Door Closed, Window Open

window view

I packed up the last of my belongings from my office, among them, many a Paris-themed tchotchke—mainly gifts from my colleagues over the years: the clock made from a 19th century postcard of the Eiffel Tower; a calendar of Parisian travel posters from the last century; a door hanger that says, “I’m off to Paris,” meant to be posted when away on one of my many trips. It wasn’t lost on me that this last box represented both my past and my future.

I’m off to Paris.

I stacked that last box on top of several others containing work files and samples of projects from nearly every magazine I’d ever worked at—my entire career’s portfolio in twenty boxes, one box for each year in the business. I’d moved these things from job to job, office to office. But not this time; this time, I was moving on.

For the last seven years of my career I worked at a large publishing company for the largest magazine brand in the U.S. The last position I held: Executive Director, Creative. Yeah, it did have a ring to it—and would have surely given my mom serious bragging rights, if she’d lived to see it. She used to carry around my business cards emblazoned with arguably the most well known logo in the history of magazines, and pass them out to people. I didn’t mind. I kinda crowed, too. It was a great gig, one of those life-altering, destiny-defining jobs that made me pinch myself every day when the elevator opened and I would see that world-famous logo on the wall. I can’t believe I work here. I had always told people this would be the last job I’d ever have in magazine publishing.

Now, I was taking a last look at my beloved view over the Hudson River from my office window, spasms of sobs rising into my chest. In my gut I knew I’d probably never again open that stack of boxes I’d packed so thoughtfully, and labeled so carefully.

I’d had a full-time corporate job for twenty years. Now, it was all changing.

Actually, things had been changing for months, but I didn’t realize it. My life in Paris was getting bigger—my work with Lisa Taylor Huff on No Love Locks was escalating, putting us in the international spotlight: Le Monde, BBC, CNN, New York Times, The Guardian, Reuters, Al Jazeera, AP Worldwide. Visitors to my blog were increasing 1000 percent. Yet at the same time, things at work were getting smaller—changes in the company structure shrunk my role, sending my career back 15 years. Joy was slowly bleeding out. The signs were all there, but I wasn’t ready to see them. I clung onto my incredibly shrinking job with everything I had. After all, I’d worked 20 years to get where I was, and I was going to make it work no matter what.

The universe is a funny thing. Just when you get comfortable, it yanks the floor out from under you. If I wasn’t going to see the signs it had sent, it would whack me over the head.

“ASK FOR A PACKAGE!” screamed an email from my life coach, Laura Berman Fortgang, when I wrote her about new developments at work that would take what was left of my beloved job—and my quality of life—and shred it. Even in all caps, her words made no sense to me. Leave my job? Was she nuts? No way was I going to walk away from a steady paycheck. Even though things had gone from bad to worse, I had loved the job for seven years. We were just going through a rough patch, weren’t we? I could ride it out, couldn’t I?

Ask for a package.

I know now that you can’t wait until you’re ready to make a move. You’ll never be ready for something totally life altering. There is nothing you can do, no prep work in the world that can prepare you for jarring change. We’re wired to resist change and it’s uncomfortable as hell. There’s a reason skid marks are left behind when you suddenly veer off the course you were on. It won’t be easy or painless. Tires will screech; bodies will lurch. That’s what change does. If you’re waiting for some cushy moment when you’ll feel perfectly ready to change your life, trust me, it’s not coming. You just have to do it. Even if you throw up after.

A view over Gotham: Another beloved view from my former office building.

“Gotham” as seen from my former office building in midtown Manhattan. At top of page, a parting shot of my beloved view from my office on the 28th floor.

I walked away from a job I loved before I was ready. Wept like a baby. But here’s the thing about screeching and lurching from the path you’d planned: it’s exciting. It’s woohoo!-hands-waving-in-the-air exciting. And those who watch you take that kind of risk applaud you. They offer to help you. They ask your advice on how they, too, can have the courage to turn the wheel and make that lurching, screeching, jarring change. And that’s when you know you’ve done the right thing.

The day I decided to leave the job I loved was also the day an article about me appeared in New York magazine. And as it turned out, an editor at St. Martin’s Press saw that article and read my blog. A week later, I was offered a book deal for a memoir based on my story about my part-time Paris life. Yeah, just like that. It was as if the universe was waiting for me to take that leap of faith before it released everything it had waiting on deck. Like they say, when the universe closes a door, it opens a window.

When I first bought my apartment in Paris, a colleague and friend asked me what my plan was. I told her that eventually—in five years or so—I wanted to write full time and live between Paris and New York. Even as I proclaimed this, it felt farfetched, but I said it anyway. That’s the thing about visualization and the universe. If you build it, they will come. Sitting here a mere two years later, it’s not farfetched at all. It’s here in my hands.

I’m off to Paris.

Yep, and for several weeks this time—weeks, not the usual paltry few days I’d been eking out these past years. I am going to sit myself in some café and write my memoir—taking Paris in long strides, like it’s meant to be enjoyed. Finally, I’ll really live like a local in my little Paris place. Woohoo! My arms are all waving in the air and stuff.

Well, okay, I’d be lying if I said I was completely fearless about this gigantic life change. This transition has not been easy. I miss my colleagues and my routine. I felt needed and important in my job; now it’s just me and my thoughts all day long. I admit I’m a little scared of the lack of structure and loss of that steady paycheck. But no matter; I’m not sitting still anymore. I’m going to keep moving forward into that great, scary unknown—one uncomfortably, uncharacteristically bold step after another. And if I have to throw up once in a while, so be it.

Ready or not, here I come.

37 responses to “Door Closed, Window Open

  1. Wow! So excited for you. It is always hard to know when to jump from a sinking ship. I did it myself last year and this year has been amazing. Sure it has had its tough adjustments, but the rewards have been many. Enjoy being a local in the town you love! Let those roots sink deep into the soil. And know that if today it is raining…you have days and days to still enjoy the city that is your “home.”

  2. I came upon your blog today from a mutual friend’s FB post about it (Paula Larson). I, too, experienced the head-whipping feel of an unexpected layoff from a “big name” corporation in 2009. Scary…but even scarier was the two seemingly-endless years it took me to find a comparable job. Now that I’m happily ensconced in another corporate position, my boat will be rocked again…albeit a bit more gently. My husband and I have decided to move into NYC in August 2014! A little scary, a little exhilarating. What I’ve learned from these experiences is that change can be, and often is, good for the soul. it allows us to get out of our everyday ho-hum and into living a life of new experiences and adventure. I wish you well on your journey!
    ~Amy

  3. You have actually gone back to your roots, the twenty years spent was a diversion! You are back “home” where courage and fear create exciting possibilities. You my sweet cuz are where you belong!!!
    Go for the next ring! We are all rooting for you love ya!!!!!!

  4. Congratulations on such a big move. You will be happy because you are following your happiness. This is what you were meant to be doing. Your post reinforces that it’s OK when things don’t work out, those things just weren’t meant to happen. It made me think of some of the doors that have closed and how devastated I was afterwards, but so many different windows have opened. Sometimes you need to take that leap of faith and trust yourself to follow your path. I’ve also wanted to move to Paris since I studied French in school. My love of the city was reinforced when I visited a few years ago. I always say the city gave me a big hug! Earlier this year on a whim I decided to sign up for the Paris Marathon next year and I got in. In less than a year my passion for running will meet the city I love! Thank you so much for sharing your story, it inspires in so many ways! I can’t wait to read your book.

  5. Love love love this news – congrats on taking the leap (and the book deal!). Can’t wait to hear all about your new adventures –

  6. Lisa, I heard about you and your story through Joelle. Just yesterday By coincidence, just yesterday I wrote a short post about taking a literary tour of Paris one day. You’re living and working in such a beautiful city. CONGRATULATIONS on your success!

  7. Rastignac, resté seul, fit quelques pas vers le haut du cimetière et vit Paris tortueusement couché le long des deux rives de la Seine où commençaient à briller les lumières. Ses yeux s’attachèrent presque avidement entre la colonne de la place Vendôme et le dôme des Invalides, là où vivait ce beau monde dans lequel il avait voulu pénétrer. Il lança sur cette ruche bourdonnant un regard qui semblait par avance en pomper le miel, et dit ces mots grandioses : « À nous deux maintenant ! »
    Balzac, Le Père Goriot

    Lisa, your story is an inspiration, and I hope your relationship with Paris is as exciting as Rastignac’s.

  8. OMG LISA…JUST BACK FROM HOLIDAYS AND SAW THIS.

    as I sit at my desk on a SUNDAY catching up on emails your bravery hit me in the chest hard…I’ll be here 30 years in Feb…”ask for a package”….that will ring in my head for days now…

    all the best of luck to you…..walk in the Luxembourg Gardens for me until I can get there again.

  9. GUUUUURRRLLLL! Yes!!!! I’m so happy for you! Today was the first day with my career coach and I feel so good words can’t express! You continue to be an inspiration and I thank you for that. Congratulations!

  10. Hi Lisa. I just happened across the HGTV episode because I’ve been researching places in Paris all week and suddenly there it was: a mini tour of apartments, as if by chance. Reading this post reminds me so much of my current journey. I’m a writer, been working for my publishing company for nearly 10 years and I’d wanted to part ways five years ago. But leave a steady job with structure and excellent benefits? In this economy? Go to Paris? But my French is so rusty…I can’t!

    Long story short, after numerous sleepless nights, I took a chance and decided to take the plunge last month. I left the West coast and headed East (DC), in the hopes of moving even further to Paris, very soon. It’s funny how you get what you want from the Universe when you ask for it; it just doesn’t always happen in the way you think it should. C’est la vie!

    Now I’m freelancing and it’s going quite well, but the lack of structure is such an adjustment (read: I keep thinking I’m on vacation, when I’m not!). ! It’s alright; it’ll all work out.

    Anyway, your post spoke to my current life, you seem very sweet and lively on House Hunters, and I felt I should drop by to wish you the very best in all your adventures. Sois heureuse!

    • Thank you so much for this comment. Glad you enjoyed the show, too. Yes, it’s been equal parts scary and exciting, for sure. I’ve had a full-time job for 20 years and I’m really feeling at sea just now (it’s only been a few weeks). I feel guilty in a strange way if all I did in a given day was social media promotion and answer some emails. But that’s my job now! I’m so used to the structure, the intense pace, the colleagues, working for someone else’s goals that I feel like a slacker or something. I haven’t made the adjustment in my mind yet from “unemployed” to “self-employed.” But here I am. Forward is the only way to go.

      • I understand the feeling! I’m used to a strict structure, specific deadlines – all for someone else’s benefit. Now that I’m self-employed, I keep thinking…there’s a catch, right? Best way to think is to realize you’ve earned it; you’ve paid your dues, now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.

        I just have to ask – one of my biggest concerns about the apartments in Paris is SPACE. I wonder if going from NY to Paris was less of a challenge because Manhattan apartments can be small? LA apartments are generally quite spacious and I have so many THINGS, including books I can’t (won’t?) part with – what am I supposed to do with everything? Just wondering how you found a way around that.

        Also, are you taking French lessons? If yes, how’s that coming along? (apologies in advance, if you’ve discussed this somewhere on this blog!). 🙂

      • Unless you have over 1 million euros to spend, small is what you get in Paris. A 450 sq ft apartment is considered spacious here. But a good layout can make all the difference. I’ve learned to cope with 258 sq feet. For now.

        Are you thinking of a full-time move or just a pied-a-terre, because that makes a difference. I have great expat agents for you when you are ready to look.

        I need to get my French really going. I studied for years and now I’m here, the immersion thing is really starting to kick it up. I have a friend, Armel (who was in the House Hunters International episode with me), who is my “prof,” as they say here. He’s great. But also, get yourself Duolingo on your phone. It’s really improved my French. And fast!

  11. 450 sq feet…oh, dear Lord. lol That’s 1/3 of my LA apartment and though I realize this is Paris we’re talking about, it’s just so small! I’m so impressed that you’re making it work. I’ve looked at a few places and one needs at least a cool €1.5 mill to buy something bigger. Crazy! Thanks for offering to connect me with an agent; too sweet of you. I’d likely move there full-time – a complete shift in life. I’ve already started following you on twitter and will message you when I’m ready to jump continents?

    Duolingo is a great recommendation! I’ll start working on it right away. I’m glad to hear the full immersion is helping you with the language – that’s the best way to learn, from my experience.

    Know anyone who could spare a couple of millions euros? 😉

    • If you’re serious about living here, it’s true you must let go of your expectations about the amount of space you’ll need. You’ll see that while it sounds small, an apartment that is well laid out can be totally functional. Most people in Paris use the city as their living room; it’s not like in LA where you drive everywhere and once you’re home, after hours of rush-hour traffic, you just want to stay put so your home is really important. Here, the cafes are full all day and night. It’s great!

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  13. You’re very brave, Lisa! I got choked up reading this entry. I’ve loved Paris like my second home since I spent my junior year abroad here. I am always itching to come back here because it feels like coming home. May all your dreams come true in the magical city of lights!

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