Ten years ago, I was working as a full-time critical care nurse in the cardiovascular intensive care unit. I was no stranger to hard work — I was working 12-hour night shifts on my feet dealing with extremely sick patients and heart-wrenching life-or-death situations.
I found solace in french fries and doughnuts. I was overworked, overweight, and overwhelmed.
One night, during a rare quiet shift, a resident physician turned to me and asked, "Tonya, who do you want to be?" I was at a loss for words. Like so many women, I had spent most of my life being what I was told I should be and doing what was expected of me. I knew what I wanted to be — a good mother and a good nurse — but who? I didn't have a clue.
The next morning, on my drive home, I kept pondering the woman I wanted to be. The single word that came to mind surprised me: worldly.
I didn't own a passport. I'd never been on a plane in my adult life. I grew up in a trailer in rural North Carolina. But none of that mattered because I wanted to be worldly.
Deep down, I knew that all the excuses — I'm broke, not good enough, not ready — had to stop if I was to become a worldly woman. A few years later, I took a bold step forward, bought a ticket, and took my very first flight to Paris.
The City of Lights changed me.
Walking around in the Luxembourg Gardens, I started noticing how people seemed to be moving through their day. There were people lounging reading books. There were lovers kissing on a bench, surrounded by flowers. There were moms playing with their children. In that moment, I thought, "These people are french-kissing life."
They weren't waiting until they had more money or more time. They were tending to the everyday details and living the life they wanted now. Visiting Paris that first time (and every year since), I've learned a lot about what it actually means to live with joie de vivre. It's been an ongoing practice of slowing down to a Parisian pace and learning to appreciate the beauty my life holds, in abundance.
Here's what Paris taught me.