People who know how to employ themselves always find leisure moments, while those who do nothing are forever in a hurry.”
– Marie Jeanne Roland
I just e-mailed a friend of mine who lives in the South of France, and here is the automated response I received:
Bonjour, je suis en vacances du 28/7 au 26/8.
(Hello, I will be on vacation from July 28 through August 26.)
We can call the French lazy and lacking ambition and drive. However, while we are cranking out 60+ hour weeks, shuttling our kids to the moon and back, stressing our bodies to the max and spiraling into states of depression, they are probably sitting on the beach of Ibiza sipping a Pina Colada (scratch that; the French are not Pina Colada drinkers), and laughing at how we Anglo-Saxons just don’t get it.
French life is centered around quality and pleasure. Excessive work is not pleasurable to the average French woman. So, while the average Anglo-Saxon seems to always be in pursuit of The Next Big Thing, our French sister is likely to be basking in the Big Thing of Now – her morning café, 3-course lunches and, of course, frequent holidays and vacations.
The French woman certainly doesn’t have an arsenal of productivity tools and her time management system seems to be nothing more than being present wherever she is. In fact, to the outsider looking in, she seems to have time on her side.
However, she’s a lot like us — she has a job, maybe a husband and kids and a home to run. But, you’ll find her reading a book during lunch (that is, if she’s not indulging in a multi-course dejeuner), stopping off at her favorite market on the way home to pick up a fresh baguette and sitting down with her family for dinner (and looking fabulous while doing it).
The French woman understands that her career is not her life, just a means to offer her what she’s really after: a life of play and pleasure.
This reminds me of a story I once heard:
A group of French people were working for an American businessman. Every day, they would leave at lunch and wouldn’t return for two hours. The American businessman was frustrated. “We need to be more productive, and your 2 hour lunch breaks are interfering, so tomorrow bring your lunches with you. You’ll be eating on the job.”
The following day, the American businessman was looking forward to increasing his production. At noon, the French workers, having agreed to eating on the job, went to the back of a truck, brought out tables and chairs and covered them with beautiful linen. They placed vases of fresh flowers on each one and set up each place setting. For le menu, they grilled steaks, roasted potatoes and cooked haricot verts. Of course, no French lunch would be complete without a glass of red wine and cheese.
Two hours later, the French finished their lunch and went back to work.
The French woman can thank her country, which has made her seemingly tranquil lifestyle possible. The government has certain laws in place that takes the fear out of job security. The 35-hour work week leaves plenty of time for love and passionate pursuits. And, everyone, from the banker to the plumber, receives 5 weeks of paid vacation, which you’ll never hear a French person say they’re too busy to take. This makes it very easy for the French girl to relax in her life.
Across the ocean, we’ve been raised very differently and afforded opportunities that the average French woman doesn’t have (and for which I’m extremely grateful). We live in a country that allows us to go after our dreams and do work that we love. Not every French woman gets to pursue her passion in the workplace, so thank goodness she has time outside of the office for pleasure.
On the other hand, with our protestant work ethic, we seem to always be in pursuit of something – more happiness, health and wealth – making it extremely difficult to slow down and savor life.
As an entrepreneurial woman, I love my work and can get lost in whatever project I’m working on. I adore my clients, so spending time with them is a great pleasure. And, I love the freedom that running my own company affords me, so it doesn’t seem to be a problem.
However, deep down, I know it can be. I can’t fool life, and neither can you. Spending hours on the computer, neglecting our families and home, and most importantly, abandoning ourselves, we forget one key principle: our work is simply a means to live a beautiful life.
After speaking with many of my French girlfriends, I realize that most French people aren’t spending hours on Facebook, perusing books on how to make their life better or pressuring themselves to be, do and have more. Perhaps, it’s because they live in a society where they can’t or maybe they just don’t want to. As my French friend, Catherine, once said, “Life is too short for so much self-induced pressure.”
During my first visit to France, I remember feeling like life suddenly made sense – the way people dined, walked, presented themselves to the world, loved, lived. Beauty and leisure were sought out each day, not when you reached some non-existent finish line.
While in France, I wasn’t living in time scarcity. For the first time, it felt like time was on my side. I bottled that feeling and set the intention to recreate that French essence back at home in the States.
Il était difficile pour moi. Being an ambitious and driven woman, I kept getting sucked back into the vortex of working madness.
However, over time, I’ve learned to live in my own world where pleasure and play are a priority. I let go of feeling that I was behind when everyone around me seemed to be so far ahead. I stopped caring about what others are doing in their businesses, and focused on what works for me and my life. I even take sabbaticals like the French to renew and recharge.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I want to create, grow and inspire. I have desires that I absolutely love seeing come to fruition. However, I do not want to be that girl who never enjoyed what she had because she was always in hot pursuit of the next thing.
Anglo-Saxons have perfected making a living, but the French girl has perfected creating a life!
I want to do both!
In all honesty, I’m still learning what this looks like for me. I don’t think it’s something you perfect, but constantly strive for.
However, I’ve noticed when everyone is stressed and talking about how busy they are, I pour myself a glass of wine, take a deep breath and remind myself that there is no hurry. Right now is pretty damn good!
What about you?
As always, I want to hear from you. Which side do you air on? Are you more of a Frenchie when it comes to your work life? Or are you the driven, ambitious American woman who’s always striving for the next big thing? Or, maybe you’re a bit of both.
There is no right or wrong. There’s only what’s working and what’s not!
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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