I remembered.

In my late teenage years, I used to be a janitor too. I also used to wash hair at a salon. That was all I did – stand at the sink and wash out relaxers and perms and other stinky gunk from Caucasian hair sent back to me. Many odd jobs in between while focusing on moving to the next stage of my life at the time – a college degree.

“You have to jump in with both feet”, I mulled over my friend’s words. How short-sighted I had been.

Life really is about committing 100% to moving to the next stage it offers you, and one can’t move on in life if constantly looking back.

*Name changed

  • @Remi (mom) – Thanks so much for your wise words and support!

    @Carla – Thanks for your kind words and I definitely support you in following your dreams and passions. Looking forward to reading about your travels and seeing your photos!

  • This post really hits on what I’ve been going through the past year. I finally had to let go of my dessert business because it wasn’t what I wanted anymore. Oddly here in DC, many people didn’t know that I was an aspiring filmmaker in NYC. Writing and photography is something I’m going back to. Not just starting. Thanks for being an inspiration Lola. I’m going to be traveling the world with my Nikon and MacBook.

  • Being a change agent affords me to know that change is not easy especially in health expected behavioral changes. The approach must be that of empathy, patience and understanding. However when one need to change then it becomes easier said than done. My friend and I just thinking of another change in life, especially when one has lived three quarters of one’s life in a familiar setting as Africa, and the opportunity of live in developed country arises. Sometimes change is complex than we think but as a Christian I believe God works for the good of those who love God. Take the case of Joseph. When you are in God’s plan, He will make all things work in your favor.

    On a more critical thinking as human, I think the world is going through though changes also, and some are caught up in the world systems. May we find our ways in the storms of life.

  • @Felicia – Great to hear from you! And hope all is well. I really feel blessed that I can work as a photographer and writer, no question. It’s on those days when we keep looking back at where we came from that we need to curtail. Hope our parts cross soon again! Congratulations again on all your work. Onwards and upwards!

  • This is so on time (how did you know?)
    Lola, it’s been quite a while since last we spoke but know this: once you make a conscience decision to move forward, opportunities great and small begin to present themselves. It’s happening to me at the moment and it feels good to know that I can be appreciated for my work as a photographer and not only as a teacher. I’ve taught ESL for years but now it’s time to put on my real “hat”: Professional Photographer.
    You are so talented in so many areas of your life, you of all people have nothing to fear. Forward march! Ciao!

  • @Kate – Thanks so much for sharing your story! Funny, I used to be a babysitter once when I was 15-16 and loved every minute of it.

    @Anja – I fully understand where you’re coming from regarding the immigrant experience. I did it once in the US and now I’m having to do it all over again here in Sweden.

    @Jeanne – So great to see you here! You definitely understand where I’m coming from. I love what I do now and won’t trade it for anything else but it’s funny how we often look back at our old “prestigious” lives as a way of measuring worth subconsciously.

    @Seyidott – Thanks! We all have to self-examine ourselves every now and then. Marriage may take you another direction, but that in itself shouldn’t define who you are. And your career shouldn’t either.

  • seyidott

    Lola, this is spot on. I made a major move about 18 months ago, and i just havent been able to get back to who i used to be. The future again looks bleak in terms of career as i’m having to face the prospect of marriage which will further take me from that career that has formed my identity. You will have no idea how difficult self -examination has been as i try to dig deeper and decide what really matters. I’m learning to love whatever i find myself doing per time, guess thats the only way forward.

  • Jeanne Huffman

    Lola, I love your article. I too have thought the same thing. I didn’t move to another country, but I drastically changed my career. And even though I love my life and what I do, I still find myself telling people what I used to do. Like what I do now isn’t as important as then. There have even been times when I thought of going back, but those times happen less often now. Actually, I’m really happy that there are so many things I did that I can be proud of, but there are so many more things to do…how wonderful that we are not stuck in the same place going around and around like a hamster on a wheel. Andreas may be a janitor today, but perhaps tomorrow it’ll be different. His attitude about today is what we need to aspire to.

  • Lola, this really struck a cord with me. You touch upon some vital topics, at least for me, an immigrant from a country that doesn’t exist. The immigrant experience (anywhere) requires total determination. Yet for many people around the world who cross borders in order to survive and seek a better life, that’s the only way. There is no other path for most of them. Their 100% commitment is pure survival. Thanks, Lola, for raising such important matters that often fall by the wayside.

  • Lola, I love this. Thank you for such a beautiful article. I’ve been babysitting and tutoring kids since I got to Sweden as a way to make a little money. Later, I found a job teaching English, but I kept up with the babysitting as a side job. Every now and then, the parents remember that I actually have another job, one with a little more prestige, and they act surprised all over again that I’m actually doing more than watching their kids for a couple of hours a week. It’s so frustrating, and sometimes I feel like the life I had imagined for myself in the United States is running away from me. It probably is, actually. But I have to remind myself of what you’re saying here–letting go of past lives, being fully present in this one, being rooted in the now.

    Thanks again for the article… Kate

  • @Bluegreen Kirk – Precisely. I feel grateful to be doing what I love now.

    @Daniel – Thanks so much. Feels good to know I’m not alone in this.

    @Christy – Thanks for your insightful comments. I can absolutely relate and I’m glad you’ve found your passions and are living it. It’s a liberating feeling.

    @Elizabeth – Thanks for your super kind words. I’ll be in touch soon.

    @Chic Therapy – He definitely has the right spirit and attitude. Thanks, I use a Nikon D300 and shot the flowers using a Nikkor 16-85mm lens

  • When life deals with you, uou have to learn to roll with the punches.That Andreas guy has such a great spirit!

    you take such great pictures.What camera/lens do you use?

  • What a poignant piece and a reminder that no matter what curve-balls life throws us, we can find our way by rallying and jumping right back into the fray of things. My dear naija sister Lola, what a delight to find you and your blog!
    I was visiting another travel blogger’s site and somehow, purely in a serendipitous way, I found your blog and impressive body of work. I am so proud of you and would love to interview and feature you on my blog. I do hope you say yes! My details and blog link are included above and we can chat via email.
    Keep up the terrific work and kudos for all you’ve accomplished!

  • Beautiful post. I agree that giving 100% of yourself to everything you do is a great way to live. I wish I remembered to do this all the time, but the truth is that I’ve always been the type of person who wants to know how to do everything. It has served me well in the past since I’m always able to find a well paying job, but I’m coming to a point in my life where I don’t just want a job that I will get sick of in a couple of years. I’m happy that I’ve finally found my passion and I’m definitely seeing the momentum grow with every step of my energy I give to pursuing my dreams. I hope to also jump in with both feet very soon. Thanks for this lovely post.

  • Wow Lola..

    I was randomly browsing my RSS feed before going to sleep and stopped here. I read it, re-read it, and froze.

    You just struck a chord. Thank you.

    “Letting go and jumping in with both feet..”

  • Yeah its pretty amazing how we let what we do as work or a career shape who we are, what we do and even what we talk about. The question is are you living your life doing what you want and love are just living to work.

  • @Lily – You’re so right. Skills and experiences are really never lost and just help make one more versatile. Thanks!

    @Marj – “Being perfectly happy with the moment you are at in life…” Loved this quote and couldn’t have said it better. That’s what I strive to do daily. To be grateful and happy with what I’ve been blessed with.

    @Astrid (farastrio) – You’re so right. I think that’s what makes a lot of immigrants upset too. That just because they can’t speak the language doesn’t mean they don’t have brain cells. And good ones at that!

    @Sandra – Thanks! It’s always a work in progress

    @Anna – Tack. And absolutely! The big thing is trusting that all is -and-will be well.

    @Maria – Thanks so much for stopping by! Great to hear your voice. I think for those of us that have moved and switched cultures, countries, and careers, it definitely can be nerve-wrecking at times.

    @Abbie – Thanks!

    @MJS – It really is ultimately about trust and banishing that underlying fear of “what if things don’t go the way we think?”. Trust that you’ll land on both feet, and like Lily said, experiences and skills and all you’ve worked hard for in the past are never truly lost but a part of you.

    @Dylan – Ha! Funny that you used to be one too. Our conversation definitely inspired this post. Thanks so much for your kind words and rock solid support. Means so much, and it really is about realizing we’re a lot more than labels and jobs and skills. Thanks again and can’t wait to see you and Maria again and hug your native Californian/English/Russian child 😀

    @Andi – Thanks so much (and congrats again on your marriage!)

    @Julie – Gracias!

  • Beautiful post, Lola, and I love the comments here.

  • I always say you have to give life 110%, not 100%! What a fabulous photo!!!

  • dylan

    The first job I had in the U.S. was as a janitor in a printing press in Kansas. It was so far removed from my previous life in England that it really helped me to make a break from my ‘career’ as an unemployed student in England. I can only imagine what Nigerian-US-Swedish migration feels like!

    On the other hand, while I enjoy my new homeland (19 years now), I can never be an American. It’s obviously not a language thing for me. I’ve really tried not to go too far the other way either: we all know one of those annoying expats who are ‘more English than the English’, so I think I fit in OK culturally. But what makes us unique, interesting, and engaging to others is not our sameness, but our differences. I think it’s good to be different. That’s what makes you great, Lola: your lilting Nigerian-accented Swedish, your crazy laugh, the fact that you take chances.

    So I’m glad that you’re shedding the things that might have you ‘constantly looking back’ like a profession or career, and I know that the new culture is the forcing factor here. Just don’t shed the awesomeness! Jump in with both feet and lose the replaceable bits like the job-that-defines-you, keep the Lola-ness 🙂

    @Maria Thomas: it was totally worth the move from Russia. You got to meet an amazing English expat…who is leaving the office to see you and our native Californian child for dinner.

  • MJS

    Wow, your post has really inspired me! I’ve got to make a few life chaning decisions in the next month and i’ve been apprehensive about the future and fearing loosing all i’ve worked for so far. Your post has inspired me not to jump in with both feet. I loved the quote “Life really is about committing 100% to moving to the next stage it offers you, and one can’t move on in life if constantly looking back.”

  • Love this quote, and it’s so true, too – “Life really is about committing 100% to moving to the next stage it offers you, and one can’t move on in life if constantly looking back.”

  • Maria Thomas

    Wow, so accurately captured. After 14 years of living in the US and will never feel that I have actually arrived…and as you say language and culture are big parts of this emotion. Also, how true about letting go of the past, and you , Lola is an inspiration to us all.

  • Anna

    Such a great post Lola. It’s all about taking a leap and trusting that you’ll land on your two feet isn’t it? But that’s what keeps life exciting!

  • Beautifully written post Lola. Living in a new place and learning a new culture certainly does strip you bare. And like you, I identified myself with my career. So I’ve spent my time here in Stockholm trying to figure out who I really am.

  • It’s interesting what you say about the role of language in the ex-pat experience. People often mistake lack of language ability as lack of intelligence. But on the positive side, learning a new language allows you to reinvent yourself a bit!

  • Marj

    I remember facing something similar when I moved to Spain. It was impossilble to work in the foreign service since I wasn’t an EU citizen so I had to think fast on my feet and move into some sort of work that I could do. And as the years have passed -and the diplomat dreams have faded- I have realised that it is more about being perfectly happy with the moment you are at in life and all others things will be added. Listen to your heart, you will hear the answer.

  • Great post Lola! I couldn’t agree more and I’ve had the same internal battle in terms of the law and all the experience I’ve gained practicing, before I started pro photography. But I’ve come to realize as well that one foot in and one foot out, at some point, just isn’t productive. I think it’s about knowing when to remove that other foot. And experiences, skills and education are never lost, they carry on with you and you use different aspects of them in your “new life.”