Career Mistakes and Escaping To France

Escaping to France
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Mirelle Guiliano, former CEO of champagne label, Veuve Clicquot and author of the best-selling book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” has a quote that I love:

Always strive to be bien dans sa peau, that is, true to your unique, outward self in addition to your inward, emotional self. Develop your own style; a look and manner that feels comfortable and right to you and that you present to the world.

So today’s post is about being true to one’s self and going after what you truly want. I’m hoping this post will help those who are younger than me, figure out what they want to do in life, because, I have made mistakes in my career but in the process discovered my true love: France.  Here are some lessons learned in a nutshell:

I never thought enough about who I was,  

wanted to be , and wanted to do

Falling Into A Job

A few years ago I retired as Principal of an elementary school in Toronto. I fell into the job. After graduating from University, I worked in advertising and promotion with some multinational companies. After 8 years, I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. I wanted to help young people and although I took a great pay cut, the job was much more gratifying. I was helping children and not trying to pitch spaghetti sauce. The first number of years were tough and I thrived on the constant learning and challenge of helping students learn and fit in.

I taught 4 year olds to 14 year olds and also did guidance counseling. There were many days when I said to myself, “I love my job!”. I loved the people I worked with and making connections with the kids. Every Friday, I used to block the door and tell my Grade 8 students that I loved them. I really did. I took on many leadership tasks without the title and had no problem volunteering to do workshops and conferences.

Then one day, one decision changed everything. The school’s Vice-Principal got promoted and there wasn’t anyone in the board who could move in to do the job, so they asked me: “Jan, would you like to be acting Vice-Principal?”

Up until this point I had always said, “If I ever say that I want to be an administrator, slap me”. Guess what? There was a long line to slap me. Ego took over and I went for it. I became acting Vice-Principal and then went through the promotion process and eventually became Principal. In all respects I fell into the job. It grasped me and took hold of me. I was swept away by money, power, and prestige, but in the end, it was not sustainable. It was a career mistake.

For 13 years I was an administrator in some very difficult schools (tough for various reasons). The stress was unbelievable and the fit was wrong. The beginning was great because I was learning and because of the people I worked with. I won’t get into all of the problems; however, I was never fully comfortable in the job. And I wasn’t happy. I could do the job well, but most days it felt an uphill battle. As in life, many parents, teachers and students were fabulous: supportive, reasonable, and effective in what they did. But there were also the “nuts’ and the school board bureaucracy. I felt like I was banging my head against the wall all the time trying to help my students.

Biking in Burgundy, France Career Mistakes
Biking in Burgundy, France


Since retiring, I have been trying to find the right “fit”, trying to find my journey and what I will do for the rest of my life. While I have always loved France, it has only been in the past 10 years that I have truly gotten obsessed with travelling there. I suppose it began as my oasis, an escape from “the maddening crowd”  (work).  I have been told by friends that I am a different person in France. I know. France  was a place where I could be “bien dans ma peau”.

Lessons Learned For Others

In retirement I have found some new passions: writing, learning about creating websites from scratch, blogging, and discovering more parts of and experiences in France. Most importantly I am doing the one thing I have always loved: helping people. I created this website to do just that:  help others discover France and be captivated by it, like I have.

I wish I could say I don’t have any regrets, however, I do have advice for those who are younger:

  • Try not to be swayed just by the money of a job. I know you have to support yourself, but I also believe that if you find something you love to do, the money will find you. There were times when I was in advertising and teaching when I actually said to myself, “I love this job so much they wouldn’t even have to pay me”. I felt very fortunate to have been able to say that.
  • Try not to be swayed by flattery. Early in my career the “big boss” was encouraging me to go for promotion and become a Principal. Once again, it was easy to be swept away by what other people wanted vs. what I really wanted.
  • Find something that you become immersed in….where time flies by because you love what you are doing. I have found that with working on my website, writing and planning trips to France.
  • Titles and power are nice, but that’s not who you “are”. After you’re gone, people won’t remember you for your title, they’ll remember you for who you were….what type of person you were.
  • In your current job really ask yourself how happy you are doing the things you are required to do. Are you doing these things because you have to or want to? Sure all jobs have certain requirements; however do they outweigh what you want to do and feel comfortable doing? It’s being “bien dans ta peau.”

Some will feel I am being very idealistic. I guess I have the liberty to do so since I am now retired. So where do I go from here, early in my retirement?


Living it. Breathing it. Writing about it.

Experiencing it. Helping others experience it.

I know I am not alone.

There are others who LOVE France as much as I do.

Flowers in Paris France Market Career Mistakes
Flowers in Paris Market

You might also like to read my post Retirement Advice Isn’t Always Right.

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  1. Wow. Thank you for being so courageous in sharing your mistakes and your feelings to a group of strangers. I found it inspirational and It made me reflect on my life and wonder if I am being true to self.

    Thank you

  2. Great article Janice! Could have been written about me too as you know! Any thoughts of staying in France for longer, maybe a long term holiday let?

  3. I really love this post and I can relate to it so much. Find your passion and it’s so true that a job is not all about money. “Money will follow you” is a phrase I’very been searching for. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome. It is people like you, however, that give me inspiration… keep writing and finding new ways to see France!

  4. Ditto Judy above…Thanks for being so open, Jan. We can all learn from your experiences.
    I do think you are moving into your element now…France and blogging and helping others to do what they’re passionate about. And because of you, I start my French Language class at the FIAF in New York this week. xo

    1. I am so excited for you in taking French! I know you love France too so we must meet up there one day!

  5. I know you are right, Jan. Great post! With position comes power which– while it can be used for good– can also lapse into an attempt at control. It also requires more time of us when we are already struggling to do the things that truly give us joy. It’s especially tricky when we are good at something but know there’s something we’d rather be doing that would make us come alive. Italian friends taught me years ago that we work to live; we don’t live to work. But I agree, when doing what we love–for me it is writing and traveling, too–the time flies. Work is play. Believing the money will follow takes trust. I’m still working on that one. I love you are now doing what your heart desires–and helping others as well!

    1. I need to remember that: “We work to live; we don’t live to work”…..and that now being in retirement I need to avoid the “shoulds” and follow my heart…just like you are doing!

  6. Oh – you just described my career path as a pharmacist of falling in and out of jobs for all the wrong reasons! Retirement has resulted in an incredible sense of relief and freedom and following my passion for full-time travel has been everything I dreamed of and more. Here’s to your new adventures!

  7. I enjoyed much of what I did during my working career, but there were also a lot of times I “fell” into things and lost a bit of myself. I too am enjoying finding (or returning to) my passions in my retirement. My daughter is in her late twenties and taking some time at the moment to figure out her direction in life. She is less settled and financially secure than society generally expects someone of her age to be, but she seems to have learned your lessons and is seeking out what she loves.

    1. That’s so wonderful to hear. Thank you for sharing that. There’s such a struggle between being financially secure and pursuing one’s passion.

  8. I totally agree with you that no one remembers your title when you’re gone only if you were a good person. I like you was able to leave my corporate executive job and start doing what I love. Although it may not always be easy – I can honestly say that I’m making my own choices and putting my best foot forward everyday. Thanks for the inspiration Jan.

    1. That’s so true about making our own choices and I feel that alone can make us even happier. Thank you for your comments.

  9. Serendipitously, we just returned from Bordeaux two days ago. It’s easy to fall in love with the French way of life. While you can’t turn back, you do have the opportunity to go forward and pursue your dream. I suspect that the career you had helped ready you for this.:-)

    1. That is so true. I believe that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I am doing now had it not been for the choices I made and jobs I chose in the past. Thank you.

  10. I am fortunate to have learned many similar lessons a bit earlier (but not much) in life. You’re right that a gilded cage from which you go through the motions in a stressful career is a poor life choice, and the price is paid by you in more of an exchange for the financial compensation than an earnings scenario, if that makes sense. I would also add that many of us were not exposed to the idea that life isn’t something that happens to you. It was a revelation to understand the extent to which I could control my own destiny as opposed to “falling into” a situation (personal or career) which “came along.” This is an insightful post and valuable advice to anyone at any age. The best time to make a change when you’re dissatisfied is always now.

    1. Absolutely. We do have control over our future and it can be great. So glad we have made the change sooner than later. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate it.

  11. Speaking as a retired teacher, I can read between the lines and empathize with all of the joys, light bulb moments, and the insanity as well. I taught in California – 6th grade, I managed child development centers and I taught Child Care Administration at the university level, which I think that was my favorite gig. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, so my “career” lasted 10 years and then I retired. That was all I needed, but I’ve reinvented myself multiple times, so teaching was just 1 chapter, but a significant one. Anyway, nice to meet you.

  12. I am so excited to have found your wonderful website, and look forward to reading everything you have written, and will write in the future. What a lovely gift for those of us out there who DO indeed love France as much as you do! Merci, Jan.

  13. Thank you! I just discovered your site and am gobbling it up! This post really spoke to me (as did the one on retirement that led me here). Sage advice on life and travel in France (which I adore!), you really have a winning combination here!
    Merci beaucoup!

  14. One request, it sounds like you’ve become pretty computer savvy, do you know how I can get rid of the popup style Facebook, etc tabs on the left side of the screen? They are partially covering the articles which makes them so hard to read it nearly drove me away. Fortunately, your writing is so good I persevered!
    If it’s something I can do feel free to share the answer publicly to help others.

    1. Got your question and I’ll also put my answer in the comment section.
      I am really ambivalent about using pop ups and may decide to stop them as I also get annoyed by them.
      You can do one of two things:
      Hi Jo. Thanks for your comment. Here’s what you could do:
      1. At the bottom of the list of pop ups on the left side there are two arrows. If you click on them they will make the social shares (pop ups) move left and out of the full screen.
      2. Another way is to go to your Google Chrome or Safari preferences and block pop ups.

      I appreciate your comment and may decide to disable them.
      Many thanks for reading my posts.

  15. What a terrific article Jan. Many of us have learned these types of life-lessons. I think that many times the kudos and accolades we receive are put in place to make others lives easier. I’ve had many a boss move me into positions that were “perfect” for me when in fact it was perfect for them and solved their problem. Looking back I know I would have done a few things differently too. One good thing about getting older you sure are a lot smarter!

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