It took me a really long time to learn to walk. That’s the way I’ve been about most big developments in life; I rarely just decide to do something on the spur of the moment. Instead, I hesitate, analyze, worry over what could go wrong. Baby me probably didn’t want to fall too much.
This cautious approach to life has its advantages, but I know it can also be detrimental. For one thing, it’s kept me from quitting my job, even though I’ve known for several years now that I needed to.
There were two major reasons. The first is my health. When I became an English as a Foreign Language instructor for a company a few years ago, I had few or no IBS symptoms. At the time, like everyone I knew, I believed that I’d found the magic solution, the happily-ever-after that would make it so I could live a normal life. I’d heard, though, that although many people experience it differently, IBS often goes in a pendulum affect – one day you could feel fine, and the next, you could swing into the completely opposite situation – and that’s what happened to me.
Over the past two years or so, it got so bad that I had to stop teaching most of my morning classes. I needed to wake up about three hours before going anywhere, so that I could deal with my body’s response to digestion, stress, and routine. The sad thing is, I love teaching, and enjoyed seeing most of my students. The stress didn’t come from them; it came from having to deal with undertaking a longish commute with a stomach that I sometimes couldn’t get under control. The administrative nature of my company also had something to do with it. I noticed that while I was generally all right when going to teach the occasional private students I’d had, whenever there was a third party involved who was monitoring everything I was doing, I got nervous – even though what I was doing was perfectly all right.
I made it to work and got through my lessons most days, I’m proud to say. But I knew I was taking risks with my health. While out of the house, I wouldn’t let myself eat or drink anything. I often came home at night dehydrated. One time, I wouldn’t let myself take medicine and ended up getting such a bad sinus headache that I could barely talk. My student, worried, insisted I stop the lesson. I was mortified but I listened, and somehow managed to get myself home.
Like many people, my nature can be paradoxical. As cautious as I am to make a move or a change, I also have tried to accomplish some pretty far-reaching goals. One goal I’d had for a long time was to go into business for myself. I’ve dreamt of being able to make money doing things I love: writing, editing, translation, teaching, homework help, and trip organizing and guide work. About two years ago, I learned about the auto-entrepreneur status in France, a relatively new legal status that allows people to create their own business with no fees, taxes, or obligations. I started to gather information about becoming an auto-entrepreneur, and to ask questions to just about anyone who might be able to help me. I probably would have been ready to take the leap about a year ago, but things happened – life projects, unexpected events. Not to mention fear and procrastination.
On December 20, I got a message from my supervisor. She’d made changes to my schedule, taking away all of my Thursday students without notice. As the weeks went on, other things happened that made me realize more and more how much I hated being under someone else’s control. Finally, I talked to the boyfriend and decided that now was the time. On February 7, I met with my supervisor and we decided that an amicable parting was the best solution for everyone involved. I left our company headquarters for what I knew was one of the last times, and walked to the Metro, lightheaded from all of the different things I was feeling: failure, weakness, and doubt, relief, freedom, and excitement.
When the Board of Commerce’s approval letter for my auto-entrepreneur status came, I was elated and ill, all at once. Some days, I feel like I can do this – after all, many of these things I’ve been doing for years, but just not getting paid for them. I’ve written articles that have appeared in several online and print publications, I’ve helped friends and clients with their own English-language writing, I’ve organized trips in locations around the world, including the one to Italy I’m going on with my brother and his girlfriend, in a few weeks. I’m nervous, but this feels like the right choice. And the fact that I’d be in control of my schedule and that all business would be between me and my clients, no third party involved, makes me feel sure that the stress that’s aggravated my IBS so much, will decrease dramatically. I may actually have a chance at a healthier life.
Still, there are moments when I stop and worry about what I’m about to embark on. I leave my job officially on March 19, and go on that aforementioned trip a few days later. When I come back, my website should hopefully be ready to launch, and I’ll start actively trying to make this new professional life for myself – and I have no idea how it will go. I know there’s hope, and I also know that I’m lucky to be in a relatively low-risk situation: if I fail, there are so many opportunities for EFL teachers in France, that I should be able to find another job. It sounds strange to say it, but I’m also incredibly fortunate that I made so little money at my job; even if I have a month or two between paychecks, it won’t make a huge difference to our finances. But none of this takes away my uncertainty: Will this job be a success?
The one thing that hasn’t dissipated or changed even for a moment, is this sense of movement, of exhilaration. I may have regrets, and my plans may turn out to be merely bad ideas. But the only thing I know for sure is that I’m here now, leaping, flying, and it’s wonderful and terrifying.