Have you ever thought about what shapes your personality?
The amount of challenges we experience throughout our lifetime determines our personality and decisions made. At the very least, the confidence we gain by enduring such difficulties and recognizing we can face hardships with intelligence and a level head, inspires us to see threat as a momentary menace we are capable of overcoming. It is by initiating the change of your process that you will succeed, this ability to analyze both positive and negative experiences that happen at every step along your personal journey. However, this process does not guarantee success, it is its path that matters and the successive attempts that will lead you to where you want to go according to the decision you have taken.
By sharing a part of my life in this article, I would like to show you through my very personal experiences how my words match with my factual reality.
I was born in Brazil and I was abandoned by my biological mother, when she left my father, at a young age of three years old. My father found me at the age of 7 through his significant determination and conviction. It was a second birth for me, a revelation, the beginning of a new life. He “reprogrammed” my life and thought processes by instilling in me the fundamentals necessary to help me understand my environment and decide my destiny.
Since I was young, life has never spared me challenging circumstances. No gifts, no favors, so was it. Along the way I faced prejudice, humiliation, abuse, violence, and death threats. My teenage eyes have witnessed death three times. I was robbed 15 times at gunpoint, kidnapped four times, and held by criminals countless times. It is by learning the mastery of these dangerous predicaments that my father bravely supported me through, that I consider to have come out of it, to live today in Paris, Capital of the country which I have always dreamed of being a citizen.
The Road to Resilience
My childhood was spent in the region of Brazil known as Amazonia. Life was simple and we had to be resourceful in order to survive. We fetched water from a well to cook, wash the dirty dishes, and shower. I walked two kilometers twice a week to scrub our clothes in a local river and climbed trees to harvest fruit for an afternoon snack.
Unlike most children, there was not much time to play or be free in my childhood because I had to focus on helping my family buy groceries like bread, chocolate milk, cheese, and Coca-Cola, all things that were otherwise too expensive for us. With my father’s permission, I started working at the very early age of 9, selling sandwiches and popsicles at the school gates during the week. On the weekend, I worked as a manicurist and private dance teacher. These life experiences and circumstances served me well as an adult and to solidify my resilience.
So full of ambition and the will to get out of it, I decided to make the most of my father’s heritage and to explore the world. Though I loved my family, I wanted to learn more and discover new horizons. I was a child with big dreams beyond my childhood home. Given the living conditions in our town, no one could imagine a different kind of life. There were no aspirations beyond our home because, in our world, it was just impossible! Nevertheless, I could not be satisfied with the beautiful and safe world that my family offered despite this jewel of love, I needed other dimensions that they could not bring to me.
It is indeed a process, but resilience requires a great knowledge of oneself and a perfect reading of one’s feelings. What some people think is depression is actually an existential emptiness. A person feels unhappy but in fact they are confused about the real meaning of happiness. Our culture is built around the idea that we must always seek happiness and when we don’t find it, we are perceived as worthless. The truth is that happiness is not a destiny; happiness is a travelling companion.
While washing the dishes in the backyard of our house one day, a plane flew overhead. In my delight, I turned to my father who was taking a picture of me to send to my Italian grandmother, and I said, “Father I have decided I’m going to travel the world. I’m going to speak different languages and I will live in Paris.” In that moment, I had a clarity I will never forget to the extent that it forged my actions and passions going forward. This flash that injects this light instantly into your darkness, conducive to doubt. With clear ideas, I got involved and decided on my future.
The reaction of my stepmother was to worry that I would be disappointed. As a loving parent, she was afraid my dreams would hurt me when I didn’t achieve the big things I had in mind for my future. I looked in her sad eyes and told her, “Though I have to pull water from the well to wash the dishes and sell sandwiches at the schoolyard, I deserve to travel the world. The path from where you are to where you want to go is determined by how you think. I will show you that this little girl called Ana Paula Araujo Mendes will growth and travel all around the world”. There was silence and then my stepmother smiled with her approval.
At the outset, I had no idea how I was going to achieve these big dreams. But my heart was strong, I was eager, and I believed in myself. Shortly thereafter I left my family home. With the clothes on my back, old and damaged shoes on my feet, and two grocery bags in my hands, one filled with two books and the other with two shirts, I took a new step toward a different future. It made up all of my belongings. As I left the house, I knew that only the very most dramatic events could turn me around.
The Factors Associated with Resilience
Parents and loved ones focus on giving a child all they can, believing that success stems from things that cost money like educational credentials. They often forget the most important detail; at the end of the day, it’s not the money they spent or saved for their child that will count the most, but rather the time and depth of care they gave, served in a heap of love.
My father knew me better than anyone. He recognized and supported my ambitions and dreams. He called me an eagle. “You know the difference between a chicken and an eagle?” he asked me one day. “Chickens have wings but do not know how to use them. Sometimes, they don’t even know they have wings. You are an eagle and it is my responsibility to prepare you for what you desire, for what you deserve.”
The heritage. Your values, your real wealth…
My father could not help me financially, but he gave me seven pieces of advice that have served as my inheritance.
When you spend time alone, you learn about your strengths and weaknesses. Go down deep inside oneself. When you enjoy moments by yourself, engage in activities like traveling alone, and meet yourself each new day, you discover your limitations, learn about your preferences, and figure out what you like without the influence of other people. If you learn to love yourself and who you are, you will be a good companion to someone else and others will enjoy being with you. Then, everything you do alone or together with other people will always give you pleasure.
Advice #2: In order to properly assimilate into another culture, you must act like a “soldier who goes to war.” Focus on the goal and leave everything from the past behind you, at least for the first few years. Don’t drag your past like a heavy burden. This will reduce your suffering and accelerate your learning. Disruption triggers change. Think in another language and forget about your traditional and comfortable everyday life. If you continue to live the life of your past, the transition will not happen and despite your journey, everything will be as if you never left.
Think of yourself as a diplomat. Seek opportunities to improve relations between countries, and add value by sharing your experiences, without judging or changing the culture of the place you find yourself. My father used to tell me, “You do not have the right to walk into someone’s home and tell them what they should eat, how they should dress, or how they should talk to people. You chose to enter the home and it is up to you to adapt or go back to where you came from.” You made the choice to step across the portal and you should respect the rule of engagements.
Living abroad taught me a lot about cultural differences. Rather than making judgments or responding negatively to behaviors that I don’t understand, I strive to research and study cultural and socio-political origins to reflect on the reasons for the behavior. This intellectual approach has helped me adapt to differences and communicate appropriately.
Advice #3: Be flexible in mind and spirit. Expose yourself to as many leisure and work experiences as you can. Learn from them, both in their successes and in their failures. Darwin showed us that it is not the strongest or the most intelligent species that survives, but rather the one that will be the most reactive to change, even anticipatory. Adaptability to its environment is a strength, a major asset. Be disruptive before you get disrupted by a third party! This will not only give you a head start, but above all a mastery of the situation for your own benefit.
Different experiences help you face unexpected challenges. Like playing chess, the more you play, the greater your ability to visualize a number of possibilities and choose the correct option for your next move. Taking this idea one step further, the more experience you have, the fewer mistakes you will make in the long run.
I have built my life path during my various professional experiences. Each of them, whether successful or unsuccessful, made me grow while building my resilience. Looking in the rearview mirror of my life, I observe each time the extent of my activities from the sale of pastries in the Amazonian schoolyard to the creation of my consulting company of international business development. My most important responsibilities have been successful thanks to the many small jobs that I was able to exercise before.
This journey has given meaning to my professional life, the remarkable journey of a child with an open ambition to travel the world fleeing poverty and the destiny of a Brazilian street child. The scars and tribulations of a teenage life having been pointed out by a gun, kidnapped and raped, only reinforced this extreme urge, even need, to get out and succeed.
Making a success of your life also means leaving your mark on it. It is having the intimate impression of having contributed to the benefit of someone, a cause, a company, or even a belief. As the sunset approaches, you can turn around and have this discreet pride in having accomplished your duty, in having had an important place that will have to be filled. No misplaced pride, no false modesty, just the pleasant feeling of a well-accomplished life.
As an example, let’s go through some stages of my professional life. Far from me the idea of making a benchmark, but just to illustrate my point and take the opportunity to thank a posteriori, all those who gave me my chance at some point in my life in a place on the planet.
I built my areas of expertise business after business. From market analyzes of a European telecommunications operator, to the business development of a Chinese investment plan, I was by no means trained for issues so outsized to colossal volumes. I have carried out more than twenty missions of such scale as a self-employed person in my consulting company. Cooperation with large managers or within world-class industries gradually builds trust and provides a feeling of great satisfaction once the mission is fully accomplished.
But beyond professional skills there is a key ability that has been decisive in my entire career and for all of my responsibilities, without any exception. This ability is the ability to adapt, to understand the professional environment and its entire ecosystem. It has been one of the most determining elements of all my professional success. It can be innate in some people but very often remains the result of long work and formative errors. There is no training or education to master this art, there is no easy way or shortcut to get there.
Advice #4: Never expect anything in return for what you give. It would put you in a relationship with the other that you can be a prisoner of. A gift of oneself or the offer of a service can only be a one-sided act if it really comes from the heart. The expectation of a bargaining chip would be contradictory to the donor act. Your benevolence or your altruism must be natural and not forged.
The path that leads to the terminal station of your life must be littered with these gifts which give it real meaning.
Whoever you are, whatever your social status, you have all the capacities and means to offer a part of your generosity, of your time. A look, a word, a hug, are all ways of transmitting energy, sometimes saving.
Life is never in vain when you offer a part of yourself to others, whatever its form. This will give you a great proof of satisfaction, even making you feel the soul of a champion and warrier.
Each of us must rediscover our capacity, our will to do so. Moreover, if this feeling is reciprocal between the 2 parts, they enrich each other and you will come out of it grown.
A life is never in vain when you do things for others. It makes you feel good and ultimately makes you a winner. You alone have the capacity, the will. And if, on the way of life, you meet someone who has a different approach to life, enrich each other, you will come out of it grown. It means ethics.
Advice #5: If you think you have no opportunities open to you, create one. When you’re looking to get on the career ladder, applying for a job with no experience can appear daunting – but with a bit of tenacity and determination, you can still recover the right opportunity.
When I was 21, I already knew a lot about cars, but only in theory. I wanted more, so I decided to work in car sales. After going to several car dealerships and distributing my resume, I was given the chance to work as a car salesperson at Volkswagen, who opened the door to the dreams of a girl who appeared fragile but who had a lot of determination. In three months, I learned a lot of new things and applied my knowledge successfully to help customers.
With the change in the control of the company, I received an invitation to work in a vehicle dealership in which the vehicles were powered by diesel. At the time, the concept was niche, and the dealership was even more male-dominated than the last. Still, I accepted the challenge, and I was the first woman to hold a salesperson position at the store and began selling 4×4 vehicles. At first, some customers were puzzled by my familiarity with the cars, knowledge of their technical aspects, and strong selling points.
To enrich my knowledge and sales potential, I orchestrated a strategy: to break the barrier between the shop and the garage, which exists in most dealerships. I sought the technical knowledge of mechanics and helpers to break this blockade, which was not easy. When I was faced with maintenance that I was unfamiliar with, they informed me of how to perform it, so I learned more and more. In this way, I became sophisticated and exceptional salesperson to with customers because I was familiar with their problems and how to solve them.
Besides having determination and focusing on what I wanted, another important factor that gave me the self-confidence to challenge and further develop myself in this very difficult job environment was my passion for motorsports; all of these things enabled me to achieve my objective to learn about cars. I have also experienced races and followed motorsports races, especially Formula 1, with passion for my entire life.
Life is a system balanced between learning and evolution. Remember that the best is the enemy of the good and that it is better to focus on the deliverable than on the perfection. If you keep hoping to be perfect, then what you want to do will in fact never happen. Everything difficult is difficult because you believe it is so; you are what you think.
Advice #6: Life is short. Don’t waste your time on earth explaining everything you do or why you do it. A very large majority of people understand what they want to understand and especially what is right for them. Focus on self-awareness, be positive, and do concrete and constructive things.
Do not harm and move forward in life looking straight ahead.
Advice #7: Be a good perfume; they last much longer and are unforgettable. The most beautiful and unique perfumes in the world are made from natural essences. They are strong because they contain original substances from rare plants and flowers. The best perfumes are not measured by price. It is their unique essence that makes them valuable, like you.
Just like perfume, your personality, honesty, integrity, humility, and other qualities are rare essences. There are no guarantees that your unique composition will be successful one day, but you can use your natural abilities to reject prejudice, greed, and other cruel inequities.
My wise dad had a lot more advice to give, but this last bit of wisdom has become my favorite. I lost this wonderful man on December 21, 2015, orphan for the second time, but I often feel his presence near me. We have often laughed and smiled together and it always gives me that effect when he reminds me: “If you have a problem and the problem has a solution, don’t worry because everything will be fine.” If you have a problem and the problem does not have a solution, don’t worry because there is nothing you can do about it.” It may seem out of date, but we tend to worry too much, to worry about every situation without sometimes knowing why.
In the meantime, never stop smiling because a smile can be magical and do magic on yourself and on others.
There’s never a day I do not think about this amazing wise man, and he helps me even though he is not here anymore. I do not remember how many gifts he offered me, but I remember perfectly all the times he stopped what he was doing to give me his time. Time is the greatest gift, the greatest proof of love, the best investment that anyone can offer. It is a rare perfume that money cannot buy sometimes but anyone can offer, always, whether he is poor or rich.
My achievements have been accompanied by sacrifices and bad experiences.
I have met good people and cruel people. Both types have contributed to my personal growth and how I view the world, both have shaped my personality. Good people have helped me to understand the importance of love and have served as an inspiration throughout my life. Cruel people have taught me to be a fighter, defending my opinion and my existence. Most important, they have fostered a determination to make my things happen as I wanted.
I have not achieved all of my goals yet; I may or may not, but I know that whatever happens is up to me. Life is made in moments; one day, everything can be fine, but, on another day, everything can be hard. Experiences are what life is about. You need goals to keep yourself going, and you need difficult moments to learn more about yourself. If you lose faith in yourself, you could lose everything.
Having a career in a foreign country can be a challenge. This requires knowledge of the country you live in, including its culture, language, and local customs. We need to define a clear strategy and set realistic but ambitious goals. Anything is possible when you take the first step and make a decision, your decision.
I have had the privilege of working with amazing people from leading industries, some of whom are presidents, directors, politicians or other sheikhs.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that happiness isn’t a place or an endgame. Happiness is the path you take each day to get there. It requires a lot of attention and self-knowledge. It requires a great open-mindedness and an ability to take a step back from difficult situations in order to make the most of them and make them your asset.
Sometimes, it’s not easy to find the motivation to get out of bed, but think about doing something or not is the first step. What good is it to you if you don’t take action to achieve what you believe in? To motivate yourself to start your day, you need to have a goal that you are passionate about to get the energy and determination to go; otherwise, you are making the choice to survive instead of thrive. You will only discover how strong you are and how far you can go if you try.
If you’re doing what you want to do in life, that’s success!
Ana Paula Araujo Mendes
Many thanks to:
I dedicate this article to my father, one of the smartest and most honest people I have met in this world,
he was not perfect, but he was the perfect father for me, the best father in the world.
Audran Sazier – Photography