Lost (And Found) In France

This week's guest blog is by Denise Wilson - Coach, Podcast host and explorer of Paris. Denise shares her story of both losing and then finding herself once more in her adopted home of Paris and offers you an open hand if a career pivot is something you have been considering. I adore Denise's honesty and determination and I'm sure you will too.


Ten years ago I moved to Paris to be with my fiancé (now husband). I was so excited to start our new life and thought I was prepared to be patient to find a job here, as in the UK getting a job had always been relatively easy to me and I very naively assumed that my soft skills would (at least on paper) be transferable.


I told myself that I would take any job on offer, the only thing I wouldn’t do was looking after other people’s kids. I seriously underestimated how different the job market here in Paris would be and how much emphasis there was on education, regardless of however many years work experience you had.


You see I didn’t go to university. I left school at 16 with a decent set of GCSE’s, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do so didn’t go on to do my A levels and like I said, in the UK this had never been a sticking point for employers. Here in Paris, the first question in any interview they ask is ‘what university did you go to?’ I was 30, almost 31 and had nearly 15 years of work experience (9 years as a manager in the UK Civil Service), my school/college days were far behind me and had no relevance on the woman I had become.


I can’t tell you how many interviews I went to, how many judging looks I got and knew even before I sat down that I wasn’t going to get the job. You see another thing that I have been judged for hugely in Paris is my weight. I don’t look like the majority of French women. I’m blonde, plus size, big ass and boobs and I really stick out like a sore thumb here.


I also don’t have a typical English accent. I’m from Sunderland so I have a north east accent. All of the things that never held me back were now suddenly an issue, and to add insult to injury I didn’t speak French!


As you can imagine the knock on effect this had on my confidence was enormous, however it didn’t happen overnight. This was all little, subtle cracks that kind of crept up on me.

And because employers couldn’t see my value, I lost sight of my own sense of self worth and self esteem, so when I did finally get offered a job I just took it without questioning whether it was right for me. I felt like I had no choice but to take it as no other offers had been on the table.


At first it was great, I loved the travel, I liked my immediate co-workers and became good friends with them. However after a few months I started to notice things that didn’t align with my personal values (though at the time, I didn’t even realise that’s what the issue was).


As time went on the working atmosphere changed, so did my tolerance to accept things, but because it had taken me so long to actually find a job I was scared to look elsewhere. It wasn’t until things got really bad and the office culture and dynamics had changed drastically I decided to look for something else.


It took me absolutely ages again and (again!!) I accepted the first offer. On paper it was incredible. A tax-free salary, 35 days paid holidays plus public holidays, the location was a Chateau and Conference Centre. I thought I’d won the lottery.


In reality I was going from bad to worse. I went from being slyly and underhandedly bullied in my old job to outright being screamed at, and gaslighted, being told I was the one with the issue. Being told I was unmotivated, that other people in the office had started to make comments about me, that I wasn’t up to scratch. My whole value of my self was in pieces and barely hanging on by a thread.


However despite being told I was not good enough, I was offered an internal position in another team and the thought of starting over again and having to prove myself all over again I just couldn’t do it and decided to quit. I had been pushed so far and my survival instinct in me , that fight or flight, just couldn’t sustain me to keep on fighting.


So I left. I made a snap decision and didn’t even consult with my husband. I thought quitting was the answer to all my troubles, I’d be happy as I’d have my freedom along with a severance package that would sustain me for a few months and thinking all would be well. Again I had absolutely no idea what would happen as the moment I left I would say I definitely had a breakdown/burnout along with PTSD.


I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t want to wash, I sat and cried and didn’t want to leave the house or do any cleaning. I had absolutely no idea who I was or what I wanted. After a few months of feeling awful and staying at home licking my wounds, I knew the only way to get over this was to start putting myself back out into the world. I started going for walks more in Paris, taking pictures, cooking and posting the details on Instagram. Then I discovered a women’s networking meeting and met a ‘life coach’.


At first I thought she was very charismatic, and appeared interested in me. We went for coffee together, and then she said she’d like to gift me a couple of free sessions. Looking back I was so naïve because the way in which it was done was very icky and I felt duped and as though she had taken advantage of me, the way she ‘offered’ her services, and whenever I asked questions about how she had come to be a coach, or anything slightly personal, the questions were always side-stepped, it felt all very shifty and something about the whole situation just felt very wrong in my gut.


Sidenote here – any accredited coach will always reference where they were accredited, and the teachers and mentors who helped them along their way. Choosing the right coach for you is so important, and almost all coaches offer free discovery calls to see if you’re a good fit for each other, it is pretty much industry standard but the way this particular coach approached me, she tried to befriend me and made out as though she was doing me a favour.


She had said because she liked and wanted to help me, she was giving me a gift. Which by the very nature of the word means it’s without any expectation of reciprocation. I was taught that we don’t give just to get something in return, and I felt taken advantage and preyed upon because I was vulnerable.


However the ‘free’ sessions did stir something in me and after some self reflection I actually realised that I wanted to help people who had struggled like I had, and to help them out of their despair by becoming a coach myself – but a better one than I had experienced.


I wanted to get accredited and be able to back up the talk with evidence of how I got to be where I am. I wanted to share my personal experiences with others in order to help. That’s when I found The Coaching Academy (TCA), I did some research and found out some of my favourite insta people had also done their training with TCA and signed up for the free taster weekend.


And it was totally free. There was no hard sell, and by the end of the first morning, I knew this was what I wanted. All I was lacking was the finances to sign up. Fast forward almost 2 years and I did find a job that not only helped me finance my training but I work with lovely colleagues who are always respectful and kind and I’m not stressed all the time or coming home from the office in tears after someone has just publicly berated me for leaving a bit of coffee in the bottom of my cup before taking one day off work – I kid you not it happened!


So now I’m in the stage of finalizing my accreditation and building up my client portfolio as a Work Pivot Coach. I help women that feel stuck in a job they hate. To discover what it is they really want from their job and how to get it in a way that feels good and safe for them.


Side note two – I do offer a free discovery call but I will never slide into your DMs trying to be your best mate or trying to lull you into a false sense of friendship. I only want willing and able clients who genuinely want to work with me, not because they feel tricked or pushed into the partnership. As one of my favourite coaches Lucy Sheridan always says, the energy must be reciprocal.


You can find Denise on Instagram both here and here where she shares posts on Paris, Coaching, and some delicious food; on this podcast episode which echoes this blog post beautifully as well as over on her own podcast here.