Luck and Expectations: Some Thoughts on Moving Abroad

Thinking of moving to Paris? Carpe Diem.

Thinking of moving to Paris? Carpe Diem.

Recently I was tapped as an “expat expert” and asked to contribute a tip about living abroad for an HiFx campaign. At first I balked at being considered an “expert.” But then I reasoned: if experience is what makes someone knowledgeable, then I must know something after 7 years in Paris.

Still, I had trouble coming up with concrete advice. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that everyone’s experience is different. Part of the adventure (and frustration) of life in France is that it’s difficult to pin down the precise rules. Documents asked of one person for a dossier, for example, may not be requested of another.

Art along the Seine

Art along the Seine

In the end, perseverance counts more than anything. My tip, therefore, emphasized attitude, summed up in a few short lines. (You can see the full list of tips here; mine will be added soon).

The topic got me to wondering, though. How could I expand on the lessons I learned moving to the City of Light? I realized expectations and the perception of luck play a major role when I talk to people about moving abroad. Here are some broad thoughts on the subject:

Make your own luck (but appreciate the luck that floats your way – it may not always come in the form you think).

What's behind door number one? Open it and see!

What’s behind door number one? Open it and see!

“You’re so lucky!” It’s the phrase I hear most often when I tell people I live in Paris. Indeed, it’s true. I never tire of the beauty, food, and cultural riches.

But something about the sentiment also irks me. To call me lucky ignores completely my own volition. I didn’t just end up in Paris. I had to take an active step – a huge leap, really – to make it happen.

Before I moved, I had no job lined up, barely spoke French, and knew hardly anyone. Not exactly a recipe for guaranteed success. I wanted to take a chance, though. And so I did. While I know everyone’s circumstances are different and real obstacles exist, a large part of moving abroad is summoning the courage to just do it and confront all the uncertainty that comes with it.

Luck isn’t simply passive. It’s as much created by how you interact with the world.

You may think I'm sipping kirs in nice cafes all day, but it's not true.

You may think I’m sipping kirs in nice cafes all day, but it’s not true.

Try to let go of expectations (but be open to the unexpected)

One thing that probably helped me the most when I moved to Paris is that I didn’t have outsized expectations. France offers fantasy fodder for a lot of people who dream of the vie en rose.

Having such high expectations – endless champagne! kissing under the Eiffel Tower! A masterpiece written in an elegant café! – means you have that much further to fall when reality inevitability sets in. If you can let go of any sort of expectations and simply stay open to what unfolds, the transition will be much smoother.

That being said, I must have had some ideas about Paris because I encountered plenty of surprises, too. The new country is not like yours. You’ll feel a range of emotions. Watch, listen, observe. Try to understand the new culture. As you encounter the many new norms and customs, expect the unexpected.

What are your thoughts on luck and expectation? Do you have examples of how they’ve played out in your own life?

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8 Responses to “Luck and Expectations: Some Thoughts on Moving Abroad”


  1. 1 pedmar10 February 27, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    very well put, I am perhaps a bit different as married a Frenchwoman but been here 10 yrs, used to worked in Paris lived in Versailles now living in the country like a real Frenchman in Brittany. It takes courage and acceptance that all is different and after a while all becomes so usual.Good luck in Paris.

  2. 2 Tanya February 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Well said Sion! It took a lot of courage to leave every single family member, everyone I hold dear, to move to France. And I agree with the statement that sometimes you have to create your own luck.

    I think the best advice, as you wrote above, is to let go of the (crazy) expectations and be open to what comes your way.

  3. 3 shani February 27, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    To dismiss it all as luck is definitely unfair. It completely ignores the courage and bravery it takes to do something like that. For me, it boils down to money issues and work visa issues—I truly do wonder how Americans move abroad and work. If I have to do a long-term visa, I don’t have enough money for it, and I can’t work there, unless I get freelance work? I don’t even know. So the fact that you figured this all that goes far beyond luck. Though you are definitely fortunate to be living your dream. :)

    Shani x
    She Dreams in Perfect French

  4. 4 Carolyn February 28, 2014 at 1:19 am

    Terrific post. I agree and often think of the famous (Dorothy Parker? Mark Twain?) quotation ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’. Also of Julia Cameron’s (my paraphrase) ‘we need to shake the apple tree but also be open when the Universe delivers oranges’.

    Cheers from a fellow mover-abroad and Paris lover.

  5. 5 buffyschilling February 28, 2014 at 3:07 am

    I think the others are right, it is more about hard work than luck. Maybe luck has had a great deal to do with how I have gotten where I am today in my career, but more than that, it is has taken an incredible amount of hard work. Once I set my mind to something, I make it happen. Moving to Europe could be different just because of all the red tape. Then there is the money part. But I have learned it doesn’t hurt to dreams. Dreams are where it all begins.

    It is grey they think of you as an expert. You are living the dream.

    Take care

  6. 6 Theresa March 1, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    I certainly agree that courage, hard work and luck all play an important role in making such an exciting, scary and life changing event. However, most of the expats I know now living and WORKING in France all have or had one thing in common: a French born spouse. With that one little “I do”, all the doors magically open and you are in. Without it, it is next to impossible. I know, I have tried. Please don’t continue to give the impression that all is possible without mentioning that you, along with many others, had a French husband that made it possible.

    • 7 paris (im)perfect March 2, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      Thanks everyone for your comments!

      Theresa, certainly the daunting bureaucracy and visa demands are huge. I truly understand that. I’m making the larger point of risk-taking and viewing luck as not only something that falls into your lap. There is a psychological element, too. Also, I was not married nor planning to get married when I moved to France. I eventually married a Frenchman, but I still contend that a lot of people in my position would not have made the leap and it was the leap more than anything that I was referencing. I don’t want to go into all the personal details here, but me choosing to get on that plane is as much responsible for making it possible as my later marriage.

      Also it is a long, hard slog, but I have American friends who have been able to stay and work in France without getting married. A few are on artist visas and others have started businesses. I certainly don’t think all is possible! Equally, it’s unfair to disregard the very real experience I’ve witnessed of others staying without a French spouse. They work their tail off to make it happen! Who said that famous line: “The harder I work, the luckier I get” ? I think it applies!

      There’s an interesting article I read recently that paraphrased a psychologist’s hypotheses on the subject this way:

      “… what we call luck is actually a pattern of behaviors that coincide with a style of understanding and interacting with the events and people you encounter throughout life. Unlucky people are narrowly focused, he observed. They crave security and tend to be more anxious, and instead of wading into the sea of random chance open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation, on seeking a specific goal. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by. Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences.”

      The rest of that paragraph is important, but this comment is becoming a separate blog post in and of itself! Here is the link to the full article: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/

      I didn’t elaborate on this point, but that’s what I meant when I said luck is being open to what happens and it doesn’t always come in the form you imagined it. For me, Paris WASN’T my dream originally. But some serendipitous moments happened that made me want to see what the city would hold for me. Paradoxically it is perhaps because Paris wasn’t my original goal that when life events started pointing me toward it a path opened up. I remained open to a wider definition of what’s possible.

      But yes, I don’t discount the place of lucky breaks and always feel blessed when they come my way!

  7. 8 buffy March 3, 2014 at 3:27 am

    After reading your last comment, it made me think of something I was just thinking about the other day. All our decisions make our lives turn in certain directions. Good, or bad, lucky or unlucky, everything happens for a reason, because of the paths we happened to take. In many ways I was unlucky in meeting the man I married years ago, but lucky in the fact that I would not have had my wonderful kids, I would not have become a Chef through his encouragement that I was good at cooking, and I would not have become a Firefighter/ Paramedic after leaving him. There is more to the story, but too much to tell in a blog.


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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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