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 final 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. Today, 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.
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.