When you reach a certain age, society tells you that you’re supposed to have specific things in place; to be some way towards reaching an intangible goal. When a few years down the line, you finally understand that having that perfect career, working your way up the ladder, and maintaining a rich and full social life is all but impossible, you’ll probably kick yourself in the foot and scold yourself for not trying hard enough. And that’s a huge problem. With so much pressure to achieve the perfect work-life balance, we’re practically destined to fail; pitting ourselves against a version of life that is simply not achievable.
18 months or so ago, I upped and left home; focused on a better life in Paris. Turning in my quiet country home for a major European capital was just the move I needed, I told myself. I could finally realize my dream of becoming a fully fledged writer- with a social life to envy on the side. I had already lived in Paris for a year when I was younger. I worked as an au pair, and was familiar with the French landscape. I told myself that coming back to live as a permanent resident would be a doddle. I had done this all before, right?
Moving abroad brought a mixed bag of emotions, and although uprooting my life to Paris had been something I knew I wanted to do for quite some time, I could never put my finger on exactly why the city seemed like such a good fit for me. Ask anyone else and they’ll tell you that Parisians are mean, the city is dirty, and the expenses of everyday life are through the roof. It is, of course, all true, and while there’s no denying that things can certainly feel like this on a bad day, there’s something about the city that makes dealing with the bad things worth it.
Paris has an imperceptible energy and for some reason, for whatever reason, I knew that the French capital was where I needed to be in order to guide my life in the direction I so desperately wanted to go. My life, finally, would be on the road to being perfect, and perfection was the goal. Reality however, has a way of getting in the way of the best plans, and while I had a vision of what my life should be like living abroad, my Parisian dream felt like it was just out of reach from the start.
Making the shift from full time HR employee to full time freelancer, I initially struggled to find enough work to support my life at home in the states. Living with my parents, it was a stretch to see how I might be able to support myself abroad, on my own terms.
The first six months of my newly chosen career were an uphill battle and some days I questioned my ability to choose the right kind of future for myself. In the end, it came down to persistence, and after a bout of furious networking, self-marketing, and pitching, I managed to get things into gear. After six months behind the computer screen, working from my childhood bedroom, Paris was only a stone’s throw away and with it came the promise of a better life.
A few months before my planned move in August 2015, I found a spare room on an apartment sharing website, and I saw my frugal little plan begin to take shape before my eyes. The flat I was going to share was small and poky, but I would have my own room in my own space; that, for me, was what being rich felt like. My tentative venture into the great unknown was weighed down with a stack of bureaucratic papers and diminishing bank statements, but despite the heaviness of it all, I couldn’t help but feel a flurry of excitement building around me. This is what people dream of I told myself. This is all finally happening to me.
The fact that the move itself was underwhelming should have come as less of a shock than it actually did. The city, thick with a late August heat, did little to celebrate my return. People went about their business as usual. I moved into my apartment alone. Old friends lazily got back in touch. Things were merely plodding along and while I didn’t feel as instantaneously happy as I thought I was going to, I told myself that things would soon get better. Just another week and I would find my place. Just a few more months and my career would be flying. I packed my evenings with new events with nothing more than the hope of meeting new people, and while things didn’t feel completely natural, I knew I was doing everything I was supposed to do in order to be happy.
The first couple of months in Paris brought with them a sudden activity and with every passing working day and every passing friendship seemingly forged, I began to let myself believe that I had created for myself the perfect life. How things change in retrospect. Now, 18 months deep into the experience, I see those early days in an entirely new light; the early cracks just starting to make themselves known. I was busier than ever, going out more than ever, and working longer hours to make myself a living. This was what making it looked like, right? This was how things were supposed to play out. Then why was I starting to feel everything crumbling away?
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A freelance writer and social media consultant, Hannah is based in France. She has written for publications as diverse as NO TOFU magazine and The Huffington Post, specialising in the visual arts and culture. For more of Hannah’s writing and information on her work, visit thefrenchreader.com