I spent this morning walking aimlessly around Paris. I was looking for something, but I wasn’t really sure what. I saw the Paris Opera House for like the 12th time which was cool, and I snapped a photo.
At some point I decided to fire up Google Maps and type in “cafe laptop” to find somewhere that I’d be able to sit for a bit and do some work. Luckily there was a beautiful place right next door which would be perfect. As I walked up to the cafe, I remembered something else that I had read in the beginning of Tools of Titans, a book by Tim Ferriss.
The beginning of the book started like this: “As I write this, I’m sitting in a café in Paris overlooking the Luxembourg Garden, just off of Rue St. Jacques. Rue St. Jacques is likely the oldest road in Paris and it has a very rich literary history. Victor Hugo lived a few blocks from where I’m sitting. Gertrude Stein drank coffee. F. Scott Fitzgerald socialized within a stone’s throw.”
Instantly I thought to myself, “Damn, that could be a super creative place for me to post up for a few hours and do some writing, much better than this spot I’m in front of right now. After all, Gertrude Stein used to drink coffee over there.”
I called an Uber and watched him drive in circles until finally picking me up 15 minutes later. He said something in French and I made a sound to acknowledge that I kind of understood what he said but not really at all. Anyway, I finally got to the location I set on the map in the middle of Rue St. Jacques, which left me standing in front of a fruit stand infested by honey bees.
I looked both ways and saw zero cafes open. I wandered up and down the street for another 15 minutes and realized that I would have been better off just staying where I was originally. I grabbed another Uber, mumbled something in French to pretend I understood a single word the driver was saying to me, and went back to exactly where I had started.
Okay, what does this have to do with anything at all?
I spent half my day trying to go somewhere but ending up exactly where I started. I felt kind of productive during the process of wandering around (especially because I got that 12th Instagram photo of the Opera House), but all in all I felt like I did a lot of nothing.
This morning was a microcosm of what the past few years of traveling to almost 40 countries has been like. I always felt like I was chasing the next better thing, whether it was finding a bigger mountain to hike, a more ancient temple, a tastier oyster, a cooler community, a better dive site, a more inspiring coffee shop… you name it. A French guy told me that here in France they call this behavior “moving wind.”
I call it being a scared of commitment. And there’s a good reason why commitment is scary. As far as I know, you only live once, right? So how do I know I’m committing to the right things? How do I know that I’m not going to regret spending a decade of my life going down the wrong career path, investing in the wrong relationship, living in the wrong city, joining a sub-optimal community, and never finding the perfect olive oil to go with my bruschetta?
Deep, scary questions. The biggest problem is when you realize that even the smallest little choices can completely change the trajectory of your life. You also realize that time is ticking, and weeks are turning into months which are turning into years. Your youth seems to be drifting further and further away, and arbitrary adult responsibilities pile on.
This leads most people to do one of three things:
You do nothing different. You shy away from making decisions and are paralyzed by analysis. Not a bad choice. If you don’t know what to do, then it seriously isn’t a bad idea to do what you’re currently doing until you either have more information or time runs out and life makes the decision for you.
You try to do everything. Essentially, you try to have your cake and eat it too. You hop from one job to another, one city to the next, making new friends while trying to retain old friends. You do this until you realize that you kinda half-assed a bit of everything and never got real deep with anything.
You read a bunch of self-help books and articles and do some personal goal exercises to find your passion. You feel productive because you did some reading but either end up really doing nothing that different or doing something drastic like quitting your job to go travel in search of yourself.
Life is complex though, and technically I’ve found myself doing all three of these at the same time. For example, I’ve been trying to do everything, travel the world, build multiple businesses, read self-help books, create personal goals, and intensely pursue those goals, but then I shy away from making key decisions such as where I finally want to settle down. Over time, this constant traveling in search of the perfect place and continually postponing commitment was actually making me deeply unhappy. Because I had no roots anywhere and no community, I started to feel empty.
It sucks to meet amazing people but realize that you’re leaving soon and have to say goodbye. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to nourish and invest in deep friendships when you only have a defined amount of time together before you go your separate ways.
It sucks to live in an Airbnb in a beautiful new neighborhood and to fall in love with a place only to know that you’re leaving soon. Even if you don’t want to leave, you realize your visa only lets you stay three months at a time.
It sucks to go shopping but only be able to buy stuff that you’re willing to toss away if it doesn’t fit in your suitcase.
It sucks when you’ve been trying to get a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu for four years when it should only take one because you can’t train consistently.
It sucks when you have to wander around a new grocery store and spend 15 minutes figuring out where the damn eggs are.
It sucks when you can’t just go to your favorite restaurant and know exactly what you’re going to get and that you’re going to love it.
You’d think years of traveling would be rewarding because you get to experience how others live, meet new people, gain new worldviews, and have lots of adventures. I agree that traveling can leave a lasting impact, but there are also serious diminishing returns. If your goal is just to travel the world because you think it is your passion or it will make you happy, I’m here to tell you that the grass is always greener on the other side — until you begin to make commitments.
For too many people, traveling is just another way to procrastinate and escape from making commitments in your life. You’re not going to find happiness jumping from one thing to another. If you can’t be happy in one place, why do you think that changing the location is going to make it better? Most of the time, the location isn’t the root cause of your problems — but it’s easy to assume that it is.
Perpetually traveling allows you to never commit to anything. This makes everything in your life surface level, whether it be your friendships, communities, career, hobbies, or anything in between. You end up with a bunch of half-friends, half hobbies, half a career.
Commitment is not a bad thing at all — in fact it is one of the best decisions you can make.
Let’s face it. As millennials today, we have more choice than anyone has ever had. As a result, we’re terrified of making the wrong choice and committing to the wrong person, place, or thing, which leaves us feeling that the grass is always greener on the other side.
Instead of being terrified of commitment, you should embrace it. Only by committing can you be your best self and the happiest you can be. Otherwise, you spend too much time wondering if the next coffee shop is going to be the one that is going to blow your mind, when what really matters is what you make of it. Going to Rue St. Jacques didn’t make my writing better — sitting down and doing the work did. In fact, I would have written more if I had recognized that the cafe I was already in was great instead of wasting my time looking for something even better. This search for the next best thing makes you miss the point and blinds you to what you already have.
Maybe if you watered your own grass more, and invested time into what you already have, the other side wouldn’t always look so green.