I can hardly believe it’s already the end of March. I still have a couple months left of my time in France, but I’m about three-fourths of the way through my experience. In February I went on a jam-packed adventure in southern France, where I got to see firsthand the diversity of regional French culture. After having survived the cold winter of northeastern France, I was happy to bask in the warmth of southern France for a change. For those of you who might not know, the French have a “winter” vacation during the month of February.
Like I said, my stay in France is wrapping up relatively soon. My teaching contract ends in April, but I’ve planned to stay in France for an extra month to travel and to nurture the friendships that I’ve developed here.
It’s strange to think about how much my attitude in France has fluctuated since arriving. From anticipation to excitement to honeymoon-like wonder to disillusionment to fear to loneliness to existential confusion, I’ve felt a lot of feelings in the last couple of months. And somewhere between the solitary weeks of winter and the rays of hopeful springtime sun, I’ve grown into another attitude altogether.
I find myself at peace, extremely grateful, and realizing just how important it is to savor every last minute I have left.
If you’ve read my other blogs, you might know that my time in France hasn’t always been easy. I’ve suffered from bouts of the blues. In the beginning I was hard on myself. I questioned everything about my life in France. I wrote an entire blog entry about these very doubts in December. Then there was the blog entry in January about how solo-traveling made me realize how much I value my relationships with others.
Since then, I’ve had even more time to act upon my self-reflections and I’m happy to report that I do indeed feel more comfortable and secure not only about my life in France, but also about myself and my life moving forward.
When you live in a foreign country, the influence of the language and culture should be embraced. Recently I’ve been drawn to a French phrase, profites-en bien. I’m so attached to it that when it comes to making choices, I often repeat this phrase to myself before my final decision.
The French verb profiter is almost a false friend (perhaps distant cousin?) of the English verb to profit. Sure the two verbs share Latin roots, but I’ve always associated to profit with finances or things to do with gaining tangible advantages. And depending on the context, to profit can be used in either a positive or negative sense–e.g., they profited from their hard work versus they profited from the hard work of others.
On the other hand, my impression of profiter is that it would be better translated to something like to make the most of, or to take advantage of, or even to enjoy. Like its English relative, it can also be used in a negative context, but in day-to-day life I’ve seen the verb used pretty regularly in positive contexts.
So what does it mean, profites-en bien?
Literally, it’s the imperative mood of profiter, coupled with the adverbial pronoun for the notion of quantity, and modified by the adverb well. Figuratively, it means something along the lines of make the best of it!
And last but not least–personally–I’m slowly learning that making the most of my time here means embracing these three things.
1. Listening to what makes me feel fulfilled and happy.
The exercise of listening to myself is perhaps the most difficult thing. Why?
Because for so long, my life in the United States was routine. I knew what made me happy. Playing flute in orchestra. Being involved in local politics. Taking a hike up a mountain. Consuming pop culture. Hanging out with friends.
When I moved to France, I found myself not knowing how to find musicians, not understanding local politics, not savvy with French pop culture, with no mountains in sight, and no immediate friends.
For the first couple of months, I tried so hard to reconstruct the life I had in the United States. I played my flute in my room by myself. I tried and failed to connect with the local conservatory. I binged on French news, podcasts, and Youtube videos in an attempt to make up for years of missed cultural references and language skills. I stopped myself from going out too much to bars, restaurants, and cafés for fear of spending to much money.
And at the end of all that, I didn’t find myself any happier. What I didn’t realize at the time is that instead of trying to emulate the life I had in the United States, I should have been pursuing new experiences. Soon enough it hit me, trying to live my life in familiar American ways was akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole.
Faced with the challenge of trying to find happiness and fulfillment in a new environment, I allowed myself to set some of my old habits aside. I really listened to myself and let myself be pulled in new directions. I decided to try new things that I’d always been drawn to, but never made the time for in the U.S.
These days I find myself writing, taking photographs, talking to strangers in cafés, and exposing myself to ideas that are extremely different than my own and I feel happier. I think I feel happier because I’ve stopped trying to pigeonhole my life into the repeated behaviors that I carried with me from the US and because I’m exploring previously dormant parts of my personality.
The things that make me happy in France don’t have to be the same things that make me happy in the United States. While I’m in this new place, I should take advantage of new things.
2. Playing an active role in building your own community.
The idea of community. I guess I had always taken it for granted when I was younger. Being around people with common goals and interests. Being around people who care about each other. Being part of something bigger than yourself. I had no idea how much that mattered to me until I had to start over.
I used to live in Salt Lake City, Utah. Locals jokingly call it Small Lake City because it doesn’t take very long for you to start running into people you know. I used to think that I couldn’t wait to get out of that kind of environment, but after having been away for a while I find myself missing it.
In some ways, I don’t really think it matters if you live in a big city or a small city. Communities have a way of building around shared interests. When I first got to France, I floundered the most at finding where I fit and being an active builder. What I mean by this is instead of making opportunities for myself, I was content to wait for others to propose opportunities to me. This ended in several weekends sitting in my apartment alone.
For pretty much all of my life up until this point, I have had ready made communities of some sort. In my school years and my university years, finding people with common interests came naturally because I was in a highly concentrated environment that was conducive to people meeting each other.
Once I left the classroom–once I left everyone I knew–I found yourself on my own. It was more difficult than I anticipated. Thankfully, I’m incredibly stubborn and I’ve somehow managed to hold onto the idea of making the most of my time in France. Slowly but surely I’m learning how to develop new friendships and relationships. I’m learning how to be more active in reaching out and really connecting to others.
I think it’s so easy to let people come in and out of our lives without ever thinking about the context, the impact, the environment, or the act of bravery it takes to build relationships. In the time I have left, I’m really trying to challenge myself to be proactive, open-minded, and thoughtful about my friendships.
3. Redefining my relationship with ambition and success.
Before moving to France, I had certain ideas about ambition and success. I might even go as far as to say that my ideas were verging on unhealthy. In retrospect, so many of the choices I made in pursuit of success were based on a definition created by others. I thought success meant being recognized by others for the things I’ve achieved. I thought success meant having a specific type of profession that is either lucrative or intellectual. I thought success meant doing all of this before the age of 25.
I’m not saying these things shouldn’t still be considered successes, but there is another part of the story that I’ve been ignoring for too long. I’ve been ignoring the simple part of me that just wants to feel creatively fulfilled, the part of me that wants to feel deeply engaged with the people around me, and the part of me that wants to know that I’ve given each task my heart and soul.
I think what I learned from the rhythm of university was the economics of creating results. I became an expert at calculating the most efficient effort to result ratio. How much effort do I really need to put in to get the result I want? How much do I really have to do to get an A on the test, project etc.? What other recognition can I squeeze out of my education? By the end of my university experience, I think I had optimized a pattern that worked for my old notions of success.
Don’t get me wrong, maximizing the efficiency of your workflow is great. But what I’ve learned in the last few months is this kind of thinking will only ever be half of the equation. What’s the point of knowing how hard you can work if you can’t see why you’re doing it?
Throwing myself in a completely new environment after graduation was pretty much like a hard reset to my operating system. I gave myself time to really think about the things that matter to me. I’ve realized that things like creative fulfillment and meaningful relationships are things that I value. And as I move through life, it’s important not to lose sight of that. Sure, I’ll probably always be a little bit tempted by the glitz of recognition, but I hope recognizing this about myself will be more of a help than a hindrance. I never want to get to a point where I stop questioning and evaluating what is at the base of my ambitions and motivations.
So, in the end, what do these three ideas really have to do with profites-en bien? After all, I’m not directly telling myself to eat more croissants or to travel to more cities or to go out to more parties. What I’m really telling myself is to consciously do the things that make me feel most fulfilled (and if that involves eating more eclairs, then so be it).