Last time, I posted an article reflecting on my five years in France and how hard it was on every level. I quoted a couple of friends and an anonymous acquaintance who aggressively told me that if I didn’t like paying high entrepreneurial taxes then I should go back to the USA. Well, this person decided to out himself on Facebook and attack me with a Go f— yourself and spout off random negative, misinformed opinions about me. Instead of getting angry or feeling guilty or whatever he wanted me to feel, I felt – of all things – justified for the decisions I made and even more grateful for what he said to me and that moment. Here’s why:
It was at that very moment of being blasted that if I didn’t like it, to go home that I decided to actually go home. I remember being at that dinner, after having just been blasted for simply expressing my experience as an expatriated entrepreneur, looking to the other guests who sat there stunned, daring not to utter a word, and unsure of what to do next. And, without second thought, like a good house guest I accepted his opinion, respected his space, and decided to just keep my mouth shut for the rest of the evening for the benefit of the other guests instead of returning his aggression like a true southern woman on Atlanta’s Real Housewives with an “Oh hail no!” That French politesse that I picked up from my socially conscious in-laws served me at that moment, because – let’s admit – as good as it feels to tell someone off and rip them a new one, it doesn’t really serve us in the long run. Mr J, ever the diplomat, tried to smooth over the situation for everyone as I fell silent and decided to allow my actions and more importantly, my life, speak for itself.
Upon further reflection, I look back on my time in France and the long, slow days that somehow flashed by and feel a deep sense of accomplishment. Without any prompting or pushing from anyone, I studied hours and hours each day – reading book after book on coaching, management, spirituality, and religion – I coached and consulted from skype and by phone to clients all over the world – I spent a year building an interactive website and another year putting all of the activities and homework I assigned clients over the years into a book and wrote hundreds of blog articles and built an online presence. I learned French and practiced it at a bunch of different classes at the local community center and took internships teaching professional skills in French. I also assisted Mr J with design and product quandaries for his work products. For example, while sitting around with Ana and Mr J after watching a movie marathon, we came up with the concept for the Villain snowboard which went on to be one of their best selling boards. While, from this guy’s very limited perspective from me, I may have not taken some cashier job at the local grocery store, these quiet waters run oh so deep.
I certainly lived like a hermit for most of that time in France, but I didn’t sit on the couch eating bonbons. Like the ideal American, I struggled to make something from absolutely nothing. Like a wrestling tag team, Mr J worked together with like minds to create careers and lives on our terms. I did his resume, his portfolio, coaching him on his work and we sat for hours discussing our goals and supporting each other with our limited means. We felt like fish out of water a lot, feeling insecure and disheartened as to why we couldn’t fit in as much as we wanted to, so we clung to each other as we like to say like a barnacle to a rock, and pushed through together and succeeded.
Oh yes, we struggled financially from time to time (just like every young married couple) because, in France, the average family income is 1,200 euros. We made more than that with a single principle income, but it was still hard to make ends meet in France and continue to pay an upside down Florida mortgage. We sold our Apple stock to buy a car, we pulled from our investments and savings to get from one tough period to another, but by the grace of God and the support of Mr J’s family we never went without. Like I tell my clients: there’s no right or wrong way to get from here to your goals, there’s only your way and in the words of Frank Sinatra, baby, we did it our way.
The other benefit of that moment of being scolded by this bellicose man was that I made the decision to find new friends and to build the other casual relationships I had into more meaningful ones. Not long after, I experienced postpartum depression. I was in the pits of hell physically and emotionally. Instead of choosing to hide what I was going through, which is a natural impulse for many depressed, I worked past the shame and allowed myself to be vulnerable to those around me: my doctor, his wife, our nanny, my in-laws, my friends, and complete strangers at the random mommy and me classes that I forced myself to go to in desperation to make new friends. I was so desperate during the introduce yourself circle time that I said quite bluntly, “I am looking for friends.” Through that honest and humbling moment I met my best friend Raphaelle who still laughs at how straightforward I was. She was one of my guiding lights that allowed me to break through my depression.
On a recent rainy evening in France, I was sitting with my girlfriend in her car coaching her through a troubling time her life. She asked with intense curiosity, “It’s amazing how many good friends you have to support you in Annecy. How did you accomplish that here!?”
The answer was simple: I made these friends by allowing myself to be vulnerable; allowing them to see my struggles. I was just being real. People are more receptive to that.
It’s laughable when someone who barely knows me says that I make my life look easy on my blog considering how close to the bottom I started out in life with, oh, you know, run of the mill working poverty, emotional abuse, and constant familial dramas (just search my archives for more stories). I’ll be the first to tell you how it really is for me and my clients know that I share my personal learning experiences for their benefit.
As Mr J said this morning, “You have to be honest and say that you do make things look easy. I mean, no matter how hard things get you always manage to put a positive spin on things.”
Here’s why: life isn’t always a basket full of roses. There are days, weeks, and in my case years that are really hard and we are given one blessing: choice. Choice is the ultimate vehicle to express our creativity. Creativity allows us to deal with what lies before us. Despite the circumstances, I chose to do things the best way I saw fit, I chose to make calls that – on the short term – made no sense to many of the Frenchies around me, and I chose to use an ugly experience from someone who just didn’t understand me and allow it serve me into enriching my life.
So, while he may have said, “Go f— yourself.” All I can say is, thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating a defining moment in my life that has inspired me to turn so much negativity into the happiness I experience today. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.