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Moving to Paris without Quitting My Day Job: A lesson in becoming a nonconformist

Allan Bacon and family

This is the winning entry from the Unconventional Writing Contest. It was written by Allan Bacon.

You can learn more about Allan at the end of the post… or just by reading about his adventure in this article.

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Moving to Paris without Quitting My Day Job

When I wake up I can look through the opening in the heavy drapes and see that I am still here. Cool, it wasn’t a dream.

I see the 1800s Haussmann-style townhouse across the street from our Paris apartment and I hear the sounds of Vespa scooters blaring down the street and shopkeepers talking as they open for business. Then I remember that I have three weeks to go living in the leafy 16th arrondissement with my wife and three daughters – for free, without taking vacation and without quitting my job.

I couldn’t have even conceived of this just three years earlier. Back then I was miserable in a corporate job. A snapshot: one night I couldn’t sleep because I was so stressed about work. So what did I do?  I got up and went to work – at 4 am. 

When I walked into the office I expected quiet. So I was surprised when I heard the clicking of keyboards and saw the lights on in several cubicles. At this company, everyone knew the trick of sending late night emails to “prove” our value as hardworking and committed to the company.  I just didn’t realize so many of those emails were coming from the office.

So, how did a 40-year-old average guy find his way from wee-hours corporate email suck-up to paid Parisian expat in three years?  I needed to learn three seemingly oxymoronic approaches to break the unspoken “rules” of the conformist career path.

1.  To keep moving forward, go backward

Why did I stay in my crazy corporate environment? Because it was so good! (Seriously.) I had great pay, a big bonus, growth potential and benefits. I’d have to be crazy to leave that, right?  Unfortunately, it was the environment that was making me crazy – it was like I was diving without a snorkel – the harder I tried to move forward, the more stressed I got and the less I could breathe.

So what did I do? I gave up. I did the unthinkable and went backwards on the career ladder. I went back to a job at a company I had had five years previously. Now instead of just a snorkel, I felt like I had a giant air tank on my back. Everything was easier and I had much more room to think and explore other options for my career.

Surprisingly, even though I had the same job, I learned that I was not the same person. I knew more and could add more value. Within a year my salary was higher than it had been at my old job, I was making a much bigger impact and I was starting to see new possibilities for myself. I was diving deeper and seeing more fish.

2.  To understand your passions, don’t analyze, experiment

Have you ever changed careers? The best approaches I could find used tests and coaching and analysis to help you look back at your history and then find the next step to a job that would make you happier. These never seemed to help me make the type of big change I was looking for.

It was the equivalent of trying to decide whether I would like mango ice cream by analyzing my past food choices. If I were doing it career-planning style, it would go something like this: OK, let’s look at what you’ve liked in the past – vanilla, strawberry – great. And let’s have you fill out what tastes you like. We’ll analyze these and rate you on the “Sweet/Tangy” scale. Then we’ll have you read a summary of the mango flavor. OK, based on those you need to decide whether to switch over to mango from vanilla.

I needed a way to actually take a taste of the areas that might bring me more satisfaction. How could I actually try being a DJ or a professional photographer without putting my whole family at risk? And how could I do it in very little time and with almost no cost?

I needed a way to take a bite-sized taste of different parts of life. I needed to be able to do Life Experiments.

3.  To find more satisfying work, focus on playing

About this same time, another realization hit me: Work is a terrible place to find your calling.  Just like the career tests limited me to my past work experience, my job limited me to my current role in the company.  I guess I could have offered to DJ the company Holiday Party, but I didn’t see them letting me spend 4 hours a week doing that.

Back when I was a kid, we didn’t need to do any analysis to try something new. We just did it. When I wanted to be a radio DJ in 5th grade, I took my turntable to my friend Brian’s house. With our 2 turntables and a microphone we mixed a complete radio show: music, jokes, call-ins and shout-outs. When we played the tape at school, my teacher snorted because she was laughing so hard.

Notice what we didn’t do: we didn’t just dream about being DJs and we didn’t read about DJs and we didn’t interview a DJ. We were DJs. As kids, there were no limits to what jobs we could “try on.”

So I started doing Life Experiments by working them into the cracks and crevices of my busy schedule outside of work: visiting art galleries on a lunch break, taking photos on the weekend, exploring Tokyo paper shops between sales calls on a business trip. My guiding principle was to find the fastest, cheapest way to take action and try the essence of all the interests and job ideas I had.

All of these experiments gave me more and more ideas and more and more confidence in what was right for me. Eventually I realized that my wife and I could probably find a way to experiment with living abroad.  Et voilà, Paris.

Finding Your Own “Paris”

The impact of these Life Experiments was way out of proportion to the effort. On a flight back from Asia, it hit me that the part of my job that mattered most to my company was when I was face-to-face with customers. And that it didn’t really matter where my office was. So instead of taking my kids on a crazy, bleary-eyed tour across Europe, I decided that we should find a way to actually live there long enough to get a taste for what the experience would be like. (Would we kill each other in a city apartment? Would we get bored? Would we go crazy from having to learn how to navigate in a place where we didn’t speak the language?)

Of course, none of those things happened. Our Paris trip was done by a house swap with a French family (I used Home Exchange and highly recommend it). In Paris, my daughters learned that not everyone around the world saw things the way we do, and they began imagining a whole new set of possibilities for their future. I arranged my business meetings for Europe while I was there – my company saved money and my customers were happy to have quick access to me. The benefits impacted all aspects of my life.

As I continued my Life Experiments, things started happening faster than I could have ever imagined. Each thing led to several new things. I had started my Avocationist blog about a year before I left work. The original purpose was to share helpful stories with others going through transitions. But as I interviewed people for the blog and I continued my own explorations, I realized that I needed to share the lessons I had learned with a bigger audience.

I applied one of my own big messages and made the mental shift to seeing work as a means to an end instead of the main focus on my life. I had some money saved up and then I negotiated an agreement with my employer to consult with them a day a week. This kept money coming in and gave me more time to work on speaking, writing and doing seminars. It’s only one year past Paris and I’m writing a book and consulting, no longer working in a company at all.

It’s never too late to become a Nonconformist. Don’t quit your job. Just quit thinking. Start experimenting. It will change your life.

***

Biography: Allan Bacon is on a mission to help smart, creative people find their callings without having to quit their jobs. He is an author, speaker and consultant who publishes Avocationist.com and has been featured on CNN, the Dallas Morning News and the Christian Science Monitor.

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46 Comments

  • Jason M. Beauford says:

    I love this story. This is exactly the kind of thing I am actively working on doing in my own life.

    I challenge everyone to experiment with their lives to realize the full potential of their lives.

    Thanks for sharing this story!

    Jason M. Beauford

  • Pace says:

    A well-written, informative, and inspiring story, Allan! Congratulations!

  • Tyler says:

    Compelling story. I’ve found myself doing nearly the same thing lately, trying to cram little hobbies here and there into the crevices between work and home commitments to see what sticks and find new income possibilities.

    What’s really worked has been revisiting old hobbies that fell by the wayside. Turns out, I still enjoy them quite a lot, they just got pushed aside as I lost focus on the creative side of my life and began focusing on the means to conventional employment.

    Back to the basics!

  • Jake says:

    Can you provide more detail about your “life experiments”? For example, how specifically did you get a chance to DJ? How did you go about researching this stuff? I’m extremely interested in all this stuff but find that I get overwhelmed by the number of options and opinions out there.

  • Excellent job! Congratulations on the contest, but most of all the life you chose to lead.

  • Wayne Key says:

    This is a very thoughtful post and so on target with my life at this point. A few years ago I discovered what it was like to be pushing a business that I didnt really love or care about, and feeling it drain the life’s blood out of me. I made big mistakes on the business side, because it was so hard to force myself to do Anything regarding the business… it was gutwrenching… but in the process of climbing out of that mess I found my real work.

    I dont mean to be a downer, this is a GREAT GREAT bit of writing and so on target. Thanks I know it takes time and skull sweat to craft such a fine bit of work.

  • Pierre says:

    Allan, your family was cool with being life-experimented on? It takes courage from all parties involved to do unconventional things. Well done.

  • Fernando Torres says:

    What a fantastic and inspiring story. I work in the “old” media and what I have done to be able to travel around is a combination of leaves of absence and taking jobs in different markets where they value my experience, always negotiating time off between jobs.

    Allan’s focus on doing rather than analyzing and just wishing are right on.

  • cory huff says:

    Thanks for this Allan! I spent four years in an intense acting program preparing to become a professional actor. Once I graduated and started working, I realized that the lifestyle was killing me. It took some doing, but I decided that I had to find a life that I wanted, not one that I was supposed to be doing.

    Great insights.

  • Jimi says:

    Nice article. Thanks for the tip on Home Exchange. Paris is quite a city. A place I wouldn’t mind spending more time in myself.

  • Wonderful story, especially the ending! I love when people get to live their dreams. And your family must be having the adventure of a lifetime. Thanks for the inspiration and sharing your game plan.

  • Mikell says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Allan. This was incredibly inspiring…I hope to make some changes along these lines in the near future.

  • I enjoyed reading about your journey to nonconformity! Very inspiring! Great advice about experimenting rather than analyzing. It takes courage…but so much more rewarding in the end, that from a German who’s living in Los Angeles on her own journey to unconventional happiness. 🙂

  • Amar says:

    I tend to value writing that offers sound insight, especially when it gives you a pathway or framework to put into practice that which is preached. You win on both counts!

    Brilliant article!

  • Austin says:

    Stories like this never get old. Truly inspiring.

    He sounds like a mix of Tim Ferris and Chris. Great stuff.

  • Juha Liikala says:

    Amazingly inspiring story. It’s awesome to learn about people, who challenge the so called “deferred life plan” and do things differently. Have to surf to Allan’s site right now to learn more..

  • Karen says:

    I love this article. And I did a home exchange once, and I loved it. Stayed for 3 weeks in the Netherlands. I love the experiment concept. I think as adults we tend to overanalyze things, and sometimes you just need to try it, and then you know for sure whether you like something or not. It’s actually surprisingly easy to try new stuff while still working. There’s pretty much a class for everything you can think of. For example, I always wanted to learn how to weld, and I ended up winning a welder at a golf tournament. It was a sign. I took a class in welding, which was pretty weird considering I’m a Chinese female, but it was super fun. I did eventually end up selling my welder because I didn’t want to buy all the cutting machinery for my home, but I’m glad I took the course.

  • I love this post. Thanks for the inspiration. How are you enjoying France, is it everything you thought it would be?

  • Pascal says:

    One word, “awesome”. Life experience as described here bring another highly valuable dimension to our lifes and ground us back to ourselves, the reason we avoid it is… we often lose ourselves into overly complex and unhelpful analysis of a situation that prevent us to move forward…

    Good work Allan,

  • This story also imply on unemployed. I’m unemployed but I need to create balance between learning new stuff just to find some boring job and have financial security of some sort and learn new stuff and work on job of my dream but with long insecurity period.

  • doniree says:

    This is a very timely and inspiring article!

  • What a great article. I’m inspired to “play” more. Seems like a willingness to be curious is really important… That if we’re willing to do some ‘life experiments” we might very well be surprised by the results almost from the start. I’m in!

  • Glenn says:

    I spent 6 weeks on a Paris home exchange — it was the inspiration for my launch of InventedCity. Delighted to have a colleague’s site recommended and to hear of your fine experience which home exchange helped make happen.

  • It’s nice to read about unconventional living from the perspective of someone with a day job. Great article. 🙂

  • Faith says:

    I’m trying to find my bliss and create a life for myself that’s on my terms. I did move to London 6 years ago using an exchange program so I could get a work permit. It was limited to students so re-enrolling in school but we can never get enough education.

    Right now I’m in a career transition and need to have numerous streams of income in place. Part of my ideal life circumstances does include living abroad again. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Luke says:

    This was a good post. Usually, the stuff you read is “5 step plan this” or “45 step plan that”. I enjoyed this especially the part about ‘experimenting’. If more people did what you said, then the world would be filled with happy, content people.

    I am taking your challenge!

  • Kim Spivey says:

    Congrats Allan on a lovely, piece. I can hear your ‘voice’ ring through.

  • Mallory says:

    Amazing! Great article!

  • Dey Irfan says:

    Bravo! You are going to be one of my mentors in my life. Keep moving forward, man!

  • Aaron Wulf says:

    Great work, Allan! Inspiring story for all!

  • Cool story! And available to anyone for the taking 😉 Look, I am French and I am currently living in Tokyo. I guess Allan filled my spot in Paris!

  • jenn says:

    Talk about timing. Long time reader – first time replier. 🙂
    After most of Chris’ blogs, my bf & I talk about the content, what sparked our interest, what we learnt & how we would do things differently.
    Working in corporate Canada, we thought that good money, relative job security was good enough for us. But week after week our “what- if talks” became more serious…a spark was lit. Pleased to say that we decided to apply for a leave of absence – and we were approved!
    People already think we are crazy, spending 3 months backpacking around Europe! But who cares what they think… Paris is our starting point… the rest is tbd… Thanks chris & allan!

  • Super job Allan. Going back down the corporate ladder so intrigued/inspired me I went over to my site, wrote a post about that and came back to make a comment. I love that you had the courage to do that! Will check out your site again. Congrats!

    Giulietta, Inspirational Rebel

  • Tyler McCann says:

    Wow.

    Amazing. I love hearing stories of people who throw out the corporate environment for one where new experiences are made. Where freedom can be tasted and lived. Passions can be discovered and achieved!

    Off to adventure!

  • Chris says:

    Living the dream. My dream. love it!

  • Lori Enos says:

    Great post about how a real person made the change in their life and really made it work.

  • Allan Bacon says:

    @Everyone – thanks for the kind words. Drop me a line & let me know how your plans are working out!

    – Allan

  • jen says:

    this is so inspiring. chris, thank you for bringing us allan’s story. it helps so much. you help so much.

  • I really enjoyed reading your post. I am trying to figure out how to capitalize on the aspects of law that I enjoy and minimize the parts that are negative. Your post demonstrates that sitting down with personality assessments and filling out questionnaires is not the only way to approach this dilemma. I am more enthusiastic about trial and error.

  • Vinodh says:

    Allan,
    Great story.. Simply Inspiring… thanks.

    Chris,
    Great contest and great winner.. Way to go…

  • Joe_Mx says:

    Thanks Allan for the story and thank you Chris for sharing it! For me it is just another great reference that everything is possible if you give yourself the opportunity to try new things, to set new goals, to say yes to life and believe in yourself and the possibilities.

  • Natalie says:

    Incredibly inspirational! I will show this to my husband, he’s graduating from law school and concerned about finding a job that he’ll feel passionate about. This is just what he needs!

  • I actually worked with Allan for a few months and I loved his unconventional approach to life and work. Excited to see his story here for everyone else to see! I first heard about HomeExchange.com from him and finally signed up for it recently….can’t wait for my first experience.

  • Lisa Nirell says:

    This is a terrific article. My husband and I have actually dreamed of living in Paris for a month or two. This may be the boost we needed!

    Thank you Allan,
    Lisa

  • Awesome AWESOME post. I stumbled upon it and found it ironic that I had, since I am going through a very similar transition. Thank you for the inspiration!

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