Summer in Normandy is peculiarly familiar. The sun is capricious and is frequently hiding behind the clouds. The rhythm of life here is punctuated by the sea and its tides, painting fascinating, melancholic landscapes, starting with a fresh canvas every morning. The village of Regnéville-sur-Mer in Lower Normandy is a quiet place with an unlikely grand church and ruins of a medieval castle. Every Friday in the summer the castle is bustling with people coming to shop and eat at the farmers’ market, listen to a band or watch a play. I came to Regnéville-sur-Mer to visit my friend and former colleague Sophie Blondel.
Sophie worked as a Chief Financial Controller in a large media company in Paris. Her work was frighteningly complicated and demanded a lot of time and responsibility. Sophie was very good at it, despite its pressures. She also found time for tango and swimming, movies and friends, making the most of what Paris has to offer for about 20 years. At the same time, Sophie has been studying shiatsu. In Japanese, “shiatsu” means “finger pressure” . It is a holistic physical therapy, which works to strengthen the body’s natural ability to heal itself. It is based on manipulating body energy, ki, as it flows through a network of body meridians. After 4 years of study and a trip to Japan, Sophie earned a professional certificate from La Voie Shiatsu, a school accredited by the French Federation of Traditional Shiatsu. Earlier this year she quit her high-powered finance job in Paris to move to rural Normandy and practise shiatsu.
I remember our conversations at an industrial-size Nespresso machine in Paris. We were both stressed, hyper-caffeinated, stiff from spending too much time sitting in the office and working through countless spreadsheets. We took pride in our work and our ability to handle pressure, we were loyal and professional, but inwardly thoughts were beginning to creep in: “Is this really what I want to do?”
In Sophie’s beautiful garden in Normandy I asked her what prompted her to consider career change. “It’s my values that have changed. I’m proud of what I have achieved in Paris and I loved living there but increasingly I’ve become disenchanted with my life and I wanted to change it.” Sophie moved to Normandy because this is where she had grown up. Her parents still live here. “I came here often, I used it as a retreat to help me relax and re-balance my energy. I have come to live here because I wanted to change my lifestyle, not just my career.”
Just a few months after moving to Normandy, Sophie looks completely different. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but she radiates happiness. We make dinner from the fresh produce we’d bought at the market, we go to the beach, we take long walks and meditate. We realise we have a lot in common, now that the professional masks are off.
Sophie tells me about her new work. She has regular clients in the nearby Granville and is now looking for permanent studio space. Over the summer she has also been offering her services at a local caravan camping site. One morning while I was writing a blog, Sophie went to work. She came back with triumphant “I had four clients today!” Many people would look at Sophie and conclude that she is just another professional who ‘down-shifted’ once she’d made her money. I see a woman who isn’t afraid to challenge herself, to take a leap of faith and embrace fear. In her previous role, her job was to take account of other people’s initiatives and performance; now she has to be bold and creative, like any entrepreneur, learn about marketing, be her own boss. “I’ll give myself a year or two, and then we’ll see.”
There’s no guarantee your new idea will be a success, but you can give it a shot and try your very best.
What is your greatest achievement? Changing my life
What are you good at? Let me think… I am good at seeing the beauty in things.
What is your weakness? Lack on self-confidence…
What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Don’t chase someone else’s dreams.
If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I would like to travel the world and learn about healing practices of different cultures.
Sophie practises shiatsu in Granville – for details, please visit her website.