Sometimes people say silly things — including me. We’re only human, after all. In 2009, when I first announced my plans to move to France and teach English, leaving my stable life in NYC behind, people would often respond the same way. I’d hear some variation of, “OMG! You’re so lucky!” seemingly wanting to escape their routine for something new too. I usually responded with a, “Yeahhh, thanks? I’m looking forward to it!” not really knowing what to say. I did know one thing, though — pure luck had nothing to do with me ending up in France.
Are we “lucky” to live abroad?
Let’s start with the concept of luck. Merriam Webster tells us that luck is most commonly thought of as “the things that happen to a person because of chance: the accidental way things happen without being planned.”
When I think of luck, I think of winning the lottery or getting a free coffee because I was the 100th customer of the morning.
These things happen by complete chance and your efforts have very little impact on the outcome.
So what about when people tell me I’m lucky to be living abroad?
Well, it makes me feel weird. There was nothing “lucky” about me making the deliberate choice to pursue a life in France back in 2009 and then taking the necessary steps to make it happen. And then doing it again more permanently in 2011.
But before I continue, let me get this out of the way. I am lucky but not because I live in France. I’m lucky I was born healthy to two parents who wanted me and had the means to take care of me. I’m lucky I was born in a country that affords its citizens freedoms that many people around the world don’t have. I’m lucky to have first world privilege. I’m lucky to have a loving family and group of friends. I’m lucky the timing of my move worked out. I’m lucky to have found Tom and the list goes on…
But am I lucky to be living in France? No. It’s not the right word.
I chose to move to Paris (originally had nothing to do with Tom, I moved the first time for a 7-month teaching contract and you can read more about the backstory here) because it’s what I wanted and I made it happen. I am extremely fortunate that I’m the type of person to set my mind to something and then do it.
I’m also fortunate to have had a job that allowed me to save and the know-how that allowed me to just go for it. As well as a good education and the support of friends and family.
Fortunate seems like a better word.
A former English teaching assistant in France, Courtney, had similar sentiments and wrote this in an old, now-defunct blog post:
“Luck implies that circumstances outside of my control made it possible, and I know that I am in control of my own destiny. I refuse to make excuses or blame the forces of the universe for my circumstances.”
Courtney goes on:
“Making a huge life change takes a little gusto—a passion for living the life that you want and a willingness to sacrifice creature comforts to make it happen. Most importantly, it means making your dreams a priority above all else.”
Amen, sistah. Fortunate is a better way to describe it.
What I’ve come to learn is that, “You’re so lucky,” actually means, “I’m so impressed that you were able to make such a huge life change.”
The people who say this usually want more out of life too. Maybe a change for themselves or their family, and maybe they aren’t sure how to get there or what that change is for them.
For me, that change was moving across the Atlantic, but not all big changes require an actual change of your physical location. Those who tell me I’m lucky place a high value on living abroad. They think of it as something admirable. But it’s not right for everyone. Moving abroad would be the last thing on many people’s priority lists and not something desirable at all and that’s OK.
But we all probably want something out of life that we don’t currently have.
What’s holding you back? What do you want out of your life right now? Think on that for a minute….
If you want something bad enough, you will do what it takes to get there.
No one is going to hold your hand and force you to chase your dreams. That comes from within. Part of being an adult is giving yourself the permission you desire. Say OK to yourself and go for it.
So back to being lucky. I’m not lucky because I moved to France. I just made the decision to quit my job and move abroad.
But before doing that, let me stress that making such a huge life change takes a lot of work. Work that I happily did day in and day out. It takes planning, savings, patience and focus, for starters.
I didn’t just wake up and magically arrive in France on a whim. I am not rich. I work like everyone else. I have bills and a mortgage and many of the same issues we all face. France is NOT a permanent vacation for me. It’s not a short-term thing.
It’s just where I live and there are pros and cons to every place on earth. It’s also my husband’s home and I’m fortunate to be able to live here with him and experience France together as a couple.
So what’s the point of all this?
The point is to get out there and do something for yourself. I am not an advocate for making impulsive decisions or moving to other countries just because it seems cool. Doing something meaningful means something different to all of us.
What impresses me is having the courage to go after what you want in life whatever that may be, and to not always do what others think is right for you. Go after what you feel is right and trust in yourself.
So maybe that means starting a new relationship, business, going to college or graduate school, moving somewhere new, changing careers, taking that new dance class in town that looks like a blast or whatever you want out of life that you don’t currently have.
Don’t think for a second you can’t go after what you really want and make a change for yourself (no matter how big or small). You can and I’m proof.
Go get it!