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.
Fun and relaxation are just as important as hard work.
As a nurse, I kept myself so busy that I had very little time to enjoy life. I was the first one to sign up for a 12-hour shift. If it wasn't work, it was any number of other obligations that felt like an emergency. Even folding mountains of laundry took priority over doing something for myself.
In Paris, it's not uncommon to walk by a cafe and find women doing nothing but sitting at a table staring out at people passing by. Along the Seine, women stroll (not power walk) with no other purpose than to enjoy the moment.
Contrary to what you might think, the French aren't lazy. They do work hard. A French woman may stay late at the office, but when she comes home, she makes a beautiful dinner and sits for hours around the table to enjoy it with friends. After seeing that time was something to fill with pleasure, I started planning picnics with the other nurses for lunch. Over time, it became clear what I wouldn't sacrifice to get more done.
Now I make lounging on the sofa with a glass of wine reading Rumi part of my nightly routine. You'll always find me in a bubble bath between 8 and 9 p.m. These simple pleasures are the beautiful moments that make up my life.
Embracing — not avoiding — food is the key to slimming down.
Before Paris, I tried every diet in the book. From South Beach to raw foods, I became obsessed with losing the weight that always came back. No matter what size I was, I was miserable.
The French take a different approach. Not unlike Americans, the French woman's day revolves around food. But rather than obsessing over how to avoid it, she embraces it.
She's excited about what she's going to pick up at the market to prepare for the evening. She doesn't try to control what she eats. She simply slows down and savors it.
When adopting the French approach to food, I finally lost the extra weight (which at one point was 75 pounds extra!) and am now a healthy size 6. Savoring is one of the most slimming things I could have done.
Tomorrow I'll drive to a local ranch to pick up a dozen eggs and then to a bakery for a fresh loaf of sourdough and make myself a simple yet decadent breakfast. I'll enjoy fresh vegetables from the farmers market and haute-couture chocolate.
I embraced my life for what it was.
I wanted to be joyful, so one of the first things I did when I got home from Paris was change my perspective around my job and my beliefs. I used to always think, I don't have enough time, I have to work harder, or I don't have enough money.
Instead of delaying my life until the day I had a new job, different dress size, or a certain amount of money in the bank, I began to practice a new mindset. Beliefs such as I'm right here where I need to be, Feelings, not goals, are what I aim for, and I have all the money I need right now were the catalyst for more joy and calm in my life.
Women started to see a change in me, started asking for my advice. I eventually quit my very secure job as a nurse and started my coaching practice French Kiss Life. Now I run a successful business in which I help thousands of women inject more elegance, style, and joie de vivre into their daily lives.
My life looks and feels completely different from that girl's who landed in Paris a decade ago. I know what you might be thinking, That's great, but I can't just hop on a plane to Paris and go. Of course, my story didn't start there either. It started with one simple question: Who do you want to be?
As I began to live out the answers, the quality of my life began to change. More importantly, I began to change as a woman.