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How becoming a DJ & playing football taught me to speak French

I met with Ollie Phillips - Rugby Sevens legend and top chap at Optimist Performance (love the name). If you've not heard about this week's show, check out the post here

The bit about enjoying the journey more than just the outcome resonates with me (link to the show in comments) The beauty is that it relates to more than sport and so it go me thinking about my past.

What evidence can I find to demonstrate that I have previously enjoyed the journey towards a specific milestone? I thought about a few phases of my life and stumbled upon my efforts to learn French. Rather than sit stationary in classes gathering written knowledge, I took a more practical approach. one that could now be described as purposeful.

Learning French

As most Brits do, I studied French at school from about 10 years old. It wasn’t miserable, but I can’t really say it was fun either! But I did enjoy my trip to Disneyland Paris at about 14 years old where my basic skills did more than ask François how to get to the train station.

I picked it up again once I began studying at university as part of a Marketing honours degree. My second year began with a semester in Belgium studying at ISFEC followed by 10 months in Lille on work placement at a tech company - probably considered a start-up in today’s vocabulary as it since sold for millions.

Success for the year, according to university faculty was:

(i) attending 1 day per week of French classes at the language school with a pass mark

(ii) Provide a report signed by the company director at the end of my 10-month work-placement

To avoid suffering from FOMO (it was a thing back then too) I knew that I wanted to be at the heart of the social scene, so created 2 additional tasks to make friends:

(i) join the best football club I could travel to on public transport. I figured I would immediately make 10 friends with the same passion as me:

  • I used the previous season’s league tables to find a high-ranking football team in my area, phoned them up (with average French), trained for a couple of weeks and then played with them for the season.

(ii) Become a DJ. They’re really cool, always have friends standing behind them waving hands, and importantly get into clubs for free:

  • My dad was a DJ and my older brother is a music producer (theme tune to the podcast). Despite not having previously demonstrated such talents myself, I figured something must be in me somewhere! So, went to the local bar (Cafe Oz) to ask if they needed a DJ for some chilled evenings - they said yes - so bought a mixer and another turntable on my way home.

What’s this got to do with French? Well, nothing as far as I was concerned. But now, with a new perspective, I've learned something from my actions.

Practice, repetition & fun

I grew up listening to all types of music. However, when playing music as an emerging DJ, I listened more intently.

Sometimes I sang along to the lyrics to get the flow. Then I would start hearing melodies within other songs so i could plan which tunes could come next in my set. I was learning so needed to practice lots to get better. I knew i when I was better because the crowd nod their heads or give me thumbs up. I could plan 5 tunes ahead and I was invited to play in a couple of other clubs in the neighbourhood. Having heard parts of tunes over and over again, I learnt the words. This led me to ask friends or look up the meaning of certain phrases. I dropped them into conversation, made mistakes and the tried again!

The football team would train several times a week and play every weekend. In France, I had to quickly understand how to receive instruction and communicate in a new language. When playing football, I usually perform best when my physical play is accompanied with me barking information! It wouldn’t be enough for me to simply know the words to bellow, but to have the type of impact and enjoyment of the game I preferred, I needed to have the words on the tip of my tongue to activate, motivate and support my teammates.

The more I played, the less language became a barrier. The more the team would look to me for direction, the more I had to improve. I played my role in the team banter, sometimes being the butt of the jokes (as the Brit) and also going to their family homes, watching live and televised football and eventually having the confidence to debate the clear and obvious facts that England’s national team was better than France’s World Cup & Euro winners from the previous years [sic].

Unexpected benefits of enjoying the journey

By the end, my French language was fluent. I attended and passed the French lessons and won over my chain-smoking office colleagues. But also:

(1) surpassed expectations once returning to university for my final year of French study

(2) after graduating university, I turned down becoming a full time coach the US to make Lyon, France my home and work in a bilingual capacity

(3) Successfully landed my first corporate job with (GE Capital) on their European management program, primarily because I spoke French after my time in Lyon came to an end

And (4) - perhaps it should be number one - being a DJ worked! I met a girl during my time in Lille, who became my girlfriend then several years and countries later, is my wife here in Sydney, Australia.

I could have become a workaholic and studied the language 24/7. Instead, I added more deliberate daily activities that made the journey to speak French more interesting and purposeful. The outcomes have benefited me significantly beyond my expectations.


I might be over simplifying things a little, but i take three things:

(1) Understand what you enjoy doing

(2) intentionally find a daily routine to introduce it with purpose

(3) Remember to be grateful for what you have

Note: this isn’t without a downside. My French music influence is stuck very much in an eclectic turn of the century era, for example NTM, MC Solar, Sian Super Crew, De Palmas, Larusso, La Zebda...and of course Johny Hallyday

I don’t think it will make achieving the goal easy. Hard work is still hard. But it will make it more enjoyable. If i can't find any enjoyment in achieving the goal, then it can't be the right goal for me.

If you don't enjoy part of the journey along the way, surely you'll be unfulfilled when you reach the end goal, right?

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