You can’t be what you can’t see

Why living and working abroad is important

LONDON – As my loyal readers (my dad and my cat) will know, I have spent the past eight weeks working at an arts marketing firm in Southeast London acting as an intern and second pair of hands for the five person crew.

Since being brought on mid-February, I’ve had the opportunity to live tweet the launch of a UK-wide project, draw up a consultancy brief for an up-and-coming client, offer my views on event names and attend meetings for large-scale projects.

And to think that on my first day, I was stressing out about messing up their tea.

Before I came abroad, I thought I’d pieced the puzzle together. Everything seemed to line up – what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, how my future would probably play out. It was neat and tidy and, in my mind, there was definitely a pretty little bow on top.

That was, until I started work at The Cogency. Led by two powerhouse women, the five person arts marketing company takes on projects that a huge corporation would cower over. But “I can’t” simply isn’t in The Cogency’s vernacular. Except maybe, “I can’t resist another cup of coffee”. Seriously, the coffee is overflowing there.

As you can imagine, it was a pretty intimidating office to waltz into.

But quite contradictorily, I was suddenly laden with the thought of “I can’t” after my first harried week of work. I’d never worked in the arts before, much less in arts marketing, much less in the arts capital of the world! How am I supposed to know how to advise clients on what they should and should not do? How is my view valid amidst my dedicated and intellectual coworkers? How is some 21-year-old small town American undergraduate qualified to be working and living in London?

And what if I mess up their tea?

However, I signed a contract that solidified my eight-week commitment in cold hard legality, so I ignored my feelings of inferiority and allowed myself to become a part of The Cogency team – eliminating “I can’t” from my vocabulary and thoughts.

And now here I sit, finished with my time at The Cogency and wondering where I would have been had I had the freedom to walk out of the door. Probably back where I was before – thinking that my puzzle was perfectly arranged, painting glue over it to seal it in all its puzzling perfection.

To work abroad is to shine a light on a darkness that you didn’t even know was there.

After my time at The Cogency, my puzzle pieces are scattered about – lost in unknown imaginations and possibilities. And that’s just the way I like it. If I’ve learned anything from my time here, it’s that there is no possible way of nailing down fate.

Every plan and vision and idea is just a human attempt at making sense of the real confusion that is the future. It’s only natural. But the real fun rests in the knowledge that you shouldn’t even try to figure it out – you’ll probably end up restlessly searching for invisible pieces while the reality sits in front of you, waiting to be put together.

My semester working in London has left me more confused than when I came. I don’t know where I want to live or work or travel. I don’t know what I want in the next year or five or ten. And I don’t think that I should be trying to find that out.

The future will always be the future but the present only happens once before it becomes the past.

So I’ll be happy with my constantly ruined puzzle, piecing things together only to have them scattered again. It’s like a game – one that rewards those with patience, open mindedness and not a bottle of glue in sight.

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