Courage to Create an Unconventional Path
Dr Sophie Haspeslagh has, like many expats, led a very unconventional life. And, like many expats, she made it look easy — when it really wasn’t.
She finished her PhD while on maternity leave, met with armed leaders in countries in conflict, moved around the globe with babies, all the while pursuing her interest in counterterrorism education.
She’s an assistant professor at the University of Cairo and has recently published a new book, Proscribed Peace: How Listing Armed Groups as Terrorists Hurts Negotiations.
people, life, sophie, living, cairo, feel, move, learning, challenges, happened, children, friends, question, decide, bit, moment, necessarily, career, place, self confidence
Hello fellow global nomads. Welcome to this episode where I have the great pleasure to welcome Sophie to the stage. So welcome Sophie to Love Your Expat Life.
Hey Caroline, always great to be online with you today.
Such a pleasure. I am very excited that you are here with us today. And let me present you. You are currently living in Cairo with your family. You have young children, and you are an assistant professor to the American University in Cairo. And you focus on the impact of counterterrorism on conflict resolution and the transition of armed actors away from violence. And you recently published a book for ascribing peace, how listing armed groups as terrorists hurts negotiations. Congratulations, Sophie,
thank you so much, Caroline. It was quite a long time coming. It’s a, it’s a book that comes out of my PhD. So I’ve been working on it for quite a lot of years. So it was really meaningful for me, for it to come out, especially that it came out in September, which was the 20th anniversary of 911, which is the big topic of my book. So I was glad that I managed to come out in time for that anniversary.
Yeah, when done and it is becoming a really important beat for social scientists. I read some reviews from some professor who we went, Well, you, you took those classes. And it was just great to just see the reviews of your books, and your research becoming, you know, a reference for peace practitioners. And it’s very impressive. And so you, you, you also had incredible access. During your research, you’ll talk a little bit about that I’m not going to just like give it all away at the beginning like this, but you went into remote places in Colombia to meet armed groups after your masters. So you did incredible things, Sophie, and you received a number of awards for your research. And if it was me, I would give you an extra I would review another award, the one to finish a PhD refer to maternity leave in the middle in the time that most people take anyway to do their PhD. And so and also not just that, while you were doing your PhD with two young babies, you also moved around the globe, you went to Tunisia, you went to Cairo, your husband is a journalist. And so he was posted there. And you followed him in that sense. And so you’ve been living in many, many places, Ajay, Bogota, Brussels, London, Rome. And you’ve done like, you have had like your own path, it seems like, one thing that I would love to discuss in this episode is that, as I’ve been knowing you for many years now, you’ve always strike me as someone who does things with ease with joy, and with a lot of humor. And in this episode, I want to talk about also how that has helped you overcome some of the challenges you faced, and not small ones even. And I really would like to talk about, you know, the sort of like independent way of thinking, because I really see how it can be interesting for people who are listening to us to see a young, successful woman who lives in the Arab world, teach on counterterrorism, and just not necessarily do what is conventionally accepted or done into this, this new space sometimes where we don’t necessarily have the opportunity to go after one streams and be an impact of change, like you are. Sophie. So that’s sort of like what I want to discuss today. How does that sound?
That sounds great. Thanks so much. I’m know I’m slightly lost for words, with your introduction. I think sometimes, you know, it makes it sound like you think so sometimes, when you know, when you don’t know someone and you hear about what they’ve done and achieved and it sounds like oh, wow, how did they do that? And, you know, it makes it sound easy. But in a way, you know, I think like with everyone, you need a sort of a village around you right to be able to do what you want to be doing and, and kind of follow your dreams and your aspiration and you Kalin and lots of other people have been part of my village. So I’m really grateful to be on your podcast today, and yeah, looking forward to this conversation.
Thanks. So let’s start with the beginning. Sophie, you are born in Belgium? And I would say, um, but you might disagree, you’re gonna tell me I would say that you have a tendency to disregard conventions, and live a life that’s truly yours. So is it something that you think you’re born with? Or is it something that you saw in your upbringing that you developed later in life? I’m curious.
I think so. I’m just a small correction, Cambodian, I was actually born in France, but yes, definitely Belgian. But, yes, I think it’s, it’s funny that you say that, because I never really thought of myself as unconventional. But I definitely always had a really strong sense of, I guess you could describe it to almost a social justice, or also gender justice, even as a very small child. So I remember in my kindergarten, that there was a play area that was only for girls. And as you know, me, you might not be surprised, I was a little bit of a tomboy. And so I had a lot of friends were boys, and they weren’t allowed in this play area. And I was constantly questioning why that was. And and so I found an old letters between my teacher and my mother discussing this. And so my mother, being a good feminist, decided to back me up on this one and wrote wondering why the boys were excluded from these particular spaces. And the response was that girls needed a sort of quiet space where just they could play without, you know, having the raucous, boisterous boys around, you know, really going into the stereotypes of how a boy or girl behaves. And I guess even I was probably five at that time. And I had the sense that it was kind of not fair, you know, and that they were boys who just wanted to play, you know, potentially with dolls, or girls a bit more like me who wanted to be more raucous and, you know, play football. And so there’s a whole exchange of letters, which I reread a, you know, many years later. And basically, that was my first I think, advocacy success, because of me raising it, and my mother pushing for it, basically, they ended up installing a, like a rotation system, where there were times where boys and girls were allowed in the girls dollhouse as it were, and then they still decided to keep some particularly quiet time for girls. So it wasn’t a full success. But yeah, I guess you’re right. Maybe it was a seed early on, to kind of go against what I felt was maybe? And just I guess, maybe, yeah,
I mostly just takes a lot of courage, you know, at that age, you can imagine to just speak up for yourself and just question something that seems not questionable by many actually, you know, a rule is a rule is a kindergarten at the end of the day. So it says, I would say a lot, maybe about how you look at things and what you see and how you think. And I’m curious to find out, you know, what, not following the path of everyone else has given you in life, you think,
I think sometimes when you go out of the trodden path, which I did, for instance, later, when I was 18, and I went to study in the, in the United Kingdom, where I didn’t have, you know, any family or cultural links or anything like that. And just because I kind of got it into my head, but that’s where I wanted to study and I wanted to study in English. And it was really hard. But then I, my feeling is that once you overcome your first big challenge, and often when you moving around globally, that tends to be a challenge, because you’re dealing with culture shock, you’re dealing with different norms, values, expectations, you question yourself, where you’re from, etc. I think once you’ve managed to make your whole there, make friends, you feel like you’ve got that strength in you, that just allows you to take a you know, your suitcases, and, and really, you know, go wherever you want, because you know, that you’re going to make a life for yourself, you know, wherever you do end up and I think, you know, if you’ve had kind of early experiences of that, and I can imagine that lots of young people, you know, in Europe through the Erasmus program, or, you know, a study abroad or all of these things, I think are amazing experiences for young people. Because they really teach you, you know, to create a life for yourself, where you might not have necessarily been born or you know, expected to stay
either what you’re saying and you know, what, what’s happened with you during those early years when you went abroad? Did you then decide that this was he wanted to have the sort of nomadic lifestyle or how did you open up yourself? What is the sort of global lifestyle that you embraced? Since that moment?
You think? Yeah, I don’t know, actually, I think maybe I wasn’t, I always felt. Because then obviously, you know, I met you during our master’s program in Bologna in Italy moving around. And I remember quite strongly that after that, I had this idea that I wanted to go back to Europe and be near my family, and, you know, maybe have more roots, because maybe I, I wasn’t so rooted. And sometimes I kind of envied people who maybe had a stronger connection to their local place. But in actual fact, I think it was kind of already quite hard, hardwired in me. And I think, you know, obviously, it depends what life brings you. And I think I met a partner, my husband, who, you know, Aiden, and who’s also always been very drawn to living in different places, getting to the bottom of them, understanding them, like learning lots of languages, you know, he’s an Englishman, but he learns, he learns a lot of languages. And I found that really inspiring and, you know, and then we continued learning languages together. And then, you know, we move to Algeria, where he learned French, you know, which was kind of my main language, and then he got into Arabic, and then I started learning Arabic, you know, and so I find it really inspiring actually, to have that curiosity to learn about different places. But it’s also so nice when you get to go back to places you’ve been. So I remember these six months, I spent back in Washington with Yuka, when we both had our little ones, and that was complete joy. You know, also, these are the families that you make, along the way, right? And friends become like family, and then you meet them again, and it’s almost a little bit like going home as well, like, man, now you’re back in Washington, and you might be feeling some of these things as well. So I think it gives it gives me that feeling sometimes that even though yes, you know, maybe it’s not conventional, in the way that I’m not necessarily bound to a place. I feel that I both bring my family along with me as in my direct family, but also, I feel like I have family and friends in so many different places that, you know, I can feel at home there as well.
You can feel at home there. Yeah. And you know, one question I often ask when I have guests coming on the podcast, is where is home for you? You talked about the fact that you envied people who had roots, and you didn’t necessarily felt like you had? I wonder why that is? And whether, you know, there now you feel like you have roots
somewhere? And yeah, it’s a good question. I think I so being Belgian, but born in France, right and raised in France, I felt very much, you know, you have this model in France, that you should integrate really right, and society, like wherever you’re from, and you’re immigrating. And then you sort of become French, right. So that really worked with me, like I really became French. And if anybody used to ask me, I was French. And you know, I wanted nothing to do with Belgium. And even though Belgium is not so far, but my family’s Flemish speaking, it was a very different identity. You know, I was dragged by my family to go back often at the weekends go to family events, everything was in Flemish. So I felt a bit like this associated, you know, and but then I realized later on, once I left France, well, actually, no, you know what, I’m not French, not just because, you know, I’m kind of friendly, and have a sense of humor, but mainly because I’m just not, you know, my both my parents are not French. And so I’m a mix, I’m a melting pot, you know, of different influences. And now, you know, my first adult experience was in the UK, my husband’s British, I’ve been quite involved as well in work in the UK, and in trying to influence British politics. And now I’ve lived for quite a while, both in Latin America and the Middle East. So I just think that all these places influenced you in different ways. And so I feel, I don’t think I envy anymore. People who feel very rooted, like I can see the appeal of it. And I and I do hope that at some point for my children, I can give them maybe a period of stability, where they can themselves develop maybe an identity linked to a particular place, that would be quite important for me. But for me, as an adult, myself individually, home is, you know, where the people I love, basically, and they’re not always in the same place. And that’s the challenge with this kind of life, I
think. Yeah. And why do you think that you want to give them an identity where they feel connected to a particular place? When do you think that’s going to give them
I think it’s quite important to be involved in your sort of social environment, if that makes sense. So, I feel that sometimes when you move abroad, especially for children and Who are often in international schools and in a bit of a bubble, you know, with a lot of people from different nationalities, but maybe not always very connected to the place where they live in. And, you know, we’ve always tried our best to be connected and to speak the language and for the children as well. But it’s not always, you know, as easy for children, because they just want to be with their friends, and, you know, and do what their friends are doing. I think for me, and it’s just something that we discuss with my husband, and I’m not, you know, I don’t have a clear answer to this. But I do have sort of longing to be somewhere where they could, you know, just also just go to local school, you know, a neighborhood school and, and be with, you know, hang out with the kids in, in, in their neighborhood and, you know, understand the importance of community as well, you know,
and yeah, I’m just curious for you, is that what you like most with this lifestyle of moving around the world is? Is this sort of like belonging to your community, or is not necessarily something that you, you think much?
Now, I think what I like the most is, I think it’s just learning you do. And I think both Aiden and I have a similar character traits around, you know, being curious. I think a lot of Yeah, and that’s what’s great, when you move around, you also meet a lot of people who are curious, and especially when you’re living in places that are maybe less obvious, or sometimes a bit more challenging, or whatever, you know, I think you just learned so much about the place, but also about yourself. And I think often learning languages, is a huge Eye Opener door opener, you know, into another culture, another understanding of another place. And I have to say that that’s what I found the most challenging about living in Cairo, because my Arabic isn’t as good as say, you know, my French or Spanish. And so, you know, I can get by, but I really, I can’t slip into like conversations, you know, with friends, and develop a level of intimacy that you can, you know, in a language that you actually can master. And so, I do feel a sense of frustration, sometimes to have to switch into English or, you know, not mastering the language well enough. And I think I’ve, you know, just, I think that’s what I really enjoyed in Colombia is because Spanish, I sort of picked up more easily, because it is an easier language to learn if you speak, you know, French, and Italian or whatever, sort of Roman languages, Latin languages, that there I felt, you know, I wouldn’t necessarily say fluent, but you know, really able to connect socially, professionally, you know, in terms of humor, in terms of culture. And I just felt, you know, very, very connected. And I think that’s also why I’ve always gone back to that country, as well, in many forms, whether it was to work, or when I did my PhD research, you know,
let’s go there a little bit, Sophie, because that’s very interesting. And not everybody maybe get stuck yet, listening to us. So basically, you you are studying in Italy, and then in Washington, DC, and right after your master you, you decide to move to Colombia, so you are in love, your husband goes to Italy, but you move to Colombia, you know, you’re going to go gota and then not only that, you’re just by yourself in his office, and then you just go and interview the FARC. So tell us a little bit about that. That’s
way more glamorous than it was for Yeah. So you know, when you meet quite young, and remember how young we were. So I was 21 when I met Aiden, and I think, you know, we were both sort of quite determined about wanting to do things in our in our professional life, and, you know, grabbing opportunities, really, and, you know, when you’re at the beginning of your career, you don’t often have a choice to say no, because, you know, that’s kind of the option you’re given. So he had a fantastic option to, you know, work as a journalist in Rome. But obviously, Rome is not a straightforward place for somebody to find the first job and it wasn’t at the time, you know, sort of my area of work or expertise or anything like that. And so when I had the opportunity to go to Columbia, she neither of us hesitated, you know, he really encouraged me. And I decided to go for it. And I think in a way that’s kind of been a strength in a couple of over the years and I really think that if we hadn’t given each other that space and that you know, freedom as you if you like have being geographically separated for work, we might not be together today, because I think we’re both sort of quite an independent people. And now it wasn’t always easy. And I remember that year I spent, I think more time with his younger brothers strangely than with him because his younger brother was 17 and came for like a gap year in Colombia. So mainly to come fell to dancing with my friends. But I think, you know, once we, we sort of it worked out. And the point was that we always had this plan that we were going to be working and living together in the same place, right. So it’s not that we were just saying, Oh, let’s see what happens, you know, we were very committed to each other. And we started making these plans. And in the end, I joined him in Rome, for a period of about six months, where I was lucky enough to get a consultancy with the World Food Programme, which was very interesting for me, because it was a sort of first experience for the UN. But then when I got offered a job in, in Algeria, again, for the UN, for a different agency for UNDP, as a junior professional officer, through the government of Belgium, he encouraged me again, and told me, you know, we went there, but very much as a joint decision, and because it was a sort of a country where, you know, that was both Francophone and Arabic speaking, and it was a region we were both interested in. And so he managed to come as well. But he put he made himself freelance to be able to come and it was, it was very challenging, because he, you know, we waited for nine months for him to have a journalist visa, being a journalist in Algeria was very challenging. At the time, it still is, but in a way, going there in a way from my job actually ended up sparking his interest in what has become, you know, really important strand in his career, you know, he’s then gone on to be a journalist for the BBC, and then joining Reuters as a Libya, senior correspondent, and now he heads the bureau here in Cairo for Egypt and Sudan, right. So even though I’m the one who kind of initiated the move, and if she liked to the region, he’s the one who ended up really, you know, kind of soaking it up and learning Arabic properly and really getting fascinated. So you never really know what’s gonna come out. Right?
Yeah. And it seems, it seems that you embraced the unknown in a way that was both of you did. And I wonder whether under time, you remember having fears or doubt about it, because usually I refused was paralyzes us. And when we go to where’s our fears, that’s where we make magic happen, then we create more opportunities. And I just wonder whether you weren’t conscious at the time of taking risks for your careers or yourself and just going towards it any way if this was sort of a conscious decision to go towards your risk, because it’s something that in coaching is sort of a backbone of the methodology I use, and that is a part of coaching is to just recognize that it is going towards what is most uncomfortable that makes you grow? In a way? Yeah,
that’s a really good point. I think it’s putting yourself in challenging situations, I think makes you feel like you’re growing, you know, and that you’re, you’re you’re constantly learning and growing. And I think the point you’re making about fear really resonates. I think I was maybe quite Intrepid, if that’s the right word. You know, I was not someone who often held back. I never really thought so much about what people thought of knee or, you know, I kind of have this trust in that things are going to be right or in human nature, whatever. But it’s true that when, you know, there’s something as you know, quite dramatic that happened to me in Algeria, later on where when I was in a, in an attack, and that the first thing that that did to me is that it took away quite a lot of my courage, and that feeling that everything was going to be okay. And I shouldn’t fear you know, because it wasn’t all okay. And it was horrible. And I lost 17 colleagues, and I was lucky enough to live because of, I don’t know, luck and random circumstances. And a very big focus, I guess both of I don’t know, my work, I guess, to a certain extent on myself and, and our couple was and the work I’ve done since then, that happened in 2007. was for me to try and gain my courage again, you know, and trust myself again and not fear it. and feel like fear is actually something that holds not only holds you back, but it’s also it’s sometimes you’re fearing things because of a certain image of a place. So like, for instance, I’m really passionate about working on conflict resolution. And I’ve worked in a lot of contexts where you do have, you know, violence and armed violence. But actually, the way these countries are often seen outside is Oh, my God, what will you do there, it’s gonna be impossible, and it’s often very sort of Western. And it’s sometimes also under tainted by racism, and by certain ideas, you know, that are kind of pretty Neo colonial about a lot of places. And then what you realize is that when you when you live in places, even when you know, there is instability, or that people live, you know, people live, they love, they give birth they work. And, and that how you frame, you know, your own experience is what’s important. And so for me, that was a really big decision, when we decided to move back to the region. Years later, it was in 2000. And when was it 2015? I guess, when we move to Tunisia, and I had to sort of overcome some of these fears, saying, you know, do I really want to take my at the time Oscar was two years old, you know, somewhere where, you know, a bone may explode, or, you know, that sort of thing. But actually, I was like, Well, you know, what, that could happen anywhere, anytime. And that’s not how you lead your life. And so Clara was born in Tunisia, and you know, she was the best gift we could ever hope for. And, and I think, yes, I’ve reconciled myself with this idea, I think that you, you know, you need to, if you like, yes, move towards your fears, I think that’s a good point. And to some degree, embrace them.
And thank you for sharing that episode of your life. I imagine this, this is not easy. And just, I just want to take a moment here, because when something quite traumatic happens in the past, it is sometimes not easy, but it’s just the way we think about it is that what happened sort of define who we become and who we are. And there is sort of like, events that that has been extremely traumatic, and then we keep on very, you know, just having this nice experience, sort of like almost defining us. And what you explain, Sophie, which is super powerful for people who experience trauma and difficult situations in their life in general, is that you don’t have to let yourself define by what happened, you can actually decide to think about it in a way that brings you growth, and actually just makes you do certain things that you will never have done before. And I think you your experience is really interesting in that sense. Because by moving back towards maybe your place where you would put yourself at risk again, other things just came out your way in a different way. And what’s interesting is also the topic that you chose to focus in, on in your in your research as well.
Exactly. I mean, I think that’s, that’s the point you’re making, and I think you’re right is the way for me to overcome, you know, this trauma was almost to engage with it quite deeply. So what I was involved in was, you know, what you can describe as a terrorist attack. So, it was a car bomb, in the UN offices in Algiers that happened on the 11th of December 2007. And most of my realize, you know, now that most of my work since then, has been focused on trying to understand, you know, terrorism: is there such a thing as a terrorist? How do you differentiate the label and the act of violence? What does that mean for conflict resolution? You know, and, and I think it’s kind of been a fundamental driver, I think, in my intellectual journey, you know, and inquiry, but I think it’s also hasn’t been easy. So I think sometimes when you decide to choose that path of embracing in a way, or trauma or fear or whatever and working on it, it doesn’t mean that sometimes things happen, current events, whatever, and it can unsettle you or set you back or you know, but then every time you know, you grow stronger, and especially if in that journey, it turns into something really positive. And I think I was very lucky that when This happened to me, I was quite young, and I felt like you well, okay, I can either, in a way, sort of use it as an excuse, you know, to be like, people would understand why I want to, I don’t know, change tracks and just maybe focus and, you know, have kids and you know, I don’t know, give up on my career, or whatever it is, nobody would think lesser of me, you know, and nobody should. But I can also decide to embrace this and be like, Okay, I still want to do what I’m passionate about, but maybe in a different way, you know, in a way that that allows me to, to explore these questions, but maybe slightly less directly, doing the things right. And so that’s also why to a certain degree, I’ve also chosen a more academic path, to grapple with some of these puzzles and challenges, but maybe not so much always at the forefront, you know, of the action, if you like.
Yeah, you know, for sure. And so, I mean, you touched about it a lot, some of the challenges that you’ve been facing during that life abroad. But I just, I just wonder, you know, what you would like to share with people who are listening now, looking at the challenges that you faced, moving around and reinventing your career, sometimes having like to just make decisions not necessarily to follow and having long distance relationship, having to experience a terrorist attack everything that went without losing colleagues, like, all those challenges at one point, you know, they are also part of who you are today. And I just wonder, what lessons would your younger self give you today? When you look back?
I don’t know. I mean, a very basic one is never to lose your sense of humor? You know, I would say, and for me, Humor has helped a lot. And I always make, often my question in a dramatic situation is, you know, is it too early to make a joke? I think, generally, it shouldn’t be, you know, sometimes it is, though, but I think humor helps a lot along the way, and not taking oneself too seriously, in that way, you know, I think is key. I’ve been reminded, you know, of the passing of Desmond Tutu recently, and how an incredible figure, he was not just in South Africa, but across the world. And, you know, listening back to some of his interviews, and just, you know, the humor he had and how he didn’t take himself seriously. And I just like that, it’s just such an inspiration, I think, you know, but one thing I would want to share is that I have found challenging, and I’m sure you know, many of your listeners who are often in dual career couples, you know, moving around globally, across the world, and I’ve discussed with, you know, many friends, you others, female and male friends, is that, I think, generally speaking already, in our day and age, having two careers, when you have children can be incredibly challenging. But when you move around with two careers, it can add a whole other layer can add a huge layer on the relationship, and I think almost the relationship needs to be, you know, stronger. Like, I think it’s incredibly hard to move around if your relationship isn’t strong. And I think you sometimes see that, you know, when relationships collapse, because I think the base has to be really strong to be able to take on sometimes these challenges. And the other thing is about, like, being really clear about your expectations on both sides, you know, but for me, it was a lot of making more explicit things that I thought would be obvious, but maybe you weren’t right. And also, maybe not falling into the stereotypes, you know, being feminist in my thinking, you know, thinking, Okay, why is it that I’m putting myself in this position? Why is it that I’ve internalized that I’m the one who should be doing X, Y, or Zed, you know, questioning that pushing myself as well, you know, and also sometimes questioning my partner by that. And I think sometimes, you know, you also have to see life as, hopefully a very long and beautiful story. And sometimes, you know, you can’t have everything all at once at the same time. And so I felt very much along the way that there were moments Yes, where I definitely maybe put myself as you call it in parenthesis, right? Or if I was, you know, that whole period of the PhD and having two kids was very tough. And, you know, I cried so much on my graduation day, because, you know, it was an achievement that I sometimes wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish it. But it was an investment in myself during a period when I was also investing You know, in our family, right? And so these were very conscious choices that particular times. And that made sense, you know, it might not make sense for everyone, but weren’t always easy, but I always knew Yes, but that’s a moment in life. And then after that, you know, now I’m, I’m doing the job that I’ve been trained for, and I’m loving it. And you know, it’s a huge joy to be teaching young people. But, you know, at the moment, my partner’s job is the one that’s sort of defining where we’re living, you know, and so, hopefully, at some point, there’s going to be a switch there as well. And, you know, maybe my job might define more where we’re geographically located, I don’t know. But I think the important thing is, is that sometimes when couples move around, and one ends up in the lead, and then ends up also, you know, maybe with a better conditions and bigger salary, and so it becomes almost a self fulfilling prophecy, right? Because the other one can’t suddenly say, Okay, well, I’m in the lead now, and, you know, I’m going to be paid hourly, and you know, where are we going to live, like, it just seems crazy, right and insane. But if you can, and it’s easy to say, like that, but if you can, you know, really try and, you know, if that’s what you’re after, you know, find ways, where you think about your life, in more global terms, you know, like that, you’re gonna have time that there is a moment for everything you know, and that you try and invest in yourself in your, in your family and in your, in your relationship. And, and try and, and make sure that you find the, your fire, your passion, the thing that is your, you know, you you will want to move forward on, right, and I find it so inspirational. Now, I’m hearing some of my mom’s friends, you know, who’ve gone back into work at the age of 60. Because of that generation, you know, it wasn’t always easy for women to work and have kids and you know, they don’t want to retire. They’re like, close to 80. And they’re like, you know, I’ve gone to the game really late, right? But what I mean is that, you know, we can’t probably have everything all at the same time, but let’s, you know, have fun in our lives and, and enjoy what we’re doing in that particular moment as
well. That’s brilliant, what you’re sharing here, it’s really something that I’m pondering a lot, these days, actually, to tell you the truth, the start that there is a moment for everything, because as you know, for me, and having children was not super straightforward. And so it took a long time, right. And that those years, I was not investing much in my career at that time, I was just basically just doing certain things that would give me a lot of satisfaction. But I was really trying to just start this nice family. And I find myself sometimes thinking, Well, isn’t it a little bit too bad, because I just, I could have just gone fast forward. And I would just be at a different stage of my life right now, if only you know, that had just happened differently. And I’m just sharing that story, because it resonates a lot with what you’re saying. And a lot of us who traveled around the world like that and move. Sometimes it is easy to put yourself on hold. And I love what you’re saying about the fact that it is really a conscious choice to invest in yourself and just go after what, find that fire that’s in you, in order to eventually create something that you find is aligned with what you want to create in that world basically, and find your purpose there. And a lot of people at one point and well, it’s too complicated, or it’s there is not enough time, we’re only here for a few years anyway. Or it’s too late or it’s not the right moment. But what you’re saying is that there is a moment for everything. And indeed, if we look at things that that way, we can just trust that eventually we’re going to go after what we want. And just that thought is super powerful.
Exactly. I think you’re completely right. And often it’s also like building blocks, you know, so you might have the impression that you’re not able to do something in a short period. But actually, yes, you can do something that could then lead you later on, you know, to picking it up and going in a different direction. But I think what you’re saying about, you know, becoming a mother and the investment in that is so important. I think, you know, the fact that we’re the ones who carry the children and so generally speaking, you know, I around me, I often hear you know, either of women who’ve struggled either to get pregnant where the pregnancy was difficult or the birth was difficult or the period after the birth and they ended up with partners, postpartum depression was difficult. There’s always gonna be unfortunately, difficult points, right? In my case, it was more the birth and you don’t know what you’re gonna get right and But I think that’s just a wonderful thing to think that, you know, if you’d frame as well, that period in your life that what you were doing was investing in starting your family, you know, that’s a huge thing. And it’s a huge achievement. And so I think it’s also about owning our own narratives about ourselves, and not letting sort of, you know, external benchmarks or markers, or you know, age or whatever it is, defining what we do, and when we do it,
and what I do with clients philosophy, and is exactly that is that you decide which narrative you want to have for yourself, and you don’t, you can let go of certain narratives that are not helpful. And what strikes me in in your stories, how much confidence as well as self confidence Aries in the way that you approach your life. And it’s a little bit different, you know, confidence is when you’re making your, you’re biking in the street. And you know, you know that you can trust yourself that you know how to bike so You’re fine, you’re just, you know, how to bike. And Self confidence is, when you’ve never done something like you’ve never written a book before. But you trust yourself that no matter what happens, the children the maternity leave the move, everything that is on your way, you trust that this book is going to be written and published, and that what just pushes you through the door. And developing the self confidence has so much strength, also for every single thing that you do in life, because that means you learn how to trust yourself. And when you are in this, in this situation where there is a lot of unknown, you don’t know where you’re gonna move, you don’t know who you’re going to meet, you don’t know whether you’re going to be able to just find a job or make a living or have this financial security that you had before. There are just so many unknowns, when you move like that. Building that self confidence to just create whatever it is that you want to create is something that is a beautiful gift to give yourself. And I just wonder if this is something that came naturally to us, Sophie, or if you actually worked on it actively. I know, for instance, that your mother is an intellectual, but she’s also she also decided to become a coach. And I’m just curious whether that has influenced you in any ways?
Yeah, it’s a good point, I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. But I think I was lucky to be kind of quite a confident child, you know, that I and my experiences, I think, you know, a lot, a lot of your confidence comes out of the experiences you have, right. And sometimes you can have, you know, difficult experiences or unfair experiences or you know, not the love you need from your parents or the people who should be giving you love or you know, so I think I was very lucky to have the starter kit, as it were, you know, of like enough. That helps you have that trust in yourself, right. But I think I never sort of thought about that in that term in those terms. But I guess every time I tried something new, or move somewhere new, or you know, overcame a particular challenge, I think that helped me build this, as you say, this trust that I can do something even if I haven’t done it before, you know. And so I think it has been more of a learning by doing type of journey. Having said that, as you mentioned, you know, I’m lucky enough to have a mother who’s now in a leadership coach, and she also focuses on women leadership in particular. And I’ve always been in an environment that’s really sort of, you know, I often joke that I was never conscious about my gender, until I had kids, right? I had parents who were, you know, very trustful that that I was going to do whatever I wanted, whether I was a girl or a boy or whatever, you know, I never felt that I had any particular limits to what I could achieve. And so they later on, I think, sometimes when I maybe had to reflect a bit more actively on my life, when I became a mother, I would say, you know, when I felt a mother and moving around and dealing with some of these challenges, I think it helped me sometimes to read certain articles, you know, to talk with people who done it. So I when I was doing my PhD, I remember having a conversation with a with an academic who was also a mum and asking her for advice. You know, I think it’s always great to speak to people and say, Well, how did you get there? What did you do, you know, and she’d said this thing, which was helpful, she said, you know, okay, sure, childcare can seem like You know, throwing money out of the window, but this is an investment in your future self, you know, like, things like that, you know, because I was putting, I was putting all my, my scholarship for my PhD into childcare. And sometimes that felt insane, right. But that’s exactly what I needed to do, you know, and so sometimes when you’re faced with these choices, you know, it might not seem so logical in the present moment. But if you think about it in the longer term, and if you project yourself, you know, you can, you can, you can make sense of it. Right. So I think, yes, definitely having conversations and also with friends, you know, oh,
yeah, absolutely. And are there some questions that you find uncomfortable when you explain your life journey, the choices that you’ve made, and where you are at right now, some find it, I know, I did, for instance, didn’t like, when people asked me why I was here,
like, you would have to say sort of thing, like, I came because of my husband’s. Right. So I decided a bit like, the whole reframing the narrative. So I remember it was when we were in Tunisia, and, and we were there, you know, for my husband’s job. And I was doing my PhD, but it meant that I didn’t have you know, I could do my work at home, but I didn’t have a sort of immediate social network or identity link to my job. And so when people will, you know, one time someone introduced me, as, you know, the wife of unites, so left hander, and I was not happy about that, and, and so then I would just decide that I was gonna introduce myself, and I would, like, I don’t know, you know, I’m here learning Arabic, like, sometimes I would just sort of say, you know, like, you know, go on a bit of a tangent or sort of talk about a hobby, you know, even if I didn’t necessarily have an immediate reason, like, talk about a hobby, or an interest or whatever, you know, to try and shift that question of, it’s
brilliant. I mean, he’s just another example of the fact that, you know, love thing is really, you can, you can just create your own story, you can we are the end of the day, the heroes of our own lives. And sometimes we can, you know, just create something funny out of any situation, even the most annoying ones, in a way. Yeah, yeah. So that’s great. And so, you know, we’re almost coming to Orlando with our discussion. But, you know, when things are really tough, and you did share some traumatic experiences, but what when do you do you know, when you are, you know, in Cairo right now, and things just don’t work out exactly. The way you imagined they would, what, what happens, when, when some things are ready to be so tough, and you feel maybe overwhelmed? And what do you do?
I think, especially with the pandemic, you know, at the moment, so many people have dealt with, with so many challenges, and one of the big challenges about living abroad. And, you know, moving around is that, like, many, you know, we haven’t seen our family and friends, you know, for a long time, and we were kind of the borders were shutting out in Egypt for quite a long time. So we stayed here for quite a long time. So, you know, I definitely had some, some low moments, and I think, what do I do, I, I often pick up the phone and ring, someone who’s close to me, and again, you know, I think you don’t have this expression in English, but the full year, you know, just one full year. So it means laughing uncontrollably, can help so much. So you know, trying you know just picking up the phone to a friend or to my mom or to someone and having a chat and connecting to someone who knows me very well, you know, and who you don’t really need. I think sometimes when you’re moving around and you have friendships but you you’re not always with people who’ve known you, you know, your whole life, just picking up that phone to the sum, you know, the few people who have known you practically your whole life, and I think it’d be can be really helpful. I think that would be one of the key things. The other one is often just, you know, the joy of, of having children in this kind of life. And I’ve been thinking a lot in the pandemic of the people who are alone. And I have some family members, you know, who are alone and who’ve spent a lot of time in isolation. And, you know, I think it’s been really hard for people who are alone and the joy of having kids and how, you know, the smallest thing with them the fun adventure, the you know, new thing that they’re learning, the absurd sort of characteristics or kind of, you know, annoying fight or whatever it really is. brings you out of yourself, right? You’re focused on something else. And so that kind of helps me a lot. But I think that’s also I would say, and I, we haven’t really discussed this, maybe it’s for another episode. But the challenge of moving kids around is that I feel like as a parent, you don’t feel settled until your children are settled. And I think one of the biggest challenges for me have been periods where I felt that my children were unsettled, and that I find much harder to deal with. And I do lose my sense of humor over that one.
Why I’m curious, because
I find I don’t like the lack of control, you know, that there’s some things that you just can’t do much about. And when you see your child’s you know, struggling to adapt or suffering or being ill. I had an episode where my son was very ill in June, and here in Cairo, and I was completely unsettled by that in a way that I haven’t ever been for anything related to me, you know. So I think that’s kind of another challenge as well.
Why do you think that it is more unsettling for your child and than it is for
you? I don’t know. Why do you think I mean, I think it’s because of, you know, how they come out of you. There are parts of you, you feel their suffering, and you feel responsible. I think maybe it does, you want to fix it, you want to fix it. And also maybe it does go back to the fact that you’ve, you’re the responsible one. So you’re the one who’s brought them to that place. And if they something happens to them in that place, or if they they’re unhappy somehow in that place. So it’s really hard, it can be really hard sometimes, but let’s not end on a negative. So it can also bring it so much joy.
It is for sure. And but all this is just another story that we’re telling myself, that we are that, you know, it’s not their choice. They don’t have to go through this if we didn’t just move around. I mean, this is also a story and a narrative that you can reframe. And that’s why I just wanted to, to end on this is that, you know, there is no I remember, my oldest son Emerson was he, he really loved playing with a younger child. That was his first friend he met in in Zimbabwe, and they moved quite early on. And he was absolutely devastated. He still to this day, talk about this little boy as his best friend who he hasn’t seen for the last two years. And so it was absolutely heartbreaking. And at the same time, a beautiful opportunity to just connect with, you know, my son, and at that moment, and just like let him be in his own grief and not try to, to fix it. And it is, it is not always easy. And I don’t do it. Always, very well. But, but it is also giving us some keys to navigate with stuff in life and to just show also by example, and by example, which I believe is the best we can do as parents
in a way. So yeah, no, you’re right. No, but that’s some food for thought for me get it in for thank you so much. You’re welcome.
And I really had a great, great time. Sophie, thank you for opening up and coming and discussing all that interesting topic with us and there is much more to cover. You know, we did cover a lot, but maybe I’d have you back if you if you can
for round two. Thanks so much. It was really great chatting to you and yeah, let’s see if your listeners are too bored by me. I’d love to be back. Thanks so much, Sophie