Oh, that sweet-sweet-bittersweet irony we call life!
Life is a funny thing, isn’t it? It is truly a funny business. Little did we know, when we started this once-in-a-lifetime story, that our chapters will go by in the blink of an eye. We are so eager to grow up in our younger years, only to face the inevitable reality as we get older, that life was all along slipping through our fingers.
Countless are the metaphors we use to describe life –as if living should necessarily have a meaning. I have heard a happy few enthusiasts refer to life as a precious gift we should always be grateful for. Surprisingly enough, it is often the poor unfortunate souls, those who have the least, who appreciate the most the simplest ‘gifts’ life has to offer. Others advocate life is a journey, a destination; a series of experiences that will either break or make us. For some people also, life is a chance, a choice, a blank canvas we paint with all the colors we want.
These are only a few concepts that popped into my head. I’m pretty sure you have yours. But whether you believe life is a blessing or a curse, whether you feel you are drawn to life by your free will or by a mystic force, whether you are paving your own path or fulfilling your destiny, one thing remains undeniable: you’d better buckle up because you’re in for a crazy ride!
Like many great allegories I grew up with –Mother Nature, Eugène Delacroix’s masterpiece vision of Liberty or Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic– my life embodies a female figure. But she is not your average female allegory. She doesn’t quietly stand still, holding a torch, a flag or whatnot. She couldn’t care less about winning you over with her charm.
No, she is definitely not another pale classic representation of the ideal female beauty. My life is very much alert and alive.
It turns out my life is actually my puckish bosom friend and she likes to play pranks on me. Our relationship is probably no different from the one you might have with your bestie. We laugh, cry, and share many incredible moments. I also get mad at her at times when she is totally unfair. We have been through so much together –the good, the bad and the ugly moments– but the best is yet to come! Even though I was not given a choice to be introduced to my life, things worked out pretty great for us. I truly embraced her with all my heart, just as much as she believed in me from the get-go, and she has been pushing me forward ever since.
So, yes, I’m a die-hard believer that lucky are those who are constantly challenged by life. Unstoppable are those who find it in them to turn those challenges into opportunities and accomplish things they thought impossible at first. This is the reason why I cherish my life so much. I never stop learning from her, because she never stops teaching.
You see, one the latest lessons my bosom friend taught me recently is that I too can start my own business. I didn’t learn this lesson overnight. I didn’t just wake up one day and out of the blue decided to create my company on the spot. My bosom friend was very slick about it. She prepared me for it. She taught me the importance of knowing my worth. She encouraged me to embrace myself and let the real me shine. She challenged me to take chances and be resilient when things got tough.
You might also have a friend or two in your life –I call them ‘ear whisperers’– who always have your best interest in mind and literally put ideas in your head. “Hermine, why don’t you buy your apartment instead of renting?” or “You should start your own business, this is the perfect opportunity and you can totally do it.” Those ideas started off as dreams. Dreams turned into baby steps, and baby steps into accomplishments.
As cliché as it may sound, my road to success has not been a straight one.
I know success is such a relative concept, but whatever it means to you, just be aware that the road to success is rather a blurry one, paved with failures and disappointments. To spice things up, there are no shortcuts or easy ways out. When at a life crossroads, difficult decisions have to be made, even if it means choosing to pursue a lonely journey for a little while.
So I tried, failed at times, learned my lessons, bounced back, got smarter and came back stronger. The key for me has always been focusing on the long-term goals and doing things I am truly passionate about. Short-term goals got readjusted along the way as things got clearer and I acquired more life experience. Having a vision truly provides something to strive for. Then all the speed bumps, setbacks, struggles, doubts, failures or detours we encounter are just temporary difficult moments we will eventually overcome. Even in my most dreadful moments, I keep moving towards a higher purpose. I’m one of those individuals who need to constantly keep going. Once I achieve a goal, I’m already focusing on the next one.
But in this ongoing road to success, things are not always all bad either.
It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Yes, there are obstacles along the way, but I have also bumped into many extraordinary people who came into my life unexpectedly, for a short period of time or for the long haul. They gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘gratitude’. They saw something in me, believed in me and helped me widen my horizons. To my loved ones, my school teachers, my friends, my fellow entrepreneurs, my wonderful acquaintances, and even those who crushed my dreams or gave me a hard time in life… I say THANK YOU! Thank you for the hand you gave, the shoulders you offered to lean on, the education and values you passed on, the inspirations you were, the opportunities you created, the ideas you whispered, the doors you closed so I learned to knock open others with bigger, greater opportunities.
Now let’s get practical about my road to success, shall we? Growing up, I wanted to become a writer. I was literally in love with the language of Molière –and I still am by the way! French is such a refined language… just close your eyes for a second, and picture Chimène in Corneille’s Le Cid telling to her lover Rodrigue –who by the way just killed her father– “Va, je ne te hais point !” (“Go, I hate you not!”). Wouldn’t you agree it is more dramatic and powerful than if she had said the plain old “I love you!”? This famous French litote is simply music to my ears. And so were some of my favorite novels and poetry collections, ranging from Les Odes (Pierre de Ronsard) to Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart series.
Yet, I slowly abandoned these fantasy lands for the real world I was living in: our beautiful planet Earth. By discovering new cultures, experiencing or witnessing social injustices, and just in general being interested in world news, I then decided to become a reporter. I no longer wanted to write fictional stories.
I wanted to give a voice to those who don’t have one simply because they happen to live on the wrong side of the world.
Many were the battles I wanted to fight for, many were the worthy causes I wished I could bring to light. I felt a reporter’s mission was to tell the untold. Journalism was my means to not only use my pen and write these stories but also capture them in images and show them to the world. So at 14, I managed to get my first internship –a one-week, unpaid internship– at the newspaper division of my hometown city hall, hoping to know more about this job.
The next year, I met with a careers adviser in high school who crushed that dream after only talking with me for 5 minutes. Apparently, a teenage girl living in la banlieue parisienne, –not the richest suburb of Paris– and who was attending a school listed as a ZEP (aka ‘Zones d’Education Prioritaire’, which stands for ‘Priority Education Zones’) couldn’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t dream of becoming a reporter. For those who are not familiar with France’s educational system, former ZEP schools – now rebranded REP schools for ‘Réseaux d’Education Prioritaire’, which stands for ‘Priority Education Networks’– are located in disadvantaged neighborhoods and are given extra resources to experiment with new teaching projects. It didn’t matter to that so-called careers adviser that my high school class was a pilot project the city started that same year, comprising only of the very best students in my town and chosen by merits.
Another thing she didn’t care less about: my motivations! No. Once I opened that door and started inquiring about careers’ advices on how to become a journalist, all I could hear was that I should give up that dream and start thinking about a more realistic path for me. 5 minutes. Literally 5 minutes is all it took her to crush my dream without giving me anything else to hold on to.
Two things I took from this experience:
– One, it reinforced my conviction to never let someone else define me and tell me what I was capable of.
– Two, I came to a chilling realization that day that knowledge is power.
I will spare you the details, but long story short, I got a Master’s degree from a French business school, became a passionate Marketing professional with international experience in France, Canada and the US. In 2012, I discovered a new passion for cooking right after joining a French kitchen appliance group.
Guess what, I’m now a brand voice, a story teller. Didn’t I tell you, when I started this blog post that life is a funny thing? Instead of writing novels with fictional characters, I bring brand stories to life in different platforms, on and offline. What a great joy it is to be paid to do what we are actually passionate about! It gets even better when this passion allows you to make a difference.
When I created B4brand, my consulting agency, the reporter in me, that teenage girl who desperately wanted to change the world, found a way to make an impact by not compromising her now grown-up convictions. B4brand helps companies in the foodservice industry –from kitchen appliance manufacturers to restaurants and food companies– reach their marketing goals.
I’m a firm believer that we are what we eat. As a Marketing Consultant, I chose to only work with brands that truly embody that conviction; brands that really strive to offer healthy food experiences to their consumers. By selecting the companies I work with, by ensuring their brand identities are in line with my principles, I truly feel good about my work. I still fight for my other causes, but just not as a reporter though.
Since every good tale ends with a moral conclusion, here’s mine. Wait for it… The day I became an entrepreneur is the day I embraced my bosom friend. It’s the day I embraced myself.
Being an entrepreneur has never been about creating a company. Sure, I took a leap of faith in myself by starting a new career as a self-employed Marketing Consultant, but only to realize that all along, I have always believed in myself. All this time, I was already the entrepreneur of my own life.
Thanks for the lesson, my bosom friend!
“Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor”. ~ Sholem Aleichem
[…] founder and Cohort 2 participant Hermine Mbondo was inspired by her own “puckish bosom friend” – the embodiment of her own life spirit – to walk away from the corporate job that had […]