When I arrived at my childhood home on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, my mother had France24’s English-language news on. I joked that France24 should be boycotted in her house, since they turned her daughter down for a job. She was perplexed – I guess I hadn’t told her that a little over a year ago, I interviewed – in French! – for an entry-level job on the English language desk of France24’s news bureau. Remarkably, I passed that interview with flying colors. After we talked, the Human Resources manager thought I was such a shoo-in that she took me on an extra tour of the newsroom and introduced me to everyone there. Then she brought me back to her office, sat me in front of a computer, and told me that the next step was to take a timed news quiz, which my would-be boss would assess before inviting me back for a second interview.
I bombed that quiz in a way I haven’t bombed anything since getting a 43% on a chemistry test in tenth grade. In the first part, I had to identify eight political figures with two or three sentences each. I got Bashar al-Assad and Robert Mugabe correct but drew a blank on the one American and five European names. Apparently most were members of various EU government bodies. I can’t even keep track of what the various EU government bodies are called, let alone who their members are.
I don’t think I did as awfully on the rest of the quiz as I did on the first part, but who knows. I had to create a headline and write a script and translate a French article into English, and it all seemed a little too easy, so maybe I didn’t fully understand the assignment. In any case, I did badly enough that the head of the English-language desk did not even want to interview me – for an entry-level position editing footage from the field and archive into simple news packages.
On Wednesday night, I told my mother this story and concluded, “That was my last shot at a decent paying job in France and had I gotten it, I would probably still be living there.” And then my mind boggled. While at the time it felt like a tragedy to lose that job opportunity, not one thing about my life would have been better than it is now, had I stayed in France. Yes, I’d be speaking better French, but at what cost? I’d be working in news – which is clearly not my thing – rather than documentary, I’d be working in an entry-level poorly paid position, and who knows what kind of hovel I’d be living in. I’d have foregone the countless hours of time with dear family and friends that have sustained me since I’ve been back in the United States. And I’d have failed to reroute myself in a direction that makes any sense at all for my future or my mental health. It would have been fun in the short term but a dead end in the long term, prolonging my weird European stasis indefinitely.
The timing of this realization was perfect. It happened almost exactly one year after I heard back from France24 with the news that I wouldn’t be receiving a follow-up interview, and it happened right before a holiday that is all about gratitude.
So I began Thanksgiving counting my blessings. Thank goodness I failed that news quiz. It cleared the way for the rest of my life to begin.
[The photo is from the Hilma af Klint exhibit at the Guggenheim, one of the things I’m so glad I was back in New York to see.]