It’s hard to take a leap of faith and say “yes” to life, but sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs and risk meeting some toads if you are to have a chance of creating the life you want and achieving your heart’s desire. Because it only takes one frog turning into a prince to make you glad you puckered up.
As the mother of a three-year-old boy and a nearly six-year-old girl, my day-to-day conversations are currently dominated by three main things. These are: the different species of dinosaurs and their relative strength (as in, “Mummy, T-Rex verses stegosaurus – who would win?”); how much chocolate it is acceptable to consume in a given 24-hour period; and my efforts to correct the often awful messages fairy tales send to children, girls in particular.
Recently, I was reading The Frog Prince to my daughter when she turned to me and asked a characteristically perceptive question: “Mummy, what would have happened if she hadn’t kissed the frog?” There ensued a discussion about keeping promises and doing the right thing (You’ll recollect that the princess promises to eat and sleep with the prince if he dives into the well to get her ball but then balks at the idea when faced with his green chops puckering up for a goodnight kiss.) nuanced by a child-friendly but extremely clear explanation of the meaning of ongoing consent.
What is it like to kiss a frog?
After I had seized on this very teachable moment, my thoughts naturally turned to other meanings one could infer from the metaphor of kissing a frog. I say naturally because “you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet a single prince” is advice I often give to my intercultural coaching clients. When you arrive in a new city or country and are looking to make friends and network, I tell them, you have to kiss frogs. By that I mean that you should accept any invitation you receive (within the bounds of safe conduct, of course – meeting in a public place, etc.). You chat to a friendly woman at a book shop, and she suggests you grab coffee the next day. Colleagues from a different part of the company ask you to join them for lunch in the canteen. A neighbour suggests you meet her sister-in-law because she’s an ex-pat from your home country (If you’re British this invariably becomes: “In fact, maybe you know one another – it is a small island after all!”). Back home, these kinds of random meetings are unusual, perhaps even unheard of, but in ex-pat circles, they are gold!
I met two of my best friends this way. The first I met at the Christmas party of a colleague I barely knew. We got chatting, and she mentioned that being new to Paris she had no idea what to do on New Year’s Eve. I invited her to my party. My other closest buddy was the Paris newbie she met the day after we talked – she brought her to my party, and the three of us have been true blue ever since. I tell clients they have to kiss a few frogs because, while perhaps nine times out of 10, you’ll come away from the coffee/drink/party/mother-and-baby group disappointed and glad it’s over, you only need one of those “frogs” to turn into a “prince” and you have yourself a friend, or maybe even the beginnings of – whisper it – a group.
Frogs aren’t just for ex-pats
This wisdom isn’t just applicable to ex-pats seeking to create a life and build a network, however. To me, the bigger idea of kissing a frog is about taking a leap of faith. It’s about doing something that seems unlikely to result in anything useful but, well – you never know! It’s about saying yes to coffee with that nice lady at your yoga class, even if you aren’t sure you have anything in common other than flexibility. It’s about joining the PTA to meet new people, even if you end up leaving after the first year. And, beyond making contacts, it’s also about sending that email to a prospect, even if it is a long shot. Or visiting yet another potential dream house even when the last 10 have turned out to be four dodgy walls and a leaky roof. Or taking a class to learn a new skill, applying for a job that seems way out of your league, offering to volunteer…
When I first had my daughter, I was keen to take her to baby groups. I had her future bilingualism on my mind 24/ 7 and became convinced that a baby rhyme time group was absolutely essential to her English-speaking success. (Madness, I know, but in my defence I had just left my job, had a baby and moved house in the space of a month – I was so sleep deprived I often forgot my husband’s name.) I asked the local librarian if such a thing existed. She told me that nothing did as they had no-one to run it… Do you see where I’m going with this tale? For the next two years I spent one Saturday morning a month singing “The wheels on the bus” and “If you’re happy and you know it” at our local English-language Rhyme Time. I never once regretted kissing the frog that day and replying to the librarian “I could run it!”, and I know she never regretted kissing her own frog and saying “OK, let’s do it!” as, even though I no longer lead the singing, the group exists to this day.
What if you don’t kiss the frog?
Yes, some of the frogs you kiss will turn out to be utter toads. But when that happens, most of the time the only thing you’ll have lost is some time and perhaps the price of a cappuccino. But if you never kiss any frogs, if you never take a chance, you stand to lose a lot more. You’ve got to play the odds, though. The more frogs you kiss, the more likely you are to have one turn into a prince. Some of the best people I have in my life, and some of the best things I’ve done, have come from frog-kissing moments where I had the option to play it safe and instead I chose to say “yes” to invitations, to opportunity, to life.
At a time when connection and contacts are in short supply, I remind myself almost daily of the importance of seizing opportunity when it presents itself and of creating it when it fails to knock. Because, for me, the truly frightening answer to my daughter’s question, “Mummy, what would have happened if she hadn’t kissed the frog?” is not “She wouldn’t have met the prince”. No, in the real world, the answer to “What happens if you never kiss the frog?” is “Nothing ever happens at all”.
One last thing, just for info: of course the T-Rex would win hands-down, every time; and regarding chocolate, I find no better wisdom than a quotation I once read attributed to Miss Piggy: “Never eat more than you can lift”.
If you’re looking to add some magic to your life, encouraging, empowering support from a qualified coach can help you find the courage to kiss that frog and take a leap of faith into a life lived with purpose and on purpose. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to see how you can upgrade your life.
If you’re trying to establish healthy new habits, it can help to hold yourself accountable using a home-made habit tracker. I tried one out for a month and learned some valuable lessons in the process.
As a former nail-biter, I speak from experience when I say that it is hard to break a habit. However, this month I learned that it can be just as hard to form a new habit. In January, I made a list of some healthy things I wanted to do for myself this year. Drink a litre of water day, for example. Do yoga every day. Get on the cross-trainer twice a week. Integrate a gratitude practice into my day. Actually use and not just stock those little interdental brushes. I was full of superb intentions.
However, as February loomed large, I looked at my list and was forced to observe that I had done almost none of the above. So, uniting two of my passions – taking action and making lists – I created a habit tracker, put it on my kitchen noticeboard, and got busy.
What’s a habit tracker?
Well, as you can see from the image above, it’s a list associated to a calendar. (Funny story about lists. As we’re leaving for the market the other day, my five-year-old daughter asks, “Mummy, you haven’t made a list of what we need – shall I do it?” My gobsmacked and slightly horrified husband looks at me and gasps, “You’ve created a mini-you!” while I just beamed with pride.)
Back to the tracker. On the vertical axis, you list the (presumably good) habits you want to form. Across the top, you write out the days of the month. At the end of each day, you colour in the corresponding boxes to show whether you did or did not manage to maintain your new habit. I kept it simple with red for “didn’t do it” and green for “achieved!” but you can add more nuance with, say, blue for “half done” or perhaps yellow for “I tried but due to circumstances beyond my control (children/work/act of God) I didn’t manage it”. Some people add an extra element by tracking their mood or physical feelings each day, which helps them notice the impact of maintaining their chosen habits.
And the point is?
For me, the first objective of the habit tracker was to provide me with an accessible visual reminder of the habits I wanted to build. It also made me hold myself accountable. As a Good Student who likes getting gold stars on wall charts (Oh my goodness. New plan. Next month, I’m actually buying little gold star stickers. Can’t believe I didn’t think of that before!), it made me feel uncomfortable and dissatisfied when I had to colour a box in red. Not enough to create low self-esteem or damage motivation but enough to make me want to do better the next day.
So, what did I learn?
I realised a number of things about myself during this process, and also a number of things about the art of creating good habits. Here are my – watch out! corp-speak coming up – key learnings and takeaways.
- How many matters.
My habit list grew during the month and I ended up tracking 15 habits. For me, this was just about manageable, but I think that any more would have been too much. I’m sure many would say one at a time is best, perhaps three maximum, but I’m inclined to think you have to find what works for you. It may take a couple of tries to figure out how many habits you are comfortable working on at one time. But don’t worry, the idea is to acquire new habits and make them second nature, so you can start tracking new ones!
- Mix it up.
One thing that helped me track so many habits was that they varied in nature. Some were physical (water, yoga, flossing); some were social (call, write or email a friend every day); others were mental or spiritual (create a gratitude practice). This also ensured I continued working on myself in a holistic way without getting too caught up with just one aspect of my being.
- Every day is easier than every week
I included a couple of weekly goals in my habit tracker and it just didn’t work for me. Firstly, it’s simply easier to commit to doing something every day than every week. Every week opens the door to “I’ll do that one tomorrow”, whereas with every day, there’s no way out. I think a weekly habit tracker could work, but if I were going to do that again, I’d keep it separate from my daily one and consult it at a different time.
- Tracking is not enough – you need a plan
Simply making and hanging your colourful chart will not put in place the good behaviours you’re seeking. You need to make a plan for how you are going to establish these habits. Flossing’s a no-brainer for me (do it every night before brushing), but drinking water was harder. My cunning plan – which worked quite well – was to fill a litre bottle every morning and make sure I emptied it by the end of the day. I also decided to have a glass of that water while waiting for the kettle to boil each time I made tea. On the other hand, I did not make a concrete plan for how I was going to cultivate more gratitude, and I have to say that’s the habit that I really didn’t manage to create. Needless to say it’s on my March list.
- It helps to hitch new habits to the wagons of old ones
It can really help to attach a new habit to an existing one. I never go to bed without brushing my teeth, for example, so it was relatively easy to add flossing to my nightly ritual. I am a total tea addict, so drinking a glass of water for every mug of tea also worked well. To help anchor the gratitude habit, I’m currently considering a few methods: one is listing the things I’m thankful for while drying my hair, others are: while I walk to school to collect my daughter, while in the shower, and while tidying up the small regional branch of Toys R Us that is our sitting room at the end of the day.
- It takes more than a month
Studies have shown that it takes a little over two months (66 days in fact) to create a new habit. I’ll be able to report my thoughts on that at the end of March, but for the moment, the one thing I can say for sure is that it takes time. Creating a new habit takes discipline and control, but above all it takes perseverance. It’s easy to lose motivation, especially if you have a series of days coloured red on your habit tracker. But the keys to getting into a habit are the same as getting out of one: take one day at a time and keep trying – even if that means picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and starting all over again every morning.
7. You have to care
If you keep trying and trying, but a new habit just doesn’t seem to stick, ask yourself how committed you really are. I included « eat one piece of fruit per day » on mine and, after over a month, I’ve only managed a handful of times. So, I’m wondering how strongly I really feel about the habit. I know it would be good for me, but I eat loads of veg, so I’m not sure it would make as big a difference to my life as my daily litre of water. Ask yourself where the idea for the new habit is coming from, too. Is this something you really believe in and want to establish, or is it an example of you should-ing on yourself or making someone else’s priority your problem? Remember that, like the tracker itself, good habits are there to serve you. Make sure you keep a firm handle on the master-servant relationship when it comes to both.
One last thing. Newsflash: it turns out water really is important. Who’da thunk it, eh? It appears that when I drink my daily litre, I’m far less tired, less inclined to snack, and my skin looks better. I believe some people have been wise to the virtues of this miracle substance for some time, but apparently I had to learn for myself to believe the reports of its life-enhancing properties…
If you’re finding it hard to give up an old habit or put in place some new ones, I can help. Compassionate, zero-judgement support from a qualified coach can make a huge difference when you’re looking to change any part of your life that isn’t currently working for you. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to see how you can upgrade to a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
What if shifting your focus from having a good day to making the most of your day could liberate you to enjoy even the dreariest of chore-filled days?
Every morning, as I see my children off to school and the childminder’s house, I give them the same three things: a hug, a kiss, and a cheery instruction to “have a great day” or “enjoy the day”. However, one morning last week, something changed. I had hurt my back so my husband was taking the kids in, and as I was – with some difficulty – leaning into the car to kiss them goodbye, I said: “Make the most of your day, guys!”
Make the most of your day. Now, there’s an interesting idea.
As I went back into my house in search of ibuprofen and a hot water bottle, I got to thinking about what I had –involuntarily – said to my children, and the bigger message I had conveyed.
Now, thanks to the American movie industry and the proliferation of Starbucks, we are all quite used to hearing and being told to have a nice day. Or a good day. Or a great day. We’re forever wishing each other enjoyable days. But here I was talking about something else, something greater than a great day. The French have a handy verb for this idea: profiter. Take advantage. Make the most of. Get the best out of. Extract all you can. Seize opportunity. The boys of the dead poets’ society got the idea – carpe diem and all that. But what does it really mean to do that – to make the most of the day? What does that look like? And how do our words make a difference?
The different shades of making the most
For me, making the most of my day means something very different depending on the day of the week. I do paid work four days a week, so on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, it can simply mean doing what I need to earn enough to pay the bills. But, given my profession, it can also mean feeling like I have truly served my coaching clients by being fully present for them and supporting their journey. Or it can mean attending a networking event and talking to as many people as possible, being courageous and working the room. Some days it might mean getting through the pile of administrative tasks that are par for the course when you run a business. Making the most of a work day means, in essence, extracting everything from it that can serve either my clients or my business.
I spend Wednesdays with my children, so those days are very different. Making the most of the day might mean ensuring I take the time to practice reading with my daughter. Or forgetting about the laundry and spending some quality time on Lego and puzzles. It might also mean finding the stamina to get through multiple two-year-old tantrums without losing my temper or my mind. And let’s face it, it might also mean using the children’s nap time to catch up on some sleep myself.
Be here now
Now, while I love my work, and I adore my children, quite a few of the activities listed above are not what I would consider fun, nice or enjoyable. Business admin gives me a knot in my stomach for fear I’ll screw up and bring down the full force of the French trésor publique on me. Equally, networking is something of a necessary evil, Lego has its limits, and I don’t think hating tantrums makes me unique amongst parents! And yet all of those things count, for me, as part of making the most of the day. There are even times when the best use of your time is actually doing something specifically unpleasant – like undergoing a painful but necessary medical procedure, or having a difficult but valuable conversation with a friend who has hurt you.
Making the most of the day has a notion of being about a longer-term goal than having a nice day. It’s about doing something today that will serve you tomorrow, or next week. It’s about being here now, facing what has to be done with at least a smidge of enthusiasm rather than tackling tasks begrudgingly, all the time wishing you could be somewhere else, doing something else. It’s also about making the most important use of your time: there are days when resting really is the most productive thing you can do.
Perspective on the message
So, what’s the bigger picture here? Am I reading too much into a few words we casually toss to our children, partners, colleagues and – in France – anyone we meet and speak to all day (the French “bonne journée” upon leaving the bakery is sacrosanct)? I don’t think so. I think it’s subtle but the words we use have meaning and they shape how we see the world. By telling my daughter to have a good/fun/nice day, I’m telling her that life is supposed to be good/fun/nice, and if her day isn’t those things, that she has somehow failed, or that life has failed to live up to her expectations.
The truth is: not all parts of life are fun. In fact, some of the most fulfilling, enriching and rewarding life experiences we’ll ever have are quite the opposite. (Childbirth, anyone? Therapy? Running a marathon?) Of course, a lot of the time, when we say “have a good day”, our actual intention is somewhere closer to “make the most of the day”, but linguistic precision is important. By consciously changing our mindset to seeking to make the most of the day, rather than enjoy it, we accept that not every day will be joyful but that doesn’t diminish its value. This in turn can help us see even a very challenging, enraging or saddening day as useful and instructive or as contributing to a long-term goal.
A sprinkling of sugary joy along the way
The cherry on the cake, of course, is making the most of the day with the right attitude and intention. I might spend the day cleaning the house – useful, necessary – but if I can do it while listening to music and dancing as I hoover, maybe I can turn it into a fun one too. Mary Poppins knew it years ago: you might have to clean the kids’ bedroom, or go on a long drive, or do admin and pay bills but in every job that must be done, there can be an element of fun. For me, letting go of the belief that every day should be fun enables me to accept the day for what it is, and by aiming to make the most of it I often find a sprinkling of enjoyment emerges even amidst the nastiest of tasks.
Except for managing the two-year-old’s tantrums. There’s not enough sugar in the world to make that medicine go down.
If you’re finding it hard working out how to make the most of your day, your week or your life at the moment, you’re not alone. I can help you figure out where you want to be and how you can get there – hopefully with some joy and fun along the way. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to see how you can get more out of a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
Making the New Year mindful
New Year’s resolutions might give you the chills, but there are lots of other practices and rituals you can use to ensure you step into the new year mindfully and with intention.
It has been said that April is the cruellest month. However, with all due respect to T. S. Eliot, I would suggest that January is the hottest contender for the title of Bleakest Month of the Year. Where I live, it’s the coldest time of year with some of the longest nights. Even for people in the southern hemisphere, it has to be rough. The festivities are over, and the next holiday to look forward to is St Valentine’s Day, and for many that’s the ultimate anti-uplift. Unless you actually have a dinner date with Chris Hemsworth on 14 February, it certainly doesn’t pack enough of a punch to make up for having to take down decorations and sorrowfully finish the last bite of pudding. With that in mind, doesn’t the tradition of making often draconian and self-depriving resolutions at the beginning of this somewhat dreary month seem faintly ridiculous, indeed almost inhuman?
Now, I’m a resolution-maker. I’m a coach, it’s like a professional requirement. However, many people find the whole business stressful and see it as a direct path to disappointment, which is a shame as the turn of the year can be a natural and uplifting cue both to look back and plan forward. So, if you want to use the beginning of a new year to reflect on the one gone by, or to turn a page and enjoy a fresh start without actually making resolutions, here are a few turn-of-the-year rituals I enjoy that you might like to try.
Year-end stock take
In the no-man’s land between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, I like to sit down and write a list of my achievements over the past year. Reminiscing over the high points of the year is a real mood boost. It might be a little harder than usual this year, but that’s all the more reason to spend time actively seeking out the good. Remember to include the little things as well as the big: everything from repainting a wall to redecorating the whole house, reading some good books to teaching your child to read, doing some yoga online to running 10K. Simply keeping up with mortgage payments and doing your job. It all counts. What did you achieve this year?
Look for learning
Another uplifting ritual is to take a moment to think back over the year and list the things you have learnt. It might be something about what makes you tick or what you need to be happy. Or a new life skill, like sewing. Or maybe you’ve read the newspapers more this year and finally have a good grasp of your county’s political machinations. What did you learn this year?
Visualise the year ahead
Now, shifting your mental gaze to the year to come, close your eyes and imagine the year. I see it as a giant planner with gold stars on the big dates like birthdays and anniversaries. Now imagine yourself entering the year. What does it feel like? What colour and flavour does it have? This simple exercise helps me feel like I’m going into the new year more mindfully. I’m stepping into it, paying attention – not just being swept along by the inexorable march of time. What do you envisage for the next 12 months?
Set your intention
Rather than setting a resolution to give something up or change something you do, try setting an intention for your being in the coming year. Complete the sentence: “Next year, I will be…”. Healthy. Patient. Kinder. Calmer. More grateful. Think of your intention as an over-arching theme for the year that will drive all your decisions. Only once you’re decided how you want to be (and therefore feel) can you align your actions and decide what you want to do. How do you want to be this year?
List positive goals
Another great alternative to negatively-worded resolutions (I will eat less chocolate. I will not smoke. I will stop shouting at the kids.), is creating a list of positive goals. I will eat one bar of chocolate per week. In January, I will only smoke on weekdays (And in February, I will only smoke four days a week, etc.). It has often been said that our subconscious mind cannot process negatives. I say “don’t think of an elephant” – what’s the first thing you think of? I say “drink no wine” and I find myself reaching for the corkscrew. Whether you believe that not, it is true that positive statements of intent are more motivating than negative ones. So express what you want, not what you don’t want. What do you want to do this year?
Make a plan
A goal without a plan is just an idea. Once you’ve set your intention, written down your goals, or done whatever you need to do to step into the new year mindfully, ask yourself: what do I need to do to ensure that in 365 days’ time, this is a reality? Write down every tiny step you need to take to get there: from asking your partner to watch the kids next Saturday while you buy running shoes to making a doctor’s appointment for a pre-training medical. Now, read the first task on the list and Do. It. Now. Maybe your goal is to learn a foreign language. Or perhaps you want to write a book. Or find a new job. The second you finish downloading that vocab-builder app, digging out your old laptop, or asking your best friend to help you re-do your CV, you’ve already taken the first step to achieving your goal! How are you going to make it happen this year?
Are you in a rut? Do you feel slightly stuck, or maybe a bit lost? Perhaps you’re actually doing fine, but you have that feeling that you could be doing better. Maybe there projects you want to start, but you’re finding it hard to gain momentum, or you just don’t know where to begin. Whatever your situation, there is one thing you can do that pretty much guarantees some kind of progress, especially here in Paris where, in my experience at least, la bouche à l’oreille is essential: le networking.
Networking is not a four-letter word
Many people feel shy about networking, feeling there’s something self-serving and shameful about it. And I must agree that the expressions “working the room” and “schmoozing” send shivers down my spine. Who wants to be that woman who leaps across the top table at her cousin’s wedding, spilling champagne on the bride, in order to press a crumpled business card into the unwilling palm of the best man as he’s half-way through his speech just because he happens to mention he works in HR? Not me. I’m guessing not you either.
Genuine, honest networking is about meeting new people and developing existing relationships. It’s about being sincerely interested in learning about another person’s projects and seeing if there’s any way in which the two of you can help each other out. It’s a two-way street. To be effective and avoid falling into schmoozing territory, it needs to be totally shameless in the positive sense of the word (yes, there is one). Consider the difference between:
“Wow, you’re studying shiatsu! I’ve always wanted to try it. Maybe I could come by for a session some time. I guess it’s really expensive, though? Yeah, money’s a little tight at the moment. So I reckon I’ll have to wait for a while before calling. Do you offer discounted rates for friends of friends? Haha, no just kidding…” Cue awkward silence.
“Hi, Jane told me you’re studying shiatsu. Listen, I’ve always fancied trying it, but I can’t afford it at the moment. No pressure, but I wonder if you’d be interested in discussing a service I could offer you in exchange for a session? I’m pretty good at setting up websites, for example, and have often babysat for friends. If either of those interests you, here’s my number, let me know. And of course, I’ll totally understand if you’re not into it.”
Which exchange would you prefer to have?
Effective networking should also always begin with the (unspoken) question “what can I do for you?” Go into it with the goal of meeting people and seeing if any of your knowledge or contacts can be useful to them. It takes the pressure of you and puts people at ease knowing that you’re there to offer as well as to accept a coup de main.
When done openly and in the right spirit, good networking can really make a difference – obviously, it can boost your career, but it can also help you achieve personal goals and up your chances of creating a fulfilling life for yourself, particularly if you’re new to Paris and still trying to find your groove. Here are four reasons to put yourself out there and attend a networking event near you!
You will widen your support network
Developing a wide circle of friends and acquaintances is crucial to feeling rooted and connected. Maybe you won’t meet your next employer at a networking event but you might make a new friend (already an excellent achievement) who, three months down the line, hears about a job opening and passes it on to you. That same friend might then share the name of her babysitter with you, giving you and your partner a much-needed night out. She might also become the person you call at 3am when you just need to talk. She might invite you to join her book group. The more people you know, the more people you know…
You will find new sources of information
Simply talking about your stalled project with someone new can give you ideas you may never have come to otherwise. You’re telling someone how you wish you could get back into rollerblading like you used to, and someone in the little group you’re with, someone you don’t even know, asks if you know about the big roller-outings organised on Sunday evenings in Paris. You haven’t asked for help, no flesh has been pressed, but you walk away knowing more than you did before.
You’ll open your horizons and gain new perspectives
When actively networking, you will talk to people you never would have approached, say, at a party. Perhaps people you wouldn’t be friends with. The beauty of talking to people from all walks of life is that it’s often the people who aren’t like you – people that have different values and beliefs and who move in different circles – who will say something that gives you that “light bulb” moment. Those are the people who will think outside of your box. And vice versa…
You’ll get the feel-good boost that comes from helping others
Putting aside all the things networking can do for you, isn’t it delightful to find yourself in a position to help someone else? Especially when you’re feeling below par yourself. It is so gratifying to be able to say “Really? You’re looking for a private English teacher? I actually know someone who might be able to help”, or “I actually have a friend leaving Paris soon and her apartment will be up for grabs – shall I put the two of you in touch?” Personally, I am known among my friends for my willingness to “matchmake” in this way. I love lending a hand like that. The bonus is that because of this, lots of my friends are now friends with each other (which incidentally made my wedding extra fun), plus friends are always willing to return the favour.
Because that’s the basis of all non-schmoozy (yep, I’m making up words now) networking. There’s a positive karma to it when done with the right intention. You help, advise or inform someone just because you can. Then they either help you back or they pay it forward. Whatever happens, you have added something good to the world and that will always do you good.
Originally published in Message Paris magazine.
In any Paris exercise class – be it Pilates, Gym Suedoise or the unappealingly named “Body Attack” – there is always a moment when can you spot the other ex-pat(s) in the room. It’s at that point when the instructor says something like (here I take an example from my own yoga class): “Now, if this isn’t enough of a stretch, you can make the posture more challenging by extending your left arm, raising your foot and taking hold of your big toe”. It’s then that you see a gleam in the eye of the ex-pat: “Oh goody”, she’s thinking, “I can make it harder for myself!”
The road less travelled
Because let’s admit it, folks, ex-pats, and even more so, ex-pat parents, are not people who have chosen the path of least resistance in life. We’re people who choose – either by looking to move or by deciding to “follow” a spouse – to build a life in a foreign country, perhaps in a foreign language, usually with few friends to start off, often with little knowledge of how the system works… I’m that kind of gal myself. I arrived in Paris with two suitcases, a part-time job as a language assistant, and a metre-squared room in a foyer de jeunes filles. I knew nobody. Friends starting well-paid jobs in London, moving into flat-shares with good mates from university, and taking their washing home at the weekends thought I was mad. But you – yes, you the masochistic ex-pat like me who’s chosen the road less travelled – you know that I just had to do life the hard way. It’s in our nature. When choosing a book for my holiday, not for me a nice Marion Keyes page-turner that looks really fun; no, this is the perfect opportunity to attack Les Misérables! And I don’t just have the easy chocolate Advent calendar. We’ll get one, sure, but I think I’ll also hand-sew a perpetual calendar with little motivational quotations in the pockets that I’ll write out in coloured inks. The school bake sale asks for parents to bring in a cake per family? I’ll make 30 frosted cupcakes instead, plus a Victoria sponge for the teachers!
Raising a child as an ex-pat is a whole other world of self-inflicted “hard way”, isn’t it? It raises questions about giving birth in a foreign language, sometimes learning vocabulary you weren’t even sure of in English, making choices about bi/trilingualism, learning about the school system, perhaps facing differences in approaches to bringing up children – with a foreign spouse, foreign in-laws, and society as a whole. It’s a minefield.
A life lived on purpose
I’ve always found that intrinsic to life as an ex-pat is the fact that everything is slightly more intense, or rather that you live everything more intensely. The highs are higher, and, boy, the lows are lower. So, on days when we’re feeling strong and life is going well, we are aware that what we’re doing is difficult, we get a kick out of it, and indeed, we respect for ourselves for choosing to be challenged. But on days when there are comprehension problems at school, the bank screws up an international transfer, and you have to do battle with the La Poste to find the parcel your aunt in Australia sent you, you can wind up shaking your fist at the sky and wondering why you’re inflicting this life upon yourself.
It’s in those moments that you take a breath, have a cup of tea (the British panacea!), and ask yourself the following powerful coaching questions:
- What have I learnt since my arrival in Paris and how has that expanded my horizons?
- What personal growth is my life here allowing me (and my family) that wouldn’t be available back home?
- Who/what/how am I in Paris that I couldn’t have been at home?
- What would I miss about my life here if I were to leave it tomorrow?
- If I had never moved here, which people would I have missed out on meeting and/or befriending?
No matter how hard you might be finding life in Paris right now, you have without a doubt learnt and grown since your arrival. When it all seems just a bit too hard and not worth it, take a step back, ask yourself these questions and give yourself a break. Even us “push-yourself” ex-pats sometimes need to do just the minimum – the simple yoga pose, the gaudy-cover beach book, a Kinder calendar – and, yes, God bless Marks & Spencer for that pre-iced sponge cake that will sometimes just have to do.
Originally published in Message Paris magazine.