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.

Health, Wealth and Happiness in the New Year

Ok, I am going to say something and you are just going to have to take my word for it. 2017 was a weird year. I know, I know, you are saying, “Um, seriously?  You moved to Paris for love!” And yes, yes I did. But you have to understand that the backdrop of that was basically a full on mid-life crisis.  As I’ve mentioned before, part of the reason I embraced moving here to quickly was because I was otherwise in a bit of a rut in my life. Don’t get me wrong. It was an amazingly wonderful rut – the kind of life that I had aspired and worked hard for years to achieve.  But. I. Was. Bored.  I had looked for new jobs on and off over for a couple of years – taken sommelier classes, learned how to make liquor and thought very seriously about opening a distillery (still a possibility, especially in what seems like a pretty interesting market here in France / Europe), and began working with shamen all over the world.  All in search of figuring out where my path was taking me and why, in my late thirties, it just seemed to be in suspension.  

In an attempt to shake something loose, I spent much of 2017 searching.  Like so many other people, I tend to search for answers through travel – taking myself out of my everyday to gain some level of clarity or peace with my life.  I travelled to Nicaragua for a yoga and surf retreat (an excellent vacation, but no real source for answers).  I went to Paris for shared birthday celebrations with a dear friend (a trip that changed my life, reconnecting me with a man – the Parisian – I met nine years before and who refused to be forgotten).  I returned to Paris a month later to meet the Parisian’s father (a trip that would result in my setting a date to move here).  And I spent a month in India by myself, exploring the footsteps of Buddha and listening to / meeting the Dali Lama (a trip that ended up emotionally preparing me for the steps I took to Paris after, allowing me to see for the first time just how strong and blessed I really was).  

As I write and think now about the past year, I started out trying, perhaps too hard, to create situations that would change my life.  I planned both the trip to Nicaragua and India in search of an answer.  In search of insight into what was going on. Ironically, it was my trips to Paris – taken almost on whims – that provided the most impetus for change.  My time in Paris reminded me about the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity that is set before you and taking advantage of them at that moment in time because they generally won’t linger for long.  I hadn’t let myself have more than a passing thought of the Parisian in our correspondences over the years, despite having had one of the most romantic first encounters that you could imagine.  But when faced again with the possibility of true, real, and deep love, how could I not take a chance – with my heart, with my career, with my life – to see what would come of it?  For years, I had sought to change my life by changing my career.  Leave it to Paris to show me just how much change love could bring!

Since being here, I have been reminded time and time again, despite my best efforts to the contrary, that you can’t force things.  You can’t force people.  You can’t force acclimation.  You can’t force a profession.  You can’t force life.  All you can really do is create the best environment possible for you to see and understand things as they unfold.

This is a hard lesson to learn.  I am a person who makes things happen.  I’d like to think that it is one of the things I am known for professionally (those of you who are reading this and know me professionally, feel free to correct me if this impression is incorrect).  As a result, I really like control.  It’s how I have gotten most things done to date.  I understand all of the dynamics at play – the protocol, the people, the politics, the policies – and make recommendations and then effectuate, if asked, the desired end.  But life is very different from a work project.  It is not a piece of legislation or policy initiative to effectuate. It very rarely plays by “the rules of the game.”  Learning how to let go of the control that I had in my life in Washington, DC has been incredibly difficult.  However, it’s necessary if I am going to be able to make the most out of whatever is to come next.

When my mom was here recently for the holidays, we spent most of our time just talking and walking the streets of the city.  It was during one of these conversations that she said to me, “You have created a new situation to make the change but you can’t force it to come.  The best thing you can do now is try to have an open heart and mind and just ride the wave.”  I am having to remind myself of this every day now.  And, it’s become one of my mantras for 2018.

That’s not to say that I am just going to wait for things to happen.  If you know me, and chances are if you are reading this right now you know me at least somewhat since I haven’t shared this blog with very many people yet, you know that sitting back is not in my DNA.  To keep myself from trying to control the world around me and allow things to happen, I am planning on embracing as much of the world around me as I can.  To take the lessons that I am learning in creating a life here and share them with you – anything ranging from opening a bank account to approaching learning a new language and everything in between.  To really learn the city around me – it’s streets, museums, art galleries, different societies, and so on.  To see as much of this Continent as I can – not just the usual haunts, but the amazingly unique, historical and spiritual places that I have long dreamed of visiting.  To understand the history that forms the basis of almost every aspect of life here – be it the hundreds of years of evolving periods of conflict and peace between its countries or the relatively recent period of im/migration.  To look at the ways and rules of politics and business through the eyes of a true European as contrasted with an American – taking in the fundamental differences in how both approach these worlds.  

Why am I telling you this?  Well, mainly because I know I am not the only person who is trying to sorting through the world they are currently living in right now and trying to make sense of what direction life is going.  I have had countless conversations over the past several months about not just the move to Paris, but generally the process and emotions I have gone through in trying to see the path ahead.  What has become increasingly clear to me is that while there are some lessons I am currently learning that are unique to expats, many of them relate to changes in life in general.  For whatever reason, I know quite a few people who are struggling with some of the same questions I am – mostly around the seeming loss of control or true sense of direction in life.  Some of them chose to put themselves in this position, much as I did, making major changes to their life without a true sense of what it will bring.  Some of them were forced into it, with events out of their control taking reign of their life, leaving them breathless and seemingly listless.  While the latter have to go through a period of coping with realizing just where they are exactly, we all seem to find ourselves grappling with almost the exact same things.  So, I figure why not share some of my experiences and see if they are helpful or ring any element of truth with someone else out there?

So, as I look to 2018, it is with the intention to create an environment for health, wealth, and luck to prosper.  

Sidenote: As a born Southerner, the first step we take to accomplish these goals each year is to prepare a traditional meal of black eyed peas, collards greens, ham and cornbread on New Years Day to bring prosperity all the following year.  Each of these foods have a specific meaning and what they can bring to the coming year. However, they are not all readily accessible in the land of wine and cheese where I now reside.  Clearly I am not the first Southern expat to face this problem because, upon some internet research, I found that while some have a long history (for example, consuming black eyed peas for good luck stretches as far back as 1500 years), it is as much about consuming the family of food (i.e. legumes and greens) as it is about the specific varietal. So, today I prepared a Southern / French New Years Day meal of flagiolet verts beans, Savoy cabbage prepared in the manner of collard greens (meaning giving them a certain tartness with with vinegar, which you will learn is one of my favorite ingredients to bring out the flavor of any meal), artisenal ham steak and a sweet cornbread.  I am planning on writing more about what cooking has come to mean in this move, but feel free to ping me in the meantime if you want the recipes.  This is one of the first Southern traditions that I introduced the Parisian to and to my great pleasure, he liked it – as much for the history of what the meal brings as the meal itself.

Anyway, getting back to the point, none of us know what the next year will bring.  I certainly didn’t know a year ago that I would be sitting and writing this from a little flat in Paris overlooking the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower.  My hope and wish – both for myself and for those of you reading this – is to take the challenge this coming year of letting go the perception of control and, instead, letting yourself swim in the ocean that is life.  I hope this year to truly ride the waves, as my mom put it, that come along.  Appreciating the beauty presented by even the most difficult of circumstances and reveling in the peace felt once the way forward become clear (no matter how brief those moments of clarity may be).

Bonne Année!

 

Home is Where the Heart is

When it comes down to it, what really makes a place a home….I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently.  Almost two months actually.  I began to write this entry in the middle of November.  Then when I was back in Washington, DC for 3 weeks to get my French visa.  Sidenote: For potential expats out there, if at all possible, get your visa before you leave for overseas and save yourself the confusion that is the subject of this post.  From what I understand talking to other expats, a degree of it is normal.  However, absolutely everyone I have talked to who had to pick up and return to get their visa a few weeks into the “settling in” process have experienced similar levels of angst. Anyway, the flurry of action items to tick through while in Washington made it almost impossible to think clearly so I put it off until I returned.  Well, it’s been over 3 weeks since I have been back, Christmas is literally days away, my mother has arrived for a couple of days, and I am still grappling with what the term “home” really means.  So, now, as I listen to the Motown’s takes on the holiday hits staring out at a fog wrapped Eiffel Tower, I am just writing whatever comes to mind.  I suppose that is the purpose of a blog after all.

As I mentioned, I recently got back from spending three weeks back in DC.  I struggled a lot during my trip, my life only beginning to take some shape in Paris while being so firmly identifiable and recognizable in Washington.  I started to cry again.  After a whopping 2 weeks in Paris of not crying, this took me by surprise and I didn’t understand why I was acting like this.  People asked me a lot, with great amounts of excitement in their voice, what it was like living in Paris and all I could bring myself to say was, “It’s wonderful but hard.”  They then followed up with the inevitable, “But why?” And I struggled to put my finger on what exactly made it hard so, oftentimes, all I could really say was, “Well, everything.”  As I had more meetings / drinks / dinners where this came up, the only analogy I could think of to help them understand was, “If there was such a thing as being half pregnant, this is what it would feel like.”  You see, my life still continues in many ways back in Washington.  I still pay my mortgage and taxes there.  I still bank there.  I still receive mail there.  However, I have the beginnings of a life – the future of which remains to be determined – here in Paris.  I pay rent here.  I now have a bank here (that only took 3 months and will be the subject of a future post, I am sure).  And, thanks to the holiday season and coming from a city that still believes in the value of a paper Christmas card, I have received mail here.  Sidenote: If you are an American who has a friend who has recently moved abroad, keep them on your holiday card list.  I cannot tell you how much it has meant to me to receive similar holiday greetings and cannot express enough gratitude to those friends who kept me on their list and went through the pain that I know is involved in sending mail internationally.  It kills me that I won’t be able to get mine out this year.  But, each card that I have received here has truly helped me begin to think of Paris as my home. All of this is to say, the past several weeks have had me think a lot of what makes a home.  Is it your past? The groundwork that you established and relationships that you built up over time?  Or, is it your future?  The risks that you take for the potential that can be realized.

When I was back in DC, I spent most of the first half of my trip running around my house like a whirling dervish, packing this, organizing that, and thinking through the various different plans I need to make for when and if I rent my house.  For various different reasons (which I may or may not go into in future entries), I decided not to make this decision yet.  To put it off until the end of March. In part, I feel the need to create a safety net for this move – a strong line, if you will, back into my old life. In part, I just haven’t had the mental or energetic capacity to get everything in a place where a total stranger can come in and take up residence for the next year (give hopefully a few years, take a couple of months).  I have lived in this house for 9 years.  It was my dream property.  The first for me to buy and own on my own.  And, I have had a hard time wrapping my head around someone else living there, especially amidst the decorations that I spent so much love, care, and time pulling together.  (We all know that even the best renter of a fully furnished house will do things to it that will invariably irk the owner.  I say this as a current renter of a fully furnished property who spent the first day in it moving the furniture and paintings around to meet my aesthetic.) Now, I can make a strong argument(s) for why this isn’t the best approach to take. But, as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, I’m a safety girl.  And, for a number of reasons, this is at least the safest course for me: to move to Europe and begin a new life, literally, one duffel bag at a time.  

In thinking through what makes a home, the one thing that this unusual moving, or non-moving, or cross-Atlantic straddling process has taught me is that the attachment to home is less about things and more about people.  Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of attachments to things.  My sweet mother spent days with me back in Washington as I catalogued literally everything in my house – what was to stay for a renter and what was to cross the Atlantic when I settled into a more permanent situation.  What was so interesting about that process was how little in my house was put on “to move” list, mostly art that I had either been given or had purchased in my travels.  I realized that the things in my house aren’t what made it felt like a home, but rather the memories that the house contained, either in the form of physical things but more abundantly the echos of the various dinners, gatherings, laughs, tears, and conversations that had taken place there over the years.  That said, I knew I needed to let that go, at least for now if I was going to really give myself a shot of making a real life over here.

All of this said, I will fully admit, I am mentally and emotionally sitting in suspension.  Probably more so than many who carve similar paths as I am.  I can see a future laying out in front of me.  However, for a number of different reasons, that future can’t begin to really unfold for several more weeks / month.  So, already being an internally oriented person, this period of time has had me thinking a lot about where one should consider “home” when you are in the process of transitioning one life to another?  As I have thought more and more about this, usually while walking the breathtakingly beautiful streets of Paris, I am coming to realize that home is truly where you decide to place your heart and hopes and, for now, that is right here in the City of Lights or the City of Love, depending on who you talk to.  For the purpose of making this city my home, it is certainly becoming both.

This experience thus far has brought me to the belief that very rarely is a home found.  Rather, more often, it is made after finding the place where you set your expectations about making it.  There is a conscious decision to settle in and realize, as much as is possible, the hopes and dreams that you have for it.  Your heart has to be really in it.  Perhaps that is why I have struggled for so many of the past few weeks.  Because for a variety of reasons (fear of failure, emotional and professional alike), I allowed my heart to not express its full desire to make this city and this country my home.  The funny thing about that statement is that I am only just realizing that this is what I have done and how I, in many ways, set myself up for emotional turmoil.  I allowed this fog to overshadow the gift that I have been given in life to have this time to explore – this country, this continent, the people and all they have to teach.  A friend of mine recently told me not to expect to make too many European friends while I was here.  Having lived for quite some time in Brussels herself, I was intrigued as to why she thought so.  Her rationalization: “Europeans see Americans as transient visitors to their city / country, so why invest?”  It made total sense to me at the time but only now coming to fully realize what that means.  So, as I look into the new year and the potential that I truly believe it holds, it is with a new mind and heart-set to make Paris my home…for whatever period of time I am to be here (yes, I know, I know, I know….one step at a time!)  

Adaptation

In a recent email exchange, a friend of mine said that “change is never easy” in response to comment I made about the experience of moving to Paris being filled, thus far, with extreme highs, extreme lows and struggling to find stability.  I knew that the process of moving to a foreign country was going to be emotional roller coaster.  I mean, moving generally is difficult and always presents unforeseen obstacles, why would moving across the ocean be any easier?  However, I have to admit that I was completely unprepared for just how wild of a ride this would end up being.

I’m a pretty analytical person.  I am also a pretty dramatic person.  There is a constant battle between my mind and heart, each constantly tugging at me and telling me they know the best way for me to approach the world in front of me.  [Note: I am sure those of you reading this who know got more than a little snicker out of these comments.]  Given my psychological disposition, the best way for me to face tough situations – be they professional or personal – is to break them down and “work the problem,” to really understand what is going on and absolutely every possible scenario so that I am not caught so off guard or breathless by the situation.  As I was preparing for the move, I thought I had done this.  I talked to attorneys, tax accountants, clients, former expats, friends, and family.  For a number of different reasons, I chose to stage my move over a period of months.  As confident as I was in the potential of the man for whom I was moving across an ocean, I do not do anything without a safety net.  So, I planned a return trip to Washington, DC (coming up in just a couple of weeks) to finalize my visa.  Since I was moving myself (as opposed to an employer moving me), I decided to hold off making decisions about renting my home until I had a better sense of where (and if) I would land professionally.  I knew I would hit points throughout the year where “tough decisions” would be made and I marked them on my physical and psychological calendar to tackle as they came.

The one thing that I wasn’t prepared for when I hit the ground was the very thing for which I should have been the most prepared, given my wiring and full understanding of it.  Namely, all of the emotional safety nets and professional trip wires that I set up wouldn’t keep my heart and head from continuing to wage their war once “in country.”  In other words, when moving to a foreign country, no matter how much logistical planning you do, you are still going to hit a number of mental brick walls which you have no other choice but to break through, climb over, or figure your way around when adapting to your new life.  Rather than call them brick walls (though that’s exactly how they feel at times), I have begun to think of each of these as “stages of embracing a new life.”  

While I am sure there will be more to come, I have hit three stages to date and thought it was worth sharing my experiences with them.  

First, there was the “OMG, what did I just do to my life?” phase.  

Ok, it needs to be said that this has been the absolute hardest one for me to handle and it’s only looking at it in hindsight that I understand why it was so painful.  My decision to move to Paris was a relatively simple one.  I was at a crossroads both personally and professionally.  Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t advancing and needed to do something to create my own opportunities.  The Parisian presented a path to these opportunities, to become more global in my perspective.  So, I said yes to the move and then started one of the the most exhausting sprints of my life (well, with the possible exception of studying – and, I might add, passing – the Virginia Bar).  I spent 3 months packing up a life I spent over a decade creating.  I barely slept.  If I was lucky, I slept maybe 3 hours a night.  I filled my days and nights with all manner of professional and personal tasks.  Professionally, I was tracking projects of clients to hand back over to the firm I worked for, filing business documents to create my own firm to house initial projects presented to me, and monitoring job sites of all manner of employers (from NGOs to VCs).  Personally, I was saying goodbye to old and dear friends, studying french, tracking bills to ensure that none would be missed, and scheduling maintenance appointments for my house over a year in advance so that I wouldn’t forget them when on the Continent.  

By the time I landed in Paris, I was emotionally drained, physically worn out, but exhilarated to see the love of my life (whom I hadn’t seen in over 3 months) and just get this party started.  I would like to say that our first weekend together was just as romantic as our relationship had been up to that point.  I would like to say it was but that would be a lie.  Our first few days together was a crash course in just how difficult communicating in two different language can be and just how quickly things can escalate when neither party involved has the energy to find a common ground of understanding.  [Note: I would learn through my first expat friends – who were my first glimmers of hope in this move – that a friend of theirs actually wrote a book about this. Laura Collins’ When in French: Love in a Second Language is a good read and I highly recommend it if you are dating a Frenchman or generally interested in learning about the linguistic obstacles presented when you fall in love with someone whose native tongue is not your own.]  When the Parisian left for work on Monday, I did not say “je t’aime” as we promised each other we always would.  Rather, they were two more choice and, well, far less romantic words in English.  I’ll let you figure out what they were.  It’s not that hard.  I closed the door behind him – almost on him, really – and promptly broke down in tears.  

All I could think was, “What did I just do?  What did I just do?  What did I just do?”  I had left a stable, lucrative, albeit increasingly stale, job in Washington, DC.  I had left a core group of friends with whom I had grown into my adult life and were established touchstones.  I had left family that were no further than a 2 hours travel, if needed.  I had left all of this for a man and a future that now looked like an impossibility.  I sank into a puddle and promptly called two of my dearest friends.  I can’t even remember what I said to them and have no idea if anything that I said was coherent or understandable.  I hesitated to tell my mother.  After a heart wrenching 24 hours, though, I finally told her.  The three of them saw me through this incredibly dark time.  They reminded me that Washington, DC would always be home, that I could come back, that no one would judge me for it.  [Note: As much as I appreciated the sentiment, the last comment is absolutely false.  Washington, DC is a tough town and I would have faced a shower of judgment for giving up so quickly.]

So, how did I get through this period?  Well, slowly.  It all started with a run.  A long one.  Along the Seine.  This has become my best form of therapy.  It’s hard to sink into an abyss of sadness when you are running along the Seine, passing Ile Saint Louis on the left, the Tuileries on the right, and the Eiffel Tower in front.  I then started to reach out to friends of friends in Paris.  I needed to talk to someone who had done this before.  To someone who understood.  It was during one of these coffees / initial meetings that I was told, “Paris is like a new girlfriend. When you first meet her, she is amazing and fills you with all these amazing ideas.  When you decide to make her a permanent part of your life, she can prove to be quite difficult, irritable, and sometimes presents parts of her personality that makes you seriously question your decision.  Just stick with her, though, because I promise you it is a friendship that will change your life.”  He then added, “Any time you think you can’t handle anything thrown at you here, just go outside, wander around, and remind yourself that the problems you are facing are because you are IN PARIS and many people would kill to have a chance to be in your shoes.”  These words proved to be the most transformative to how I mentally wrapped my head around, well what I ACTUALLY HAD JUST DONE to my life and work through this phase.  

Each run was a conversation with myself.  At first I thought, “I’ll just do this for 3 months.  I’ll approach this like a life sabbatical.  I’ll take French lessons, cooking classes, and walk the streets, and then go back to ‘real life.’  Three months is a decent effort.”  I then said, “Well, if I am going to do 3 months, I might as well do 6 months.  That’s enough time to see what I can make of this experiment.”  I was constantly anxious, though.  I was unable to sleep, eat (which is a real shame in a town known for croissants and nutella crepes) and prone to tears.  I couldn’t even drink red wine (I KNOW) as it tasted like battery acid to me.  Trying to sort these feelings out, I reached out to a former client who had become a confidante in the transition process due to her experience with risky life changes and asked, “Does the anxiety ever end?  I don’t know if I can do this longer than 6 months.”  Her simple response was, “I wish I could say it does but it doesn’t. You need to give yourself more than 6 months.  You really need to give yourself a year to see what you can do.  There are more than a few of us here who are cheering you on and believe you can do this.”  Shortly after that, my (perhaps interim, perhaps long term, but that is an entry for later) apartment came through for a year.  Being a believer in signs, I promptly completed all the documents I needed to pull together for my year long French visitor visa and said to myself, “Ok, I am going to give this for a year.  I will do what I need to do to build a life – both personally and professionally.  If things aren’t working by then, at least I will have given it a serious try.”  And like that, the “OMG, what I did just do to my life” phase came to a close.

Oh, I realize that some of you may be asking, “Well, what happened to the Parisian?” Things also began to normalize there too and he is still very much in the picture.  But that’s “not the point,” as he is prone to saying.  But it has certainly helped.

I had maybe 2 days of good rest, though, before the “OMG, I need to get a job ASAP” phase set in.

For most people, this phase may present the most anxiety.  For me, though, it has been the easiest one to handle.  Don’t get me wrong, this was and has been an incredibly daunting and blood pressure driving phase.  But, I have been through this before and have seen it work out.  Well, not in this exact same situation but a comparable one.  Let me back up a bit.

Nine years ago, I had just turned 30 and settled into an awesome pace of life.  I was the Chief Intellectual Property Counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee and negotiating a bill that would prove formative in shaping my career.  I thought I knew exactly where I was going and how I would get there. Just over 6 months later, though, the ground underneath me seemed to be constantly quaking. The Republicans had lost the Senate. [Note: I understand that if you are reading this and don’t work in politics, this might not seem like a huge thing but it can be a very big deal if you work for a Committee.].  The Senator I worked for switched political parties quite unexpectedly, leaving those of us who worked for him on the Committee unsure of whether or for how long we had a job. And, most importantly, my father was diagnosed with glioblastoma and passed away less than a month later.  I was reeling from everything life was throwing at me and trying to figure out where solid ground could be found.  

Rather than sit back and wait for everything to happen to me, I decided to be proactive.  I flew out to California and met with everyone I had worked with during my years with the Committee.  I spent two weeks there, having only nine meetings when I first got on the plane to San Francisco.  Over thirty meetings later, I had lined up what would become my next job at the Intel Corporation.  Now, I understand that these situations aren’t totally analogous. What it taught me, though, is that if you stare into an abyss of the professional unknown, sooner or later things will work out if you talk to enough people.  And that is exactly what I decided to do when confronted with the overwhelming sense of – well, for lack of a better phrase – “holy shit”ness that waves over you in this phase.

It’s been 6 weeks and two days since I landed in Paris and I have had over 100 meetings with policy and political peers here in Paris, Brussels, and London.  Now, 100 meetings was basically a standard work week in Washington, DC.  However, considering I knew maybe 5 people in UK / Europe when I got on the plane to Paris – none of whom work in my professional world – I am quite proud of myself (as evidenced by my writing about this) for really pushing myself “to get out there” in a way that I haven’t been forced to do in quite sometime.  Oh, and it goes without saying that I am eternally grateful to all of the friends, colleagues, and clients who have reached out to their network on this side “of the pond.”  

Now, I am far from being done with this phase and who knows when I will be.  I am a square peg of a Washington hack in the round hole of a European world.  I’m hardly the first Washingtonian to make this transition.  Most who have come before me, though, have a lot stronger backgrounds in the trade world.  This is where my deep background in issues impacting the world of technology and experience with the companies comes in handy.  It seems everyone – on both sides of the Atlantic – is trying to get a handle on the growth and importance of the technology industry.  It just happens to be that I have a unique set of experiences and perspective into this world.  I won’t go further into this but will note that I am working on a series of writings on Medium devoted to applying this perspective to issues and debates here in Europe.

All of this is to say that as I increasingly gain confidence in the fact that something will work out professionally, I have begun to experience the “OMG, why am I not embracing this more” phase.

There is one piece of advice that people keep telling me over and over again: “Everything professionally will work out so just relax and take everything you can in right now.”  I have given these words a lot of weight because, honestly, even if the professional situation doesn’t work out, I will forever kick myself if I don’t make the most of the situation I have created for myself.  That’s why I feel the need to share this phase.  I recently realized how much of my life I live in the future – constantly listing the things I need to do, thinking through all the possible scenarios that could go right or wrong and how to react to any one of them.  While this tendency helps make me good at what I do professionally, it also means I have a tendency to look past the beauty, joy, hilarity and exhilaration of where I currently sit and only focus on what is lacking.  Who knows how long this adventure in Paris or Europe will last.  I may only spend a year or, hopefully, I will find a new lifetime home to parallel the one I created in Washington, DC.  [Note: Washington, DC will always be a home in my heart, no matter how long I am gone.  I am hoping to figure out how to split time but here and there, but am already struggling with where to call “home.”  It occurred to me that this is something that all expats must struggle with at some point and will be the subject of a future post.  So consider this a preview of things to come.]  The only opportunity that is lost in my being here, though, is not absorbing every moment of it – every ray of pink light soaked in, every French word stumbled over and then learned, every sip of espresso enjoyed over both laughters and tears at the un-understably small tables that only make sense in Europe, and more.  

Even as I currently embrace this phase, I am constantly having to tell myself not to feel anxious about enjoying the experience more….Lord, what is wrong with me.  

Setting Up a New Life

Why play it safe when you can totally upend your life and everything you spent over a decade creating?

Earlier this year, I decided to move to Paris.  I decided to move here for a number of different reasons, many of which are hard to enumerate.  

I had lived in Washington, DC for over 15 years.  I had an amazing life – good jobs, wonderful friends, traveling whenever I wanted to – but I was at a stalemate.  Despite having everything that one could want, I was frustrated – professionally and personally – and wanted a challenge.  I wanted to expand my mind.  I wanted to learn something new.

I needed some time off to think.  After spending years exploring different possibilities, I couldn’t quite see where the path ahead of me led, or whether there was even a path.  I had talked about taking 3 months off, getting an around the world ticket, and traveling the world.  Picking the most random and exotic places I could think of and just going.  As wonderfully romantic that idea was, I couldn’t quite bring myself to book the ticket and couldn’t figure out why.  Something about it sounded too frivolous.  Like I wouldn’t be able to make something of it.  Sidebar: Given the fact that Madagascar was on the list of “random places to visit,” clearly this ended up being the right decision as it would have been really unfortunate to have caught the Bubonic Plague while embracing life. 

Now I know what you are thinking, “So, you decided to totally up and move instead?”  Well, yes.  I figured if I sank myself into another life, another culture, then I would really get something both personally and professionally out of it.  

We live in a world that is more and more international with each passing day.  The transatlantic “conversation” occurring between Washington, DC, Brussels and the various European capitals is increasingly important to the world I was coming from – namely, the world of technology policy.  After having spent over a decade and a half in Washington, DC, I figured I really needed to sink myself into the European world to understand the dynamics of the decisions they were making.

Most importantly, I fell in love with a Parisian.  I know, I know.  How cliche can you be?But, it’s true.  He became my rationalization to make an otherwise wholly irrational decision.  I had never known a love like the one I found with this man and I wanted to explore it and see where it took me.  I figured, “well, even if it doesn’t end up working out, I will explore a world of emotions I have never known before.”

Now, let me just say that I’ve always been one of those people who have been able to get pretty much anything done in a matter of days. So, when I decided earlier this year to move to Paris to be with the man who I believe to be the love of my life, I thought “surely I won’t need longer than a couple of weeks to settle in and then I’ll get to finding my career”. Well, all I have to say is moving to Paris is hard….and the French are even harder.

Why, you ask?

Well, I will go through just a short list of reasons (most of which I expect to be recurring themes in this adventure I have decided to recount publicly)….

First, let’s take the language thing….well, it’s a lot bigger barrier than you can ever imagine.  No matter how many people speak English these days (and there are WAY more people in Paris who speak English than ever before) and no matter how much you try / how high your comprehension, conducting core activities….like say finding an interim flat, banking, talking to the cable operator because your WiFi is out, trying to tell someone that your dishwasher is leaking an enormous amount of water (all of which I experienced in the first week in my French flat)…when your French boyfriend is off at work is extremely difficult to truly communicate through broken French / English discourse.  

Second, there’s the whole, “making friends in your late 30s” thing….  I have had several other expat friends of mine recount to me the difficulty of this obstacle (for those of you who decide not to move to a foreign country after the age of say a college student, the best thing I can compare this to is “mom-friend dating” – at least from what I understand from my mom-friends, smile).  I was always extremely empathetic when I heard them recount the story of being lonely in a new land and in a new job (I’ll get to that one later), especially since I was lucky enough to have extremely good friends in Washington, DC.  Well, I never knew just how lonely it was until going through this and how much you crave social and understanding from other humans when you are having a down day (say, because you couldn’t communicate the fact that your kitchen floor is filling up with water).  That feeling is only further compounded by the fact that you can’t even communicate to total strangers.  So, in an environment (say work travel) when you might normally just go down to the hotel bar to shoot the proverbial shit with someone to satisfy that itch for bullshit and ridiculous story recounting, the fact that you can’t speak the language throws up an almost unsurmountable barrier and you just sit there shyly smiling at people (which I am positive just makes you look incredibly creepy to others).

Third, there is the whole “cultural norm” thing….  Ok, this one may not seem as obvious.  Every culture has its idiosyncrasies, right?  Obviously.  But by in large we navigate them, right?  Absolutely…..when you are there only for a few days.  That’s because the locals overlook the fact that you are totally breaking their rules and shrug you off as “at least trying” when you are there for a few hours / days.  However, when you move someplace and begin really interacting with people on a day to day basis, you have got to learn their norms, their way of doing things, etc.  It’s this way anywhere you go but especially with the French.  They are an extremely proud and extremely proper culture by nature.  I know we have all read that the “French are rude.”  It’s not that they are rude, it’s that they don’t appreciate when you don’t respect their way of doing things and will show you the same respect that they feel you have shown them.  Now, this is when having “the Parisian” with me has helped.  He has helped me navigate different levels of protocol for different levels of engagement, be it “how to treat a waiter” (basically like dirt, otherwise the waiter won’t respect you and will overcharge you) or “how to eat your meal….with family, with friends, in front of potential business partners.”  The French have all these subtle cues, which I find both simultaneously fascinating and daunting.  Think “interpersonal conjugation”….

There are many many many more reasons why this process is hard but, well, that’s what this whole website going to be about.  I had every intention of starting this when I was first on the ground in Paris but (for many of the reasons explained above), I am only now wrapping my head around what to write about (yes, as I finish my 4th week in Europe)….

And that is….I am using this to share my experiences…my tips….the tips other share with me…about Paris, about being an expat, about moving a political / strategic career to Europe, and (likely more times than not) about the totally ridiculous experiences that happen to you as an expat stumbling my way into a new life.  So, with that, I hope you enjoy whatever comes in the future days, weeks, months, and perhaps even years (woah, can’t even really think that far yet)….