The first time I came to France, I was running away.
I was running away from grief. I had lost my best friend just before I turned 14, and nothing had been the same since then. Friendships weren’t the same. I was still very much in pain and angry about the injustice of it all (and sometimes, 16 years later, I still am…). I didn’t think anyone, especially my peers, understood.
And I wanted to hide.
Because at 5, 6, 7 years after she died, it wasn’t socially acceptable to still be grieving the loss of the best person I knew. Being an ocean away from home would give me the space I was seeking, where my sadness wouldn’t be scrutinized. Being in a place she had never been would make it easier to tolerate her absence.
I was running away from lack of connection. From feeling like I wasn’t good enough in a university where my entering freshman class had students who had already published novels and performed at Carnegie Hall. I spent the first two years of university paralyzed by imposter syndrome. I don’t belong here, I thought, internalizing my guidance counselor’s reaction to my acceptance to Columbia: maybe they made a mistake.
In France, I thought, I would feel better. I knew French better than most of the people in my program. I would feel like I deserved to be there. I wouldn’t be plagued by self-doubt of being surrounded by people who had all graduated at the top of their class while inventing things and raising millions for charity. People who were good enough.
I was right. I got a year to hide, and to speak French, to meet some fantastic professors, and to do some of the most interesting academic work I did in college. I felt like I finally belonged somewhere. I spoke and wrote French better than pretty much everyone in my program, so nobody could argue that I didn’t belong here.
In my French classes, I had always wondered whether my work was being graded on my ability to express myself in French, or my actual *ideas,* or some combination of the two. And how did the professor grade someone whose ideas were good, but not clearly expressed, or vice versa? Even when I succeeded, there was still that niggling self-doubt: maybe it’s because I write well in French. Studying here allowed me to realise: maybe I do have good ideas, too.
And I fell in love with Paris, and wanted nothing more than to come back. Because I loved how I *felt* in Paris. Independent. Competent. Surrounded by a beautiful city that included all of my nerdy interests: art, history, music, beautiful gardens…
The second time I came to Paris, I was pursuing a dream.
One I had had since childhood – living a glamourous life abroad.
A life plan that had never included living next door to my childhood best friend, our children going back and forth freely between our connected houses, while she was a twice-divorced famous singer and radio personality from her exes Whitey and Mickey (yes, those were teddy bears…) and I was a famous doctor AND singer married to the country music star I found very handsome ca. age 12. (No, I’m not going to tell you who. Yes, I still think he’s kind of cute.)
In my dream, I was speaking a foreign language. And within a year and a half of my return, dating the super-romantic French guy (who is now my husband).
The first year back in France was hard. This time, I didn’t have the support of a study abroad program. I was addicted to the struggle of the difficulties of French bureaucracy. They make it hard on purpose so people won’t come, I thought. My strike back against the man would be to make it easier for people.
The truth is, I liked that it was hard. It made me feel powerful, like I had cracked a secret code, when I finally figured it out and got what I wanted. Combining my understanding of the French mindset (secrets I always share with my clients) and enough knowledge of THE RULES to bureaucracy-foo the heck out of any administrator who dared stand in my way, I made it my mission to stick up for people like me who were struggling with knowing what to do, and having the theoretical knowledge of the forms and procedures they needed to complete, only to be thwarted by the obstacles and tests of perseverance thrown up by crafty fonctionnaires.
Did I mention that my senior thesis and my master’s thesis were on the structure of fairytales and the heroine’s journey?
But life isn’t a fairy tale. Looking back, I realize that so much of what I struggled against was because I made it harder than it had to be. I complexified things and then felt smart when I finally cracked them.
Not everyone can do this, I thought. I’ve got what it takes to *make it* here. Whatever that means.
I created my business in part because I wanted to be the Magical Agent that comes to your aide during your journey to seek the coveted 10 Year Resident Card.
There are no villains here. And the power to face down bureaucracy has been inside you all along.