In The Mood For Change

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In Bloom (Nantes, 2009)

In Bloom (Nantes, 2009)

When I showed up at work to pick up my last pay check, after coming back from South America, most of my co-workers stared at me, slightly bewildered:

— You look… different.

My boss even told me that “I looked healthier and happier than everybody even though I had just spent a few months traveling in third world countries“.

Sure, it might have been because I was still tanned. But I’m not anymore and yet, people keep on commenting on how happy I look.

I had time to think. A lot of time, if you consider we bused 13,000 km in total. I opened my eyes, I looked around me, I went wherever I wanted to go. We had ups and downs — it’s not like we were doing an all-inclusive trip. Hell, most of time, the only things included were mosquitoes and skipping meals. But we don’t travel to relax. We travel to see and experience the world.

When I left last December, I was tired: tired of my job, tired of Ottawa and tired of people in general. I had been working full-time for four years, since I graduated from university in 2005. And before 2005, I had been studying full-time for four years, basically since I graduated from high school. I can’t complain since we traveled a lot in between, but still — this doesn’t leave a lot of time to think.

So as we were traveling, I was thinking of my… my future. Oh, what a grown-up word!

I realized that even if I loved teaching, I just didn’t want to teach full time anymore. Teaching thirty of forty hours a week is crazy. But, since we are paid by the hour, it’s the only way to make an very average salary. So our classes are scheduled back to back and we are exhausted by the end of the week. In the worse case scenario, we don’t have any patience left, and no interest either since the work is quite repetitive (“je suis“, “tu es“, anyone, anyone?).

Before I left, I started thinking of another career. But I was just clueless. Should I aim for a career in the federal government, something everybody in Ottawa dream of because it’s steady and well-paid? Should I go back to university? My French university degrees usually leave all the potential employers perplex and confused (duh, I studied Chinese language and civilization, and my four years degree doesn’t exist anymore thanks to a reform!). Deep down my main problem was that I wasn’t sure what I would like to do. And even though I learn fast, I wasn’t really trained for anything specific, other than speaking foreign languages and talking about “farmers and communists during the Chinese revolution“.

I got most of my answers when sitting in long distance buses in Latin America. No, I didn’t feel like working in a small cubicle for the government, just because it was well-paid and steady. I wanted to do what I loved.

Writing. Taking Pictures. Creating. Seeing the world. Talking to people. Learning from the world.

Yeah, yeah, call me a dreamer.

As I have already mentioned, my father is an artist. Let me break the news gently: when you are a full time artist, you are not rich. In fact, you don’t even think about money. You just create, forget to eat and hope for the best. As my mother would say, you don’t choose to be an artist, you just are… and she would know, being an artist herself and a researcher.

Don’t get me wrong, my parents are not poor. But they aren’t rich either and I think their banker hate them. Most of the cutlery they have at home was stolen from the university refectory when they were both studying arts, just to give you an example. It’s also probably a good thing they are not very materialistic because they don’t own much. But they are relatively happy and satisfied with what they achieved.

I had sworn that I would be different (don’t we all be different from our parents, no matter how much we love them?). I would be down-to-earth, realistic and practical. Yeah, right.

My genes have caught up with me. I just want to create beautiful stuffs, write about the world and take pictures. Oh, I know I have a lot to learn… but I came to this conclusion. I want to do what makes me happy. Doesn’t mean I will live like a dreamer. But I will have my eyes wide open to every opportunity. I’m still teaching but only part-time, so that I am more relaxed. I can’t afford full-times studies now but I signed up for a class at the University of Ottawa this summer. I’m taking time to update my resume, to meet new people and consider opportunities. Little by little, I hope to do more things I love.

I sound like a hippie, yet so far, I’m happier.

Maybe it’s just the post-traveling withdrawal. Or maybe I’m just a little bit closer to find what I really like. Anyway, these long distance bus rides do wonder — you should try.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I love this post – reminds me I am not the only one questioning the direction of life. To be an artist is all I want to be – to travel, dream, create, write, inspire, be inspired. The reality then hits me when my massive rent bill comes due every month followed by the massive cel phone bill and I look longingly into shop windows. But then I also remember feeling chained to a desk when I worked 9-5 and know that although I could afford designer denim it was not the answer to true happiness. And so I move closer to being a hippy artist, even found a hippy artist boyfriend. Thanks for this lovely pondering so I could ponder even more . . . Love the line “My genes have caught up with me.”

  2. That sounds wonderful. As someone who travels primarily to relax, I’m always envious of people who have an adventurous soul. Hehe. I’m very happy that you had a wonderful time. 😀

  3. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the materialistic world that we forget what is our real purpose in life. I often remind myself that things are not important as long as I’m happy.

    It’s great that you took time to think about what to do with your life during your trip. I also can’t wait to see the arts that you’ll create.

    A really great post, Zhu, and you’ll inspire people as well.

  4. i love this post, zhu. seriously, it’s an important time in your life when you know yourself well enough to do what you want to do. these is the “salad days” of your life, where you really learn to live.
    traveling has always been the happiest time of my life. that is what i want to do. maybe someday. maybe someday.

  5. You are young, intelligent, creative, and adventurous. You have lots of choices. You can work hard at something that pays well and use the income to do things you enjoy. If you enjoy doing it thats’s a plus. You can try to make a living doing something you really enjoy and hope it pays well enough to survive. If you make a good living at it that’s a plus. You never know how things will turn out.

    If you go for making lots of money you take the chance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Demand for your skill can dry up or the economy puts you out of a job. If you go for doing what you really enjoy you take the chance that you don’t quite have what it takes to make a living at it. You can also discover that after some time you get tired of what you are doing and don’t really enjoy it that much. Life is a crap shoot.

    I am old. I did some things that made me good money and I did some things I really enjoyed. Sometimes they coincided, sometimes they didn’t. Looking back, it all seems kind of transient. What I value at this end of my life are the intangibles of relationships – friends, family, being on good terms with my kids and grandkids. What matters to me is that I matter to others. That’s all that lasts.

  6. Why not try to be a “guide” for some travel companies. You earn by touring people around in exotic places around the world… or a writer for travel magazines…

  7. Salut Zhu,

    I would say that you have been through a check up. You did something that you enjoyed for 3+ months and it did you good AND made you think.
    I find that set in our routines and usual environment, it can be very hard to detach and think.

    I don’t have any easy advice in these hard times but stay optomistic and open your eyes & ears for future opputunities.

    Though in the short term, I could imagine you doing a photo expo of your 3 month trek. You have some stunning shots that merit to be seen and admired.You are not an artist’s daughter for nothing 😉

    Hang in there and Believe in yourself.
    Grosses bises xx

  8. Well done! I think it takes courage to make this kind of decision, especially if you see everyone else around you doing more traditional careers. Otherwise though you can set off on the hamster wheel and wake up in 10 years thinking ‘what happened?’. Wish you all the best!

  9. I know how you feel! My teaching job ends in September 2010 and I don’t know what to do next, but I do know that I want to stop teaching English. (And I can’t exactly teach French in France…) So I have no idea what to do with my life either, as nothing else really interests me as much as languages and traveling. ::sigh:: I’m thinking about doing a Master in France (because it will also help towards gaining citizenship), but in what?

    When you figure it out, let me know so I can figure it all out too! 🙂

  10. Zhu,

    Post-travel withdrawal, or any such turbulent thoughts are good fodder for self introspection indeed. You know, I had exact same feelings when I was away last year for 3 months. And I too quit my government job before vacation, and now I am so poor, lol. But I think its very important to follow your heart and money will come along (I hope, somehow!) hehe


  11. Max Coutinho on

    Hello again,

    ““I looked healthier and happier than everybody even though I had just spent a few months traveling in third world countries“” – word? What is that supposed to mean “even though you just spent a few months traveling in third world countries”? The so-called “Third World” is extremely interesting…and it is like going back in time, when our countries were something like these countries are now…and I could get into politics here, but I will not bore you…people, people…

    Anyway, I know what they mean…I told you before that you looked great! Some people look gorgeous when they travel (because they feel free)…you are one of those :D! I know what I’m saying…for I am like that too.

    No, girl…you don’t sound like a hippie; you sound like someone who knows what she wants :D! You should do what you love, period.

    I know you will get there and do exactly what you wish, Zhu :D!


  12. Those concerns also have been bothering me, Zhu. Right now, I have just finished four years of my graduate school coursework, and all that is remaining is my dissertation. I have money problems, because I am looking for a part-time job that would support me while finishing this dissertation and at the same time not violating the rules of the US government with respect to student employment. Sometimes, I imagine what my life would be like if I simply became a travel writer, gallivanting across the planet and writing for National Geographic or Lonely Planet, being like the next Rolf Potts or something. But then, the uncertainty of the lifestyle probably would kill me, given my personality type. The balance between adventure and security is a tough one, and most of the time, I prefer security with a little calculated chaos on the side. Perhaps that is simply because I am an INTJ.

    I wonder what your personality type is? Have you taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Test? It can be found here:

  13. @LIsa ~ Urban Native Girl – Sometimes it’s not *just* about money, and I’m glad to read that you are following your dreams! Makes me feel like I’m not the only one 😉

    @Lizz – I travel to relax… my mind. But it’s true that it changes me a little bit more each time.

    @Bluefish – Thank you! I think sometimes it’s just good to follow your heart – and I believe that’s what you are doing too!

    @Seraphine – It’s exactly see, knowing yourself! You are creative as well judging by your daily comics… are you in a creative job?

    @Tulsa Gentleman – I like your wisdom and your honesty. It’s a valuable feedback! Money… never had too much, but the last few years I worked a lot and was able to save up a bit. I like being able to pay for my travels, and a few luxury items (women and their skin care…!). That said, I think I worked too much and enjoyed too little at times.

    I don’t want to be poor and I’m still teaching — but part time. I’m investigating new options, and yes, my paycheck will be less regular but I would have tried. Change is good… I think.

    @Sidney – I’d love to write for a travel magazine! That would be a great job.

    @barbara – It’s exactly that: I’m keeping my eye and hopefully my mind open. I believe something good will happen eventually – optimistic vs pessimist, for a change!

    @Liz – Thank you! North America is a good place to change career and explore new opportunities I find. I will try my best… and I’m sure I will learn something in the process!

    @Jennie – So we do feel the same 😉 Good news is, university will be almost free for you (at least I hope!). I’d say do a master in something you are truly curious about, don’t think about the jobs too much. If you are passionate, it will show.

    @Final_Transit – I’m poorer too, but happier I think 😉 Ah, these gov’ job… I’d hate to calculate how long I still have to work till I retire, like some people.

    @Max Coutinho – I know, people have a weird view of the “third world” as they call it. Ignorance, probably… To me, there is no third world, there are just countries to be explored 😉

    I’m happier when I travel and I think it does show. I can’t be traveling all the time, I like being home too, but I want to pursue my dreams. I’ll give it a try 😉

    @Soleil – Thank you!

    @Aiglee – Gracias 😉

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – Oh, I feel for you! Having to deal with the uncertainty of your legal status on top of that is not easy. Come to Canada… 😉 I can’t promise sunshine and hot weather but if you could immigrate there, your life would be easier. Unless you can stay in the USA forever… not knowing where you belong adds to the stress.

  14. What a great post! (I’m still trying to catch up after a few weeks’ break from blog-reading… I have a long way to go!)

    As a non-traditional person with a crazy CV in a tight job market, I get lots of confused looks from agency recruiters trying to figure me out. I guess I’m used to it now, that I’m a square peg in a round hole.

    But I totally understand the desire to want to create something for this world rather than just count the hours, days, months, years to retirement and that Almighty Pension. That’s why I left the government after not much more than a year.

    I do my best thinking on those long road trips I take to New York, Philadelphia, Quebec City (all are 800kms or so from Toronto), because I have eight solid hours of time just to think. People don’t understand how I can stand all that driving, but I say because it’s rare to have that much time to think without interruption. It’s a great block of time to dream.

  15. Max Coutinho on


    Me too: I don’t know third or second world countries…I know countries, period. 😉

    The more I get to know you, the more I like you :D!


  16. i work in finance. it’s not what one normally considers a “creative” job. it’s not photography, poetry or oil painting, for instance.
    but like all else in life, being creative encompasses everything one does. (and nononono, i don’t mean creative accounting!) it’s imagining possibilities and putting ideas into action.
    it is like applying paint, if you will, to a financial canvas.
    or put another way, i get to use both the right and left sides of my brain. the left side is logical, the right side is artistic. they are mutually supportive.

  17. Thanks for a wonderful post Zhu and yes life is too short to be slogging all our lives and I think it is great to just go with your heart.

    Now I know why you are so creative Zhu, it’s in your genes 😉

  18. Deadpoolite on

    Wondeful post girl, truely inspiring! It does take a significant strength of character to challenge what you perceive as “granted” and “mainstream” in life (e.g. your work). I have been down that road in the past and my current predicament is not far from that state either. So, I guess this post resonated with me just a tad bit more.

    Good luck with your future endeavours and keep enjoying life!

  19. I have read your post with the biggest smile on my face. I am so happy for you, happy that you are happy, happy that you are healthy and really happy that you are following your heart. I am keeping my fingers firmly crossed that you receive all the good fortune that you truly deserve and will be following you EVERY step of the way 🙂 I am so pleased and proud for you!

    Warmest wishes ~ a friend x

  20. Hey zhu,

    Loved reading ur blog..specially ur desire to see the world. i love to do the same. have strated travelling too.(starting with my country India). Recently i have got a degree in law to give me steady income. now i can start to dream and fly.

    recently started blogging(

    I read ur blog abt why do people want to go abroad. i have always wanted the independence to do things differently without any set expectations. when u r in a new place, u have the freedom to do it. that might me one of the reason why people r ready to scarifice their settled life to get into unsettled life( crazy as it sound) but, to be tried for sure.


    • Thank you for sharing! I completely understand what you are saying: breaking away from customs and from the routine to experience something new feels great. I hope you find your way!

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