Lessons Learned: There is never a perfect time. Just start.
As I finish yet another year as an expat here in Paris—I started searching for what themes or lessons have been most present in this last year. Many things haven’t changed: the bureaucracy still sucks, it still takes a village and the French still aren’t rude. I started looking for what things actually brought me to, and through, this year.
Year 1 was about starting over.
Where everything was new and I understood very little (both culturally and linguistically) … and far less than I expected! It was a year of repeatedly choosing loss (independence, communication skills, comfort zone, proximity to friends and family, everything “normal”) in hopes for what could be found. I spent the year in a constant state of vulnerability. There was nothing perfect about my timing and it was certainly a risk, but “life is a daring adventure or nothing” and I was ready to live again. I took the leap.
Year 2 was about then about starting to find.
We searched for our new home, I found my “French sister,” a business idea, my ability to communicate (kinda) like an adult again, and a new normal, making my former normal feel foreign. French and the French were starting to make sense. Life was taking form again. I spent the year discovering, reconnecting, and understanding.
Year 3 has been about starting new chapters.
We bought a flat, moved, I finished my classes and got my DALF C1 diploma (i.e.: I’m fluent, yet far from perfect, in French), we pulled off a surprise wedding, and I started working with an awesome French company. I spent the year turning pages and creating a real sense of permanence.
Really, these three years have been a constant lesson in leaping. In starting more and planning (a little) less. When I left the States, I had very detailed ideas of what my first, second and third year would look like. They were to have me single, entering in a French master’s program, doing a lot of solo travel and self-discovery Eat, Pray, Love style … none of which happened! This taught me important lessons in avoiding spending too much time planning the destination vs. simply starting the journey. It has even bled over to the way that Jérôme and I travel—often just showing up with little or nothing planned in advance.
Fitting then, that I am reading Start by Jon Acuff as I venture into the 4th year here as an expat in France. On my way home the other day, Jon’s words shouted out at me:
Regardless of what you want to do or who you are, fear will always see you as wholly unqualified for anything you ever dream or attempt.
YES! If I had continued to micro-plan (which is just my way of trying to control my encounters with fear), the two events that most shaped this third year—our wedding and me getting a job with a French company—would have certainly never come to pass. I would have undoubtedly prevented myself from both dating Jérôme (dating was my anti-plan when I arrived!) and submitting my resumé in telling myself that I wasn’t ready and wasn’t yet employable in France.
On the other hand, there are a few things I had totally planned to have accomplished by now: keeping up better with my blogs, getting and staying in great shape for more than 2 months of the year, and launching at least two other projects/business ideas. And while I started all of those projects, perhaps I also over-planned them. The running theme seems to be that I accomplish more than I imagine when I don’t box myself in, but set myself up for failure, and thus discouragement, when I do this whole super-duper-type-A planning thing. Hmmm …
As Acuff also says in Start: “You’re just going to be a Starter. The starting line is the only line you completely control.” I hope that my 4th year will be shaped by more starts. The result is often irrelevant. It is the start that counts.
“You’re just going to be a Starter. The starting line is the only line you completly control.”
So there you have it, my third full year as an American in Paris! Any questions? Drop me a comment below!