I used to tell my patients that nothing in this life is a waste of time as long as we learn from it (people actually paid me for this). From the calendar I see that my 365th day in France is fast approaching and it’s time for this psychiatrist to swallow her own medicine and see the lessons learned from 12 months of wasted time.
While I’ve spent more than half my life being taught everything from algebra to the neurochemistry of schizophrenia, my year of ‘nothing’ has probably been the most educational one of my life. First, and by now this should come as no surprise, I’ve learned that I’m not very good with languages. But with that comes a newfound ability to be optimistic in the face of persistent failure. I also choose to see being constantly corrected by strangers as kindness, a trait that the French people I’ve met have in abundance. I speak and understand far more than when I first arrived so I’m giving myself a shiny gold star on that one.
I also discovered that it takes time for an obsessive overachiever to change her ways. I came looking to simplify my life yet within a month of arriving of I was fully entangled in yet another real estate drama. Now from my perfectly imperfect housette I see my many renovations for what they really were, an endless striving for perfection. House, career, car, thighs, it doesn’t matter. It was all a silly race with no possible finish line. And while I can’t take credit for things working out as they did here, I am proud of myself for finally accepting (and loving) a home just the way it is. If I can master ‘leave well enough alone’ by the time I leave this world I’ll be a happy woman.
So what about happy? After all my years of shrinking I’m still not sure what that word actually means. People define it as it suits them and far be it for me to advise anyone how to achieve it. Certainly to the casual observer my former life had all the necessary elements for happiness. And in all honesty I wasn’t unhappy, I just felt out of place in my own life and I needed to find where I belonged. I’m still working on where I fit exactly but I do know that my happiness has nothing to do with being called Doctor or the salary that goes with it. In fact going without has been one of my favourite lessons of all. Of course there are still times I feel that I may actually die without a black wool trench coat but then I remember something. I have everything I need.
Long before coming to France I gave some serious thought to leaving medicine in search of a new career. I even hired a consultant to help me understand what my options were. She stumped me with one question, “What would you like to do?” The trouble was I didn’t have the foggiest idea. I realized that apart from reading what I liked to do most was to go on vacation. I had no designs on becoming a ski instructor in Switzerland but when escaping your life becomes your major goal changes must be made. I considered going back to school but I was worn out and the idea of four more years in classrooms was profoundly unappealing. Then along came the opportunity here. Yes, it was still all about houses but at least they were other people’s houses and I thought it was a step in the right direction. As for how that turned out, well, no matter how hard I try to control my life merde happens. On the surface of things it looks like the lesson here is the tired and true ‘things happen for a reason’. But I see something more.
If I had to narrow it all down into one piece of wisdom it would be this: Sometimes you have to step away from the many things you have to do to find the one thing you want to do. What began as a personal diary and a convenient way to keep friends and family updated has grown into an all out passion. Before starting a blog about my adventures in France I had only written prescriptions. Over the past year I’ve written something almost every day and while I have to be careful not to apply my Type A ways to it, writing brings me a pleasure I never dreamed possible. For now it doesn’t matter if I’m any good at it, all that matters is that I feel good doing it.
Of course some will say that my story is nothing more than a grand exercise in self-absorption and they’d be right. Well so what? From where I sit my time has been well spent. Now I’m not so caught up in my own head to suggest that my way of learning things is practical for everyone. It’s not and my lessons are my own. But here’s something I’ve always known. Everything we need and desire can be found anywhere we choose to look for it. I chose France and found myself.
Bobbi French is a regular contributor to Gypsy Girl’s Guide