Why Quitting My Job to Move to Paris Was a Good Career Move
August 18, 2015
After graduating from college and spending two years in New York, I hit a wall. I was burned-out and under-inspired at work, my social life felt like a mere extension of my college years (same people, same parties), and I knew that I needed a major shake-up, which is why I contemplated quitting my job to move to Paris.
I had studied French and always wanted to live in Paris, and suddenly, I realized this was my now-or-never moment. The longer I stayed in New York, the less likely I would be to uproot myself as I got older. Without over-thinking it, I bought a one-way ticket, packed two suitcases, found a little studio on Craigslist, and jetted into the unknown.
Naive? Perhaps. I had no professional plan other than to find an income stream before my savings ran out. I ended up staying for a year and a half, and then jumped between Paris and New York for a few years after that. And while my French phase was not necessarily marked by a sense of professional “achievement,” it was a formative time (not to mention a ridiculously fun time) that paved the way for everything I’ve done since.
If you’re wondering whether you could pull off something similar, check out these 9 reasons why quitting my job to move to Paris was a smart career move.
1. I learned how to hustle.
When I got to Paris, I didn’t have a visa, so I had to be scrappy about finding work. I quickly figured out what my marketable skills were in this new context and leveraged them. I would never have thought to do translation work in New York, but in Paris, it became a steady source of income.
2. I opened my mind to opportunities.
My first “real” job involved assisting a random French guy who worked in real estate. In New York, I might have felt over-qualified for the position, but in Paris, I thought: Why not? In that role, I covered every inch of the city (at warp speed in my boss’s tiny Smart car), met a host of colorful characters, and got to hang out in some insanely beautiful apartments. Plus, it paid my rent.
3. I reinvented myself.
When I arrived in Paris, I had aspirations of becoming “a writer,” though I didn’t really know what that meant. So I opted for a fake-it-’til-you-make-it approach—and it worked. For the first six months, every time I introduced myself as a writer, an internal alarm went off (“Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!”). But by the time I left Paris, I had an actual portfolio and was being paid to write pieces for blogs and magazines on a regular basis. My novel may not have come to fruition, but I had emerged as a working writer, and there was nothing fraudulent about that.
4. I built an entirely new (and incredibly random) network.
When I arrived in Paris, I was match-made with various friends-of-friends who lived there, but I also made an effort to meet people on my own. Whereas I once relied on the name game (“Where did you go to school? Oh, do you know so-and-so…”) to contextualize new acquaintances, the old criteria seemed irrelevant in my new setting. It was more like, “Oh, you’re a 70-year-old Romanian astrologer? Perfect. Let’s be friends.” When a random fondue chef who claimed to be “very important in Albania” became a daily fixture in my life, I knew my new social circle was shaping up quite nicely. And in addition to providing endless amusement, some of these connections led to actual work opportunities.
5. I learned to get comfortable outside of my comfort zone.
Back in New York, I’d had a routine: I hung out with the same people in the same places week after week. In Paris, without a clear structure, I opened my mind to new experiences. I found myself in situations I never could have anticipated—a dinner at Jacques Chirac’s brother-in-law’s house, or an avant-garde sound performance that involved a lot of high-pitched barking. At times, I was completely intimidated and out of my element, but learning to navigate new cultural and linguistic waters was ultimately a huge confidence-booster.
6. I upped my style game.
I had ample time to observe Parisian women “in the wild,” and while I think that the fetishism of French style is completely overblown, I did pick up a few tricks. Namely: Get a uniform. (I went on to write a book on the topic.) It was obvious to me that every French girl was shopping at the same four stores and wearing the same silhouettes day-in and day-out, so I followed suit. And given how limited my budget was during those years, there couldn’t have been a better time for me to start wearing the same pair of black jeans every day. Though I live in New York now, I still envision a judge-y Parisienne standing over my shoulder when I choose my outfits in the morning. (It works! Try it!)
7. I became an asset.
From a journalistic point of view, I’d always dreamed of being “our woman in Paris.” Suddenly, I was! Given how cheap frugal magazines are these days, editors appreciate having writers who are already on the ground in various locales. I ended up getting a number of assignments based solely on the fact that I was in Paris. And on the flipside, I was once interviewed by a French radio show on the day after Obama’s election—simply because they needed an American ex-pat who was willing to go on-air… in an hour.
8. My “French-ness” differentiated me once I got back.
When I ultimately moved back to New York, the fact that I had lived in Paris became an important part of my identity (not to mention an important bullet point on my resume). By virtue of being a Paris “expert,” I was moved to the top of the list when editors needed someone to report on France-related topics. I found myself being invited to fashion shows and press dinners. How did that happen?! Simple: I had unintentionally become an authority.
9. I became empowered.
There’s nothing like moving to a foreign land and starting from scratch to make you realize how capable you are. Spoiler: Life in Paris is not all sunset strolls along the Seine and wine-soaked lunches. There were numerous occasions when I thought the city would break me. (The time I dropped my shoe onto the subway tracks comes to mind.) But for every less-than-stellar moment, there was a triumphant one. And by the time I left, I was more confident than I’d ever been about my ability to make my way in the world—professionally and otherwise.
All photos by Carin Olsson of Paris in Four Months