I always believed that life is divided into several “eras”, which are supposed to collapse at some point or another, in order to give birth to a new kind of “era”.
This is the tale of one of those collapses.
4 years ago, I lost my dream job.
You may not know, but before being a novice adventurer, I was a bookseller.
I had been selling comic books for almost 5 years and the company I used to work for, Virgin Stores (yeah you know, Richard Branson’s brand), was about to shut down, out of bankruptcy.
1 000 employees were about to be fired. In France in 2013, it wasn’t that much. Companies were shutting down (almost) every day, leaving some angry, powerless and helpless people on the sidewalk.
But believe me, when this shit happens to you, you don’t tend to minimise. It’s actually a huge slap in your face.
4 years ago, I stood up for a cause, I stood up for a job I still believe is one of the most beautiful jobs ever, I stood up for the importance of culture, and I stood up for my beloved co-workers who happened to become friends over time. But moreover, and for the first time in my life, I stood up for myself. I could feel it in my guts: “Céline, if you don’t fight for yourself right now, you’re gonna regret this for the rest of your life.” So, I stood up and fought for myself. I just couldn’t sit and watch the ship sinking into the deep ocean.
4 years ago, we went on strike. Demonstrations at first, in Strasbourg and Paris, then we decided to occupy our store. Day and night. It lasted 11 days. In those dark and uncertain days, we managed to be creative, aggressive, and damn active. Interviews, concerts, art happenings and installations, picnics on the sidewalk in front of the closed gate, powerful anti-conformists slogans: we were so damn resourceful during this strike.
It almost felt like summer camp: we were gathering every day in the empty shop, sipping coffee or tea and debating on which actions we had to take next. We were sleeping on inflated mattresses scattered around the CD shelves on the second floor. As usual, the air conditioning wasn’t working and it was so hot this month of June in 2013, we barely slept at all. I remember the heat, and that moment we decided with my friend Elsa to get a foot bath into the basement sink –it was where were located our staff room and the bathrooms. We even managed to watch Games of Thrones, the Red Wedding episode, which we displayed on the shop’s giant TV, in the DVD department. Everybody outside was getting all crazy about that episode, but we were stuck inside, in our own strike team bubble. I still remember us screaming out of astonishment in the end, our flabbergasted cries resonating all around the empty shop.
4 years ago, in all of our pain and despair, we found the strength to stand up for ourselves, we found happiness and pride, and we found random generosity from ex-customers and passers-by who were bringing us food, cheering and comfort. This was my first true experience of random acts of kindness.
4 years ago, we won. We got decent redundancy compensations, facilities to get training for new job opportunities – and most of all the pride of being more than anonymous employees they could just fire without even a decent thank you. I remember us welcoming the news of our victory with a wild dance under the rain, in front of our massive 3 storeys’ Virgin Megastore in Strasbourg which was living its last moment.
4 years ago was the end of everything I knew. And the beginning of everything else. A peculiar and bright crossroad between my well-settled life in Strasbourg and the nomadic life I’m living in Taiwan right now.
If I have to think about how and why I started to travel, I wouldn’t say it was because of that painful breakup anymore. It started way before that. It all started right there, in the last hours of this shop where I was wearing for the last time my red jacket full of badges.
It started when I decided to stand up for myself and realised it was actually a good thing. Something I’ll forever be proud of.
Because that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. Following my guts, in the less expected roads through life. Knowing it’s not gonna be easy, but knowing this is what I have to do, right now if I want to be happy. So I won’t regret anything.
Two years ago, I stood up for myself again. I decided to quit my settled life which was obviously not working that well since I lost my dream job. I sold my belongings and flew to New Zealand. I’m still clueless about my future. But I decided to follow my dreams in the meantime. And to fight for it. I’m now standing for myself every day and learning. Against all odds, I’m still alive, healthy and perfectly happy this way. Standing up for myself for this strike opened the Pandora Box: that’s when I understood I could fight for my freedom.
I remember that so many people told us there was no way of winning this fight. That our demonstrations and strike were useless. But the France-wide striking employees raised this Mark Twain’s phrase as a banner for months: “They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.” – And we did it. Against all expectations, we won. And that’s maybe the most beautiful lesson of my life.
4 years ago, I lost my dream job. But I found the energy of freedom.
YOU WANNA KNOW MORE? (But it’s in French):
Our Facebook Page: Soutien Salariés Virgin Strasbourg
Article in the 20 minutes newspaper: “Virgin Megastore baisse le rideau définitivement”
Article in La Feuille de Chou blog: “Occupation du magasin Virgin Strasbourg”
Article in Rue89 Strasbourg newspaper: “Six employés de Virgin occupent le magasin de Strasbourg”
Article in the JDD newspaper: “Les Virgin veulent un plan social digne”
Website of the talented photojournalist and photgraph of the last picture: Nicolas Messyasz