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Have you ever considered the cultural influence your country has on your view of work and business?

It’s something you don’t usually notice until confronted with another culture’s view clashes with your own.

Today I want to give you 3 principles that might help shape your view of work into something more freeing and life giving.

These are principles that I’ve been chewing on ever since arriving home from an extended vacation in the south of France.

The following thoughts were adapted from a piece my wife wrote and reflect the many conversations we had during out time this summer with the wonderful French people.

How The French View Work

After a month in the French countryside (specifically Provence and the Perigord region) my wife Shay and I have brought back more than just a daily craving for croissants and a mid-day Rosé (with ice cubes of course!).

What we’ve brought back is a deeply challenged perspective on work and more specifically, business ownership after spending a month meeting the locals and business owners in the very small country villages we visited. 

If you will indulge me and allow me to make a few sweeping generalizations I realize that I cannot dare to speak for ALL the French, nor can I speak for what “city life” in the more modernized French cities looks like.

A month with the French certainly doesn’t make me any kind of expert on French culture but there were a few things happening around me that were impossible to miss and if any part of you is secretly exhausted with the constant demands of business ownership than lean in…there might be something here for you.

The French work to live instead of living to work.

Happen upon any small French village on a Monday and you will likely be met by a Ghost town.

Holiday? No. Worked extra over the weekend? Non. Why rush into the work week when you can make a leisurely stroll into it instead.

But thats not all.

Most businesses close for two to three hours each day for an extended lunch and then still close before dinner every evening! gasp!

Many also close on the weekends. How dare they!

And sometimes they pick another random day of the week (or two) to be closed if they feel like it.

And as if they are in an all-out effort to commit business suicide, many shops close down entirely for a month or two each year. (Sacrebleu!).

Here’s the takeaway:

They have decided on a lifestyle and run their business to serve that preferred lifestyle.  Here in America so often we bend our entire lives to meet the demands of our work.

Skipping lunch, missing dinner, working on laptops in bed, working over the weekend, taking work on vacation.  Year after year we sacrifice so many of our “priorities” to serve our businesses hoping that someday it will get better. 

The French are not afraid to miss out on possible profit

Don’t you think it would be tempting to be the one bakery that is open during lunch time or over the weekends?

Think of all of the business they are missing out on when they close their doors for the all of the above mentioned occasions.

These are not wealthy shop owners.  These are husbands and wives, blue collar families with small family businesses.

But they are still willing to miss out of potential profit for the sake of long lunches sipping espresso and catching up with neighbors, evenings and weekends spent at home around big meals and entire months to travel or simply rest. 

In contrast we (Americans) tend to be so afraid to miss out on any possible dollars – bending our preferences and boundaries for the chance to make just a little bit more.

Which brings me to my next observation…

The French work just enough to support their simple lifestyle.  

We met so many interesting people from shop owners to actresses, authors, and artists.  Many of them with irregular jobs and irregular pay. 

All of them go from one project to the next, live off the earnings and then take on another project when they are ready or need more money. 

They did not drive fancy cars or live in big homes. 

They did not wear the most current fashions or decorate their homes elaborately. 

Rather, they enjoyed the simple things in life like eating drawn out meals outdoors with friends and long conversations over red wine that last into the night.

Business owners never spoke of their 5 year growth plan, or how much better Q3 was over Q2. 

If their business supported these simple lifestyle priorities they were happy with thing just the way they were. 

We ate at the most amazing restaurant in Brantôme run by a husband and wife. He cooked all the meals and she ran front of house and they shut the restaurant down for a few months each year to travel the world.

Can you imagine that?  Closing their doors completely!  Wouldn’t the “lose momentum”?

The goal with so many of these business owners was almost never growing the business, opening more stores, etc but simply to be able to continue their current lifestyle. If was refreshing, and convicting.

Why are we so obsessed with growth?

Here are the questions that I am asking myself after a month surrounded by so many kind French men and women – many of them entrepreneurs of some sort themselves.

  • Why is growth always the goal? 
  • Does it have to be? 
  • When is there enough growth?
  • What would be enough profit?
  • Is more always better?
  • Would I still love my job if things stayed the same from here on out?

I hope that there is something there that you can chew on.  Something that might lead to just a little bit more freedom and resolve.

I’m right there with you fighting for healthy business ownership with flourishing lives as a result.

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16 thoughts on “Our Flawed View Of Work And The Power Of Enough”

  1. Love this Graham!

    I think one of the first things future or new business owners, (myself included) is to create a desired income amount and lifestyle that would give us the life we desire, and keep that at the forefront of our work schedule. For me, I am aiming for $10,000 a month. We are minimalist that love to live simply, travel, eat healthy and choose experience over consumerism. When I reach that goal, I can then ‘just’ keep the pace up and the consistent momentum going.

    To many times as with any job, the more you make, the more you spend, the bigger we buy. I want to “work to live, not live to work”.

    A faithful follower,
    Mary

    1. Great thoughts Mary! Love how you know exactly what your income goal is and what you want that income to help you accomplish!

  2. Hi, Graham,

    Thanks for the input. My wife and I also travel extensively internationally (all 50 states and 74 countries so far). I agree with you that the French (and moreso those in the south of France) are very laid back and non-go-getter. It’s an amplification of the difference between some parts of rural Alabama and New York City. I, too, try to import some of that mindset to balance my double-A personality of go go go.

    Nowadays, even we Americans are placing more priority on experiences over possessions. I probably could afford more, but I drive a pickup from the Clinton era and my wife a used ten year old SUV. BUT we took off and travelled to Asia this Spring. Able to because of our largely passive incomes. I also see huge differences in the Japanese culture from ours. Their subway system, you could eat off the floor. Everyone was always neatly dressed, and I didn’t see one homeless person anywhere. You go to NYC or LA and the subway smells like the mens room and there are homeless people on every single block. Those are two cultural ideals I think they’re besting us on. And it’s an upbringing thing more than anything. And if you try to go anywhere in France NOW (“le mois d’Aôut”)… France largely closes for the month of August.

    Although we can take a lesson there, I think that they err on the side of leisure. The socialism and low expectations of lifestyle allow for long work life (retiring 67-70) and thin retirement (everyone is required to have additional investments in order to get social security, and their max draw is 50% of their income, around 1600 euro/mo. And if you die, that doesn’t necessarily go to your spouse.

    I’ll stick with my IRA that I own and my family can keep when I’m gone.

    I love to travel and learn new cultures and languages (speak French fluently now), but I can honestly say, I’m addicted to the land of convenience and western civilization, and additionally, my awe for the American experiment and my luck that I was born with that coveted citizenship. My online business means I could live on the moon, if Elon Musk could get me stable wifi there. Yet, after every trip or vacation whether to fellow first world countries like England, France or Spain, or from Japan, Korea, Thailand or from the Arab world of Morocco, Tunisia, and even Turkey or from Communist Cuba, Russia or China (those represent my last couple years of travel), I always long to come back to America—hopefully, fortified with some new experiences to inform my actions, life and business.

    1. Karl – love this comment. We have so much in common it seems, but aside from that your observations and internal processing are spot on. I came back to the US grateful to to live here more than ever. But willing to be influenced for good by the Provençal style of living.

  3. Graham – I definitely believe we are myopic and arrogant here in the US. We think everyone shares our values and that our way of life is best. So glad a month, at a SLOW pace, brought you face to face with many questions. No insult meant to your first comment writer, but I stumbled over a goal of $120,000 a year and calling that a minimalist lifestyle. That is luxury compared to many people. The kind of travel most people in Europe do, for their month off, is caravaning, camping, renting a place and cooking for themselves. The elite can afford to travel to an island or something luxurious like that.

    I’m beginning to pick up on some push-back about goal setting in different venues. The Bible talks about planning, but not goal setting. A podcast I listened to yesterday featured a 23 year old gal who was very content living in St Augustine and managing a coffee shop. She had recently lost 83 lbs (on the Keto diet) and was sensing the push in America of ‘so what’s your next goal?’ She, like you, was questioning some of our assumptions as a culture.

    Excellent post, Graham. I think about this topic a lot. I want to be like my uncle Paul who had to learn to be content – in seasons of plenty (equally challenging) as well in the seasons of lack.

    1. Yeah, growth and never ending goals is a trap and mindset heavily ingrained in American culture for sure. Always good to step back and ask, “Why?”

    2. Hello Maria, I’m glad you chimed in and I would like to say some additional thoughts on yours and my comment.
      Like Paul, I know what’s it’s like “to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
      I was raised very poorly as a child, lived off the system (because my dad had a tree fall on him in the log woods when I was a baby) we ate the poor man’s diet which I am now suffering for tremendously. I have lived in a tent twice, once homeless in Hawaii because of a scam landlord. I have lived twice in a 32 foot camper trailer in Alaska with my husband and our seven children, I even birthed a baby in a travel trailer. As a child we picked up cans, dug ginseng and goldenseal to sell to local buyers, picked blackberries, sold junk iron to get by. When it came time for school pictures, I bought the smallest package they had with money I made from doing the above. I shared a can soda with two older brothers when we had the pleasure and ate a lot of bologna and bread. We now live in a small one bedroom apartment with 5 kids and I don’t mind at all. My husband has a good job and we will soon move into a two bedroom, two bath apartment which will be a luxury to us.
      As I’ve gotten older (38) and God has taught me more about his abundance, I now know it is really in our own thinking that deters us from his blessings. $10,000 is pocket change to what can be made online and what most are making.
      I don’t say all this to get any sympathy. I have very fond memories, have experienced so much on a poor man’s budget, and I wouldn’t change a thing (minus the processed diet) but what I didn’t say is this, I want to be able to “leave an inheritance to my children”, I want to be able to take care of my parents and those whom God puts in my path that need a helping hand. I know God has given me a very creative mind and I choose not to hide my talents and if someone is interested and willing to pay for my knowledge, then I will give and sell as such.
      Please don’t take this as a snarky comment because that is not at all what I am trying to imply, I just get tired of seeing God’s people suffer when it is not in his will if we just accept his abundance. I also know ‘why’ I have set the mark at $10,000 and not $2,000 or $50,000. This is what would allow me to not only bless my family, but bless others on this journey we call life.
      Abundant Blessings,
      Mary

  4. Surprising post Graham, Ioved it. I’m pretty sure many of your readers are not american and articles like this remind us that, even if we read and follow you, some of us have a different cultural background which can influence the way we see business.

    If you’re interested in cultural differences between countries (with an emphasis on business philosophy) you will like the book “When Cultures Collide”. Very interesting read, it gives you a very broad point of view.

  5. Hey Graham,

    Great post ! We, in The Netherlands, live somewhat the same lifestyle as the people in France. We value our freedom en free time . This livestyle gives you also a sort of inner peace ,

  6. Love this and couldn’t agree more. I think every single American needs to experience another culture and get a better view of the world and its people. It’ll change everyone for the better and maybe their business too.

    Throughout my travels I’ve noticed a lot of the same things, especially in Italy. Always a siesta in the afternoon and shops closed when you least expect. It’s more about what you said-people, eating, and enjoying life first. Meals are not quick-they’re more like events. Growing up with my Italian family here, dinners were not 1/2 hour long-more like 2 hours at least.

    Another side benefit of siestas is that it’s is nap time for many Europeans. This leads to a longer, healthier life simply because they’re getting more sleep. There’s an island off the coast of Greece that’s known as the “place where people forget to die” for this reason (plus a healthier diet). But I digress!

    Chris

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