What the French Taught Me About Being an Entrepreneur

Five life and business lessons

People watching is one of the most enjoyable things I do now. I order my espresso, and lean back to take in the view. I can see up and down the grand boulevard, the plane trees, the ancient fountains smack dab in the center of the street.

When I first transitioned from being a psychologist with a private practice to being a Life Coach, I was thrilled. I could be location independent! I could work from anywhere, even in my PJs. Then reality hit. Building an online business was not the easy process I had assumed it would be.

I’d had a thriving psychology practice in Austin, TX. People thought I was crazy for opting to close it down and move to France, re-making myself in the process. And maybe I was crazy, but moving abroad was something my partner and I had talked about for years. We finally decided to stop talking and start taking action.

Naively, I thought because I’d had success in building one business, I’d have an easy time of creating a second business. A year into it, I was struggling not only with not having a lot of success, but also feeling highly self-critical and despondent.

I took some time off to reflect and realized what France was teaching me:

The best things come with time. Nothing is rushed in the south of France. Lunches are 90–120 minutes still. Dinners can be three hours long. If you stop at a cafe and order a drink, you won’t be pushed to leave even after you finish. Cheeses and wines are appreciated for their age — and you can’t age something without time and you can’t rush time..

Looking back, I realize that building a successful private practice didn’t happen overnight, or even over a year. It had taken a lot of networking, a lot of letting people know I was available. I also worked as an assistant professor the first couple of years that I was building a practice so there was always money to spend on whatever I needed for my growing practice.

Quality matters. The French are known for their fashion and their style. However, any French person will tell you that a few quality pieces matter more than having a large quantity of cheaper goods.

I thought I needed multiple programs and offerings. I probably looked like Wal-Mart on Black Friday with my all-over-the-place programs. I thought I should have something for everyone which meant what I was offering might have seemed scattered and unfocused to someone looking at my website. I scaled back and created programs that I knew were what my clients needed and wanted.

There’s no time like the present. Too often, we spend our time focused on what needs to be done or what hasn’t been done. We live in the future or the past. We’re caught up in some bizarre idea that we are constantly missing out. Sitting in a cafe people watching? It’s all about being present, being with the world around you. It’s uncommon to see a table full of people checking their phones — instead you’re more likely to see the French enjoying conversations or watching the people around them.

Learning to sit still and be present was initially hard. My mind constantly wanted to move onto the next thing. When I learned to slow it down, new ideas emerged and I found myself more connected with my clients and with my work. Being present has allowed my creativity to blossom again.

Re-purpose what you have. As an ancient culture, the French understand that reinventing the wheel is a waste of time. Consequently, they take what is there and work on adapting it to new ways of being. A convent is refashioned into a cafe. Outdoor spaces are repurposed into seating. Old family mansions are recreated into museums and college classrooms.

Initially, I thought I had to lose my therapy skills to be a coach, forgetting that the therapeutic skills that made me successful as a psychologist were invaluable as a life coach. Who doesn’t benefit from deep listening, empathy and an ability to connect the often hard-to-see dots of a pattern? Once I understood that my previous education and experience increased my value as a coach, I embraced my skills. All of them.

No one will believe in you unless you believe in yourself. The French people’s reactions to the terrorist attacks amazed me. They did not cower or hide inside, they went about their lives. After centuries of being invaded and being attacked, the attitude is very much ‘we are French and we carry on.’ They believe in their culture, their nation, and no one will change that.

Being an entrepreneur means failure because there is no success without failure. Failure shows your willingness to take risks, to put yourself out there and to take chances. I had to learn to keep believing in myself even when there was no ‘proof’ that I was going to make it. During the months no one signed up with me, I had to learn to let go of my ego and dig deep into why I was doing what I was doing.

I had to believe in myself. And, in the end, isn’t that always what it’s about?