Peter and I were lucky enough to sneak away to Paris a few weeks ago, to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. I lived there my junior year in college and had only been back once since then, for a shoot in 2005. Peter had never been. Felt a little cliche as it’s indeed “the romance city” but we got engaged on Valentine’s Day, so what the heck!
I no longer speak a lick of French (in fact, I honestly don’t think I was ever actually fluent!) But the area came back to me really quickly, and I found myself at home in that huge, gorgeous city, proudly leading my husband around. Yet the experience was so, so different.
At 20, I thought myself very mature, very knowledgeable. About everything. I look back and have to laugh. Dad didn’t want to pay for this year abroad. He claimed it would be a waste of time, and that I should be sitting in class in Clinton, N.Y. He sounded as ridiculous then as my re-telling sounds now, but I finally kind of understand his point. Had I been a different 20-year-old, perhaps the French experience would have had a different impact on me than it did, but I was a 20-year-old who loved sports, boys and partying – not a 20-year-old who had the capacity to comprehend the beauty of a 1500-year-old church. My suspicion is that dad knew this.
I spent that year drinking really bad wine, smoking cigarettes out of my bedroom window, eating baguettes for lunch, praying my Madame would be serving her delicious pizza on any particular night and planning trips to visit our friends in places across the continent. Oh, right, and… going to class, learning the language, running around and relaxing in the Luxembourg Gardens, touring castles in the countryside, visiting the graves of famous men and women, studying the architecture of multiple eras in French history, and on. The former is the stuff I remember most. The latter, not as much. Amazing what 20+ years can do for perspective. And of course, what money can do as well.
Instead of in a French kid’s bedroom, Peter and I stayed at a beautiful hotel. Instead of eating 5-franc ($1 was all I could afford at lunch if I wanted cigarettes and wine… priorities!) baguettes for lunch, we sat at cafes and people-watched while sipping wine and eating oysters. Instead of sitting in class and dreading the homework that would come later, we walked around without a care in the world, in awe of everything surrounding us. Instead of having my boyfriend thousands of miles away, I had my husband with me. So I saw Paris from a different perspective. I didn’t like it any more or any less, it just gave me new stuff to appreciate.
There’s something really beautiful about changing your perspective. It’s true of just about anything. Read a book you haven’t read for years, and you’ll get something different out of it. Watch a movie with your kids that you loved as a kid, you’ll get something different out of it. Climb the same mountain in the summer, fall, winter and spring – you’ll get something different. Whenever we have nothing to do on the weekends, I go through in my mind what we could do that we haven’t done yet to keep it interesting – yet there’s so much value in returning somewhere we’ve already been, because we can make it a whole new experience by seeing it, either naturally or intentionally, from a different perspective.
Then there’s allowing yourself to see something from someone else’s perspective. Watching my kids play with dolls or with Legos takes me right back. I can feel the stories and situations bubbling in their heads, because they existed once in mine. But seeing someone else’s perspective in any given day-to-day situation? That can be really hard. We are selfish by nature so it takes conscious effort, especially if we believe there’s a risk that doing so might come back to reflect poorly on ourselves. How many times have I heard myself saying to my kids, “How would you have felt if you were Johnny?” or “How would you have wanted someone to respond if that had happened to you?” They begrudgingly give the answer I’m seeking, but who knows how well it really sinks in. The reality is, I could say this to myself sometimes, and I’m 42. And not just in my personal life, but my career as well. Actively seeking a new perspective takes work and maturity.
One of the best things I ever did in my career was to jump client side. I hadn’t realized what a narrow view of marketing I’d had on the agency side all those years. My time working on General Mills and P&G at Saatchi helped, because those clients brought us into business conversations, not just advertising discussions, so I was able to see the impact our work had on more than just ad awareness scores and suddenly, my job felt that much more important. But I would still internally roll my eyes every time a client made a comment that messed with our creative product, even if it made a whole lot of sense. I’m no longer an advertiser. I’m a marketer with a love of advertising, and a belief in its ability to drive tremendous business growth. But it took me seeing the process from another perspective to get there.
So Dad was right that his 20-year-old girl wouldn’t be able to see Paris from his perspective. What he didn’t get was that that was okay – my experience was just as worthwhile, and made my ten-year anniversary that much more lovely.