How I changed my life – and you can, too (really!)

Banana Republic cardigan (similar)
Aritzia leggings (similar)
Converse shoes
Longchamp bag
Wilfred Free hat (similar)
Madewell rings

I remember the moment when it happened distinctly; I was sitting at my desk, in an office where I managed a team of administrators, typing away on some document or other, undoubtedly of little consequence, and I realized that, since I have no desire for children, all that lay before me was the prospect of coming to my desk, five days a week, until my retirement. I was twenty-seven. The idea of forty-years as an administration manager was too dismal to contemplate.

Up until that point, I had done everything that I was “supposed to do” with my life – I finished high school at the top of my class, went straight to university with a scholarship, finished my degree in exactly the allotted four years and dove straight into a career that I had the required skills for (albeit little to no interest in.) By the time I was twenty-seven, I had long ago realized that there was no reward for following this one-size-fits-all path, but I didn’t know what else to do – a short jaunt in Europe early in my career had whetted my appetite for exploring, but I had no real plans to do much more. That day at my desk, I knew something needed to change.

What happened next was the best terrible thing that could possibly have happened: Ian lost his job. After the initial shock wore off, we realized we were lucky; he was rid of a job that he was neither passionate about or happy doing but didn’t feel he could quit – suddenly, anything was possible. Over the next several months, we made a plan to change our lives completely.

Fast forward four years: Ian is a French-trained chef. While no job is perfect, he gets to wake up everyone morning with the knowledge that he chose a career he loves. I had the opportunity to try professional blogging for more than a year, determine that I prefer to have a fall back plan and find a day job that, while definitely not perfect, is a much better fit for me. More importantly, I know that if that changes, I can leave and start over somewhere else. People often ask me how we made all of these things happen and, in particular, how it is we are lucky enough to be able to spend so much time in Paris. Until recently, I’ve brushed off those questions – my life just feels normal to me; while I know my path has been unconventional, I don’t see it as a particularly special one. But I realize that many of you are looking to make changes, too, and so I’ve decided to share the best advice I can give you.

First of all, you can’t succeed at what you don’t try… This sounds like a platitude, but it isn’t. When we first looked into culinary schools for Ian, our focus was on local colleges, even though the best place in the world to get a culinary education is, of course, France. When I first had the idea that Ian could, in fact, do his schooling in France, I broached the subject as a joke. But we slowly realised that, beyond a small application fee, we had very little to lose in at least trying to aim that high. Of course, there was a very good chance Ian couldn’t get into a French culinary school, but there was also a chance he would – and in the end, he did. We could easily have let fear hold us back from submitting that application; it wouldn’t have been the first time I had let a fear of failure hold me back from trying something I wanted to do. But we didn’t and it just goes to show that what you don’t venture, you cannot gain.

Secondly, and this is a big one, it’s just money, you can always get more… which is a very glib, and not strictly accurate way to say that depending on a bi-weekly pay cheque to take care of your needs is no way to live. Comfort is not a substitute for real fulfilment. It’s important to have a safety net, but there is so much more to life than having enough money for a daily chai latte. We spent virtually all of our savings to live in Paris for a year – by the time we returned to Canada, we had exactly $3000 between us to start our life over again. Not only did we manage to do it, but we look back on that year of living with very little as one of the happiest times in our life together, because we were doing what we loved (and because our lack of incoming funds forced us to get creative in ways we never imagined we would.) Since our return, we’ve been able to reestablish our savings (and then some) because of what we learned about living with less during our stint overseas.

Finally, retail therapy is a temporary solution. When I was unhappy at work, and unhappy with the way my life was going but didn’t see a clear solution, I found a lot of momentary relief in trips to H&M and Zara, where I would treat myself to “just a little” something on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Those small prices add up to really big bills and none of those purchases actually made me feel better. I had to go cold turkey when we came to live in Paris, because there simply wasn’t money to spare. It was painful at first, because I had relied on those little pick-me-ups to get me through difficult days – and let me be frank, our year in Paris was not all bliss, there were a lot of days that were tough and a lot of experiences we had to take a pass on because we simply couldn’t afford them. It took about ten of our twelve months away to get to a place where I didn’t miss the thrill of the impulse purchase. What changed? I found something that made me feel better, for longer: exercise. Before Paris, I exercised like I ate healthfully; sporadically, most often when I was feeling guilty about something, expecting big results quickly and giving up even more quickly when I didn’t get them. In Paris, I devoted myself to finding some form of exercise, whatever it might be, that worked for me. My list of criteria for my ideal workout was long, and included not sweating. At all. (Seriously. I’ve learned to embrace sweating now, but it took a long time.) In the end, the right thing for me was yoga – in November of last year, I celebrated my four year anniversary of practising five days a week. My outlook on life has changed completely in that time. These days, I notice a difference in how I feel on days when I don’t practise, and even look forward to my 6 am wake-up calls. (Yep. True story.)

Big changes aren’t easy to make, but nothing worthwhile is easy. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that big risks come with a big pay off – even if there are bumps along the way. It’s a privilege to be able to spend at least some part of every year in Paris, but I worked hard for that privilege, and if you are willing to work hard (and are willing to tolerate people telling you that you’re crazy, that you’ll never make it, that your dream isn’t worth it, because all of that will happen,) there is no reason that you can’t achieve whatever lofty goals you set for yourself. We only get one life, so we should spend it doing exactly what makes us happiest.

Je vous reviens en français dès la semaine prochaine, mes jolies. Entretemps, je vous souhaite un très bon week-end !

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  1. I was in a similar position when I made the decision to apply for PhD programs and leave my comfy and familiar full-time job to do it. I’d always thought I’d stop after earning my MA and just settle down. But I did it for a year and it just wasn’t right for me at that time, so I took a chance (and a huge financial gamble) and shoved off to Connecticut and Yale for 6 years. Best decision I ever made!

    Courtney ~ Sartorial Sidelines

  2. I adore stories like this! This is exactly why I decided to pursue blogging full time. I couldn’t imagine living a life dictated by someone else and not doing exactly what I wanted to do. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I loved reading this, because sometimes all we need to do is dare to dream and try.
    Like you mention, most people will not root for you, in fact the total opposite..however at the end we cannot forget it is our choice.

  4. Firstly, I’m OBSESSED with how you styled our cardigan here!! I’ll finally be sharing mine on the blog some time next week, which is surprising, because I actually wear it all the time! And… I love your tips Cee, seriously, such sage & thoughtful advice, plus I honestly find your attitude super inspiring. Always have!! Love watching you live your dreams and LOVE that you know what you want! xo

  5. very nice post! it’s inspiring and I totally feel you. I dramatically changed my life when I was 25 and never looked back. Now I see myself a better more solid and a very happy person. I might have less money comparing to what I might have but money don’t buy happiness and emotions, and generally I spent more to get less back than anyways

  6. I read this over the weekend but am only now getting to comment. I love the choices you made, and feel that they line up so closely for the path my husband and I chose too. (Although we did eventually have children, we spent our 20s and most of our 30s in careers that allowed us to travel the world.) Everything you said is so true. This is one of my favorites of all your posts. 🙂

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