Some years ago at the BBC, there was this guy I worked with, who was really smart, and technically very good, but often had terrible personal skills. And occasionally – which is still far too often – he would be utterly unacceptably rude to his colleagues, using not persuasion and collaboration but aggression and anger to make his point. Then, he moved on, to go and work for one of the giant companies of the Internet, working in Silicon Valley, I believe. A little while later, we heard that he’d basically been fired from there, because his temper had exploded once too often (perhaps only once, I don’t know), and they just weren’t going to put up with his shit. And when this story reached us back in the UK, it was hard to have much sympathy for his plight.
I often wondered, as I went to work at the BBC, when I would leave there. I knew that I would, one day. I didn’t know when, and I didn’t know where I’d go. I certainly didn’t expect the answer to be Denmark – and yet here I am! Sitting, as I type this up, outside at a street café on Godthåbsvej, Frederiksberg – a trendy area just out from the city centre. And in fact the area that I stayed in, in an Airbnb, on my very first visit to this country, just over a year ago.
First steps in a new land
I did the interview for this job, and signed the contract, back in October. And I remember my friend aimee saying to me then that she was worried that I’d let the challenges of moving here get on top of me, but that she’d be there to help, and to tell me that it was temporary, that the problems would pass. So I quit my job at the BBC, and moved over here in the middle of January. And of course one of the first things I did, was look for a place to live.
My employer, as part of their relocation support package, provided me with a flat, for free, for 4 weeks. The plan was that I’d move over here, into that flat, then start my job two weeks later. And at some point within those first four weeks, I’d find my own place, then move there. And so on about my third or fourth day in Denmark, I began to look for places to live.
Here comes mistake #1: For whatever reason, I chose badly. I also chose quickly, within a day or two, which I suspect is part of why I chose badly. I probably should have taken my time.
I very quickly realised – even before I moved in – that I had made a bad choice. The room was small, but that’s manageable. It’s right next to the motorway, i.e. one of the noisiest places in the whole city – which is OK as long as you keep the windows shut and don’t let the noise in. But as the weather gets warmer, I’m going to want to open the windows more. I would say the view’s not great either, but as it happens, the window in my bedroom is small and high up, so I can’t see the view unless I stand on a box. But perhaps worst of all is: the only space I have is my room, and the bathroom and kitchen, which I share with the landlady and the other tenant. There’s no lounge to relax in. Well there is a lounge, but it’s for the landlady only, not the tenants. So apart from a rather uncomfortable chair at the dining table, I literally have nowhere to sit, other than the toilet, the floor, or my bed.
And I recognised this very quickly, that I’d made a bad choice, and precisely why it sucked. And I said to myself: that’s OK, I can deal with this. In a few months, I’ll move to somewhere better. The worst thing I can do, is become unhappy, and not do anything about it. I had recognised the problem.
A problem festering is a problem shared
Meanwhile I had started my job, and tried to settle in, and yes there were a few problems, such as the canteen is really noisy, but basically it’s OK and I like it.
Fast forward almost two months, to this week. The boss of the Copenhagen office, and the Copenhagen HR representative, called me in for a catch-up meeting: to review how things are going, after two months at work, and with one more month before my probation period is up. And they were, thankfully, very honest with me. Tech skills: great. Mood and personal skills: terrible. And if that doesn’t improve enough before the three months is up, I’m out.
So yeah: I had let myself become so unhappy with my home situation, and with (perceived) problems at work, that my moods were all over the place, I was often upset, I didn’t take part properly with my colleagues, and basically, it wasn’t fucking good enough.
What was that I said earlier? “The worst thing I can do, is become unhappy, and not do anything about it.”. So that was mistake #2: that is exactly what I’d done.
Remember that guy who moved to Silicon Valley, then got fired? Don’t be that guy.
The very next day, it was like someone had just flipped a switch somewhere, from “Really fucked off” to “Happy”. Or like the fucked-off version of me – which I like to think of as an impostor, because the real me is happy – had taken my place, and kept showing up to work and pissing off my colleagues, and was on track to getting me fired – and now me, the happy me, the real me, had busted her, and was turning up to work instead. The difference was as night and day. A metaphor which, by the way, I note works less and less well, the nearer you get to the polar regions.
I left work, felt much more positive than I had in a long time – then fretted a little because my hair looked shit and I can’t take a decent selfie to save my life. So I thought: why not get your hair fixed, then? Go to a hairdresser. Address the problem. And so I did (I’ve made an appointment for next week). See a problem; see a solution; check nothing’s blocking that solution; implement the solution.
So why had I been so moody at work? Basically, anxiety. What was I anxious about? In no particular order:
– That my tech skills weren’t good enough; that I wasn’t productive enough. That I couldn’t solve the (tech) problems that I was being given;
– that I didn’t speak much Danish at work, therefore I would never be any good at Danish;
– that I was unhappy with my home situation;
– and probably some other stuff that I’ve forgotten right now.
Tech skills: well that “review” meeting had laid that one to rest: they straight out told me that on that part, I’m doing just great. So thanks, impostor syndrome, but no thanks.
Danish: while it’s true that I’d prefer to have more opportunities to speak Danish, and to be more immersed in the language, and only rarely use English – the idea that I’ll never be any good at Danish is basically bollocks, simply because lots of people have already told me that my Danish is really impressive. So for fuck’s sake, impostor syndrome, can you just knock it off??? Mange tak.
Home situation: OK, so this one is true. But you know what? We can fix that.
So basically I’d worried over mostly non-existent problems, but that worrying had caused me to become very unhappy and moody, and that caused real problems. Such as being one month away from being fired. Obviously, the lying brainweasels are to blame.
Until last summer, I had spent 25 years or so living with Nicky. Then we separated, and I moved to London – at the age of 45, I lived by myself, for the first time ever. And I really enjoyed that. Then when I moved to Denmark, I took a chance, on living with the landlord/landlady. So I’d have someone to share my day with, and chat with in Danish. Well, it didn’t work out this time. So now, I’m going to go back to what I know: renting a flat, for myself.
I made enquiries. I booked some viewings. And I’ve just, a couple of hours ago, had the first viewing, which is why I’m writing this now, from a street cafe in Frederiksberg.
It was a 2nd floor flat, in a lovely quiet part of Frederiksberg, and around 50 minutes’ walk to work. Large windows facing in opposite directions. A small balcony. Bathroom, kitchen, a lounge, and three (e.g.) bedrooms. And it was fucking huge, and I could comfortably afford it.
I left there, and I was surprised how emotional – in a good way – I felt. I had started to forget what it could feel like, to live somewhere quiet, and peaceful, and with space and light. I had started to become accustomed to my prison, and think it was shit but inescapable – and this now reminded me that no, that’s not true, I don’t have to put up with this. I can do better. I owe it to myself to do better – and I owe it to my colleagues to be happier.
As I walked away, I also thought to myself: “What was the worst thing about that place?”.
Was it perhaps that it’s still being renovated, so there are building materials everywhere, and it won’t be ready for another month? No, not that. Perhaps that it was too big? Well, maybe it is too big, but that’s not the worst thing. Perhaps that it’s the first place I’ve seen? Ah, … no, not quite.
No, the worst thing is: I haven’t seen any other places yet. So I shan’t immediately ring up and say YES TAKE MY MONEY, because although I want to get a place soon, I’m not in so much of a hurry that I can’t do a few more viewings and start to narrow the choices down.
So tomorrow, I’m going to view two more flats – another in Frederiksberg (but not especially nearby to the first), and one in central Copenhagen. And maybe I’ll say “yes” to one of those, or maybe I won’t.
I can see what I have to do, and I’m taking steps to improve things. Haircut? Check. Finding a better place to live? Check. Not being a massive dick at work? Check (but “not being a dick” is not a one-off event, it’s an ongoing requirement).
I knew that setting up life here in Denmark wouldn’t all be easy; and I’m sorry that I allowed a relatively small, easily-solvable problem to get out of control, and become not only a threat to my current and future happiness, but to bring down my colleagues at work, too. Det var meget, meget dårligt af mig, og jeg er oprigtigt ked af det. 😔
Nu er mine øjne åbent, og jeg kan se vejen ligeud. Jeg ved, hvad skal gøres. Så begynder jeg, igen, at bygge et liv for mig selv. Og jeg ved, at jeg kan løse nogen problemer.