Vive La Rentrée And The Promise It Brings

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.  – Seneca

I remember being a little girl and always being excited about the month of September. I would spend the last weeks of summer vacation looking longingly at the school supplies lining the shelves of the stores, thinking about the colors of notebooks and backpack I 6845993C-F692-4EEE-8A5A-AC3BBD530CA2would take with me to set just the right tone for the coming year. I would revel in the return of chilly evenings, using it as an excuse to flip through catalogues for “the perfect Fall look,” even as the days remained hot and humid. I would think anxiously about my class curriculum and the information I would learn, wondering how I would ever meet the increased expectations of each passing year.

There was an anticipation, an excitement, about everything that could happen. 

September presented a blank slate, washed clean of the trials and tribulations of the past year. It was an opportunity to begin again and seemed to present countless possibilities. 

As I grew older, that feeling never went away even as the need for school supplies and new outfits did. Perhaps this is because I have spent almost my entire professional life in Washington, DC – a city where virtually everyone disappears for the month of August, traveling the country and the world with friends and family.

As people would slowly return to the city, there was always a notable shift in mood going into September. It was Back to School season. And while jokes were made among the political set that this also referenced the return of Congress and government after the long summer holidays, the actual spirit of the season – the joy, the excitement, the potential – was left to be enjoyed exclusively by school children and their parents. 

France takes a distinctly different view – one that resonates more deeply with me – in its celebration of La Rentrée. Although the term effectively translates to “back to school,” it carries a greater connotation for the population of the country. It marks not only the return of normalcy, complete with bustling streets and open storefronts, but the promise of something new and greater to be enjoyed by all. 

While my relationship with France has been a tumultuous one over the past couple of years, the optimism that permeates the country – and particularly the city of Paris – at this time is addictive. The harsh edges – of the city and its people – soften. The smiles are genuine, not guarded and suspicious. The courtesies easily extended, not reluctantly given. There is a recognition that we are all going through a period of transition at this time – from the lazy days of Summer to the crisp clip of Fall. 

As I sat on my balcony this morning watching kids excitedly flooding into the Lycee Chaptal that is located just across the street from my apartment, I couldn’t help but think about the promise that La Rentrée brings to my life this year.

After weeks of mentally winding my way through the emotional ebbs and flows that I’ve experienced since moving here, I had already resolved to let go of all of the fears, anxieties, and pain that had weighed me down for too long. But there was a feeling of needing to do more. As I sat in the sun, taking in the feeling of the day, I realized that for much of my time here in Paris, I had just been surviving and, frankly, that is not enough for me. To merely survive is to ignore all of the potential gifts of my life – not only here in Paris but generally. So, I resolved this Rentree to no longer just survive, but to thrive.

Dissatisfaction is a great starting point, for it is right there that we have the most power, strength, and energy to push change through. -David DeNotaris

What thriving looks like here is still a bit of a question – and one that I fully expect to write about in the future. In the short term, though, it started with a run up to Sacre Coeur, one of my favorite spots in the city. After running the steps three times (not a small accomplishment), I then set upon thinking how I was going to design this period to start pushing beyond the limitations that I have placed on myself up to this point. 

Always the organizer and list-maker, I decided to divide everything up into buckets of areas I would work on: mental, physical, professional, and emotional.

Mentally, I am focused on writing and sharing my voice – not just about my personal experiences living here in France, but also my professional observations. I have spent the majority of my life “behind the veil” in one manner or another, but have felt the need to step out in front increasingly in recent years. As I have begun to understand what makes my perspective on the world unique, I have grown more confident in the nature of my voice and have resolved to myself to make it heard, in the short term seeking publication of the professional pieces I am writing.

Physically, I am trying to “break up the fuzz” and learning how to move differently. I was introduced earlier this year to Gil Hedley’s “The Fuzz” speech, referencing what can happen to fascia when not properly stretched, and it stuck with me (for reasons beyond its small gruesome nature). After months of allowing myself to physically suffer the harms of stress and anxiety, I realized that I have allowed a lot of “fuzz” (and other padding) to build up.  And while I have been reliant the past several weeks on my walking / running / cycling classes to help clear my head, I know I need to do something more.  That my physical body needs a new challenge, just as much as my mind. So, I am embracing dance – not just dance, but jazz dance and have signed up for classes each week.

Professionally, I am opening myself up to every opportunity both here in France and beyond. While I know that I would like to have a life long term here in Paris, I also know that I cannot do it full term. I need a balance to the professional harshness that I have experienced here and I need more stability. To create that, I have had to admit that my goal of splitting my life 50/50 (or some percentage along those lines) in Paris (or elsewhere in Europe) and the States may not be possible at this point. I have done it thus far but at a great cost to my stress levels and while I continue to pursue the dream, I am now open to the possibilities another move (including one back home to Washington, DC) may bring.

Most importantly, though, emotionally I am committing to a practice of gratitude and appreciation – of those I love, of the city I am in, of myself, and beyond. I am taking time each day to find reasons to express admiration, no matter how small, of those around me. I am soaking in the streets, noises, and environment I walk, committed to keeping my eyes off my phone and in the here and now. I have let too many moments of beauty and joy pass me by over the past few months and will no longer take these for granted.

This Rentrée is indeed a period of transition, of promise, and of hope. Shifts and changes do not occur overnight and they do not happen by the sheer force of one person’s will alone. They require patience, focus, and the support of the world that surrounds you. I am blessed to have experienced profound and unexpected moments of support – both over the past several years but in the past several days as I have shared twists in my journey. I am forever thankful for these moments as they have been lifelines, providing me moments of inspiration and laughter when I needed them most. They have given me the strength to take this time to make the most of myself.

Letting Go of a Dream and Embracing the Truth

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you is the greatest accomplishment.” – Emerson

I’ve struggled to write this entry for months now. If I am being honest, probably well over a year. Maybe before I even landed in France.

I don’t even know where to begin. 

So, I guess, I will just cut to the chase with this. 

Rip off the bandaid so to speak. 

Who knows who is reading this anyway.

I’ve very recently broken up with the man to whom I was engaged to be married and who was the reason I moved to Europe. At least I think we have broken up. The past several months have been such a blur of crossed lines, conflating emotions, and misunderstandings (both cultural and emotional) that I don’t even know. This is what I do know: several weeks ago, I suggested that the Parisian and I take a break to give him space to focus on a series of things – his father and work primarily – and we have not talked since. 

To say that the weeks since have been difficult would be an understatement. I have been a human roller coaster of emotions and thoughts. I haven’t wanted to talk to anyone and, for the most part, haven’t done. I knew I couldn’t do so until I had parsed through all that has happened over the past several years. And, I knew I couldn’t do that in Paris – the city was too charged with memories and funky energies of all that had happened. So, I got on a train to Spain (San Sebastian to be exact), not knowing whether I would stay for the weekend, a week or longer. 

7883588B-0F8D-48AE-B49A-CA17F0DF4340It was a healing trip. I walked countless miles; meandering on trails that run along the coast and through ancient village streets. It gave me the quite literal space I needed from my current life situation to write, to feel, to (begin to) heal, and to reframe my perspective. 

As I have gone through this process, my thoughts keep returning to the question of truth. More specifically, how many truths I have been hiding. Hiding isn’t even the right word because I have been honest to a degree – but always to a degree – about my life here in Paris. There are so many half truths I have told people – friends, myself, random people I meet – for the past two years that it’s been hard for me to know what the real truth is anymore.

That is why I think….I think…I am doing with this blog post rather than just holding these thoughts close in my journal. I want to own as much of my truth publicly as possible. To share some of the pain and difficulties I have experienced, even as I go through the process of releasing their power over me. For far too long, I have let these experiences be a source of shame and embarrassment, when in reality they are the reason I am becoming stronger everyday.

I am hardly unique in hiding truths from those around me – particularly the dark ones. Everybody has a dark truth; generally, more than one. Something that they are seeking to bury, to hide from the world around them. It could be a perceived character flaw, a weakness if you will. More times than not, it is something that has happened or is happening in their lives. Rather than embracing and sharing what is fundamentally human about our lives, we seek shelter in the protection of perception, fearing the inevitable judgment that rains down from the public heavens that comes with honesty. This is natural; but it is not necessarily healthy.

The Parisian and our life together is my dark truth; one that I have been struggling with for quite some time. It has been the lens that has blurred everything else about my life in Paris, the reason that I came, and why I have continued to stay. 

When I moved here, I carried on my back not only the inordinately large (both in size and number) checked bags into which I stuffed my life to date, but also a belief that I was blessed to be the one to have the opportunity to live out a true dream (how egotistical does that sound?). I was a woman reconnected with her long lost Parisian love and destined to have both a love and life that was bi-continental in nature. That’s the story I told not only everyone I left in Washington, DC as I packed my bags and as I went about my life here in Paris, but also (in hindsight, most dangerously) myself. But that’s the thing, stories are stories and the truth is an entirely different matter. 

I have to digress for a moment. There were certainly words of skepticism…of caution along the way. But by in large, there were words of encouragement…of optimism. Maybe these words were fed in some small part by a small belief in all of the Elizabeth Gilbert / Julia Roberts (think Eat, Pray, Love) and Frances Mayes / Diane Lane (think Under the Tuscan Sun) genre books / movies that fill all too many late nights…if not by others than certainly by myself. It’s only been in the two years since that fateful decision to move that I have come to learn just how much reservation others had and continue to have. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have moved had people been more honest with me. I definitely would have still made the decisions I did. But perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the need to hide so hard…which I did…from most everyone around me when things didn’t go as expected. I was still holding on to a dream, my public rationalization for making such a huge shift in my life, and felt the need to support the perception that that dream was becoming a reality.

The reality of my life here has been so far from the perception that I have led some to believe that it is occasionally hard for me to explain this moment of truly waking up. 

The truth is that almost every promise that was made to me has been broken.

I was promised a life together based in France. The reality is that the plan for us to live together has never really happened. I was told two days before I left for France that I didn’t have a place to live as he had not found an apartment for us. I have since lived in 3 different apartments in the city that I found myself (a point of personal pride). Where has the Parisian lived? Well, that is the hardest and most embarrassing truth I have been hiding. Even though we have been engaged for over a year and a half, he still spends over 50% over his time in an apartment he co-owns with his ex. The rationalization? He is heavily invested financially and has to be primarily residenced there to protect that investment, per French law. I’ve been skeptical of this citation to say the least, but took it at word. Most likely because I was too afraid of the truth. 

I was promised a life that was deeply entrenched culturally both here in France and in the US. The reality is that every trip to the US was made alone, every return (save one) met by a bus / taxi driver, and every meeting with an immigration attorney or officer alone.

I was promised support in establishing myself professionally. The reality is that every potential business contact developed through my own friends. On this, he did try. He sought to bring me into the startups he was developing and connect me with contracts. And, while I loved the legal work I was doing for him (albeit for free), the other contracts were never a fit. They were never a fit because they were reflective of his professional passion and totally unrelated to a world I knew.

Beyond these promises, there were a million other emotional cuts he inflicted but those are far too personal for me to share at this point as I am still grappling to understand the impact that they have had on me.

Reading this, I am sure you are wondering why I stayed. I have had this question asked of me point blank by the (very few) friends I have talked to about us. I have even asked that question myself – quite a lot – over the past several months and definitely over the past few days.

I stayed because, despite all of the difficulties and hardships, the good was always greater than the bad. I was with him because the love we have – or I guess had, as I really can’t speak to his feelings at this point – is a truly extraordinary one. 

Our connection (I know, cliche) was beyond anything I have felt before. 

We understood each other. 

I stayed because he saw me for who I really am and loved me for it. He helped me to feel like less of an oddball, understanding the root of my root and embracing it. He believed in me, what I could be, more than anyone (save my mother) ever has before. Perhaps most importantly, he had the ability to make me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry.

I stayed because I admired him. There is an inner strength to him that makes you think that he could break mountains, if he wanted to do so. He has perseverance and a belief in himself that was empowering, almost addictive. And, when he is kind, it is like a truth that just washes through you and makes you feel clean. 

I stayed because I believed if we were able to just get through all of the trials we were facing and were finally able to be together, then there was nothing we couldn’t conquer.  

But for months, the question of whether we could get through the trials became a very real one. There were issues that were brewing. Almost all of them boiled down to one core point of contention: how we view and prioritize our relationship. I put it first, wanting to understand and navigate the cultural differences to create an open and supportive environment. He put it last (and if it was a higher priority for him, it didn’t feel that way), always focusing on an almost never ending stream of life events taking up his energetic bandwidth. Neither of which were healthy.

There were times, in fact most of the time, that I understood his need to do this. The matters he was having to tend to were serious – and very often life or death, especially when it came to concerns with his father. We would talk through these matters – sometimes calmly, sometimes highly charged – and there was always a call for understanding, primarily mine of his situation. And I tried. Was I perfect?  Not even close. I was insecure, scared, argumentative, and searching for a place to put blame for decisions I made entirely on my own. I said things I never could have imagined coming out of my mouth…and immediately regretted saying them yet knowing there was some truth behind.

But after nearly two years of living in Paris spending the majority of the time focused on his needs – his professional endeavors, the ebbs and flows of his father’s health, and financial concerns – without receiving any support in return, I was nearing the end of my emotional and energetic rope. I had no sense of security, of a real home, and felt that he wasn’t investing the time necessary into our relationship to not only make us work but thrive. As a result, little things would set me off or send me in an emotional meltdown. The result, understandably, was driving him away. He felt I needed too much support, assurance of his feelings, and constantly reproaching him for any shortcomings. 

I knew that a breaking point was coming, I just didn’t know what it would be until it was there.

After days of having my calls and texts go unreturned, I had finally had enough of the questions and uncertainty and called for a break. I did this not because I no longer wanted to be with him. Quite the contrary, I did it because I wanted to make a life with him but knew that would not be possible with things continuing to progress as they were. That break has since quickly spiraled into what I can only assume is a break up.

This has left me shellshocked, especially as I continue to learn details about things that have been going on his life of which I was unaware.

I am left both without and still with too many words.  

I am deeply heartbroken. 

I am confused.

The one thing I am not is angry. 

I am not angry because I still love him.

And, I do still want a life with him.

I have already faced torrents of comments from the few friends I have talked to about this feeling. And I know more will come. But if I am to heal, then I have to be honest. And the truth is that the core of my heart still hopes and wants us to find our way back together. However, not as we were. But as a mutually supportive, loving, and accepting relationship. I have also come to terms with the fact that the chances of this actually happening are unlikely. And, that’s ok. 

In going through what seems to be an endless number of relationship articles that Medium is feeding me these days, I read: 

Sexy is taking responsibility for your life. It’s waking up everyday knowing that you might fail at something but continuing on regardless. Sexy is muddling through life absolutely terrified, but still knowing you’ve got the guts to do it.

It’s been so long since I have felt sexy for any reason. If I am going to feel sexy for any reason, though, I want it to be because I am taking ownership of my role in this, even as I am not sure how much sense I am making of all of this at the moment. 

When I moved to Paris, I broke every rule I held tight to all my life. And, I’ve continued to break them since being here. I moved to not only another city but another country for a man without any firm plans to be married and without a job or clients for my firm lined up. I moved here because I believed in the word of another.

And the dark truth I have been hiding for the past two years is that virtually every word that was uttered to me was betrayed. I believed in the power of a dream and love and they have been used against me as a weapon.

In trying to hide that dark truth, I have driven so many people away that there are times that I have questioned every relationship in my life. I have shut people out and I have completely shut down at times. I have done so because I didn’t know who I could trust with the truth I was living. Those decisions, though, were entirely mine…to build a wall…to shine a face when I could….and to hide from the world when I couldn’t. I have no real idea of the damage it inflicted, but that is my own path to follow.

As I let go of the dream that was us – The Parisian and myself – I want to do it honestly. To mourn what seems to be the loss of love, while treasuring all that it gave to me. And while I needed to acknowledge the times of pain, I will not hold on to them. I will not let those times have any more power over me. Rather, I am learning from them and focusing on the joy that The Parisian gave me – and the gift of knowing a true love, even if it wasn’t enough to keep us together.

As I do this, a new dream is beginning to take shape. And while I have no idea where it will be based or who will be in it, I do know it will no longer be centered around the life of another. Rather, it will be founded in honesty and inspired by the hope and beauty of my own potential. It is a new life of my own making. 

Breathe, Sleep, Be F***ing Amazing

“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

fullsizeoutput_11f1For some reason, the transition from Winter to Spring is always a difficult one for me.  Like many, the Winter finds me going through down periods of moroseness and despondency. On the outside, I might look like a modern lady going about her day to day. But on the inside, I feel like a Bronte character wandering the moors in search of meaning for it all.  Yes, I have even had times of visualizing myself like this, complete with Victorian dress. These periods have been particularly acute since moving to Europe. This is due, in part, to different nature of my work here. I spent my professional days in Washington, DC surrounded by people – business partners, clients, meeting appointments, friends.  I spend my the majority of my professional days in Paris predominantly alone with human interaction mainly limited to strategic conference calls and morning runs. The winters in Europe can also be hard because, well, they are just….so….dang…dark. Short days mean limited exposure to natural sunlight. And particularly windy and, more than occasionally, very raining days make any time outside particularly uncomfortable.  Having learned how hard the winters were here last year, I did everything I could to steel myself for these emotional travails. I planned trips here in Europe and in the US for much of the winter season to keep everything going forward. I set meetings in Brussels, Belgium to understand the changing political dynamics here in Europe. I went to the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland for the first time to discuss some of my theories on the future of the technology industry’s engagement with governments.  I spent time in Northern California both reconnecting with old friends and clients as well as starting training in coaching peak flow performance. I devoted time on the East Coast of the US, focusing on managing my ongoing life there.

Despite my best planning, though, the end of March hit me hard.  Just when I should have been most excited about the Spring to come, I woke up one day and didn’t want to get out of bed.  And I barely did get out of bed. I barely got out of bed for the next five days. People were worried about me. My mother talked to me in hushed tones.  Friends from Washington DC texted or called everyday to check in. Even the lovely ladies of the American Women’s Group in Paris wanted to send me flowers when I told a couple that I was going through a hard time.  On the fifth day, though, something broke through. I was sitting on my balcony taking in a particularly beautiful morning – a morning where the sun was so strong that I could literally feel it filling up my energy reserves – when I noticed a feather floating in the distance.  I watched it dance on the wind from what looked to be about the twenty feet off the ground – to the right, to the left, away from me, towards me, always floating up – until it literally floated up over my railing and into my lap. Mind you, I life on the 6eme etage (7th American floor), meaning I had watched the feather travel at least fifty feet further up in the air until it came to rest with me.  

As I sat looking at this feather, I wash of emotions and thoughts came over me.  

First, it was a true moment of joy – of appreciating the beauty in the smallest of things. I also couldn’t help but laugh at the moment.  It felt like something out of a movie – both seemingly surreal in nature while also being cliche. I even looked around me to see if anyone else had seen what had just happened. Then laughed again at my own ridiculousness of doing so.

Second, it was a moment a great hope – of knowing that all things pass. No matter how great the despair, the happiness, the fatigue, the energetic surge – they all pass and not to read too much into each one.

Third, and most importantly for me the past few weeks, it was a moment of great insight – of realizing a pattern in my own life.  That despite the beauty that each Spring promises, I had always struggled with the transition. The question that I then turned to was, why?  As I sat there thinking through all the Springs that had passed previously and the times of struggle that I went through during them, I began to see my own life pattern – a pattern of taking on too much in the late Winter months, all with an eye to making the coming Spring “the best one yet” and then hitting a wall when I had taken on too much.  I would take on self improvement projects – setting about to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain time, of having a certain style, of learning a new skill. I would take on home improvement projects – tearing apart parts of my home, reorganizing them, creating a list of all the things that needed to be done in order to perfect the space around me.  I would take on professional improvement projects – strategically mapping out people I needed to meet with, get to know, developing policy issues that I needed to master. The problem was, I wouldn’t just take on one area of improvement. I would take them ALL on, seeking to conduct a wholesale revamp in the hopes of entering the Spring a new and improved version of myself in all areas of my life.  The problem is when you take everything on, very rarely are you able to do any of it. Or, at least, very rarely are you able to do any of it well. Everything is sacrificed in the name of moving on to the next thing.

It was at that moment of clarity as I looked at my own seasonal rhythm that I realized I had been taking on too much.  I had been trying to boil the ocean of my life and it had sent me spinning into a spiral of “to do” lists and sleepless nights.  I had been trying to do everything at once – and frustrated in every manner at the seeming impossibility of it all – rather than focusing on the immediately accomplishable.  I was compounding stress rather than reducing it. I was thinking too much about how to live my best life rather than actually living it. How’s that for a big ol’ smack in the face?

So, I then set about the task of doing something about it.  Don’t get me wrong, I still had my lofty goals, but I set them on a quarterly schedule rather than on a weekly one.  I had read about the importance of setting quarterly goals – or resolutions if you will – rather than annual ones in a Forbes article late last year.  This sent me down a rabbit hole of understanding the psychology of how we approach self improvement and how others sought to make improvements through quarterly goal setting.  I loved the idea and sought to set it in place in my life. And, I did.  The only problem is I had taken on too much and I needed to trim a lot of things back. And, I did.

I took an honest look at everything I was working on in my life.  I wrote down the things that I needed to take care of immediately to reduce the stress in my life – most immediately, putting my house in Washington, DC in order to turn over to a property management company to handle rentals.  I wrote down the things that were taking too much of my time without a corresponding reward – namely, volunteering and professional commitments with scopes of work that had far exceeded what was originally agreed. I wrote down the things that I allowed to take up mental and physical energy but I could do nothing about – almost exclusively, everything happening in my fiance’s life.  I then set about taking care of these things, one by one and with an exclusive focus on that immediate item. I won’t lie. This process wasn’t easy. And it required a lot of difficult conversations. Conversations that I was, frankly, really scared to have. But I had them and you know what? They weren’t AS difficult as I had thought they would be. While that is in part due to the fact I always think through the worst case scenario of how things will progress, it is also in part due to the fact I had really clear lines, for once, of what I could and was willing to do.

As I have slowly reduced my stress triggers over the past several weeks, I have also outlined what I need to do in order to keep the stress at a manageable level, to ensure that I do not set expectations too high for myself (or others), to enjoy the beauty of the world in which I live.  

This has come down to five simple words: Breathe, Sleep, Be Fucking Amazing.

While the words are simple, the realization is more difficult than we all initially think they will be.  If they were simple, then there wouldn’t be literally libraries of scientific and spiritual theory devoted to them.  But, they are simple truths and necessities for sanity. Simple truths that I was reminded of by a simple feather floating in the air.

 

Learning the Art of the Impossible

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Saint Francis of Assisi

I’ve been thinking about (and working on) grounding quite a bit over the past several months. For those who are unfamiliar with this concept, it is because you have probably heard it used as a descriptor (“You can just tell she is very grounded….”) rather than as a process.  But, whether we realize it or not, it is a process that we engage on a nearly daily basis. For some, the process of grounding is better understood as nesting; for others, meditating. Grounding is what helps us feel connected – either physically or metaphorically – to the world that we encounter.  

For most of my life, I thought that being grounded depended on a place.  More specifically, a home that I owned and was undeniably, “me.” I made having that home, that place, a priority; one of a handful of items on my checklist of things to do / achieve before I would ever consider getting married.  Don’t ask me why I made it a prerequisite to getting married. Perhaps it was being raised in a generation where divorce and stories of wives left with nothing trickled into my young ears from the cocktail receptions I attended as a child with my parents.  Perhaps it was a factor of being the daughter of a Steinem-era feminist and hooking my female independence to the milestone. Who really knows, but it stuck and, like all of the other things on that checklist, I achieved it at a relatively young age of 31. It was my base, my sanctuary, my cave to return to when other things in life didn’t feel quite right.  I protected it fiercely – it’s sanctity, it’s energy, it’s security.

Over the past year and a half, I have given up a lot of things; the surety of a defined career path, the proximity of dearly held friends and the comfort they provide, the safety of a known culture, to name a few.  Of all of the things I have given up, though, the hardest has been my homebase; that place where I could return and I knew I would feel….myself.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on this feeling, how much the lack of it really impacted me, until I few months ago.  I knew I felt unsettled, but shrugged it off to the seemingly unending administrative requirements that you are required to navigate the first several years as an expat (especially in France) and the fact that I was looking at changing apartments again (for the third time in under a year).  Of course my head was muddled, my emotions confused, my moments of clarity few and far between! I was being pulled all over the place! However, as these feelings continued to persist despite moving into an absolute sanctuary of a new apartment and successfully renewing my carte de sejour (and obtaining my official residency card), it was clear that there was something more going on that I needed to address.

ktrk5pl+qg+wlznjk3er6qSeveral months before, I came across the book Stealing Fire (by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal).  Reviews had featured insights into how Silicon Valley operates, so I was intrigued and listened to the audiobook during my walks here and there across Paris.  It piqued something in me. I felt a glimmer of familiarity, not just with the content but with the sense of excitement that it brought about as I noodled through the manner in which they sought to succinctly draw lines and connections between generations of spiritual, philosophical, scientific, and professional practices.  While I felt that there might be something more there that I wanted to explore, it was not until this past Fall as I sat lost in a psychological forest of my own making that I began to explore the concepts discussed – and specifically the concept of flow.

Why ‘flow’?  Well, because the concept of flow, or rather achieving it, is to be “in the zone,” in the moment, and in my body.  And, at the time, I felt anything but that. I wasn’t just ungrounded, I felt entirely out of body; moving through my days, taking in a million different data points, having a million different ideas, but never quite being able to reduce them down to a single (or even a handful) of focus points. I needed to not only bring myself back to center, but understand why (and how) I had come unmoored so that I could create a check for myself in the future.  I certainly wasn’t going to go through the emotional rollercoaster of the past year again, if I could help it!

So, I did what any good overthinker does: I began taking in massive amounts of information.  I took classes, read and listened to books, read articles, took tests. I wanted to understand what pushes me to move and, conversely, to be paralyzed.  I wanted to understand what my triggers were (are) in order to keep myself from being so emotionally spun up by the immediacy or seemingly daunting nature of what is in front of me.  Most importantly, I wanted to understand how to level-set myself again.

To do this, I knew that I needed to break everything down to the core.  As Rumi would say, to get at the “root of the root” of myself.  To clear out all of the cloudiness of the months and years before – the disappointments that weighed on my heart of promises made but not kept, the insecurities that swirled through my mind of aspirations not met, and the utter fear that resided in my body at a seemingly cellular level over my ability to control what lie ahead.

This process has not been easy.  But, then again, change rarely is.  That said, I used to think that the process of change, be it personal or professional, required grand and often knee-jerking shifts. While you need look no further than my move to Paris for proof of that, this perspective did have a basis in my life.  Namely, the last major change in my life – in jobs, in home, in perspective – occurred nearly 8 years before, in 2009.  There are no words to explain how many changes I experienced that year, all of them centered around two major events of the year; namely, my father passing away and my then-boss (Senator Arlen Specter, then Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee) deciding to change political parties.  Both events occurred suddenly and with little (if any) warning.  Both led me to question nearly everything I believed in at the time.  Both fundamentally stripped me of any sense of grounding (there’s that word again) and security I enjoyed before. And though both resulted in years of emotional turmoil, they also led me down a new and (relatively) clear professional path. So, you have to understand that there was at least a basis for my thinking that fundamental change required huge shifts in perspective.

What I understand now, though, is that real improvement and change takes time and does not hang on any single event in our life, no matter how transformational certain events may be.  Although the events of 2009 might have caused me to change professions, my ability to do so relatively seamlessly was the result of years of work on the Senate Judiciary Committee before those pivotal moments.  Similarly, any improvements and changes I enjoyed in this next chapter of my life wouldn’t hinge on the mere fact that I moved to Paris (though it would make life a lot easier if it would have), but would depend on the day in / day out work I had and continue to put in since the move.

I’ve learned, finally perhaps, that to realize the grand change, then you have to have a commitment to the small ones.  Not just sporadically, but everyday; taking on the small things that support the larger vision. Now, I know this may seem painfully obvious. Even as I write this, I have to laugh at how ridiculous it sounds to even say it, because it does seem so obvious. But, we we all know from each of our personal experiences, just because something is terribly obvious doesn’t mean that it is also incredibly easy.  But with a little bit of self-discipline, it also doesn’t have to be exceedingly difficult.  This is what I am learning to call the art of the impossible.  For it is through mastering it, or even attempting to do so, that shifts our perspective from what is impossible to possible. 

This has taught me invaluable lessons; not only about myself but the world and those around me.  I have learned the importance of creating a quiet space and engaging a practice that I have come to call the “4 Elements.” For those are are interested, I am including what this entails at the bottom of this post.  I will fully admit that creating these times of quiet is a task more easily said than done.  For parents, especially mothers, it means finding a place of solitude.  For people generally, it means taking a step away from the constant flow of information streams.  That said, I have found that these times do not need to be long – sometimes only a few minutes – and they are when I have had the opportunity to learn the most.  

Personally, these times of quiet are where I have learned how to sit with whatever is driving me, be it positive or negative.  To listen to it. And I mean, really listen, letting any words flowing from my head come unencumbered no matter how over-ambitious or seemingly toxic they may be.  To understand how those feelings / words / actions are impacting me physically. Honoring them for the insight they can give. And then, letting them. The process of letting them go has been the hardest for me to learn.  I am wired to have a constant feedback loop of negativity and self-criticism. Frankly, it’s probably what has driven a lot of my previous success. However, I have learned that in the new life that I am creating, it serves me very little good.  As I have learned to let go – of the hurt, the insecurities, the fear – I have begun to find myself again. I have begun to feel grounded again. I have begun to feel safe and secure again. And, not because I am located at any given place, but because of an acceptance of where I am at this very moment.

Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, as I have cleared out the “personal crap,” if you will, I have been able to use these moments of quiet increasingly for professional purposes.  I have always had a good gut professionally. An ability to read the horizon, the tea leaves, the roadmap (even when the GPS is off, wink). It’s something instinctual. Frankly, that gut is what has gotten me thus far professionally in Europe.  However, when I left my home in Washington, DC in September 2017, I knew that I wanted to do something more, that I was capable of something more. As I have dived deep into understanding the process of flow, what that “more” is is slowly making itself known.  The “aha” moments and times of clarity coming with more frequency.

To that end, I will be taking my exploration of flow to (for me) it’s next logical step and starting a coaching certification program with the Flow Genome Project in the coming weeks.  Although this invariably will have immeasurable personal benefits, I want to explore how flow techniques can be applied to bridge cultural divides the currently inhibit productive policy discussions.  While I see these divides most poignantly between the American and European cultures, it is clear that they are creeping up within countries – from the “conservative” and “liberal” wings of political parties around the globe.  News headlines focus on the rise of these divides in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and France because of their status as “First World Leaders,” but these are reflective of a larger international shift with a growing disconnect between what is said and what is heard in policy debates.  This is the space that I am exploring the potential application of flow techniques; using fundamentally neurological tools that transcend cultures to close the disconnect in communication.  Effectively, creating a new “translation tool,” if you will.  More on this to come, hopefully, in the coming weeks.

Of course, this professional path may not necessarily be the easiest one.  Nor is it entirely clear where it will ultimately lead me in terms of a home city (be it Paris, back in Washington, in San Francisco, or elsewhere).  What I do have now, though, is not only an increasingly robust set of tools and experiences at my disposal to take it on, but a personal center, a grounding that I have created within myself, to ensure my success no matter the location.

“4 Elements” Practice – While I do these ideally every morning (in the order listed below), sometimes there just isn’t time and have found that I get just as much peace / clarity when I give myself time to intentionally focus on each of these elements throughout the day.  

  • Water – Drink 20 oz / .5 L of cold water in the morning,
    • This is the one non-negotiable for me first thing in the morning.  Yes, before coffee, before anything else.  I have done a ton of reading about how this actually gives you more energy than coffee can by helping to clear everything out from the night before and, I will have to admit, it does wake me up quite a bit (even if I still depend on my two-shot cafe au lait immediately after.  If nothing else, you will get a few more steps in the morning with a couple of extra trips to the toilette while you get ready.  I will also note that I have been challenging myself to drink, what for it, 4.5 L a day.  Yeah.  That’s a lot.  But, man, when I do do it, I feel worlds better.
  • Air – Breathwork
    • I generally do about minutes of focused / guided breathing in the morning and then 5 minutes in the evening.  I have been using the app BreatheSync because it helps to measure your overall well being based on our breathing.  That said, there are a million apps out there for this and everyone is definitely different in what works for them.
  • Fire – Lighting Candles / Setting Intentions / Expressing Gratitude
    • I love candles and have them all over my apartment.  I actually use candles far more here in France than I ever did in the US.  Maybe there is something to the romanticism to them.  That said, there is also a huge amount of energy that is released and I have found that when I light my candles and then take a few minutes to either journal or even just think about my intentions or gratitude for the day, I give more focus and power to those thoughts.
  • Earth – Walk / Run / Yoga / Work Out
    • Basically, this is anything movement related, physically connecting to the ground / earth but also taking a moment away from screens / phones etc.  As I tend to do a lot of work from home, I have found that it has been really important to set this time aside and really honor it.  Otherwise, I could literally work non-stop into the wee hours of the evenings.  

Learning to Recognize Progress

I’ve been thinking about progress recently; what it means and how we define it in our life, either day to day or over the long term.  Ironically, these thoughts were sparked by the fact that I felt I needed, but also wanted, to post something on this blog. Almost immediately, though, I then found myself struggling with what to say after taking so much time away.  It wasn’t that words didn’t come. To the contrary, quite a few words and thoughts came almost immediately. But they also didn’t feel like the right ones to share just at this moment. So, I let them come, and then tucked them away for another time, another entry, another use.  But when I opened this document , I found myself staring quizzically at it for quite some time, struggling with where to start…again…here….. By the way, to the extent that periods of life have themes to them, which I think we can all agree they generally do, mine right now seems to be one of constantly starting over.  So, I have gotten used to the struggle that it presents, albeit a little more frustrated with myself in this instance because of the amount of writing, professionally and personally, that I have been doing over the past couple of months. Why, then, could I not find the words for now?

Sitting on my balcony a few nights ago, I finally figured out why this entry was not coming to me the way others had.  It’s because after having not put anything up in months, taking the time instead to focus on other projects (some of which I hope to share more about in the future), I have felt it necessary to include something showing progress in my journey.  That annoying little internal voice in my head that seems to always present questions but never put forward answers then asked, “Well, what is progress anyway?” Which…of course had me dive down another mental rabbit hole, thinking about not just the past several months but years.  Have I mentioned before that I think too much? (Those of you who know me, I am sure just snorted a little bit because that is an understatement, and I will grant you that.) It’s both one of my most significant attributes professionally and stumbling blocks personally. Anyway….

Objectively speaking, yes, I have made progress over the past several months.

Professionally, I secured my first European clients.  Project-based work, but work all the same. And with people / businesses who did not know me or my body of work in Washington. I feel it necessary to include this last point because anyone who has ever started a consulting firm, or really any business, will tell you how difficult it is to “finalize the deal” in the best of circumstances where you are a known entity.  As aware as I was of the potential added difficulty of doing so in a “market,” so to speak, where I was new and basically a totally unknown, I could not have known to what degree. And, in hindsight, I am grateful for being so blissfully unaware of that fact and how much I would need to sell myself and rationalize my value. If I had known how much “hustle” would be involved, I think the mere thought of it might have proven too exhausting or daunting to move forward.  But, I wasn’t aware. And, I did move forward. The result are signs, glimmers of things coming together

Financially, I established my credit here in France / Europe.  How might you ask? Well, first, let me say that the question of credit, or rather not having it, is one that I never thought I would have to think about again.  Frankly, it has been one that I have been privileged enough to never really think about given how young I was when my parents started the process of helping me establish it.  It was something that was always there, to be managed and taken seriously, to ensure all options were available to me in the future. But the thought of not having it never entered my mind until, well, basically I didn’t have it….here…in the country / Continent that I was navigating with at least the intention of being a forever home.  So, how did I do it? Did I apply for a credit card, like most normal people would do? Nope. For various reasons, which can only be summed up as, “The Parisian thought it was best,” I bought a car. Yep. A car. Now, honestly, this could be the subject of a whole other post. But, think about what goes into buying a car in the States. Now add a layer of “Frenchiness” to that.  It involved negotiations, huge amounts of paperwork (yes, in French and, no, I don’t think I understood all of it), and navigating the various obligations imposed by the dealership, French government (to register the car in my name), and local insurance company (oh yeah, that one was a real treat). Not the easiest way to go about the process or available to everyone, but effective.

Culturally, I have acclimated to my new home.  Don’t get me wrong, I have not assimilated in the manner that is expected here of long-term residents.  That is a much longer process and requires primarily a degree of fluency of the language that my ear has only recently begun to garner but not yet my tongue.  But, I have dived in deep to the world around me and sought to understand how and why it operates as it does; not as an expat (though I have explored this perspective and how it varies depending on differing circumstances, but these are thoughts for more lengthy writings in the future), but through the eyes of the French.  I have had long lunches, hosted dinners that ran well into the morning the next day, sipped coffee, drank bottles of wine, and walked the city streets with Parisians with roots so deep in this city and country that it is almost impossible for an American to understand. These conversations have meandered in topic, but they have all been peppered with anecdotes and explanations for their views and reasoning against their cultural context.  Interestingly, this has made me think quite a lot about my time at Vanderbilt University and the French philosophers I read at the time. Early in my studies, I almost didn’t pursue a degree in philosophy. This was in part because I was determined to get my degree in chemistry because I thought it a more pragmatic (and lucrative) path once combined with a law degree. But also because I struggled so fundamentally with the theories of absurdity and chaos that permeated so much the great French intellects of my 101 and 102 philosophy classes.  It’s only now, after countless hours and conversations about the culture, history, and politique of this fascinating country, that I have come to understand the thinking of their great philosophers more.  I still might not agree, but I am coming to understand.

These are just a few examples of the progress I have made in the constant whirlwind of the past few months, that have also included: operating effectively as an outside General Counsel to a new digital payments company The Parisian decided to start at the beginning of this year (because we didn’t have enough going on); beginning the process of potentially taking the French / Paris Bar next year (because just dealing with the French Administration as an expat wasn’t enough, I clearly needed to navigate the professional certification process); drafting legal agreements and patent applications for both here in Europe and back in the US (giving me first-hand knowledge in the business of so many legislative policies I have debated in the past); and, last but certainly not least, navigating every aspect of the French real estate market, both residential and commercial (this one is truly too long to get into at this point, except to say that it is absolutely fascinating).

So, yes, objectively speaking, you can say that I have progressed over the past several months.  That I have a firmer grasp of the ground underneath me. In thinking about what progress really is in living a happy and fulfilled life, though, these are just details.  I (and anyone going through a similar transition) was bound to realize some manner of similar points of progression almost no matter where I moved. The more meaningful change has occurred, as it always does, internally and is likely all but imperceivable.  Namely, I have begun to find, and respect, my own boundaries. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s best explained, interestingly enough, in the context of love, both for The Parisian (or others) and for myself.

When it comes to matters of love, I have historically had almost endless amounts of love for others (specifically, those close to me) and very little for myself.  This has manifested itself romantically over the years of committing myself to “wounded birds,” as my friends lovingly (that was used sarcastically, by the way). As you can imagine, this led to years of heartbreak and more than a little frustration.  The Parisian, though, was (is) not a “wounded bird” but a warrior. A true “look anyone in the eye and tell it to either be helpful or get the &*$# out of my space / way / life” sort of man. I’ve seen him do this on many an occasion – protecting me, his father, his business, at a restaurant when someone is being too loud and obnoxious, you name it.  That said, he has his own bag of tricks (as we all do) and spent my first few months here pulling each one out, one by one. Interestingly, for a man so fiercely protective of his own boundaries, all of these tricks somehow had the realistic impact of crossing / invading mine. It was not until I had hit a breaking point, though, did I realize that this was what was happening, leaving me questioning many times why I had moved here.  Oh yeah, and my sanity. I haven’t told the full details of these instances to anyone and I have only discussed the most significant of these moments with one person. It was during that discussion, though, that she told me that I needed to end things – either the relationship entirely or how it was currently progressing.

I took that to heart.  It made me feel like I wasn’t being wholly irrational or sensitive.  I took some time: to think, to write, to walk. I quickly knew that I loved The Parisian too much, too deeply, too truly to walk away at this point.  So, what then was he doing that was cutting me to the core? I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me. So, why then did I feel so hurt all the time? I began dissecting each clear instance of when I felt moments of pain or hurt, not just as a result of his but my own actions (or inactions).  

When it came to interpersonal matters, I realized that we weren’t talking enough.  We weren’t discussing the little things. How any one of the million little things that we do in a day without thinking might be negatively impacting the other, be it not putting away laundry / dishes / assorted items (yeah, I have given up on that like every other woman in a relationship has had to) or being careless in deflecting frustrations with work or other people on to each other.  We were both letting all of those little hurts left unsaid and pile up to a point when even the smallest thing would result in an avalanche of emotion. The result of which being a more than a little convoluted argument, with references to obscure actions, claims of mixing everything up, all generally occurring in the very late hours. We would then wake up the next morning, say we loved each other, but still have almost no clarity about what had happened, and start again.  Toxic cycle, right? Exhausting and totally unsustainable, right? Yeah. But also, pretty fixable, if approached in the right way and with willing parties.

I have a feeling this pattern is all too common and anyone and everyone who is reading this can identify with it – whether based on experiences with their romantic partner or close friends.  It’s natural, really. We all want to please the person(s) we love and often find ourselves going through periods where we give more than we receive, where we don’t want to make an issue of seemingly small matters, where we then find ourselves so angry or saddened by someone we deeply care about for seemingly no reason at all.  So you push it down, push it down, push it down, until you just can’t anymore. More times than not, this results in people just ending the relationship, sometimes dramatically and in a blaze of emotion and sometimes quietly and in total ambivalence, because it’s just too hard to take away the pain. To rewire behaviors that had become habitual, interestingly by your very own inaction.  To start the conversation and relationship on fresh footing and with an unbiased perspective. It doesn’t make the love any less real, it just means that the pain is too close. Perhaps that’s why you see couples divorce / break up or friends fall apart / out of touch, only to reconnect years later closer and in more love than they ever were before. It’s because the intervening years gave the space and time needed to effectively wipe the slate clean.  

In my personal instance, this is where, for once, having two different native tongues helped.  The Parisian and I had already grown accustomed to having to take a pause, and sometimes take the temperature down, in our discussions to understand whether we actually understood what the other was saying or whether something was being “lost in translation.”  From almost the very beginning of our relationship, we knew we had to be cautious and reflective of these linguistic misunderstandings. So, when the point came that I was ready to discuss how I had reached my breaking point, how I couldn’t handle the cultural and interpersonal expectations I felt were being put upon me, we were able to do so calmly and rationally (even if, at times, defensively).  More fundamentally, we were able to do so lovingly.

Conversely, when it came to internal matters, I realized that I was talking to myself too much.  From the very beginning of my life here in France, well really for almost my entire life, for as much progress as I was making, I was plagued by the fact that it wasn’t as much as I envisioned for myself or that I knew I was capable of.  The result being a nearly daily reprimanding of myself to do more, to be more, to see more, to stretch more. Sound familiar? Likely so because I think this is the dialogue many of us have with ourselves, especially to those Type-A folks out there (am I right or am I right?).  We hold ourselves up to some subjective standard that we think others have of us. No matter how much we do, how much we succeed, how much ground we cover, we look back and always say, “if I had only done X, then I could have done so much more / better / etc.”

The longer I live here, though, the more I am learning just how much bull$#!* that really is.  And that has been my real internal progress. I mean, don’t get me wrong, my life is never going to stop being a series of “to do” lists and internal expectations that I set for myself.  That’s just fundamentally who I am and how I am wired. But I am beginning to learn to, without self-judgment, carry the action items / expectations over to the next day or just dump them entirely, figuring that if I haven’t done them in the three days / three weeks / three months (I’m being only a little hyperbolic here) when I first noted them on my “to list,” then clearly there is no real need to do or worry about it any more. In bumper sticker speak, I am learning to truly “not sweat the small stuff” and “cut myself a break.”  This has probably been both the most surprising and most welcome progress that I have made over the past several months. And probably one of most valuable gifts my time in France, no matter how short or long it ends up being, could ever give me because it is a step towards living a life of grace and ease.

A little sidebar, here.  I was recently reminded of a conversation from my very early 30s with one of my former mentors.  He was the General Counsel then of what can easily be described as a very large technology company.  For one reason or another, we were talking about emails and the angst that not having a “clear inbox” can have, probably because I was an even more hardwired, overachiever then.  He said to me, “Well, I just delete all my emails in my inbox older than a month. If it is really that important, the person will follow up. This then allows me to clear my head and focus on the immediately pressing matters.”  He then went on after this discussion to be the General Counsel of an even larger technology company and has since retired before the age of sixty, so clearly he’s doing something right. Oh, and this conversation was nearly ten years ago and I am only now taking to heart the deeper meaning.  Clearly, some of us have steeper learning curves than others.

The progress, then, that I’ve realized over the past several months has been more fundamental than can be measured by other objective ticking points.  But it has been / is slow and more than a little painful most of the time, feeling more like I am peeling off layers of skin than living “la vie en rose” that I imagined when I moved here.  But the days “en rose” are more frequent now and I’ve come to understand that the periods of angst / emotional pain / incredible discomfort are natural and a part of change. I am trying and increasingly succeeding to vocalize my boundaries when they are crossed and letting things go when they do not matter.  I am beginning to soak in those moments of clarity and feelings of success, no matter how small, that come and go with this progression. It might not be one that you or anyone else can see just looking at me, but as Antoine de Saint-Expury said in The Little Prince (yes, the children’s book and one which I have grown quite fond of revisiting as of late), “Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.”  Or, in English, “And now here is my secret; a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Alors, et voilà!

Aftershocks

“I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial… I thought I knew a good deal about it all, I was sure I was sure I should not fail.” – Winston Churchill

There’s this funny thing that happens when you are in the midst of change.  The “old you” does absolutely everything it can to keep the change from happening.  It seeks to inject itself into any situation where there may be an opening, to control things the way it always has.  Now, I know this may seem obvious to many people but it is has been the source of quite a lot of angst for me.  So much so that I have literally been unable to write a coherent thought (and barely have been able to vocalize one beyond, “I am confused.”) over the past several weeks.  The reason for my confusion is because I chose to make this change.  I chose to take this time away from the alternate reality that so many people see as Washington, DC but which is (frankly) my safe and happy place.  I chose to push myself out of the plane without a parachute, assuming that I could just sow the silks together on my way down and believing something would come together before I hit the ground.  Put more simply, I chose to make this change and have been very confused and torn every time I am forced to grapple and put away the tendencies of my old self so that I can give whatever I am to change into space to grow.

I don’t know why but for some reason I had this naive belief that the moment I got off of the plane when I first arrived here at the end of September, I would be a new person.  I thought that the mere fact that I was arriving with the intention of making a new city a home, it would embrace me with open arms and transform me.  I am hardly the first person to come to Paris with this belief.  There is a reason why so many people for centuries seem to escape here.  There’s an inherent romanticism about the city and its seemingly magical powers.  It’s only after having spent just over four months here that I understand why.  

It’s because it is a hard city.  And if you can survive it, then you will truly leave (or live, rather) a changed person. Thinking about it, perhaps it is too harsh to say that it is a hard city.  Rather, it is a city that you can get lost in.  It is so large.  So layered.  So filled with unanticipated twists and turns.  Not just in the streets but in its energies.  It upsets your every expectation, not just of where you are going but where you are – physically and spiritually – at that very moment.  It forces you to reexamine everything that you originally intended when you set about your journey and forces you to ask the question, why?  

At least, that is what it has done to me to date.  This city and the experiences it has forced me to travel through thus far has left me breathless.  Crumpled.  Lost.  Listless.  At times, seemingly paralyzed with fear, tears running down my cheeks, wondering how I truly ended up here and if I would ever find my way forward.  At times, fighting for survival, lashing out at everything around me like a caged rat being thrown in a tub full of water. Even as I write about this, I feel the power of anxiety taking over.  A seeming ocean of anxious energy coming to swallow me whole.  

Sidenote: The endless amounts of rain that this city has gotten this year has me think of a lot of water metaphors.  That and wondering if there is a startup to be created in finding a way to transfer to excess water from here to parts of the world that are facing droughts.

It’s been ages since I have been forced to grapple with feelings like this.  Truly, the last time was when I was in my early 20s, about to take the Bar Exam.  I had just turned 25 and had spent months preparing for a two-day exam that, at the time, I thought would dictate the course of my life.  For any attorney reading this, you will understand the extreme amount of pressure that is drilled into you about the importance of passing this exam.  I have a tendency to isolate myself in times of transition (sound familiar?) and after spending weeks upon end of barely interacting with any other living soul besides my local barista, it was decided that I would catch rides with people to the exam.  First my mother, who would pick me up in Washington and drive me to Richmond.  And then with law school friends, who would drive me to Richmond to Roanoke.  So, three days before the bar exam, I spent the morning doing the last of my practice exams, neatly packed up the flash cards with the various terms and theories to periodically skim, and then got in my car to go to the airport and pick up my mother, committed to “taking it easy” on myself for the next couple of days and clearing my mind of tension so that all of the information already in my brain would more easily flow on the days of the exam.  As my mother got in the car, she asked a simple question, “how are you feeling about everything?” and I immediately melted into a puddle.  A puddle of tears and anxiety about whatever my life was to become in the driver’s seat of a car in the middle of the road in front of passenger pick up at Ronald Reagan International Airport.  And there I sat for who knows how long.  I can only imagine how I must have looked then because every police officer who came up to ask me to move because of security reasons would swiftly shoo themselves away after a glance and few words with me.  No one could get me to move from the driver’s seat.  I was determined to drive off on my own, if only the mile and a half back to my apartment.  It was only after talking me through all of the possibilities (effectively boiling down to, “So what if I didn’t pass the exam, I would simply take it again.  However, chances are that you will pass.  If you never move forward, if you don’t take the chance and take the exam, though, you will never know what the outcome is.”) that I was able to pull myself together and drive home.  For what it’s worth, I passed.  Easily.

Funny, I haven’t thought about that day in years and only now realize how appropriate it is for what I am going through at this point in time.  I have worked to put myself in a new place, to push myself to embrace what my full potential is.  And yet, I let myself only see the limitations of where I came before.  To kill my own happiness, as one person recently put it to me.  And they couldn’t be more right.  

I have spent much of the past several weeks thinking about who I was.  What I had.  It’s no wonder that I have struggled to move forward, to feel and embrace what potential there may be.  I haven’t let myself.  I have been too scared by failure. What is failure in this context, though?  There really is no such thing.  As I said in an earlier post, I have spent much of my life moving and acting to appease the expectations of other people.  I made this change in my life, in many ways, in defiance of those expectations.  Despite that intention, I seem to continually let what other people think shape my day to day activities and the arc my life should take here.  Or, rather, and far more dangerously, I seem to be continually letting what I THINK other people are thinking shape my life here rather than truly acting for myself and finding FOR MYSELF what makes me happy.

I was recently talking to a woman I have been working with as I have gone about this journey these past several months about the emotional and spiritual struggles I have been going through.  I was put in touch with her upon recommendation of another friend of mine in Washington, DC.  When I first started talking to her, I thought the idea of working with someone, a life coach if you will, to be a frivolous expense during a time when my professional and financial future was uncertain.  But something about it seemed right so I proceeded.  I told her the story about why I was moving, she being as equally excited and drawn in by its potential and beauty as I was myself.  We had a couple of conversations before I left, each originally set for an hour.  I can remember talking to her a week or so before I got on the plane.  Before I even picked up the phone, I thought to myself, “I got this, I am not sure why I am even talking to her.”  And sure enough, the conversation lasted for maybe 20 minutes because, truly, then, I didn’t need her.  It’s only been months later, as I have faced disillusionment, abandonment, lies, heartbreak, and crushed hope, that I realized I needed someone.  Someone who wasn’t my mother, or a close friend, or a lover.  Someone who could see the truth of where I was for what it really was.  So, I reached out to her a few weeks ago after looking in the mirror and seeing a person who I didn’t recognize.  A woman who looked nearly ten years older than the person I was when boarded the plane four months ago.  I told her I was struggling and needed help.  

So, a few days ago, I got on the phone with her and as we talked, she cut to the heart of the matter.  Using terminology that she knew I would understand, she said, “You are using the old operating system of your life in Washington on a new computer and, honey, that just isn’t going to work.”  She reminded me that I came here to make a new life because something wasn’t sitting right in the life I was living before.  Even more than that, she told me that I moved here to fall in love, albeit not the love that I was expecting. I moved here to fall in love with myself, with who I am.  This is a point that has been especially hard for me to grapple with in many ways.  I have spent so many years beating myself up.  Telling myself that I wasn’t good enough, that I needed to be better at this that or the other, of comparing my seeming happiness (or often lack thereof) to others.  Ironically, in many ways, many of the habits I learned in that self-destructive behavior made me good in my career because it kept me striving for something.  I am also slowly beginning to realize how limiting it was – at least in the long run and my ability to know real happiness within myself.

As I sat there, listening to her words ringing in my head (and still having them bounce off of every corner of my brain), I asked, “Well, what am I to do?”  “You need a reboot, you need to give yourself 72 hours of doing absolutely whatever you want to do, to just take care of yourself.”  So, that is what I have been doing these past several days.  If I want to sleep, I sleep.  If I want to wander, I wander.  If I want to eat, I eat (wonderfully yummy croissants that I have fallen in love with over here and full fat ice cream).  As I said before, I have waves and waves of anxiety that come over me, of thoughts, of fears, of hopes, and of dreams that are so powerful that I am sure most doctors would recommend medication to handle them.  Rather than running away from them, though, I think I am beginning to get a handle on what they are.  They are the aftershocks of an old life.  The trembles of a dying persona fighting with every bit of her might to hold on to the control that she once had.  Rather than fighting or feeding these feelings, giving them air to grow and spread, I am learning to just sit with them, to let them wash over me, to acknowledge them for what they are.  And, then, to let them go.  I am learning that only by doing this, I will be able to make space for whatever is to come next, for the realization of the change that I have so long sought.  

Ironically, it has only been by doing this that I have, for the first time in weeks, actually wanted to write, to share both the beauty and the pain of what I have been going through and put it into the crowded void that is the internet and the Universe, for that matter.   I don’t know if any of these words ring true to others out there but, for whatever reason, I have felt the need to continue to share them.

I have repeatedly been told over the past several months that in order to assemble something new, you often have to fully disassemble the old.  While I recognized some level of truth in that statement, I also realize how much I fought it.  I wanted to build on top of the old, not knowing how many rotten boards sat beneath.  It is only now as I am beginning to not only let but actively strip away the years and layers of this old persona – all of the expectations I and I alone set on myself – that I see how important it is to break things apart.  To evaluate each level for its strengths and weaknesses, and only then decide whether I should keep it and use to make something new.  

Time will tell where my life’s path will take me.  When I set about this move, I thought that it brought me here to Paris to taste la vie en rose and maybe that is to come.  For now, though, I am realizing that I was brought here to Paris to not just embrace but recognize her more raw and difficult side within myself.  It is by accepting that rawness for what it is that I am fully beginning to see la vie est belle when we do not impose superficial limitations.  This is the true opportunity that I have been given at this point in time here.  An opportunity that, as I have been reminded, many don’t have the chance to take advantage of until they are in their late 40s / 50s/ and later.  To recognize that the true change always comes from within and, much like the Bar Exam of my early 20s, if I don’t experience it or try to run away from it, I will never know the outcome.

Love and Choices

So, I am going to say something that no one really wants to hear.  Before I say it, though, I feel the need to first include the caveat that I am not saying it to be dark, or mean, or burst any bubble that you may have.  But rather, to be real, if only with myself. That’s what this blog seems to have become more than anything else – a means of me being honest with myself by being honest with the world that may read it.  So, why not say it. Feel free to prove me wrong if you disagree.  Trust me, nothing would make me happier than to be wrong on this one.

With that, it has to be said that love and desire isn’t enough to achieve anything.  Don’t get me wrong, it helps.  But neither one of these alone is enough to actually achieve or realize anything at all.  What they do, though, is give you an incentive, a reason, to keep moving forward.

You’re probably asking: sheesh, seriously?  I thought you were going to just “ride the waves” and see where they take you?  Why are you writing this right now?  

I am honestly asking these questions myself.

I was in the midst of writing about the process that I went through in thinking about moving to Paris, a post that is nearly finished and expect to share in the coming days.  However, literally mid-sentence, I came to a full stop and my mind shifted to these thoughts.  Perhaps it was reliving and breaking down the process of deciding to move.  Perhaps it’s exhaustion after facing a seemingly unending series of obstacles over the past several months.  Or, perhaps it’s anger at the very real possibility of losing love to circumstance.  Who knows the reason but the words are here now and I feel the need to share them.  

As I think we have established by now, I am a romantic.  Deep down at my core, I love the idea of love.  I embrace it.  Revel in it really.  I moved to the City of Love for love – both of another and for myself.  What I have found, though, is that it is easy to get lost in it – or at least it is easy for me to get lost in the love of another and lose the love for myself in the process.  

Let me back up a little.  I have spent the better part of my life doing things for other people – for family, for clients, for charity.  Even when I thought I was making a decision for myself, there was some part of me that was doing it for someone else – if only to have someone else think better of me. I looked to love and pride myself through the affirmations of others.  Now, for those who know me and are reading this, this is going to seem like an odd statement.  To many, I am strong, independent, at times single-minded, forthright, and unwavering.  All of these are true.  But, at the same time, for the better part of my life, perhaps my whole life, the happiness and impressions of others have motivated my actions. It’s only been the past few months as I have really been alone – more alone than I ever thought I could or would be – that I have come to realize that moving to Paris is one of the only things that I have done entirely without consideration or interest of what others thought.  When I told people I was moving, they asked me, “well, what does your (insert family, job, close friends) think of the move?”  Though I consulted all of them as I went about the process of deciding to move, the fact of the matter was that I had decided to make the move before I even asked them.  And, while their support and love has been important in this process, it didn’t do it because or in spite of them.  I did it because I loved a man who lived halfway around the world enough to take the chance on him, even if it ended in catastrophe, which it is increasingly looking it might.  And, more importantly, I did it because I loved myself enough to take a chance on myself, knowing that even if I found myself back in Washington, DC at the end of the experience, it would be as a different and stronger person than I ever thought I could be.  A person I could never have become if I had never left.

Over the past few months, though, I have forgotten about this second love – this love for myself – as I have gone about the transformation process.  I got wrapped up in the highs that you feel when you have someone look into your eyes and know that they really and truly understand you – if only for that moment.  I told myself that that love was enough to see me through everything and anything.  I allowed myself to believe that because I knew this type of love, then the Universe or God or whatever powers that be are out there would take care of it all.  Maybe this was naive but I know everyone reading this has been there, has felt that feeling.  Maybe it wasn’t the love of another that made you believe this but I know there was something you have experienced that made you think, “yes, everything is going to be alright and I don’t need to worry about what’s to come next because it’s just going to unfold.”  Life has a funny way, though, of reminding you that you can’t just sit back and enjoy the ride.  That real work is involved.  For me, it’s sought to teach me this lesson by giving me a double-whammy of real lows for every beautiful high I have felt and it has been really hard not to get cynical, to doubt the feelings and the surety of self that I have experienced.

As I have gone through the roller coaster, or waves to stick with the analogy I used in an earlier post, I have turned a lot to those closest to me and then immediately shut them out.  I am sure this has been an incredibly hard and frustrating process for them, but it has been the only thing I have known to do as I grapple with the reality in front of me and the fact that I did it to myself.    That said, I have been thinking a lot about an email that I received from my mother.  Well, really one line from her email specifically.  It was simply, “you have choices.”  For whatever reason, this has really stuck with me today.  

I am in a privileged situation because I do indeed have choices.  Many people don’t in life but I do and I am eternally grateful for them.  

Thus far, I have chosen to let myself be identified by the love of another during my time in Paris.  I liked the idea of it.  And, while it helped me quit my job, pack up my house, and get on the plane, it hasn’t been the basis of either my future personal or professional life quite in the manner I expected.  Rather, it’s been a beautiful story – both for me to tell and for others to hear, in part due to the fact it has more than a little touch of a fairy tale to it.  While I truly hope the story will continue, I am increasingly aware that my choice of being identified with the love of another is unsustainable.  Perhaps I needed to start from the place of being identified in this manner because to tell people that I moved to Paris simply because I needed to do something for myself and needed a change in perspective sounded too selfish or self-indulgent.  But, as I look to an uncertain future in the love of another, it is the love of myself that is providing the strength to proceed forward.  

And, while that love alone still won’t navigate governmental bureaucracy, make a relationship work, or cure an illness, what it will do is give me is not only a reason to stay here in Paris but also the fortitude to truly embrace and learn from whatever is to come.  And that is my choice.