Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Le loto du patrimoine

I had the news on in the background tonight, and heard something about the first « tickets de patrimoine » being sold, and it piqued my curiosity, especially since they were showing a scratch-off in the background.  Apparently there is a new temporary lottery ticket that went on sale starting yesterday, and part of the money earned from it will go to finance the restoration of a select few buildings around France.

12 million scratch-off tickets will be sold, at the rather-shocking price of 15 euros (!) a piece.  There is a one in three chance of winning at least 15 euros, and 1.52 euros from each ticket will be placed in a fund that will finance the repair of 18 chosen sites.

There will also be a special once/year « Mission Patrimoine » super lotto, with a jack pot of 13 million euros.  Each ‘grille’ will cost 3 euros, and the first drawing will be September 14 in honor of ‘les journées du patrimoine’.

The organizers are expecting to collect 15-20 million euros, however some are criticizing the fund as a ‘tax on the poor man’, and questioning why the government can give 450 million euros to renovate the Grand Palais in Paris, but the average man is having to finance the restoration of so many other sites out of their pockets.  There is also some controversy over the sites chosen to receive funding, but others state that this will give the French the feeling that the country’s ‘patrimoine’ belongs to them all...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Blink and you’ll miss it

I can’t believe it’s the end of summer already!  It has truly gone by in the blink of an eye.  I have wanted to blog at various points over the summer, however the IT policies on my new work computer have had me a bit paranoid, so I ended up buying an iPad on my last trip to the US and now here I am, free to write again.

Work has been going well - I still go through periods of wondering whether or not I can do this, but things are slowly progressing. And I may possibly be in the honeymoon phase still, but I am definitely enjoying only having one phone to deal with, no more early/late meetings or phone calls, being able to actually wear my wedding ring daily and have decent nails for longer than a week at a time.

After having basically been on-call 24/7 for twelve years, it has also been extremely liberating to not be tied to my phone. As poor C can attest, with the exception of our honeymoon, I have literally not been more than 5 feet from my phone(s) since well before we met. It has taken me weeks to be able to leave the room and not take my phone with me, for fear of missing a phone call. Even now I sometimes have brief moments of panic of ‘Where’s my phone??’.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the guest was Tim Ferris, author of the ‘4 hour work week’, amongst other books. I typically find him interesting, and in this particular interview, he was talking about how his whole empire came about.  He was explaining that he was so caught up in his job, working crazy hours, thinking only about work, etc until one day he realized he was « trapped in a machine of his own making ».  And I immediately thought ‘Bingo’.  That in a nutshell is exactly how I felt at the end of my time with The Company.  It just consumed so much of life, both day and night.

There were a lot of circumstances that contributed to it, including the time difference and my desire to move up the ranks, but at the end of the day, it really wasn’t anyone’s fault but my own that I found myself in that endless cycle of eating, breathing and sleeping work.  There was no pressure from my boss nor my colleagues - it was just a combination of my personality, the sense of urgency that came with the nature of our work and perceived responsibility towards our customers.  So I’ve been taking time this summer to reflect on how I got to that point and what I can do in the future to stay more balanced (it helps with this new job that nothing will potentially die if I don’t immediately pick up the phone lol).

But it means I’ve had space in my life to actually *have* a life again. I have been able to go out with friends more, pick up some hobbies again, and enjoy being more present with C (who also finished his masters this summer, whoop!).

I have also been enjoying traveling back to the US more frequently, and recently even attended my high school class reunion.  It was a strange experience, and it felt like many people in my hometown were vying to be on People of Walmart (seriously- it was like ‘Ah, *these* are the people who still support Trump), but I was glad to have been able to attend.  My hometown might not have been glamorous, but it was a good place to grow up.

And now September is going to be a crazy month - C will be in the US for work for 3 weeks, and I’ll be in Japan, Bretagne and the US during that same time.  We haven’t ever been apart for that long, so I’m hoping we can rendezvous for at least a weekend in there.  But in the meantime, we’re enjoying these last few days of calm together and will top it off with a weekend on C’s land.  More to come about that later...


Friday, June 8, 2018

Fake it until you make it

Lastly, I also wanted to share a bit of advice for the women out there.  I'm sure you've all heard the statistic about women only applying for jobs if they feel like they meet 100% of the criteria, whereas men will apply even if they only meet 50-75% of the criteria.  So when I began this whole process, I made a very conscious decision to apply for jobs like a man.   I applied for anything and everything that fit my criteria, and then tailored my cover letter to why I thought I was the perfect person for the job.

In addition, given that most hiring decisions are decided in the first thirty seconds of meeting the candidate, and that your own non-verbal behaviors can also influence your self-confidence levels, I spent two minutes prior to each interview in a "high power pose", as described in this video (it's a bit long, but it's one of the most-viewed Ted Talks out there):


And you know it?  It worked!  I must have applied for over 50 different jobs over the months, and I bet I got interviews for at least 90% of them.  And not just one interview, but usually multiple interviews - the phone interview, hiring manager interview and at least one CEO/CFO/COO interview for each posting. Now that's a lot of interviews.  I'm telling you, I have done so many that I am an interviewing machine now - I could probably do one in my sleep lol.   But I very intentionally went in to each and every one telling myself I was the sh*t and they would be lucky to have me.  Of course I did a lot of research on each company beforehand, to understand the market, their competitors, strengths/weaknesses, etc so I went into the interviews informed and armed with pertinent questions, but I also went in there projecting confidence and strength. And possibly man-spreading from time to time. :D

Either way, this method was so successful that because I was not initially clear on what I wanted, I often ended up getting offers that didn't really fit me, and I found myself in the position of telling them that after learning more about the role/company values/etc, it just didn't seem like the right fit for what I was looking for, instead of the other way around. My lack of clarity on what I wanted certainly made me a pro at interviewing, but also ended up wasting a lot of my time and theirs.

However, as I kept telling them, this whole process wasn't about changing just to change - I really wanted to find the role where I could bring value to the company and they could bring value to me.  And I think that's where women often go wrong.  We forget that second part.  We undersell ourselves and we psych ourselves out.  We focus on how many other people out there could do the job better than us, rather than on the value and the unique skills that we would bring to the role. 

I'd be lying though if I didn't admit that I still struggled with internal freak-outs from time to time. Like "Holy crap, I'm sitting across from the CEO of XYZ Company, what am I doing here??"  But then it was about reframing it in my mind, and reminding myself that he asked me to be there.  He obviously thinks I'm worth his time, so why don't I?  (Good question).

And despite all of this "Girl Power" talk, it still hasn't prevented me from having niggling doubts about this new role as well.  "Wait, they created this position for me, can I *really* do it??  And they're going to pay me *how* much??   What if I don't succeed?  What if I end up disappointing them?!".   But my plan is still to walk in there on that first day with my head held high, acting as if of course I belong there...Fake it until you make it baby. (And no one needs to know I'll have done a two-minute power pose in the bathroom beforehand.)

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mid-life crisis, take 2

So after feeling like I would never find the right fit for me, and that I'd be stuck in my role forever, I decided to take it back to what I know works for me.  I sat down, reflected, and made a list of what I wanted for my future career (only positive things, no negative things). Here's what I came up with:
  • Be able to continue to travel (ideally to the US or Asia monthly)
  • Flexibility for remote work
  • Earn at least my current salary or more
  • Team I enjoy working with
  • Product I believe in
  • Be able to influence strategy/direction
I kept that post-it note by my desk and looked at it multiple times a day.  Every night before I went to bed or any time I had some down time (often while traveling), I would think about that list and imagine myself in a new role where I had all of that.  I imagined how I would feel, how happy and fulfilled I would be, how much more balance there would be in my life.  I also focused on daily gratitude and recognizing the good things I had in my life - from a positive interaction with a customer to the adorable notes C often leaves for me around the house.  If you don't know, these are all the steps for what some call positive manifestation or positive visualization or even the law of attraction.  It's a little bit hokey and new age-y, especially for someone as pragmatic as myself, but I've always figured it can't hurt to focus on what's positive in your life and to at least put what you want out into the universe.

Plus, it has gotten me amazing results each time I have tried it in the past.  For starters with C, who matched every single thing I had put on my list. Even today, I often wonder marvel I ended up with someone as kind and generous as him. Or our apartment - we both had long wish lists of things we wanted and assumed we'd have to compromise on some things since after all, this is Paris and people spend months or even years trying to find a place that is even half-way decent. But instead, we found our dream apartment on our very first visit, in the area we wanted, in our budget - which is how we ended up buying an apartment when we hadn't even really been looking .

But back to the job hunt. Ironically enough, or maybe not, a week or so after beginning to do the above steps daily, some top-notch job offers started rolling in. So much so that it got to the point where I soon had three extremely different but equally amazing jobs on the table.  And then I became paralyzed again by the choice.  I know, I know, poor me, right - three great job offers, boo hoo.  But which one to choose?  Could I really sauter le pas? Which one would leave me truly happy?  I waffled for a long time, I went back and forth, I made pro and con lists for each one but just could not pull the trigger.

Finally, a little over a week ago, I had an epiphany.  I was being held up by self-judgement.  Two of the offers were in the tech industry, working for French start-ups with amazing products, and the third one was in my current industry.  I was internally leaning towards staying in my industry, but couldn't admit that to myself because the other two were such incredible opportunities that would advance my career much quicker than the third option.

As someone who has always pushed herself to go higher/further, it was extremely difficult for me to admit to myself that I wanted the 'easier' option.  Half of me wanted the challenge and the passion of working for a start-up, but the other half of me knew how all-consuming it would be and that I just needed a break.  But that didn't stop me from feeling disappointed in myself for feeling that way.  Nor worrying about getting pigeon-holed for the rest of my career in my current industry.  So I waffled a bit more, but finally got some excellent advice from some wise girlfriends, and then pulled the trigger this week.

So it's official. Next Thursday will be my last day at The Company, I'll head straight after to my (soon to be former) colleague's wedding in the south of France, and then the following week I'll be gainfully employed by a British company in my same industry.  I had been planning on taking some time off in between, but some important industry events put the kibosh on that.   However, I'm happy to say that my new role will have me still working remotely (check), and I'll be traveling to the US nearly every month (check).  I've gotten a pretty decent salary bump (check), and I already know (and like) many of the people who will be on my team (check), and I'll have a lot of freedom to choose my projects (check).  Hopefully the grass will indeed be greener...

It's been an emotional past few days explaining my decision to my colleagues and my clients, and I have been so touched by the extremely kind and generous things they've had to say about me and my work.  The fact that they all seem so confident about my probability for success in my future role has been a huge moral booster to me, and it's been really gratifying to know that they have appreciated the efforts I have made over the years and enjoyed their interactions with me. I wish it didn't take my deciding to leave for them to say it - but I guess it's like a funeral in that way - you don't often realize the impact someone has until they're gone.


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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Is this what a mid-life crisis feels like?

For the past nine months, outside of work, my life has pretty much been consumed by looking for a job, researching for a job, interviewing for a job and/or considering a job.  It's been a wild and crazy ride - how to decide what I want for my career when I basically fell into the one I currently had?  I'm sure a lot of you out there are wondering why I would leave my job in the first place - after all, I get to choose my own projects, travel the world, meet all kinds of people, have free flights home multiple times a year...it all sounds great on paper, and to be honest, it's probably why I've hung around so long.  Most of the time, I kept thinking - how could I find anything better than that?

But The Company restructured about a year and a half ago, and the changes have left me increasingly unhappy. I've tried to make peace with it for the reasons above, but the inefficiencies of the new system and strategy changes have at times come into conflict with my personal values and it's left me stressed out and exhausted.  Thoughts of work consumed my brain morning and night - and I mean literally.  Most nights, I would wake up thinking about a work issue, get irate about it and then be up for half of the night. Add on the early morning calls from our Asia team and the fact that my US colleagues were in the office until midnight French time meant that I was pretty much thinking only about work 24/7.  As my dear husband very gently pointed out to me one evening, that wasn't a healthy place for me to be in - neither mentally nor physically.

Thus began the very long process of trying to extract myself from something that had been such a massive part of my life for so long.  I could barely even imagine myself without The Company.  After all, they were the ones who gave me the opportunity of having a quote-unquote *real* career in France.  And as a customer said to me this morning - "But what will we do without you? How can you leave? You eat, sleep and breath The Company".  So it was often a two steps forward, one step back process - thinking about leaving my colleagues, my clients....people I've known for over a decade....the excellent travel opportunities.  Well, it all led to a few long months of deep soul searching.

After all, while technically a 'grown-up', post-US life, I'd never actually had to think about what I wanted to be or what I wanted to do.  Most of you out there know my one-week job contract with The Company somehow turned into a 12 year career with big promotions every two or three years.  However, a few of the early job interviews I had last fall left me resoundingly decided not to join Corporate America (or France in this case), but then what?  What to do?  I'd never have seen myself doing the job I'm doing today, but it turned into a global adventure.  So I decided to not close off any doors and apply for whichever jobs appealed to me - but then became almost paralyzed by the idea of having so much choice.  I had interview after interview, but couldn't choose.  And when I finally did, it was only to be frustrated and semi-depressed by how low most salaries are in France....

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Ouigo or no-go?



I'm out in the countryside all week for work, and I took one of the new Ouigo trains from Montparnasse to get out here.  If you haven't heard of it yet, the SNCF advertises Ouigo as the "new high-speed, low-cost trains".

Up until a few months ago, the Ile de France departures only left from outside of the city, but they started offering routes from Montparnasse last November.
There are a few things to know though before you go - like they recommend showing up 25 minutes before the departure.  This is for several reasons - 1) the trains leave from the Hall Vaugirard, which is a good 10 minute walk from the metro. 2) You need to have your ticket validated (and show ID) before you are allowed to enter the boarding area. 3) The size of your suitcase will be verified, similar to when flying a low-cost airplane in Europe.

This last one got me today - I have a small red suitcase that used to be an acceptable carry-on size, but that no longer fits today's standards.  It's still small though, and I figured it would pass, but wrong!  They had folks verifying everyone's baggage prior to boarding, and the suitcases had to fit into that little rectangular box airlines use. They were also measuring people's handbags with a ruler.  Poor little reddie missed the mark by a few centimeters, and I ended up having to pay the 20€ baggage fee.  Always a joy at six in the morning, let me tell you!

Next, there's the inside of the train. In order to get more bang for their buck, they have made the previous two seats into three seats and they don't recline. It's a lot less comfortable than your standard TGV, but it's doable for shorter trips.  There's also no bar car, so you have to stock up on your own food before you go....and then keep all the trash with you because there are no more trash bins in the cars (only near the toilets).  
There is a small workaround though for the seats - if you pay 2€ extra, you can get a seat with an electrical outlet, and those all appeared to be two-seaters.   And if you need more than a carry-on, pre-paying your luggage costs only 5€ in advance instead of the 20€ I paid at the station. 

A few upsides of this low-cost service?  Tickets start at 10€.  For my trip, I paid 19€ for the Ouigo, and a regular TGV train for the same route departing a few minutes later cost 60€, 3x the Ouigo price. The Ouigo trains also have staff on-board to regularly clean the bathrooms, there's no weight limit for luggageand a big perk for families is that kids under 12 can travel with a paying adult for a flat fee of 5€.

So would I take it again?  Probably, especially if I was traveling on my own dime.  I'll just be sure to measure my suitcase next time....

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Another year in the books

Well hello 2018!  I can't believe 2017 is over and done with already, but I can't say I'm sorry to see it go.  It was a rough year for me professionally - The Company restructured about 18 months ago and I'm still struggling with how I fit in to the new layout, which has led to a lot of sleepless nights and a general malaise.  I've been trying to focus on the perks of my job and how lucky I am to have made it this far in life to have work that I love - but at times it's been a struggle.

I have gotten to do some pretty cool stuff this year though -in the first quarter of 2017, I traveled to Egypt, Germany, Thailand, Japan and Poland. We spent a very romantic Easter weekend in Venice.  After that I went to the UK, Norway, South Africa and China.  Then Hungary, Japan again and Marseille/Cassis for our anniversary. 

Back to Japan for a third time in the fall (didn't realize I went there 3x this year!), where I had some free time to do some cool sightseeing in Hiroshima and Kyoto, and then it was off to Zambia followed by India.  And somehow interspersed between all of that were 4 trips to the US, which allowed me to spend some precious quality time with our newborn niece and to attend multiple family events (a bachelorette party, a wedding, a christening, etc).  I guess now looking back on it all, it's easy to see how the year went by in a flash - most of it was spent on a plane lol. 

And funnily enough, I'm writing this from Rio de Janeiro.  On the Friday before Christmas, I was asked "Is there anyway you could go to Brazil on Tuesday for three weeks?".  I was like "As in Tuesday in a few days?? Umm....let me check".   I didn't want to spend that much time apart from C (nor miss New Year's together), so I quickly asked him to see if he could get time off from work at the last minute, and here we are - ringing in a very unexpected New Year's in Rio.  Thank goodness for visa-free travel to Brazil with French passports.

It's been interesting here - Brazil is not necessarily a country I would have visited on my own, but I guess it's one more to scratch off on my map.  C will be heading home soon and then I'll be flying out to the countryside, which will likely be a whole new adventure in itself...

I don't really have any resolutions for 2018 - I just want to find some way to be happy and healthy.  And I wish you all the same!

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