The Right Life

The other day, I found a photo of the pro-con list I made regarding the four job offers I was contemplating at the end of my TAPIF year: ESL teacher at an American school in Shanghai, Study Abroad Ambassador for Stanford University in Paris, Lectrice d’anglais at the Université de Valenciennes, and High School French Teacher at my high school Alma Mater back in Wisconsin. I was lost.

Looking back, I can’t believe the stress I put myself under– and I can’t believe how unsure I STILL was about my decision until I arrived in Valenciennes last September. But now, as I sit here in Slovenia more than a year later, I can’t help but throw my hands up and laugh.

This is it. This is my life. I chose France, again. I’m still here, I’m still traveling, I’m still doing what I said I would do. Choosing France was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

When I look back at all of the paths I could have taken, and the paths that I actually took, I realize the direct outcome includes all the people I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, the friendships I’ve formed, the places I’ve traveled to, the students I’ve taught, and the memories I’ve created.


Equally, I realize that with just a change of my mind– by simply having made a different choice, my life, as well as the lives of many around me, would be completely different. Nothing that exists now would be as it is.


It’s scary in a way, to think about the what-ifs; my Ghosts who took different paths and made different choices.

There’s Dana who turned down TAPIF, and who never moved to France because she had a great job offer in a great school district. Then, there is Dana who moved home to teach at her former high school after TAPIF instead of staying in France to be a lectricebecause she felt guilty about her grandfather being sick and about not having enough money to adequately support herself. And then, there is Dana who moved to Shanghai. Is she happy there? Does she like her job teaching first graders? Has found somewhere she fits in?

I think about Dana who never got over that guyDana who didn’t study abroad in France, Dana who didn’t change her major, Dana who decided to stay home and make money instead of going to Japan that summer, Dana who transferred schools instead of giving her university a second chance, Dana who didn’t join the sorority, and Dana who quit gymnastics and joined the soccer team like everyone else. What is she up to now?


Finally, there’s the Dana who exists now. And this Dana isn’t perfect. There are things she’d like to change and things she wished were different, or just a tiny bit better. But, she knows that she doesn’t need them to be, because this life, this path, is exactly where she is supposed to be, right now.

I’m glad that this Dana is the real one.

We all have “what-if’s” and wandering souls. Where are yours?



14 thoughts on “The Right Life

  1. Seriously, this is EXACTLY what I needed to read today. I was offered an assistant position at Lycée Blaise Pascal in Rouen for this upcoming academic year, and every day doubt creeps in about whether I made the right choice. Crazy as it may seem to most that I would even question the opportunity to live in France for almost a year, I’m still not 100 % sure. Without going into too many specifics, I applied to TAPIF knowing full well that I’d have to find this journey all on my own. My family can’t afford to support me financially, and having recently sold our house, I don’t even know where I’ll be living post-TAPIF. It’s all a little terrifying and overwhelming to me, and it drives my anxiety up the wall. Added to that, I was offered a few well-paying jobs that were pushing me towards staying in the US. In short, it all boiled down to choosing between stability and certainty, or change and adventure. Deep down, I know that I’ve made the right decision, and there will probably always be that little nagging bit of doubt, but I’m looking forward to all the new friendships I’ll make, the places I’ll see, and most importantly, the person I’ll be when I come out the other side.

    Dana, I’ve followed your blog for a while now, and it has been SO incredibly helpful, informative, and inspiring. I regularly check your blog as a reference and guide to TAPIF, and I’m sure many other assistants are grateful to have such a great resource as you. So thanks for this bit of very timely encouragement :).

    1. Joseph thank you SO much for your inspiring comment! I’m so glad I’ve been able to help you, and I’m sure you’ve made the right decision for you, even if it may take you awhile to ease into its certainty (that’s certainly what happened to me!) Have a GREAT time in Rouen, I have another friend who was placed in the Rouen academie this year for TAPIF as well! Let me know if you need anything else at all. Bisous!!

  2. This post really hit home right now, as I’ve just closed the door on another future potential Cara. I’m starting to come to think that there aren’t “right” and “wrong” choices, just choices. And that choosing differently at those major crossroads would have made us (slightly) different people, to be sure. I also think those “ghost selves” in alternate universes are maybe happy in ways that we’re not, but they’re also probably unhappy in ways that we’re not.

  3. I feel you. I always wonder what would have happened if I had gone home after my second year as a lectrice with about $15,000 in hand. Of course, for personal reasons, I am now happy I didn’t make that decision, but during my Masters, it was really hard not to wonder. Or what would have happened if I only did one year as an assistant. Or if I had never made it off the waitlist that first year.

    Like Laura said, I made the right decision. I know that. But a job would be nice. LOL.

    I’m glad you made the decision to come here!

  4. Ah, I don’t like to play this game, but it’s sort of unavoidable when you’re unemployed and wondering if you made all the wrong decisions in your life and that’s why you still don’t have a job?
    It sounds soooo cheesy, but I know I made the right decisions because without all those past choices I wouldn’t have met current FBF. I would still like a job, though, haha.

  5. Ah, the ‘what-if’ game….it can be fun or frightening to think what might have been. Yet somehow these major life choices just seem to make themselves, despite rather than because of what we put ourselves through to get there. Glad to see you are happy with France!

  6. I think we all ask ourselves this question and even more so if we’d made such a big change as moving to another country. So many random circumstances led me to where I am today. If I had stuck with my original plan I would be working in publishing in New York City since 2007, which would probably be a great life too, but sooooo different.

  7. Obviously I relate very much !! It is odd to me how much stress we put on these kinds of decisions, how they can feel like determining the paths of our entire lives. But on the other hand, I think that the stress and the endless pros and cons lists also indicates having a lot of passion in your life, otherwise the choices wouldn’t be as difficult! It’s great you can look back now and laugh it off and be proud of the real Dana’s choices! Excellent post!

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