As I approach my three-year anniversary at my current job, I can’t help but think about all of my career moves over the years. My first job in the Netherlands was based in a small town called Hilversum – aka ‘the Hollywood of the lowlands’ – which is about a 30-minute train ride outside of Amsterdam (where I live). All the major television networks are based there. And Nike. But other than that, it’s just a picturesque village with stately brick homes and a large heath – something straight out of Sense and Sensibility.
I was thrilled to have found a job so quickly, especially one that allowed me to combine my passion for writing with business. There was just one issue: from the train station, the office was only accessible by bike, unless I wanted to take the bus and tack on another hour to my already long journey. At the time, though, I didn’t cycle. It wasn’t a matter of whether I didn’t want to or didn’t know how – I just didn’t. But what I did want was this job, and so I bought a bike. Actually, I take that back; I was leased a bike by my company (some hiring packages include a BMW, mine: a rusty one-speeder with a back-brake).
The night before my first day, I took my boyfriend’s bike for a few spins around the Vondelpark. I circled the park like a child, getting used to the sensation again, and couldn’t understand why my Dutch beau found this so utterly dull. Of course, like most Nederlanders, he had started cycling before he could walk and didn’t stop for the next 25 years. I, however, froze up any time I saw a pigeon in the distance and could only think one thing: riding a bike again after 15 years is anything but ‘like riding a bike’.
While in the park my biggest concern was dodging a jogger or two (and those darn pigeons!), taking the bike to the streets was a whole other story. I’ve never actually played Frogger, but have seen the Frogger episode of Seinfeld and imagine cycling through the thick of Amsterdam to be something like that. Compact cars zooming past, bikers ringing bells to indicate I’m too slow, high-speed scooters skirting around me (illegally) in the bike lane, trams pummeling down the main street’s artery, and pedestrians, much like myself, just trying to stay alive.
So the next morning, there I was, stepping outside of the Hilversum train station – decked out in my newly purchased Hugo Boss suit and Karen Millen stilettos – and what do I feel? …Fear? For sure! But even more concerning: I felt heavy raindrops (which is no surprise considering it rains about 60% of the year in Holland). At that moment I had two choices: I could stay dry by taking the bus and turn up 30 minutes late on my first day, or I could put up my hood and get peddling like the rest of the morning commuters. I did the latter…and finally started to experience my adopted country like a local.
We learn a lot from our work, but sometimes the most important things are unrelated to the job description. I thank that ‘Hilversum Company’ for forcing me to go Dutch. My stilettos, on the other hand, are not so thankful.