I’ve heard the question so many times now, but it still catches me by surprise, makes me feel about 5 inches tall and like a blubbering idiot.
“So what do you do here in Paris?”
My answer has changed and evolved since arriving in March 2013 when I left my career as a chemical engineer at Canada’s largest oil & gas company. Looking back, the decision to start a new adventure overseas with my husband wasn’t hard at all. With the promise of Paris before us, everyone would take the opportunity, right? Wouldn’t you?
I decided to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to live a “life of leisure” in Paris. I quickly made friends in the same boat as me. We kept each other company during the days while we explored Paris, learned French, and helped each other navigate this foreign world. The biggest surprise was how the simplest of chores: grocery shopping, going to the post office, crossing the city, figuring out where to buy this necessity and that… everything took a lot longer than it ever had before. I also dove right into a multitude of classes, hobbies and small jobs.
My days filled quickly. Even without a full time job.
When someone asks what I do in Paris, there are three general types of answers:
- Oh… nothing much.
- Just enjoying life here.
- Well… I was an English teacher for a year. I also coach Crossfit, but only a few hours a week. I go to French school. Umm… I do a lot of things. I take cooking classes. I blog. I work for a friend at his design company. Oh and I manage an apartment… Sometimes I translate documents…
And then the list of excuses explanations why I’m not conforming to the expected life of full-time work… We thought we’d only be here one year. I couldn’t speak French when we first moved. There are no refineries in Paris after all. We’ll keep moving so I can’t continue my career. To add to that, no I don’t have children.
I can see the look in people’s eyes… they don’t quite understand. They think I’m bored all day or have nothing valuable to do. While the other person falls somewhere between pity and jealousy, I feel embarrassed. Judged. And then really low in self-confidence and full of self-doubt.
Is this what an identity crisis feels like?
I had an identity linked to a career title once. I could easily have answered the question “what do you do?” and carry on a conversation confidently. I’m still the intelligent, motivated and interesting person just without a job title.
I traded a stationary, routine life for one that involved immersing in a new culture, learning how to live in a foreign country, traveling around the world and supporting my husband in a good career that will provide for us. I had nothing to lose and still don’t.
I am an expat wife. A trailing spouse.
But what does that mean? It’s not the glamourous, carefree, sitting-in-a-café-with-a-drink-every-afternoon kind of life.
Life as an expat spouse isn’t all about travel and stories about living in a new country. It has exposed me to an unconventional, unknown road with detours in self-discovery, bumps in self-confidence, through hills of happiness and valleys of restlessness. I see great examples of trailing spouses who changed careers, became entrepreneurs and harnessed the opportunities that a life overseas provides them and I want that too.
At the risk of being vulnerable, I hope by writing and sharing these thoughts, something is revealed to me. And in the process can help others too.
For me, I know there is something more. Something more I can do in my life. A passion that is waiting to be revealed and harnessed. Some good I can put out into the world. And one day I will have an answer to that question. And when I do, you bet you’ll hear about it.
I still don’t have an answer for the question, “what do you do?” and that is ok. I’m still figuring it out.
This is a lifelong process.
Have you left your career to follow your spouse? What has that meant to you? I’d love to hear about it and connect on the blog.