The Leap

May 6, 2010


To give a little context to my motivation for taking this trip and my decision to move to Paris, I thought I would start by reposting an entry that I wrote for an intranet blog I was keeping at the company where I previously worked. The following was originally posted on March 25, 2010, 17 days before my flight to Paris.

Petite parisienne, Paris, 2007. © All rights reserved.


******

Lily: You’re like that goat with the washcloth. You want it so bad, and every time the world tries to take it away from you, you keep grabbing it. But, you know what? It’s just a washcloth. Why do you even want it?

Ted:
Because I have to be an architect! That’s the plan.

Lily:
Screw the plan! […] Look, you can’t design your life like a building. It doesn’t work that way. You just have to live it… and it’ll design itself.

Ted: So what, I should just do nothing?

Lily: No. Listen to what the world is telling you to do… and take the leap.

– How I Met Your Mother, Season 4 Finale, “The Leap”

I have a confession to make. I think I’m an addict.

It started out as most addictions do. A toe dipped cautiously in the water. A little dabble here, some experimentation there. Now I can’t imagine ever going back to my previous existence.

A little over two years ago, I was talking to a friend one day, when I said the same thing I’d been saying for years: “I really wish I’d kept up with my French after high school. It would be so great to speak more than one language.” It was not the first time I’d had this sort of conversation.

This is how conversations like this usually went with me:

Me: I really wish I… [insert random impossibility of choice here]
Friend: Yeah, me too. I just don’t have the [time/money/knowledge/energy/motivation] to do it.
Me: I know. It’s too bad. Oh well.
Conversation moves on and the topic is promptly forgotten until the next time it gets randomly dredged up (see above script for details on how this goes).

But for some reason, on this particular day, the script went a little differently.

Me: I really wish I’d kept up with my French after high school. It would be so great to speak more than one language.
Friend: So why don’t you pick it up again? The Alliance Française offers classes in Toronto.

I was a little taken aback. This was not how this dialogue was supposed to go. Where were my comforting token words of commiseration, followed by mutually-agreed-upon permission to dismiss the subject altogether? Do something about it? What a strange proposition. Why not indeed?

Actually, I could think of a lot of reasons why not.

1) I was too old. Languages are best learned when you’re younger. I missed that boat when I stopped taking French after high school. It was too bad, but it was also too late.

2) Who had the time? Classes would be at least one night a week or (God forbid) 9:00 AM on a Saturday morning. After working a full day at the office, it was all I could do to throw together something for dinner, watch some TV and go to bed. I barely had enough time during the weekend to do my errands and see my friends, forget about a whole other three-hour commitment.

3) The Alliance Française was expensive. $300 every eight weeks buys a whole lot of liquor and movie tickets edifying cultural outings to museums and art galleries.

4) Homework? Really?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Not speaking French was just one of those irrevocable facts that I had come to accept on my list of vaguely impossible things I wished I could do.

Except… the seed had been planted. And there it remained over the next few weeks while I continued to mull the idea over. At the time, I was working at a film distribution company and we coincidentally started doing a cross-promotion with the Alliance Française for the release of the French film Persepolis. There was Alliance Française paraphernalia all over the office, so the idea didn’t dissipate into the ether as easily as it might have. Rather, I was confronted with it on a daily basis. It was almost as if someone was trying to tell me something.

Still, I think the prospect of actually committing to doing something instead of just wishing I could do something was secretly a little terrifying (read: paralyzing) to me. Instead of decisive action, I poked around on the web to see what kind of classes were offered and how much they cost and what exactly I’d be signing up for in terms of time. I dropped by the Alliance Française one evening to speak to the receptionist and pick up some pamphlets. Then I thought on it some more. Finally, I got tired of thinking about it.

What could it hurt, I reasoned, to sign up for one session of classes? If I didn’t like it, I could always drop out. I’d give it a try and see how I liked it.

And with that, I dipped my toe in the water.

Two years later, I speak French. Not fluently, by any means, but I can certainly hold my own in a conversation, read a book, understand the news and correspond by e-mail. I’m also better than I would be if another two years of just wishing had gone by. I may never be perfect at it, but I keep practicing and I get better every day.

Not only did I not drop out of those classes, I eventually signed up for a session that ran two nights a week so that I could “Learn French Rapidement!” (I also tried out one of those dreaded 9:00 AM Saturday morning sessions, but that didn’t last very long. Hey, everyone has their limits.) In the end, the time I gave up didn’t seem like such a sacrifice once I started the ball rolling and realized how much I was enjoying myself, and how encouraging and gratifying it was to chart my progression. And it was actually way less agonizing to step up and take on the challenge, than it ever was to look on wistfully from safe, but ultimately unsatisfying, Inertiaville (a real city, located just next to The Simpsons’ Springfield on the world map. Hey, would I lie to you?).

But here’s the secret about realizing you can take those leaps and accomplish (what you have decided is) the impossible. It’s addictive. That first dabble opens up all sorts of doors and then it opens windows and the next thing you know, you’re asking “Why not?” a lot more than you used to. Pretty soon you realize you’ve opened yourself up to trying out all sorts of things and seeing possibilities—instead of impossibilities—everywhere. It’s a heady rush and it’s also a dangerous path to start down because there’s no going back.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was evicted from my apartment back at the end of October, and given a vacate date of December 31st. My landlord’s son had decided he wanted my apartment. Talk about getting thrown a curve ball. Imagine having somebody knock on your door and tell you that you have 60 days to pack up all your belongings and find a new place to live. The world shifted sharply sideways and I found myself scrambling to regain my equilibrium.

But in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity, as Einstein once said. Somewhere in the middle of the stress and the mess and the near breakdowns, a possibility emerged.

I have always wanted to spend a year abroad in Paris but have never quite been able to find the courage or the right time to do it. And now the voices in my head tell me… well, you know how this goes:

1) I’m too old. This is something people do in their early twenties, right after college or university, before they have jobs and obligations and lives. It’s too bad, but I missed my window.

2) There’s a language problem. I hear they speak French all the time in Paris. I speak English. Always have. This might pose some minor difficulties for me when it comes to, oh, daily living.

3) I’ve already established a career path in my industry of choice and I have a great job that I love. How will I earn a living in Paris (where I hear they speak French all the time)?

4) I am comfortable. I have friends here, a job, an apartment, a life. I know this city and how it works. The idea of moving to a strange city without a support network, where I’d have to figure out how things are done all over again just seems like a whole lot of work. Also, it’s kind of scary.

5) What would I do with all my stuff? I’ve been living on my own for ten years now. I have a fully-equipped and decorated one-bedroom apartment with nice furniture that I’ve spent years accumulating, while painstakingly phasing out the particle-board IKEA furniture and hand-me-downs from my university days. What would I do with it all if I went gallivanting for a year?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Number five has always seemed like a particularly daunting and very valid reason not to do a year abroad. I am the anti-poster child for Feng Shui. I have a LOT of stuff.

But getting evicted meant that I didn’t have a choice. I had to figure out what to do with all that stuff, and fast. Between the insufficient notice from my landlord, studying for an international French exam, ongoing construction that forced me to flee my apartment regularly, my grandmother’s 80th birthday party/a grand family reunion, and the Christmas holidays, there wasn’t really time to find a permanent new place to live. There was barely enough time to throw everything into storage and move hastily into a three-month furnished sublet.

Which meant that all my stuff was taken care of.

And somewhere, a window opened.

See, the thing is, I’ve become addicted to idea of exploring possibility, and to seizing opportunities when they arise. Unbeknownst to me, signing up for those French classes back in 2007 was the first step on a slippery slope to saying “Yes!” to the “Why not?” opportunities in life. It also took care of Reason #2 why I shouldn’t consider doing a year in France. And in October, unlucky circumstance took care of Reason #5.

Nope, getting evicted was definitely not part of my master plan. A lot of opportunities in life aren’t. But sometimes you have to listen to what the world is telling you to do and take the leap.

As some of you know, my last day as Communications Specialist at The Harold Greenberg Fund will be next Thursday April 1. I’ve decided to move to Paris, France for a year and try out another “impossible” thing that I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve reasoned with my naysaying self that, like that first session of classes at the Alliance, if I really hate it, I can always come back. And who knows, I may indeed be back in three months, kicking myself for even going. In truth though, I’m pretty sure I’ll stick out the whole year. I expect there will be awful moments. I expect that there will be times that I just want to come home. I also expect that it will be a great year full of new experiences and that, good or bad, when I look back at my decision at the ripe old age of 70, 80 or 90, I won’t regret taking that leap.

Life is an adventure, full of possibility. Get out there and live it. That’s what I plan to do.

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7 Responses to “The Leap”

  1. Alex Says:

    B-but.. the water! It’s cold!

    Like

  2. Lee Says:

    Thanks for your inspiring post. I hope you have a great adventure. :)

    Like

  3. adob21blog Says:

    It surely is an adventure, hope you enjoy Paris

    Like

  4. agnesgitacahyandari Says:

    This is an inspiring post! thanks for sharing it with us :)

    Like


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