The English Rose Garden and the Vegetable Garden
You’ve read the story so far.
A friend had a vision that I was standing at the crossroads with two choices to make.
My dad and I travelled to Johannesburg and I went for an interview at a multinational company called Quest International. I did not know that such companies even existed and was ill prepared for my interview or the process I would endure. Quest was one of the worlds’ top flavour and fragrance houses and they were looking for an application technologist in their beverage unit. I endured many sensory and scientific tests lasting a few hours and felt a little dazed after I left the company.
The next day as we travelled home we went via Standerton a large industrial town on the African plains for an interview with Nestlé, the world’s largest food manufacturer.
By the time my dad and I reached home, I had messages informing me that both jobs were mine. Immediately I felt in a dilemma but then I remembered my friends’ vision. It was exactly as she said a beautiful English rose garden with wonderful rich fauna and flora and a simple vegetable garden.
The choices were as follows: both companies were multinationals; both companies would be great places to begin my fledgling career, both companies offered wonderful opportunities and yet both jobs were not equal. The job at Nestlé involved working in quality control and production, I would be required to work shifts but was offered a clothing allowance, a housing allowance and a starting salary that was three times higher than that offered by Quest International. An additional advantage was that I was a loyal brand supporter of Nestlé’s products as I grew up with them.
Working for Quest International would mean working for a company I knew nothing about, let alone what they did. While I had consumed food my whole life I never once considered where the flavours came from who made the scents that fragranced my shampoo, soap, or toothpaste. The salary on offer was three times less than what Nestlé offered and there was no housing or clothing allowance available. On paper, Quest was definitely the worst option.
Yet, in all my youthful wisdom, that is the choice I made. I was leaving home for the first time and realised that I could suffer from homesickness. As Quest was based in Johannesburg, it would be easier for me to catch a bus, train, or plane back “home” whereas Standerton is in the middle of nowhere. Additionally I grew up in an English-speaking household and the town of Standerton was an Afrikaner stronghold. This, I felt, was too much of a cultural leap to make, so…
I chose the humble vegetable garden.
I won’t bore you with every detail of my life but it was due to that choice that I have experienced some of the most painful, debilitating, and exhilarating experiences of my life. It was through this choice that I have evolved into who I am today.
After two years at Quest, I decided that I wanted a more analytical job, one that exposed me to a Quality Control environment with analytical equipment etc. I was very nervous about resigning my first job, even though I did not have another lined up, nevertheless I felt this was the right decision for me. The day before I was due to resign my boss’s called me into her office and fired me for “racism.” For the previous three months, an older male colleague working in another department had been sexually harassing me. As I am generally friendly to all people, he took my friendliness to mean something else. This taught me two very valuable lessons
- Don’t cover up other people’s evil behaviour
- Know your own truth and live it.
The truth is I grew up in Apartheid South Africa but neither believed in the system or practiced racism. It has always been my belief that we are judged by our character and actions not by our skin colour!
After overcoming the shock of been fired, I then found my dream job a few months later and loved every moment of working for that organisation. Even while I was so happy in my work life, my personal life was undergoing some major changes.
When I moved to Johannesburg, I was a practicing Christian, so it was normal for me to seek out a new church and integrate myself. After a few years of being in this inner city church I was excommunicated or “placed under discipline” being pronounced a Jezebel Spirit who was bringing dissention into the church and practicing “spiritual lesbianism” whatever the hell that meant.
This incident changed my life to the very core of my being, affecting both my belief system and my core values.
Due to my mindset at the time, I endured this discipline and was probably the most spiritually awake and aware than I’ve ever been. I experienced absolute and utter rejection. People, who were my closest friends a day before, crossed the road when they saw me. Church members who lived in my building exited the elevator if I alighted. I was living in absolute isolation from everything I held dear and yet while feeling broken; I’ve never felt more together.
After months of discipline from the church elders, I was re welcomed into fellowship as I had repented sufficiently – whatever the hell that means – and yet I knew that was just a step in my process. I did not intend to remain in that church as I had clear wisdom and insight that the church was practicing spiritual abuse and that the lead pastor was embezzling funds from wealthy widows to support a lifestyle that was beyond the means of the average church member.
It was my intention to tread water for a few months and then hightail the hell out of there. Therefore, I kept a low profile and went about my business but when someone knows they have been exposed, even on a spiritual level, they cannot find peace until they rid themselves of their enemy. So it was on a warm summers day early in 1994 when the lead pastor summoned me to his house and informed me that I was neither god fearing or repentant and that due to my sinful ways I was to be excommunicated within the whole inner city of Johannesburg. He contacted all the churches in the area with whom he was affiliated and warned them about me and told them not to accept me in their churches.
At that moment, I started to break, as I could not believe that a god that loved me would allow such evil to occur in his name. I threw myself into my job and while my mother and sister tried to tell me this was not the working of god, I could not hear them because I was in too much pain.
I lost my faith and on a cold autumn night in March, I left my sleepless bed and walked into the inner city to an all-night bookstore. There I bought the latest copy of Let’s Go USA and the next morning I went to work and resigned my job, deciding that I was going off to New York City. To that point in my life, I had always been very concerned about knowing the will of god and not living to please my own base and carnal desires. However at that point I literally said, “Fuck you god, I am going to America and if you want to meet me there then you can, if not I don’t give a damn!” and essentially I ran away from myself and the life I knew to go live in NYC.
I often wonder if I did not see the warning signs earlier because I was lonely and needy for friendship or was I so blinded by dogma and charismania? I think it was both.
In America in my broken and fragile state, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the pain and emotions that I had buried with work. Alone and exposed to myself I then began the process of rebuilding my life, my confidence, self-esteem and my beliefs. As I had told god to fuck off I really wasn’t expecting any engagement with the omnipotent One and yet it was in NYC that I started to see god in a new way, and experience Spirit on a much deeper and more intimate level. Angels, both heavenly and earthly were sent to me that I might heal and when I returned to South Africa two and a half years later, I felt ready to resume my life, as I knew it.
I searched for a new job and was about to begin one at a biscuit factory when the day before starting I received a call from a personnel agent requesting that I attend an interview at a flavour house. I did not see the point, I was starting my new job the next day and why waste everyone’s time on a pointless escapade. However, she convinced me to visit their offices for an afternoon interview and that’s what I did. I needed to undergo a psychological assessment and then was interviewed by the whole management team. When I returned home, the agent called to inform me that I had been offered the position and how would I feel about starting with them the next day.
Talk about pressure!
The position was for a trainee Flavourist and I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would undergo an excellent training in Germany lasting a few years and as it’s such a unique and highly sought after profession, I knew there would be numerous benefits awaiting me in my future, but in 1997, I could not foresee what they would or could be. Therefore, I had the unenviable task of informing the biscuit factory that I would not be joining them and began a new job with Haarmann and Reimer later known as Symrise.
The reason I seemed like such a great potential asset to H&R was due to my time at Quest. While I had wanted training as a Flavourist at Quest, the opportunity never arose and yet here I was back at the pathway that leads to the vegetable garden, about to embark on a new adventure.
My time at Symrise was not a sojourn but rather evolved into a 15-year commitment. During that time, I had some incredible life experiences. I was trained, as a Flavourist in excellent facilities in Germany, not only were my technical skills developed but also my management and leadership skills. I was honoured to lead a great team in South Africa and forged lasting lifelong relationships with wonderful people. I was relocated briefly to Germany and then to Singapore for a year.
Before leaving South Africa, I made this grand statement to the universe that I wanted to follow my true passion of working with people and become a Life Coach. It was in Singapore that I opened the newspaper one morning and saw a full-page advertisement from the Neuroleadership Group for an upcoming Coach training. I went along to an open night event and decided to sign up for the intensive training and become qualified as a coach.
After my year in Singapore, I relocated permanently to Germany at my own request but I never followed through on my dream to become a fulltime coach, mainly due fear of the unknown. If you are like me you will know that sometimes you have a niggling thought or feeling, like you should be doing something else but you ignore that niggle and never spread your wings, taking a risk. Sometimes it is easier for us to continue in our unhappiness than let go of it and reach for something new.
After a few years of working in Germany, I decided it was time to leave Symrise and pursue other opportunities at a competitor and I branched out into a new direction in my career. While I was not following my passion or dream and working with people I was pursuing a career path that lead to far more experiences than I expected.
From day one, my relationship with my new employees was fraught with difficulty. Working for an egotistical narcissist was not in my repertoire of skills, and while I thought I had seen everything in the workplace, I still had much to learn. I loved that job in that it was challenging, I learnt a lot, travelled widely, and accomplished much in a short time span, yet when an organisation is sick in the head, eventually the body begins to sicken.
I consider myself resilient and able to bounce back from any situation but after becoming ill due to extreme workplace bullying I was at a precipice where jumping seemed like the best way out. I have always said that if anyone hears that I have “committed suicide” they should have the police investigate, as it is most likely murder. Yet there I was, “the strong one” mentally tormented and broken by a work environment that I was powerless to change. It was not until I became angry and decided that those people could not treat me that way and benefit from my services, that a solution presented itself to me.
Negotiating an excellent exit package, I took time out to heal, as that was my main priority, putting myself back together again. There were days when I felt direction less, uncertain of which was to proceed, scared of what the future may bring and yet hopeful that I would find my way.
I made another grand statement to the universe that I “am going to walk the Camino” and twenty-seven days later with little preparation, I began my journey to walk 789.1 kilometres across Spain to find what was calling me there. I eventually walked 900 kilometres across Spain and what I found when The Way was completed was myself.
I have not lived my life disconnected from myself and yet I felt that with each step I was taking, I was stepping more into who I am. Being able to connect deeply with ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually is not a privilege that everyone experiences. Our lives are not set up to allow this, in fact the more disconnected we are, the more acceptable this is to society.
It is not easy to walk away from an identity and form a new one. It is not easy to walk away from a high income to zero income. It is not easy to leave a security blanket and spring into the deep unknown and yet this is what I did.
At this stage of my life, I can see how I have come full circle. My passion has always been to work with people, to experience my best life and help others experience theirs. That young girl who yearned to change the world and make it a better place still lives within. She is wiser and more weather beaten but her heart’s desire has not changed.
Laying aside the pragmatic for the magical is madness especially when we reach a certain age, but the truth is I know that it is better to follow my bliss than to follow a pathway that does not give my life meaning or purpose.
Therefore, while all those years ago I knew that I chose the more humble of the two paths, my life has been rich in every way. I know that my soul was destined to be honed through these many lessons and there are times when I wonder how my life would have been had chosen the other path. Not to make my life easier, because I needed these lessons, but I wonder how the lessons would have presented themselves to me had I followed that other path?
That is the great mystery of life. Sometimes we need huge amounts of faith, confidence, and hope and must leap into the unknown. Life is a risk and we only reap the benefits when we take that first step, make a powerful choice, and embark on the journey to discover what’s around the corner.
This has been my life thus far.
Thank you for reading my story.