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 would 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.