Combining Ambition and Ease:
8 Work lessons from the French

Being a driven, ambitious woman can be a huge blessing.

It can also feel like a curse when you don’t know how to manage your time, energy and life.

I know because I was the exhausted woman trying to keep up with what all the other moms were doing, impress my manager in hopes of getting a promotion and always chasing that “next thing.”

When I look back on that time in my life, I realize that my drive was driven out of fear — fear of not being enough, having enough and not enough time.

You cannot work, hustle or grind your way out of that quagmire.

There is a big difference between actions driven out of excitement, joy, and commitment versus those out of fear, greed and emotional turmoil.

When you wear yourself down to a state of tears and body aches, as I did, you must ask yourself,

“What am I doing?”

This was the question I asked on my first trip to Paris.

Through observing the French culture and their approach to work and life, I’ve been practicing ways to find my “Sweet Spot” when it comes to work and life.  While I don’t care to be French, I do love their attitude towards living a passionate life.

I was recently invited to a roundtable discussion in Paris with a group of professional French and American women — entrepreneurs, creatives, doctors, executives.

The open dialogue was an effort for us to better understand each other, learn new perspectives and to see ourselves through the eyes of a different culture.

As I sipped a glass of Champagne, I took notes of the thoughts and ideas that were passed around the table.

Here’s what the American women said about French women:

  • I appreciate your focus on having more pleasure in life and not just working.
  • It seems the French aren’t as productive as we are.
  • It feels hard to cultivate friendships outside of the office with a French woman.
  • I appreciate how your culture appreciates femininity seeing it as a power, not a curse.
  • It takes you so long to respond to an email.
  • I wish we could have long lunches.
  • I want your five weeks of vacation time.
  • You have Marion Cotillard.

Here’s what the French women said about American women:

  • I admire your ambition and drive.
  • You all really think you can do anything.
  • American women are so confident.
  • It’s refreshing to see so many women starting businesses in your country.
  • I think you work too much.
  • American women can be very domineering.
  • You’re such an optimistic group.
  • You have Beyonce.

Over the years, I have discovered that cultures seem to have misconceptions of each other. In this business met up, clearly, we found that French women were just as ambitious as we are. And, it was made clear that American women deeply desire to live with more pleasure and ease.

In other words, we have more in common than not.

I walked away from that conversation embracing my driven ambition, optimism and confidence. I also admire my French sisters’ attention to the details of their lives.

It brought me back to the poignant question I posed on my very first trip to Paris, one that I’ve been honing on a daily basis in my personal and professional life ever since:

How can I combine my Ambition with more Ease?

For years, I’ve been experimenting with this question.

I’ll admit that I’ve had moments of doubt while staring at my calendar wondering, “How will I ever get it all done?” But, I’m too hard headed to give up. With a lot of practice and trying various ways of combining work and life, I have finally found my sweet spot, at least for now!

You see, it’s not an exact science.

It’s not wrapped in a box with the perfect bow. It’s not a place you arrive and then throw your hands in the air celebrating that you’re done. As I tell my clients, “When you’re done, you’re dead.”

People want the formula for success, but one template doesn’t exist.

There are many paths to your most beautiful life.

However, success does leave clues, and I pay attention to the ones that feel true for me, and I study them in depth.

Discovering my sweet spot has been a result of rewiring my mind, managing my emotional life and placing a high priority on my energy.

I’m also constantly turning to the French for inspiration on what it takes to live a truly well-lived life.

Now, if you’re as intrigued with the French as I am (or you want to practice new ways of being)….

Grab my “Insider’s Guide to the French Way of Life” eBook (my gift to you!) This book will show you how you can incorporate the best of the French way of life into yours. French women do know a thing or two about slowing down and living well.

Go here for your free download of my eBook.

I refuse to believe that we were born just to work, pay bills and then die.

I believe that we each get to make decisions (usually tough ones) that will add more pleasure, meaning, and joy into our lives.

We all desire to live joyful, meaningful and fulfilling lives. In our personal and work lives. Right?

But, here’s what so often happens:

The emails, unexpected demands, and laundry seems to take over our lives….. and we’re left feeling anything but fabulous. It seems like life is happening to us, instead of us happening to our lives. We wake up and think the same thoughts, feel the same way, do the same things and create the same experiences over and over again. Before too long, we’ve trained ourselves into a state of being is overwhelmed, frustrated and tired.

Then, we tell ourselves we’re stuck.
But I want to assure you that this isn’t the truth.
You are never stuck.

Alternatively, each moment is filled with a new opportunity.
And if you want things to change…

You must be the one to change.
You must think beyond your current circumstances, using them as an excuse to feel bad.
You must be committed to the life you want to live and practice living it.

So how can we combine Ambition with Ease?

In finding your sweet spot, first things first: Remember that we each have different values, priorities, circumstances and desires. Your sweet spot will look different than mine or your neighbors.

However, perhaps you’ll be inspired, as I have, by observing the way French Women approach work and life.

Ready?

Here are 8 ways to work more like the French

….. so you can more deeply enjoy your life.

1. Dress to Impress…Yourself!

I was chatting with a professional Parisian lady friend of mine. She runs her business from a home office.

“Do you ever work in your PJ’s all day?” I asked.

“Rarely,” she replied.

“My neighbors may see me through the window,” she chuckled.

It could be argued that she dresses up to impress her neighbors. However, the reason why we do anything is to create a feeling for ourselves.

And, ladies, let’s face it: we don’t feel good when we ignore our appearance.

I often work from my home office, too. Admittedly, I have those days when I don’t make it out of my loungewear. But like my friend, they are rare.

I wouldn’t show up to work at someone else’s company in my PJs…..so why would I show up that way in my own? I deserve better than that. So do you.

Plus, I swear my mood, productivity and energy are completely different when I’ve put effort into my appearance versus those days when I don’t.

It doesn’t matter if you work from home, in a hospital or a fancy corner office.

Dress to impress… yourself!  {tweet this} 

2. Log off from your work day – like it’s the law!

At the beginning of 2017, France passed a law giving employees the “right to disconnect” from emails, cell phones or any electronic shackles once they’ve logged off from their workday. In a statement, the Ministry of Labor said:

“These measures are designed to ensure respect for rest periods and … balance between work and family and personal life,”

Now, I don’t foresee our US government passing any resemblance of this sort of law in the near future. Therefore, it is up to each of us to be committed to disconnecting.

Whether you work for yourself or someone else, there always seems to be one more thing to do before you sign off for the day. And, once that’s done, something is always waiting.

Why we think there will be a day when it’s all done is beyond me, because as long as we’re living, there will always be something to do. We keep believing in the fantasy of done, racing to an impossible finish line.

Within the last year, I installed some new work schedule protocols for my company. We don’t work weekends. Myself? Like clockwork, I work from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (unless pre-approved), and I always take Fridays off.

Guess what happened? I am more focused, productive and creative with these dedicated spaces of time to work.

When I leave my home office, it’s time to tune into my personal life — cook simple, delicious dinners, meet with friends, watch a movie or read books.

If you don’t manage your schedule, I can promise you that someone else will.

A few months ago, when I found myself obsessively checking my work email after business hours, I removed business email from my phone. My phone is for my personal life — conversations with friends, watching style videos on youtube and reading books on my Kindle (when I’m traveling).

Of course, there are exceptions to this. My team knows that they can always call or text me if the matter is urgent.

The mind tries to convince us that everything is urgent,

but there are few urgent matters in life. {tweet this}

3. Newsflash: Crumbs all over your desk is not sexy

We’ve all heard about those long leisurely French lunches.

The reality is that most French workers aren’t rendezvous-ing at Cafe de Flore with five course meals and glasses of Champagne.

But, the ones I’ve spoken with aren’t eating at their desk either.

I work with a lot of weight loss clients, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that many are stressed with packed schedules and unrealistic expectations. So, instead of stepping away to enjoy lunch, they stuff down food at their desks barely remembering what they ate or if they ate at all.

To have vibrant health requires that a woman stay connected to her body and emotions. A surefire way to guarantee that this doesn’t happen is to eat in a stressed state while multi-tasking. In other words, you can’t listen to what your body is saying when you’re eating, answering an email, planning for a meeting and trying to figure out who is picking up the kids from school.

Everyone deserves a proper lunch. And, only you can make it happen. It’s a choice you get to make.

Crumbs all over your desk is not sexy, and it’s certainly not a way to care for yourself. Go outside and enjoy some sunshine or meet up with a friend for an hour lunch.

I promise that the world won’t fall apart while you nourish your fabulous body.

Refuse to eat at your desk. {tweet this}

4. At work, be like my favorite Parisian sandwich maker

At one of my favorite markets in Le Marais, there’s a man who makes sandwiches. People line up and wait over 30 minutes for one of his creations. Yes, they are that delicious.

He could also make salads, crepes, and fries.

But he focuses on what he does best: Sandwiches.

In work (especially for Type A multi-passionate gals), we want to make a whole smorgasbord and serve up everything at once. What we can end up creating is massive overwhelm and a lesser quality of work.

Ask yourself:

What is essential in your work or business?
What do you do better than anyone?
What really lights you up?
What if you focused your energy and time on doing less but better?

I know it’s scary to eliminate options, but as someone who does it often, I assure you that a beautiful life has more to do with what you let go of than add.

It’s a fallacy that you can do it all, but you can do a few things really, really well.

I’m sure my favorite French sandwich maker would agree.

Focus on making the best sandwich you can make {tweet this}

5. People over Profits

In France, relationships are important, in business and life.

People are more than profits. They are your fellow human beings and respect is given.

I was appalled when I heard a business leader say “Profits over People” at a conference.

He lost me.

I left the room.

Money is rarely talked about among the French. No one brags about how much money they make or how many homes they own. Therefore, relationships are not formed out of financial need. (And, if they are, you’d never know.).

Now, let me be clear: I love money. I love seeing my friends, family and, clients make more money. I enjoy talking about money, such as investments, belief systems and how to use it in a meaningful way.

Money is a wonderful thing that allows us to contribute in even greater ways, but if money is more important than people, you’ll have a hard time making it. And, even if you do, your life won’t be as fulfilling. Just look at Bernie Madoff.

I see my clients, team and business partners as valuable relationships. I want them to feel heard, respected and care for. I operate from the place of “People over Profits.”

If you want to make more money, value people {tweet this}

6.  “Laziness” is the new Productivity

Whenever I’m working with a driven, ambitious and Type A personality and suggest that she enjoys her life more, she inevitably will ask, “But, isn’t that lazy?”

We Americans hate to be seen as lazy, so we work hard so those words are never uttered in our name. What do we have to show for it? Weight gain, stressed adrenal glands, crankiness and a life that feels like a race.

Of course, some of my American friends love to make the “lazy French jokes.”

However, the joke is actually on them.

The French population works much less than most developed nations but are more productive.

Want some proof?

France is ranked #18 in terms of GDP per capita at $36,500 per person. (and in my opinion, if you visit France you’ll also realize that their actual standard of living is probably much higher than GDP numbers would indicate.) But here is where the facts get very interesting: The French achieve their high standard of living while working 16% less hours than the average world citizen. (Sources = Business Insider + NationMaster)

So yes, even though the French are often called “lazy” by outsiders, with their 35-hour work weeks and 5 weeks of vacation, they can accomplish a lot more.

But, the French are not alone in this concept.

Haven’t you seen Richard Branson hanging out at his private island windsurfing?
Or American Presidents playing golf?
Or maybe you’ve seen me playing in Paris.

We all need time to enjoy life and be a little “lazy”.

You can call me “lazy” anytime. It’s smart and part of my business plan! I don’t wear “busy” and “hustle” as a crown of glory. I know that those who take care of themselves and carve out time to enjoy their lives are the most successful.

I dare you to enjoy being a little lazy. {tweet this}

7. Life is too short to not take your earned vacation time.

I adore how the French approach les vacances.

It’s not something to hoard nor give up. It’s simply a must. A non-negotiable.

They are taking their five weeks to enjoy the French Alps, beaches of Saint Tropez, New York City or Las Vegas (I’ll never understand why the French love Vegas?!?!?).

Moi? I disconnect and take four weeks off every year – all play!

When I worked as a critical care nurse, I remember my co-workers bragging about how much time they had built up…and hadn’t used. One colleague hadn’t taken a vacation in five years.

Why on God’s green earth would you save up your vacation days?

Go see the world.
Disconnect from the chatter.
Tune into yourself and your family.

Life is too short to not take your earned vacation time, delaying pleasure in your life and then feeling resentful and exhausted as a result.

Don’t limit your own joy or put your life on hold until “one day.”

Book the ticket! {tweet this}

8. Create a life outside of work

When I asked a Frenchman, “Do you enjoy your work?”

He replied, “I enjoy my life. Work is just work.”

While I love my company, team, and clients and can easily work a 14 hour day without realizing where the time went, I know that my 90-year-old self would yawn and roll her eyes if she thought my work was my entire life.

It’s important to diversify your life, creating a life outside of work.

Most women nowadays expect their job to be their sole source of fulfillment. That’s like expecting your children or spouse to be the one who gives you everything you want. As I tell my clients, it’s not your job’s job to make you happy. That’s all on you!

Some ideas:

Find a new hobby.
Follow a curiosity.
Throw a dinner party.
Have more sex.
Attend a concert.
Learn a new language.

You may be surprised at where this part of your life will take you, but one thing’s for sure:

You’ll experience so much more fulfillment when you do not depend on your job for your happiness.

While I am a huge advocate of doing work you love, I don’t want you living in misery until then.

When I began to bring a new attitude to my nursing career and started cultivating passions outside of the workplace, life became magical! It led me to founding a company called French Kiss Life! How crazy is that? I know it would have never happened had I not created a life outside of work and brought joy to the job I was blessed with at the time.

Work to live….and not the other way around.  {tweet this}

Do what you Love.
And Do it with Ease.

At the core of my ability to work with more ease is to focus on my mindset.

I’ve had to see beyond the daily grind and to-do list and envision a different way of living and doing business. And, I’ve had to challenge myself to step into that vision day after day, trusting that it is possible.

Clearly, there are many factors (and cultural differences) when it comes to work ethic. Don’t ever let that beautiful ambition go. It’s what keeps you evolving and learning. Be unapologetically who you are and love what you love.

If you genuinely love working 60+ hours a week, then by all means, do it!

I just want to encourage you to do it with more ease, because as Tony Robbins says, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.”

If you’re desiring tips on how to integrate more ease into your life, click here to get an insider’s view of secrets of living the French lifestyle that is almost never talked about .

Go here for your free download of my eBook.

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10 Responses to Combining Ambition and Ease:
8 Work lessons from the French

  1. I love this! Pinned it for future inspiration. Your series has made me commit to re-thinking some of my old philosophies. I’ve discovered, for example, that “low maintenance” is code for “I’m not worth it”. For me, buying a high-end leather purse for $25 at a consignment shop was a private rebellion, but it started me on a journey of making time for ME in my day, making myself a line item in my household budget, creating a minimalist wardrobe of things I love, etc. Thanks for all you do!

    • Carrie,

      I love everything about this comment.

      I have what I call a “lady budget” that I use for things that are just for me — clothes, learning, massages, etc. It is so important that we don’t leave ourselves out of our own lives.

      Thanks for reading!

      xo

  2. I have seen statistics that the French actually have greater productivity than Americans, if you measure hours worked. In other words, when the French are at work, they work. Americans spend more time at work but get less done.
    Also, many people complain about regulations and high social contributions/taxes in France, but the fact of the matter is that everybody helps pay in, with the rich theoretically paying more than the poor (theoretically because they have the means to use tax shelters, etc.), and the regulations nearly always serve a purpose related to quality of life.
    It isn’t so much a matter of people over profits. It’s that if your business model depends on paying people less than a living wage and not giving them health care, then maybe you shouldn’t go into business.

    • The stats are fascinating, aren’t they?

      As for my comment about “profits over people,” I was referring mostly to the mentality of greed. Of course, businesses must make money to survive, but there are many examples of those with a culture of great work environments, wages, and services that are doing extremely well financially because they focus on the people. So, yes to your last statement.

      As always, thanks for commenting.

  3. Finding your blog has changed my mindset and my life…albeit slowly:) but still baby steps are still steps:)) Thank you for all that you do!

  4. Tonya,

    Thank you for this inspiring post and particularly where you mention “I wouldn’t show up to work at someone else’s company in my PJs…..so why would I show up that way in my own? I deserve better than that. So do you.” I find that dressing to impress yourself also does wonders for my productivity, especially when I put on my official wear and get to work at home. You mention style videos on Youtube as part of your logging off; would you mind sharing a few of your favorites?

    Love,

    Aimie

    • Hi Aimie,

      Totally agree. It makes a huge difference in my energy, productivity and overall sense of well-being.

      As for style videos, there are SO many. These are a few that comes to mind:

      1. Margo & Me
      2. Interviews from Man Repeller
      3. Vogue
      4. Garance Dore

      xoxo

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