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Going beyond your horizons

In 1995, I believed that through all my hard work  in the Sao Paulo Civil Police Force I could compensate for my lack of vocation in that place; a natural introvert like me couldn’t measure up to the hard edge of investigation. As  a manager of police officers, I was promoted in that year by merit, although my model of moving forward in my career was especially passive. Before working there, I was a postgraduate lawyer who became dumbstruck every time I had to charge a fee, so joining the Police Force in 1991 put me on the Government payroll with a regular monthly salary.

At the beginning of my career I had tried to persuade myself and others that I could be a tough person, but my work colleagues quickly discerned that I was a soft-mannered lady. They used to say that I was delicate and polite, finding my presence in the police force very strange. Somehow, they were right, as I used to feel like a fish out of water. Not that police officers are necessarily rude people, actually that police force where I worked in for 12 years had many terrific people, but when I was moved to the police academy and started to run courses for civil police officers coming into contact with teachers and pupils, it gave me a new perspective in life, as I could then try to make an old dream come true: to become a teacher as well.

In those days, already earning a salary above the Brazilian average,  not only could I pay all my bills (with a cleaner to keep my flat tidy), but I also had some spare cash for  weekend treats such as sophisticated restaurants, cinema, concerts and shopping. However, I decided to change my flat for a bigger one in a quieter location with the consequence that I needed to supplement my salary with a second income. The obvious way was to become a teacher in my workplace. As I had worked for seven years in the Internal Disciplinary Service and through doing so I knew the civil police internal law very well, it was natural that that field would be my first choice. I dedicated some months to preparing for that teaching open competition. Teachers in the police academy were paid according to the number of lessons they gave and the payment for each lesson was the best in the State of Sao Paulo. Needless to say the competition was high and existing teachers didn’t relish newcomers competing for lessons. So, keeping my feet on the ground, I asked myself some question; Do I really fancy teaching?  My answer was yes, I love it. The second question involved all my insecurities, as I was aware of my passive and quiet nature. I wondered sometimes if I would be able to control many students at once and whether I could really make them understand my lessons. Would I be formal and boring? But I had that ‘now or never feeling’…

I broke the news to some of my juniors and teachers in the Academy about my intentions to become one of the teachers. Their reaction couldn’t have been worse: “Are you sure? But your place should be working in a refined auction house, not in a classroom, speaking up with students…”. Another answer: “Sorry, but a teacher must be a firm leader, so I can’t imagine how a little princess like you could do the job.” “You are so delicate, why not to continue just doing your brilliant paperwork?”

I thought to myself, “If these people are finding me so delicate, it is because they haven’t met my mother, who was a secondary teacher for 25 years. If she could do it, with all her gentle manners, so could I. In my case, I wouldn’t only be a teacher, as I would continue my career as a police manager. Additionally, for approval to be a teacher, the candidate must be a public worker. I fitted all the criteria, except for my nature…

Finally, the day of the competition arrived and I gave my disciplinary administrative law lesson to a group of five examiners. I controlled my anxiety and spoke in a very simple way that seemed to please most of the examining board, but to my surprise, some days later, I received the devastating news in the official diary that I had failed. Instead of me, the candidate chosen was a judge, who had never worked in his life with our civil police internal law. I kept to myself my opinion about that result that it was brutally unfair.

Anyway, I got over that frustration taking it as sign that the Internal Disciplinary Service had been a long chapter in my life, but now it was definitely finished. Moving on, I found a new target; to teach English. Why not to use all the knowledge I had acquired in an English university and try to be a teacher in that field? So, I prepared my monologue about the importance of English language for police activities. My family members and friends didn’t spare me, with comments such as: “Be careful, you’ve just failed; it may happen again.” “A teacher’s life is very difficult and we think you have already enough on your plate, working 12-hour days.” “You don’t need to improve your salary, you are a single woman with no children.” But I decided to step away and listen to my own voice, so I wouldn’t be a porcelain doll locked in a cardboard box until the end of the world.

On the day of the competition, I presented my 50-minute lesson in the evening, to an audience of eight examiners and after some days, the result was there, very clear, in the official diary. I’d passed, along with two other candidates. So, now I had two careers, which made me even stricter with myself and my time as I had to prepare the first lessons of my life as a teacher and continue doing my job as a co-ordinator of courses for police officers. Being a perfectionist, it wasn’t easy to prepare those English lessons and on the first day as a teacher, it seemed I had a blender purchase nolvadex uk inside my chest, as my inner critic was very active, “It’s better to give up, apologise and go back to my paperwork”; “It’s really not for me, I should be working in an auction house, as many people say”; “How can I control students with my timid voice?”

But the biggest surprise on that day soon came. Taking a deep breath, I acted with an unexpected overpowering confidence, as if I had never done anything different in my life besides teaching. I began looking my students square in the eye and asked them with a firm voice what they hoped from my lessons and in doing so, I responded accordingly over the next weeks, with some mistakes from time to time. Against all the odds, I didn’t become just a teacher, but, modesty aside, a good one. Some months later, I was also teaching Portuguese to police officers, all of them native speakers of that language. And my salary doubled.

I believe I have one explanation for my unexpected success in two careers, when most people thought that I would fail and the answer is inner strength, which can lead to amazing achievements in life. Using all our strength we feel more courageous, less stressed, more resilient and therefore more likely to achieve our goals.

You may have a completely different nature to me, you may be extroverted and talkative and in this case, if you want to step forward, you may decide to negotiate a pay rise with your boss, as long as you are sure of the worth of your expertise and able to demonstrate its value to the business. But sometimes the scenario seems so daunting that instead, you may decide to run your own business, involving yourself in sales and budgets. Even if you are short of cash, nowadays you can use your contacts or update yourself through appropriate courses. The good news for the extroverts is that by being charismatic, they have more social skills and so they are more likely to ask help from family and friends, who are usually very pleased to be able to help, as long as they feel that true friendship is maintained. Another possibility is to decide to have a portfolio career (to work at several part-time jobs at once with different employers that when combined are the equivalent of a full-time position). Instead of dreading the future, it is crucial to remember one fantastic human feature, our amazing capacity to adapt to a new reality. With the default retirement age being phased out, most people nowadays can work for as long as they want to and as we live in a changing society, why not to plan to work to 70? So, take a deep breath and start to project what you would like to be doing in the next 10 years of your life. It seems what we study at the beginning of our working life won’t be important 40 years later, destroying our traditional notion of learning, working and then retiring.

If you admit to having ambitions in life, do you feel guilt? Whilst men are encouraged to be ambitious in our society, women are just supposed to make other people feel good through collaborative skills and empathy. Not that these qualities are not important, but remember that to be ambitious doesn’t mean necessarily to display unethical behaviour. Actually, it is okay for us women to have some ambitions, as long as we are true, honest and don’t step our foot on other people’s rights. By doing what we believe is right, we can go beyond our horizons, as the limit lies only in our vision and determination. If it’s the right time to take the plunge, why not have a go?

The most important thing is to feel happy. If your career is stuck, but you are happy, I think nobody should say to you to change it and move on. People are different and each one is entitled to their own personality. I became not only a manager of police officers, but also an English and Portuguese language teacher for the police institution without giving up my true style and nature, but having two careers at the same time lasted just one year of my life. When I was joining the open competition to teach English at Sao Paulo police academy, I had the support of one English native speaker who corrected my monologue for me. We became friends and after that, a married couple. Some people said to me I had succeeded as a teacher for the disciplinary power I had over my students as they didn’t belong to the same rank as me, so they may have found it wiser not to challenge me. Probably those people were right in some way, but two years after I had moved to England with my husband, my former secretary sent me an e-mail on behalf of my former students, who wanted to know when I would be back to teach in Brazil. Needless to say, I felt delighted.

I gave up my two careers for the inevitable changes my marriage brought to me. Nowadays, as a mother of four, my lifestyle is much simpler, but I’ve never been so happy as I am with my husband and our children. I am still working, now as an English/Portuguese interpreter in hospitals and health centres, for patients living in England. I thoroughly enjoy helping these people, but sometimes I wonder if one day my job will be efficiently replaced by Google translate. When my fears come up, I remember that my delicate mother was a very good teacher, my grandmother used to crochet and sell her work to support my father who was studying to be a doctor and my Italian great-grandmothers gave birth to their babies under the coffee trees in Brazil and continued working on the same day. Although they also made their own mistakes in life at the end of the day, all  those women, in their own time, in their own way, did their best and went beyond their horizons. So too can all of us.


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