La Vie en France #22: With Little Steps Momentum Builds



This blogpost is for those readers who think about taking a crazy step off a cliff, like the Webmaster took.  He quit his job as a highly-paid bond analyst in NYC in order to spend six months as a freelance tour guide on the American battlefields of France.


Looking back over the multi-year preparation for this new venture, the Webmaster can see clearly that it was hundreds of little steps; and with each little step the momentum started to build.  Like many readers with similar dreams, the Webmaster began thinking about this several years ago.  His focus was on the Centennial years of 2014 – 2018.  Two of his first steps were:  1) Re-starting the Meuse-Argonne website in June 2014 and 2) attending the WW1 Centennial Commission’s first meeting in Washington, D.C. in that same month.  That started things rolling.


Of course, he had to get his wife and son on board; and finances were a key part of the equation.  So, bonus payments went to paying down the mortgage and stashing away funds for the sabbatical year.


As a Director of the World War One Historical Association he volunteered to be the point person for their 2015 seminar in Naperville, Illinois.  This strengthened his experience in logistics and hospitality.  He also used that event to begin advertising his tour guide services; and he did this by preparing a flyer and adding information to his website.  (He had to be very careful, lest his employer discover these steps.)  In that flyer he used testimonials from people that he led on previous tours.


He developed the Facebook Group; which he started by adding about 40 of his friends.  In November 2016 that group had 291 members.  In November 2017 it has 843; thanks to Facebook’s increasing publicity as a group grows.


Through the FB group he met numerous people who were supportive very early, including Alain Cesarini and Sjoerd van der Ven.  (He had known Jean-Paul de Vries, who was also very supportive, for several years.)


Through long-term friend, Christina Holstein, he learned about the “The Western Front Way” walk along the battlefields.  He participated in walking one day; and through that met people like Harry Rupert, who would introduce him to even more people in the region.


During the two months before his departure to France he conducted several days of research at the National Archives in College Park, MD; where he spent a morning with Marc Romanych.  It was Marc who introduced him to the Griffin Group Photos that he has used extensively.  French locals are astounded by the photos; so showing them the pictures opens many doors.


Several of his later tour clients this year came from referrals from other people who knew him and his passion.  In addition, he has received great reviews from tour clients; which he will use on a revamped website when he returns to the U.S.


As most clients were tracing the steps of a family member who had fought here, each tour was unique.  As a result, he visited many sites that he had never seen before; increasing his knowledge base of the battlefield.  This also increased his knowledge base of restaurants, shops, etc.


Yes, there was an overall plan.  The plan started in the Webmaster’s mind before 2014.  Gradually, it took form on paper.  Scores of things that needed to be done:  Checking into visa requirements; finding a place to rent for six months; renting a car; quietly marketing the tours so as not to be detected by his employer; etc.  However, with each step taken the momentum built; and that is one thing that the Webmaster can see very well in hindsight.  It was not always visible during the journey.



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Webmaster Randy Gaulke and son photographing a German signal light bunker (Blinknetzstelle) in the Argonne Forest. Photo by Wim Degrande.