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  • Nancy Wheeler

Fish, Food, Figs - What they have to do with life and work

Whatever our experiences, they can't be taken away. They belong to us; they define who we are.

I am beyond fortunate to have a foothold abroad - a home in a small town in the southwest of France, surrounded by vineyards and sunflowers. Over 22 years of living there on and off, my husband and I have gained a keen sense of what this experience means to us, and how it has informed our personal and professional lives. More than anything, it has settled me and helped me understand how to listen differently.

My memories of summers in France are almost indescribable; however, every season has its unique allure. When springtime (printemps) gives way to été, people come alive and there are amazing smells in the air – the same return in fall around the grape harvest. A brilliant yellow-green pops in the gardens and the winding archways of trees are magical. Trips into the market, free of agenda, open you to a world of colors, textures, and smells that make cooking an adventure. There is peace in wooden clothespins and sheets left to dry in the sunlight. And the 24-year-old, third-generation fishmonger, who deftly prepares our filet with pride for the craft of her mother and grandmother before her. These are moments that have helped define me.

When immersing yourself in another culture, you must be willing to take risks, to be wrong, to ask questions, to feel out of control. But most importantly, to embrace all of it and see it as an adventure. To be accepted in this little village in France, we did the best we could to understand, to apologize when we made mistakes, to ask for help. We watched people open to us when we opened ourselves. These are the moments that are worth the risk.

While living on and off at Le Petit Rêve (the name of our home) I've tried to greet each day with anticipation of something new. With our world changing as much as it is, with the curveballs continually thrown at us, I believe if we can have a spirit of waking up each day with anticipation, in a positive way, of something new, maybe we won’t be thrown off - we can embrace the change, what is new, and what lies ahead. For me, it's that spirit which allows us to learn and evolve, to understand different points of view and different cultures.

If you can see your life as an adventure, then people will want to be around you. And a critically important part of any journey is the path you carve out. Too often, we treat process as means to an end. In France, I have learned that the process has phenomenal value - it is where creativity truly comes out. It's where we learn the most. And I’ve learned to slow down, to appreciate the process, to trust my instincts on where to push and when to pull back. Just the same professionally – throw rose petals over the table, scatter some figs. Dig deeper, follow a new lead. Listen closely. Like any artist, painter, musician, whatever your craft, you have to enjoy the process. I’ve always believed myself to be a good listener, someone who can bridge differences and internalize nuance. Those qualities are essential in working with clients - immersing in and understanding new cultures and checking my opinion at the door. It's about being in their space.

When the world shrinks, we feel safe. We hold on to immediacy and memories. But those experiences are part of our mark in the world outside. They shape our heads and hearts and help define the fabric of who we are. For me, my experiences and life in France are as present as our day-to-day here. I’m blessed that we get to have this experience, these great friends, this home seemingly a world away - and to be accepted there.

Whatever our experiences, they can't be taken away. They belong to us; they are who we are. Let's greet the journey ahead with anticipation.



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