Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

2018 in review

Friends, I have to admit that my 2019 started on the toilet. 🥳

I’m still laughing about it over here. 

You see, we had friends over for dinner, and we were in the middle of a very spirited game of « Cards against Humanity » when I all of the sudden realized it was nearly midnight.  So I popped open a new bottle of champagne, topped up everyone’s glasses and then for some reason, decided I had enough time to go pee before the clock struck midnight.  So that’s where I was when I heard « Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one....Happy New Year! ». And then immediately followed by C « Sam, where are you?? ».  Poor guy got his New Year bisou a minute too late. 

Hopefully this is not a sign of the year to come. ;)

Looking back though, 2018 was a bit of a mixed bag. I wouldn’t say it was a bad year, but the first half was certainly mired with a lot of work-related stress and self-doubt.  But it also included a lot of really cool work trips to Brazil, Egypt, UK, Portugal, US, Egypt again, Monaco, Egypt a third time, Jordan, China, the UK again and the Netherlands. 

And then I started my new job and made several more trips to the UK and Hungary, and 5 more trips to the US. I also squeezed in a quick trip to Japan, which made up for my trip (and my poor first-class ticket!) that I had to cancel in September due to the typhoon in Kyoto. 

I had a big chat with my new boss right before Christmas about my objectives for 2019, and right now, I’m to focus on the US and Japan, and see if I can manage to build any business in France in my ‘free time’.  Which should be exciting, right?  Who wouldn’t want to travel regularly to the US and Japan?  But I can already tell I’m starting to feel a bit itchy about no longer visiting ‘new’ places...and C wants to save all of his vacation for his land (which I still need to write about!), so I haven’t had any luck convincing him to take any personal trips with me. 

I guess that it’s natural that this time of year comes with a lot of reflection as one year closes and another begins, and particularly this year, as I still don’t really know what I want to do with my life - but the only thing I do know is that travel will always be a part of it. 

Friday, December 28, 2018 review

Earlier this summer, I received an offer to try out the premium service of for 30 days, so I decided to take advantage of cheaper prices in the US and try it out.  If you haven’t been inundated with their ads on Google and Facebook, is a shipping service that expats can use to receive goods abroad, and I was initially drawn to it because of the simple set up and (what appeared to be) reasonable shipping prices.

With the premium service, you get 20% off shipping rates and the possibity to store ordered items for free up to 30 days, which is beneficial if you are ordering from several sites and want to group everything into one shipment.  So I was given an address in Florida, and I placed my orders and had several orders shipped there.  Once everything had arrived in my warehouse, I requested it all be shipped, and I was given an estimated charge of $35, which was a lot, but less than if I had shipped from each individual site.  The site also indicated no customs fees would be charged since the total value was under 100 euros. 

My package arrived rather quickly, but I had the unfortunate surprise of discovering that instead of being charged $35 in shipping, I was instead charged $60.44!  Apparently I had ordered two items (my favorite nail polish and a small external battery charger) which were considered hazardous items and thus required special packaging.  I was also charged extra for the « hazardous items » sticker. 🤔 I tried to call the customer service line multiple times, but no one ever picked up, so I ended up emailing and finally got an answer several days later stating that the shipping charges online are only an estimate and « that final charges may be more ».  Okay fine, but nearly double the quoted price?? Seemed fishy to me.  I went back and forth with them several times since I had carefully checked their website before this whole process began, and neither the battery nor the nail polish were listed as requiring special shipping, and after a long delay, they did end up refunding me $18. 

However two months later, I had a second surprise- a 50 euro bill from customs!  I emailed again multiple times and they could not explain why I had been charged but also refused to refund me for the customs fee.  In the end, I just ended up dropping it because I was starting my new job around that time and my brain space was elsewhere, but I was definitely frustrated to have practically paid more in shipping and customs fees than the items actually cost!  Their site might come in handy if you are trying to send a gift to a relative and you don’t have time to deal with the post office, but other than that, I would not recommend it.  Their slow customer service and lack of transparency when it comes to pricing definitely gets them two thumbs down from me.  I’d be curious to know if anyone else out there has tried them out?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A wrinkle in time

One of the reasons I decided to take the job that was in my current industry was because I was feeling nostalgic about leaving my colleagues and clients.  In the months since, I have been lucky enough to see both regularly at conferences and trade shows, but it hit me the other day that seeing them and hearing how things are going always leaves me feeling like I’ve reopened a wound.

On top of that, I’m disappointed in myself for not realizing until recently that in addition to being my colleagues, they had also become my friends.  I like my current colleagues, but my interaction with them is mainly limited to email.  For as much as I hated all the meetings I had in my former role, I realize now that it was a chance to be able to talk to them on a daily basis and hear more about their lives than what is visible on social media. I miss their opinions and advice.  I miss the fun times we had together.  The only thing I can really liken it to is a break-up, ie when you choose to break up with someone, their friends and family unfortunately also become collateral damage.

I also have to admit I have sort of a morbid curiosity about seeing how life there has moved on without me.  I can’t help myself from asking how things are going with ‘so and so’, and hearing the latest gossip, and taking satisfaction in the fact that others are unhappy with the current structure.  And on one hand, I’m happy my departure has given others to step up and take on some more responsibility, but on the other, it’s perturbing to see my projects continuing on without me.  A former colleague recently posted pictures of his trip to Kenya, which would have been my trip.  Seeing him do all the things I would have been doing was odd.  Sort of like a « Sliding doors » feeling if you will. A view into what could/would have been.

Despite all the mixed feelings, I am glad to be where I am now, and to be able to know what is beyond The Company.  I spent at least a good year feeling frustrated with my job yet scared about taking a leap into another role, so at least I am no longer stuck in the « what if » cycle.  Possibly I would have been best off taking one of the other job offers and making a clean break, but for now, it is what is.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Nam Nam

There have been so many times I have wanted to pop in here over the past few months, but the IT dept of my new company was very specific on only using my laptop for work purposes, so I didn’t dare.  I finally got around to purchasing a new IPad though after months of doing everything on my phone, so that should make it easier.

It has been a crazy few months and time has been flying by. Funnily enough, C now finds himself in the position I was in this summer, ie having to chose between jobs.  He had actually given his notice to his current employer and was supposed to start his new job December 8, but now his employer recently came back and offered him a new role. The first job has a better salary and would be better for his career long term, but the hiring manager seems kind of crazy.  The second offer would be interesting and less stressful, but with less pay (still a bit more than he’s making now though).  So there have been a lot of restless nights for him lately as he goes back and forth between the two.

I have been mostly enjoying my travel to the US, and I swear, I thought my heart was going to burst last week when my 22 month old niece came running up to me, calling « Nam ! ».  (She can’t say her S’s yet). The fact that I have been around enough that my niece and nephew recognize me as more than just a face in the phone has been incredible, and it was one of my driving factors for taking this job.

This last trip was a wild adventure though. I drove 2200 miles all across the US, and seeing so many different parts of the country has really opened my eyes to the divisions we are facing as a nation.  My reality in Minnesota is so different from X’s reality in NYC and Y’s reality in Arkansas. Our shared values used to be what united us in the past, but what happens if/when we no longer have those?  I was glued to the TV the night of the midterm elections, and was disappointed, but not surprised, by the results.  It scares me sometimes how easily we can be manipulated and how so many people just blindly believe what they see/hear on TV or on the internet. I’m downhearted by how unwilling people (on both sides) seem to be to question whether it is the truth or even consider other viewpoints.  Then again, things in France/Europe don’t really seem to be much better... But I keep coming back to "United we stand, Divided we fall".

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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