I am the shadow of my husband

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« My story starts in London. The financial company for which my husband Michael works had sent him there to develop the European branch. For a California girl who never traveled abroad, it was fun, new and exciting. I had a part-time job at a clothes shop in Soho and we went out most nights to enjoy life to the fullest. Two years later, we moved to Hong Kong. Clearly less fun despite the magical aspect of that city. I went from one part-time job well below my level of education to another one. Not only I was bored to death, I became slightly angry at the situation.  What about me ? But I stayed mum. Michael and I agreed a while ago: what matters most is his career. After three very long years in Hong Kong, we moved to Paris, the City of Light, last summer. Call me a professional whiner, but this was in the City of Light where everything turned dark for me. At both 34 years of age, Michael’s future looked brilliant when mine was as gloomy as it gets. Today, a few months into this glamorous move to France, and in spite of myself, I am my husband’s shadow, or even worse, the shadow of his shadow, as Jacques Brel famously sang it. I have no idea who I am besides being the wife of an expatriate. I no longer exist. Help me ! »

It is a grey and hollow young woman that shows up in front of me via Whatsapp. « Hello Nicolas, my name is Janet. I might look helpless, but I want you to know I am committed to face  and win my inner battle. I just do not know how to do it ». Facing bravely your dilemma, being able to admit that you need professional help to get out of it, and showing yourself as vulnerable as you can in front of a stranger like me shows great strength. « That is nice of you to say, I find myself rather weepy, pathetic and fearful », replies Janet, finally smiling. You fearful ? What are you afraid of ? « The fear of failure and of being a loser for life. The fear of discovering who I truly am and not liking what I will ultimately find ».

Janet is breathless, literally and figuratively. Before coaching her, I want her to realize how courageous she is and use this realization as a tool to help her climb up the hill of her low self esteem. « Here in Paris, I am the assistant of a fashion designer with great talent of course, but completely tyrannical and hysterical, and who intellectually and culturally does not even come close to me. What a joke ! I got this job thanks to a colleague of Michael’s who knows this fashion diva very well. I could not say no at the time and if I quit now with no reason, I am afraid it will hurt Michael at work ».




Janet needs a big boost of confidence. My job as a Coach is to stand next to her and be ready to support her. That said, it is up to her to take the first step, the one that will prove to her she is still alive. « Resign ? I would love to do it ! But when ? And how ? And if I quit, what are my friends going to think about me ? An ungrateful brat, I am certain ! » Janet is going on and on in her self-flagellation. There is no way I will be part of it. First surprised by my silence, she understands quickly there is nothing I can do for her unless she makes a decision. A coach is not an adviser or a counsellor, but a guide and a sounding board. The client is, and always should be, the expert of his or her life. « Ok Nicolas, I know I must be stronger. If I listen to myself, I should quit today, why wait ? ». That is what she did right after she left our session. « Yahoo, I am not as frightened as I thought ! ». I agree with you Janet. Now we can start working.

The sessions that followed were intense. Despite Michael’s unconditional support, Janet had to work hard to give herself permission to be selfish and to think first about she wants, and not about what she should do. One day, with tears in her eyes and a mix of excitement and fear in her heart, she dared to face who she really is. « At the risk of sounding pretentious, I know that there is a painter in me that I have never fully explored, surely out of fear of failure, out of fear of realizing that I have zero talent ». Jumping on the opportunity to make her move forward, I asked her to paint one painting for our next meeting…and she brought me four of them, all powerful and moving, « I painted four portraits, one for each member of my family back in San Francisco. I had forgotten how much I love them and miss them ».

Janet is on her way to reach her goal and find her own identity. The way she sees life and those around her is changing. Session after session, she becomes more confident. Yet, I agree with her when she tells me that she feels too far from her family to keep on growing as an individual, « the life I live in Paris no longer resembles the woman I am slowly but surely becoming. True loneliness is the one we experience even when we are surrounded by beloved people ». It is a fact, the work she is doing on herself must continue elsewhere. She has to go where her art takes her. « It is always in my childhood room that I painted my most meaningful paintings. This is where I have to go, next to my parent’s home, alone for the moment, hoping that Michael will follow me one day ».

Our work continued on Whatsapp and Skype for a few months. Seeing Janet blossom as a woman and as an artist was very gratifying to me as her Coach. Along the way, she also realized that being true to yourself can only be a win-win situation as people who love you will love you even more. Indeed. Michael joined her soon after her departure to San Francisco, and they both live in harmony, one pushing the other to be the best person they can be.


By Nicolas Serres Cousiné.
An American and French citizen, New Yorker for thirty years, trained at New York University and accredited as an Associate Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation, Nicolas has returned to France, his native country, where he has currently been coaching English-speaking expatriates and their spouses, all willing to commit to a better, richer and deeper professional or personal life. www.nicolasserres-cousine.com


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About Nicolas Serres Cousiné 1 Article
American and French citizen, New Yorker for thirty years, trained at New York University and accredited as an Associate Certified Coach by the International Coach Federation, Nicolas has returned to France, his native country, where he has currently been coaching English-speaking expatriates and their spouses, all willing to commit to a better, richer and deeper professional or personal life.