I spent the last week in Paris, one of my favorite cities in the world.
I love getting lost in Parisian neighborhoods, eating my way through French bakeries, and finding delightful treasures.
By treasures, I don’t mean souvenirs. I mean the little things that stick out and blow your mind.
Here’s an example: Walk into a cafe in Paris and you’ll notice that almost no one has a laptop in front of them. People sit in cafes, enjoying their café au lait and people-watching for hours.
In the United States, most coffee shops have turned into shared working spaces. They are stacked with customers who have their noses buried in a laptop. For them, the coffee shop is a WeWork where a cup of coffee serves as the price of admission.
But for Parisians, the cafe is a break from work—not a place to work.
Sitting unplugged in a Parisian cafe, it dawned on me how much the hustle culture has permeated every aspect of life in the United States. I’ve been a willing participant in that culture: I don’t remember the last time I walked into a coffee shop and didn’t pull out my laptop to work.
That epiphany reminded me: Getting lost in a foreign land is one of the best ways to get perspective on your own life.
We travel “initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves,” as Pico Iyer writes.
The breath of foreign air jolts you out of your entrenched ways and opens you up to new ways of being.
The French call this dépaysement, the disorientation you feel when you travel to a strange land. Your world becomes topsy-turvy. Your sense of proper and improper shifts. You learn to laugh at things that would anger you at home. The majority becomes the minority. Surrounded by the echoes of a language you don’t know, you return to infancy when your mother tongue was foreign to you. You become a young fool again.
Our beliefs, perspectives, and habits are tied to our environment. Change your environment, and it becomes easier to recognize what’s no longer serving you. This is why many smokers find it easier to quit when they’re traveling. Their new environment doesn’t have the same smoking associations as their home.
So, if you’re in a rut and feeling stuck, it might be time to get lost in a foreign land.
When you return home, your home won’t have changed.
But you will have.
“We shall not cease from exploration,” T. S. Eliot wrote, “and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”