The biggest challenge I've experienced since arriving in Montpellier is, well there's quite a few so let me list them in order of significance:
Bureaucracy - mindless paper trail
People need to be slotted or put into an envelope for identity purposes
Ragamuffins, their dogs + the dog shit
The kids school week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
France and the social state
35 Hour working week and ridiculous employment laws
Griping is easy - let's face it, we all do it form time to time. So switching to a more positive not I have to say that France is a really great place but of course there are positives and negatives just like good old Blighty.
So the most challenging thing I've experienced is the mental battle of persistence. If one fails to persist the challenge is lost before it begins. Of course as things materialise one has to continually evaluate any given situation but for me I've found myself giving into situations due to a number of factors that have included :
Lack of confidence with the French language
Lack of understanding of a social system that has huge benefits
Having worked for myself for 20 years I believed I was unemployable
After living in a vacuum for a number of months you loose your confidence
The complexity of the French working system
It has taken me a good number of months to slot things into place and realise that if one grows up with a system - it's the NORM consequently anything outside of this seems strange and uncomfortable. I believe that in direct response to this, most of us have a tendency to fall into the mode of griping and complaining about whatever the subject is, of course it's all verbal bullshit that serves little or no purpose whatsoever because at the end of the day you have to accept it and make the system work for you. The sooner you do it the less painful it is.
Having become a 'veloist', cycling is the national sport of France, the initial challenge was that of fitness. You have to have a certain level of physical fitness if you are going to be cycling between 60 and 120Kms with a group of guys who've been doing it all their lives. But this fitness comes as a natural response to the quantity of pedaling you do. The more difficult aspect is the mind over matter and dealing with the battle that goes on inside your head!!
This has been the number one challenge for me since my arrival in France, if not prior to my arrival. (Maybe it's my midlife crisis..... aghhhhhhh) It's taken one hell of a lot of time to evaluate and put things into perspective though. Things that retrospectively appear straight forward and blatantly obvious but until you realise it yourself YOU JUST CANNOT SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES and boy is that frustrating.
It has become clearer over the last 3 weeks - let me explain why...
I received an invitation in March to participate in a Swiss Military event (last weekend in Sept) I've mentioned it previously - invitation only, a very grueling 3 day event but according to the French guy who invited me; once in a lifetime invite. So I accepted reveling in the challenge. As the months have passed by I have used my cycling as a means of getting my cardio fitness to a much higher level however, internally I have been dreading the forthcoming event. I've been thinking that I am going to quit, I won't be able to manage the discipline and all the most ridiculous crap that you could imagine.
There have been a couple of cycle challenges/rides that I have quit; the first was my ascent up Mont Ventoux in May. There were a number of contributing factors including, I wasn't overly fit due to a medial knee ligament injury, it was the first serious cycle ascent I had participated in so everyone has to go through their pain barrier to crack it. 2 Km from the end I was ready to turn around and descend mentally I had given in - I had lost the battle within. Fortunately as a couple of my colleagues rode past me jeering and telling to get back on my bike I took the initiative and completed the ascent but I was momentarily defeated.
Secondly, when my good friend Peter Close came over for some cycle training I abandoned him on La Luzette, another classic difficult mountain ascent, in the Cevennes. Physically I was able but mentally I was well and truly beaten up. Don't get me wrong the ascent was bloody demanding but once the brain starts telling you that it's acceptable to turn around - you loose the challenge to continue and this is where you need to be super strong.
Thirdly, I rode with some of my club mates on a reconnaissance of the Cycl'Aigaoul, a tough 92km ride through the Cevennes (they are the mountains closest to Montpellier) two Saturdays ago. After the third climb I turned around and rode back to the car via the flat valley. I had been telling myself from the outset that La Luzette was a killer, I wasn't up for it, I let my friend down when he came over, why was I putting myself through this torture, I'm gonna quit on the Military weekend, I can't do it, I can't do it, I can't do it. Of course I turned around and came back via the valley and waited for my colleagues who returned an hour and a half after me but they had completed the ride.
Yesterday, 2 September, I sat on the start line of the Cycl'Aigaoul and I was nervous and apprehensive but I knew that I was going to finish. I was not going to allow my brain to become the weakest link again. Boy was it tough and I had paid 26 Euros to do it!!! But the most amazing thing was that I kept telling myself you have to complete the ride. There's no option of quitting, there's no conversation about turning back. This was a personal milestone not only for my cycling but for me as an individual and the confidence boost it has given me is phenomenal. I have been down for a good number of months - I've know about it but not know haw to fix it.
So on the flip side, once your brain becomes the weakest link and your prepared to turn back, give in or just accept the way your cards get dealt the battle is well and truly lost way before it begins. What ever you want, weather it be in France, the UK or any country if you lack persistence it won't happen but if you tell yourself, often enough you're going to make it - it will become your reality.
Have a fantastic day.