Dispatches from Paris: Control is an Illusion


When I first moved to Paris I knew that finding an apartment was going to be tough. Assuming you don’t want to shell out an extra 700-1,000 euros for an agent to find you a place, you’re gonna have to go see people directly. That means group showings of apartments, where forty desperate people all line up at 8am to see a leaky apartment above what could only be described as a raging discotheque orgy with techno beats that never stop.

But I’ve lived in France before. Hell, I’ve registered a motorcycle in West Africa. I could handle this, right? Well theoretically, yes. But then life happened.

The thing I’ve realized at this point is that life and my plans never really get along. That’s an understatement, actually. It’s a lot more accurate to say that my plans are minding their own business, happily walking down the street after lunch, when life runs them over with its Hummer.

I had two major forces putting me in a bind. One was that I was staying with a friend’s uncle for cheap, but on condition that I was looking for (and obviously: finding) an apartment. The other was that my copywriting job had lost me from their payroll as I transferred into the new office, so I was suddenly at a total loss for cash flow.

Now imagine you’re me, going to see apartments (and actually finding decent ones with owners that would rent to me on the spot) and having to say “Well it’s nice, but the thing is… I won’t be able to afford it for another month. I’m just looking so as to keep my roommate from strangling me in my sleep. Thanks though!”

Not only could I not get an apartment at this point, but after a few weeks I could barely feed myself. When you have bills to pay, and you’ve spent your savings on a new move (and you’ve been a volunteer for the two preceding years), food kind of comes last on the list.

So this is where I was at, fighting to survive in a new city (my dream city) with no money and all kinds of pressure to do something about it. But I couldn’t.

It was about this time, sleeping on the floor in an apartment the size of most of your bathrooms, that I realized I was really and truly stuck. Then everything changed in the span of twelve hours.

I finally sat down to write a blog post I had been putting off for over a month. I had wanted to wait to write until I had found a place and settled in. Then I could update my friends and family on how I had not only overcome the French apartment nightmare like a real adult, but had ravaged it so badly I now owned my own castle, no money down.

The truth couldn’t have been farther off, and I knew it.

What changed my mind on the whole thing was the realization that I had never had any level of control over the situation anyways. No one ever promised life would be easy. In fact if I had learned anything from the last five years, life is ridiculously hard.

The world doesn’t owe me anything. I was lucky just to be in Paris and to have this half-way home in the meantime. So I wrote a blog post, explaining in no uncertain terms that I had actually become grateful for the hardship, and was learning a lot through it.

I published it on my blog, said “Screw it,” and went out for the afternoon. “No more wallowing. I’ve got a metro card and a pass that gets me into museums for free, I’m spending the day at the Louvre.”

So I did, and I felt a sort of relief that can only come with the acceptance that I do not control my life. I am at best an influence on the events.

As if to prove my point, that afternoon there was a message waiting for my return. “Hey, I just read your blog post! My mother-in-law has a spare room she says you could use for free. We just got in and we’re only in Paris for the day, but she’d love to meet you and hand you the keys before we leave.”

A few hours and a free steak dinner later, I had the keys to my own little nook in Paris and an even greater sense of relief than I had possessed that morning. And even more, there was joy.


I didn’t control those events, and as an uncertain future approaches again I have gained no greater control than I previously possessed. I am a leaf on the wind, and the dance that I do is controlled by flow of the air more than my fragile efforts. As scary as that may sound, there is a great freedom in realizing it for myself.

As I pursue the next step, looking for work and moving back to the States, I know that everything will work out. I’ll twist and I’ll twirl, I’ll work hard and look for the right opportunities, but in the end I know that all I can do is prepare for them to arise. I can’t control the wind, and I can’t force my dreams to come true, but I can be ready to jump on them when the breeze carries me to them.

By Jay Swanson


5 thoughts on “Dispatches from Paris: Control is an Illusion

  1. Pingback: Jessica Nickel | Control is an Illusion – a Response

  2. Pingback: Living Life One Quote At A Time – Learning How To Let Go | Q L C

  3. Pingback: Dispatches From Paris: Adventure vs. Security | Q L C

  4. Pingback: 5 Life Lessons Learned from my Cheap Chinese Motorcycle | Q L C

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