Yesterday I went to an event that a friend of mine organised with a local association I joined a few months ago. It’s an english speaking community for working women in the Grenoble area and this weekend they celebrated their 10y anniversary.  The day was beautifully organised. The location was perfect. The food was nice (and hooray, there was a vegetarian choice!). The sun was shining and the people present were happy and inspiring. This was the second time that I joined an official event of that association and I was again positively surprised by everything. After only two events I have already learned some very valuable lessons about sharing, problem solving, feeling safe, having a talent and building up memories, that I decided to share some of the things with you.

The first event I joined with this organisation, was a professional enrichment program. I had no real idea what was going to happen during the day, but people told me that it was really worth joining. That it had been life changing for some of them. So I joined. I don’t have many life changing experiences, so I thought it would be nice to experience one. At the very beginning of the event itself, I was so impressed by the short introductions fellow participants gave, that I had to suppress my tears  when I was supposed to tell my story. Even though the introductions were short, they were very powerful. The women were basically only telling us who they were, what they were doing in their life and why they joined the event. What was happening with me. I was only 15 minutes in, and my eyes were turning red. I needed to change my own mood to be able to talk when it was my turn, so I introduced myself by telling a story that made people laugh. I survived, and the best thing was, that I could keep things close to the surface. Pfew!

What I found most touching – or maybe thought provoking – during that day, was that people felt so safe in that group of 25-30 women that they were not afraid to tell everybody what they were struggling with, both professionally as personally. The group wasn’t afraid to share what they were trying to change and what their goals were. For me this was a totally new experience. Maybe it’s a matter of culture, or a matter of upbringing, but I’m not like that, and the people around me are also normally much more reserved. It was refreshing to see the openness.

The second thing that amazed me that day, was that these women put some problems on the table which I know people around me also struggle with, but the difference here was that most of them were really intending on solving them. It was not a day long complaint about how hard life was, but a place to find out how other people deal with similar life questions or problems. It was a place to learn from other peoples experience and bring it into action. Very refreshing, this was something I felt comfortable with. It resonated with me right away.

It was clear to me that these women felt safe around each other. Which was really strange for me, as I generally thrive better between men. I also never understand why people say that the world would be a better place if it was ruled by women. You know, my worst boss experiences are with women. The female bosses in my past were KING in setting up an unsafe environment for the people around them. Meeting the women at this association broadened my view on women and I’m happy for that.

This second event I visited yesterday made me realise more why they feel safe around each other.  After the great lunch, we were asked to move away from our lunch table and take a seat in the talent theater they had build up for the occasion. Fellow members volunteered to perform for us. They volunteered to show us their talents. Some of them danced, others played an instrument and there was also room for story telling. Before the show started I really had no idea what I was going to see. And when everything was about to start, we were kindly asked not to take pictures of the performances, as the whole idea was to enjoy ourselves, to make memories in our minds, but not on the internet.

This was a very understandable request – even for somebody like me that takes pictures of everything I see – although I only understood the value of this question when the performances started. Everything was beautiful and done with passion, but obviously none of the performers were professional dancers or professional instrument players. Being there in the room and seeing these women perform for us with so much passion and devotion made you forget that they weren’t professionals though. The fact that I would never dare to do what they were doing in front of an audience, gave extra value to their performance for me. We clapped for all of them and some made us cry, and others made us laugh. I now understood that have we had taken the performances out of the context and placed it online for example, the atmosphere around them would have been totally different. We have now a valuable shared memory that only exists in the heads of fifty people.

These performances also made me think about talent, passion and enjoying oneself. What do all those things mean and can you be passionate about something without having a talent for something?

You know I play the piano. I’m not sure I have ever told you here on the blog. Probably not, as Eduard has also never heard me play and we have been together for more than eleven years now. I don’t consider playing the piano a talent of myself. I have had piano lessons for over ten years. Somewhere between my 7th and 18th year I had pretty much permanently weekly piano lessons. I wasn’t good at it, actually my first music school in Macedonia concluded after the first year of music teaching that I had no musical talent and that I was not allowed to go on with my public musical education. That meant, that from that moment on (I was 7), I was doomed to become a hobby-pianist. The horror! Imagine the disappointment of my mother, who was one of those tiger moms that thought her daughter was an exceptional talent.

I can still remember how other kids (with moms) were allowed to go on with their musical theory lessons. It was a little trauma, it still is. I therefore still don’t like performing when other people are around, as I know it isn’t perfect. The interesting thing that I learned yesterday was that you can enjoy doing things and do things with a lot of passion even though in universal terms it isn’t 100% perfect. Maybe it’s all about the talent to enjoy doing things without striving for perfection.

Every time I go to an event like this, it feels like these hammam meetings arabic women had in history (and still have), where the older generation transmits knowledge, experiences, confidence to a younger generation in a safe environment they have created for themselves. It makes me also realise how valuable these offline experiences are. Time that we spend (mostly publicly) online, can only complement all the time we spend offline, it can never replace it.

How about you? Have you found your safe community or communities where you can freely share personal and professional hurdles & talents?