Frenchitude Lesson #23: Do Less, Not More

Now let’s just get one thing out of the way to begin with – this is one aspect of Frenchitude at which I am a complete and utter failure.

Tragically, I cannot blame North American society, my parents, or my schooling for my inability to “do less”. The problem is mine and mine alone.

When people toss off platitudes like “You can’t have everything, you know…” my knee jerk response has always been, “Wanna watch me try?”

I was born with an insatiable hunger for life. I also seem to have been born without that comforting illusion of immortality some people possess (I have always viscerally understood the sand through the hourglass concept). This means that for as long as I can remember I have tried, on a daily basis, to stuff roughly the equivalent of ten lives into my one.

Large, loving family? Yes, I want that. A job I feel passionate about? Yes, I’ll have that too. Time devoted to writing? I simply couldn’t live without that. A life in France? Bien sûr. A life back in my Canadian hometown? That too, of course. And, hey, why don’t I sign up to run a 10K race (more on this soon)?

So it goes, so on and so forth, a bit like that old Breck shampoo commercial.

The end result is that I spend most of my time dashing around like a fart in a mitt, to borrow my Cousin Sharon’s expression. I frequently get dizzy spells because I forget to breathe.

My French friends seem to have the gift, unlike me, to carefully edit their daily activities. They do not feel the need to shoehorn an impossible amount of tasks and challenges into every day.

One of my friends has decided her life’s work is about staying home, looking after her children, and cultivating a household that is always warm and welcoming to friends (she succeeds wonderfully). Another works but chooses to limit her activities outside of that so that she can be present to support her sons through their teenage years. Another is single with no children, but has devoted her time, in and outside of work, almost solely to her greatest passion – winemaking.

The French seem to be BORN with the understanding that choosing less, instead of more, is completely legitimate.

Take the attitude the French have in regards to their children’s after-school activities, for example. Most French parents ask their child to choose the ONE activity that he / she really feels passionate about, and allow them to pursue that and that alone. If the child changes their mind that’s fine, but the old activity is dropped before a new one is added.

Our girls are in two activities a week – Judo and Pony lessons, because my inability to forgo a life experience has apparently been handed down. This is a real rarity here, and most French parents think we are a bit nuts (which may not be too far off base).

The reasoning is that if you spend most of your evenings and weekends engaged in organized activities you don’t have the necessary time to daydream, play, linger over a meals, and just generally fart around. Free, unstructured time here is seen as being much more valuable than mastering a new skill.

The lack of pressure in France to be a Renaissance woman; running marathons, writing novels, managing clients’ portfolios, and baking cupcakes for the PTA meeting, is truly freeing.

Yet me being me, I still haven’t taken advantage of this “do less” environment to stop and smell the flowers.

However, I do live in the hope that one day I will begin to practise this aspect of Frenchitude and stop flailing around like a gnat on speed.

Perhaps when I grow up…

**Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Reims or Raleigh.