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