A year ago today I ran the Geneva marathon, one of my biggest accomplishments to date. Looking back at my time since then I can’t believe the shape the past twelve months have taken: I’ve graduated from university, gone from intern to working directly with Bacardi’s CIO, volunteered in a primary school in Palestine and became a soldier in the Swiss Armed Forces.
A long time ago I promised myself I wouldn’t try writing motivational pieces about how to combat procrastination, or about overcoming our difficulties to become better workers. I once heard an interview of Michael Buble on NPR where he said it would be decades before he would attempt singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. Time is one of the best factors to learning. And while time is an unspecified thing, we can all agree it takes a lot if it to share life lessons. I always thought that was a very humble thing for him to do. It can often be hard to see truth through the lenses of success. But much like time, success is relative to various factors.
That’s why this blog post isn’t so much a lesson on diligence and hard work but rather a justification for months of digital absence. However if it may come across as the former then by all means soak it up if you so wish.
I used to be a lazy student who rarely did any exercise. Unfortunately that went from being a hidden secret to a much more obvious one as my weighing scale started tipping in the wrong direction. As a result I set my mind on a big goal and promised myself and my close ones that in exactly 3 months I would run the Geneva Marathon. After training 4-5 times a week for 3 months and covering a total of 360 km in 3 different countries, I delivered on my promise and successfully ran the Geneva Marathon in the satisfactory time of 4h40.
6 days before the race I had an interview with Bacardi. 10 days before that they’d contacted me on LinkedIn asking if I’d be interested in a Communications internship within their IT department. So I met with them a few days before the race and that very evening they confirmed the job was mine.
That was in May 2013.
I was still in university finishing my Bachelors until mid-June so I couldn’t start until I finished my studies. That was fine with them, they even allowed me a buffer week in between so I could go flying with my dad in Croatia. That was another highlight of the year. While it only lasted a week, it was one of the best trips I’d ever taken. Watch us travel through Croatia here.
Upon my return from Croatia I started my six-month internship at Bacardi. It was one of the most teaching experiences I’ve ever had about the corporate and corporate-IT world. It was also a very growing experience for me: Due to unforeseen and unfortunate reasons my manager was absent on medical leave for the second half of my time there. And all of a sudden a team originally made up of 3 people suddenly became 1: the intern being the only one left.
But things couldn’t change much, events still had to be organised, announcements still had to be written, presentations still had to be prepared. That’s when the fun began. The level of work was high and challenging, but it was also fun and exciting. The trust bestowed on me, a mere intern, and being able to work so closely with the CIO was what pushed me to new frontiers and taught me more than I could have ever learnt in such a short amount of time.
(Read more about it in “From 3 to 1: learning through independence, responsibilities and leaning in“)
After rejecting an offer to extend my contract, I left for a few weeks to the United States and Ireland with the family. Making time for my family is one of the most important things for me, they’re my biggest source of happiness, encouragement and knowledge and spending too much time apart makes me lose my abilities. So before taking up a new challenge I made sure I was well surrounded by those that matter most.
In January I undertook one of the most different and life changing chapters in my life. Exactly a year earlier I’d been a camp counsellor with my cousin’s class for a week’s retreat in the mountain. The students were at the age where friends and new relationships are what matter most, so the activities organised were often welcomed with disapproval and a low level of motivation. But the week was more than just doing various snow-related activities; it was also about teaching these students from various cultures and backgrounds about motivation through conversations, whether they be spiritual or not, but also through movies, and a lecture from two inmates about their age who were paying for their crimes. All these various activities brought forward an incredible level of motivation from this group of youngsters. In fact, by the end they didn’t want to leave, nor did we for that matter.
After only 5 days together, not only had they learned a lot, but I left feeling like I’d learned more than they had. From speaking to them and the other counsellors there, as well as watching one of the most inspiring documentaries of my life (“The Human Experience”) I’d become a changed and new man, with a new sense of obligation to give back, for it doesn’t take much to have a big effect on people.
With experience in me, I decided to undertake something bigger, where I could teach and learn. Being half Palestinian I decided to help a country that direly needs help. Politics have shown to not be very helpful in the past 7 decades and most of the changes came from the bottom, from the grassroots. So I decided to go to a school and try to teach children more than just English and French but about the advantages of education to themselves and their country. I spent two months in a village called Abu Dis interacting with these young children who have close to nothing and who can’t go far without being stopped and harassed by Israeli soldiers who try to make their life similar to Hell. But in the end, while I tried to show them the importance of a good education and peace, they unconsciously taught me a lot about determination and persistence. They’re a people who’ve found advantages in disadvantages and have built an incredible amount with roadblocks and constant attacks from a neighbour and occupier who wants nothing but to eliminate them. The mere fact that they’re still here fighting nonviolently reminds me that an end is only inevitable.
While I would have loved to stay longer, I couldn’t. Duty called. My military service, an obligation for all Swiss men, was approaching fast and I had to return to Switzerland. 4 days later I was entering the military base of Wangen an der Aare in Bern. I’m now half way through my first round of service, in the Search and Rescue troupes learning how to save lives rather than just kill. You learn to execute orders without questioning them. In fact, I learned very early on that if I wanted to successfully complete my service I would have to switch off my brain and not question the orders given to me. You shouldn’t even try to understand the logic otherwise you’ll suffer.
So that’s what my 12 months have looked like. I’m so privileged to be able to say that this is what I’ve done for the past year. It’s definitely been a year where I’ve had the chance to learn and discover new things. I’ve made beautiful friendships I’ll treasure for the rest of my life, I’ve created amazing memories and experiences that will shape the rest of my life to come.
Now I wait to hear what the future waits for me. I’ve applied for Masters courses in Digital Marketing and Marketing which will hopefully bring new challenges, experiences and friendships (UPDATE: I’m currently in London studying MSc Marketing at Queen Mary University of London).