When we decided to move to Paris, I was thrilled. Oh sure, there were countless historical, cultural and culinary reasons to be excited. But these did not move me. No, for me, relocating overseas would be the perfect reason to change careers.
In 15 years, I’d built a formidable CV rooted in events management from New York to Washington, DC. I worked for world-renowned media companies and the most prominent US nonprofit educational organization. Being a senior executive in the events industry was unilaterally marvellous … until we had children. The early mornings and late nights and travel that once seemed so exciting and glamorous were at odds with the family life I wanted for the children we went to so much trouble to have.
My husband’s work as a foreign correspondent meant he spent more than half his time traveling, frequently on short notice. Moving to Paris would undoubtedly be a smorgasbord of delicious pastries and postcard-worthy photo ops. But even better: it would give me a clean slate to switch work gears and find a new path.
We arrived in September 2014. While my husband repatriated (he’s Parisian, born and raised), I settled our apartment and our two small children into maternelle. Then I started contemplating new options for my career makeover.
What should I do?
What does my heart tell me?
Teaching had been on my curiosity radar for years. Every career aptitude test I took in college listed “teacher” as a top match. But I’d decided to work instead of pursuing a graduate degree. And I planned to live in NYC, where a teacher’s salary seemed unlikely to suffice if I hoped for a decent life while paying off student loans.
Funnily enough, I worked twice for Teach For America but that wasn’t what made me consider teaching. The click happened when a friend recommended Music Together family music classes, where parents who love music bring their small children each week to sing, dance and learn ways to make lots of music at home.
Music was essential to my childhood. I played piano and bass and sang in choirs and a cappella groups. My husband’s musical experience was limited to a few painful flutophone lessons he’d never wish on his worst enemy. Fortunately, he enjoyed listening to music and agreed that our children should grow up musical.
Our teacher, Miss Amy, often brought her 3-year old girl to class. She was expecting a second baby. She mentioned how she often had new ideas for teaching song just by watching her daughter sing or dance at home. HERE was work that seemed aligned with family life! Each class, I’d daydream about dropping my job to run away with Miss Amy. By the end of class, though, I’d snapped back to reality, knowing that such a move would be completely nuts.
Finding my niche
Once in Paris, I was sorry to learn that Music Together classes were not offered here. The program had started up several times but never managed to stick. I looked for similar programs in vain. We tried an éveil musical in the neighborhood. #Disappointed.
It got me thinking.
If I can sing and dance, and I like children, and I like hosting events, what if I restarted Music Together in Paris?
But I’d never taught before. I needed to do some market research.
I got in touch with the French directrice of a local association that offers songs-and-games-based English classes in Paris schools. She was open-minded enough to add me to her roster of substitute teachers. Within a couple of months, I had my own weekly classes all around town. Thanks to the centre de loisirs at our children’s school, I could take on some after-school classes and still pick up the children on time. Teaching was tough work but I really enjoyed it!
Timing is everything!
And then POLITICO called. They were setting up a European edition. Could I develop their events divisions in Paris and Brussels? I was so torn. I was just getting the hang of teaching but the opportunity to leverage my events experience in Europe – and the prospect of a director’s salary instead of my low hourly teaching wages – were hard to turn down. I finished teaching the school year and headed back into events.
But even if media events in Europe are vastly different from those in the US, the personal dynamics were the same. When, a couple of years later, we decided to centralize the POLITICO events division in Brussels, I knew the time was right.
I contacted Music Together and licensed my own Paris family music center. I researched the different business regimes and set myself up as a micro-entrepreneur, which really is the simplest way to legally start a small business in France. I offered demonstration classes at local anglophone establishments, like the American Library, and families heard about my classes and started to come. That’s how, in 2017, Bébé Music Box, was born.
Career Changeover: Je ne regrette rien
I never anticipated becoming an entrepreneur. If we’d stayed in the US, I probably would not have veered off the corporate path. But being a stranger in a strange land made it seem OK – appropriate, even – to take the road not yet traveled, to start my own business. And, fortunately, many skills from my past work are coming in handy now, especially for the administrative, marketing and communication aspects of running my own business.
Plus, working solo means I can respond quickly and easily to market changes. During the first pandemic confinement, for example, I pivoted 100% of my classes from in-person to Zoom. The bonus: I was able to bring classes to families whose location or schedules didn’t allow them to join us in-person.
I still have moments when I wonder if I’ve made the right choice. There’s very little buffer between me and failure. I don’t have a team to cover for me if I get sick. Banks (at least my bank) didn’t take my annual earnings into account when they were appraising us for a home loan. My vacations are not paid. The risks are high and they’re all mine to bear.
But it’s worth it. I love my new job, hosting music classes where grownups and children sing and dance and have a wonderful time together. I love when families send me photos and videos of the ways they bring music into their daily lives. When I see a child light up because we echo her singing, when a baby snuggles in his grandmother’s arms for a lullaby, when the children in my school classes learn to read a rhythm pattern by themselves, when families still join me via Zoom during Covid lockdowns, it reassures me that I’m on a good path.
And I love that I am home every evening to read and sing to my children at bedtime.
Before each class, as families gather around our musical circle with their babies in their arms or their toddlers sitting (or exploring) nearby, I still get butterflies in my stomach. Then I pick up my ukulele to play the Hello Song and, in an instant, the voices and smiles of my families sweep the butterflies away.