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.