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The Benefit of Being Lost

Lately I’ve doubled down on getting lost. Now, I understand that deliberately putting yourself into a place where you’re lost might seem counterintuitive and odd. But the thing about being lost is it forces you to find your way out, and this is where learning takes place.

Case in point: I dove into the deep end with learning languages, doubling down on French and German (!) and forcing myself further beyond my comfort zone with each. I’d been doing the bare minimum with French for a couple of years, never really proceeding beyond “Je m’appelle John. Je suis un homme. Où est le toilette?” Barely functional and not exactly conversational.

Something triggered me to dive deeper into lost. With French it was a lingering dissatisfaction with scratching the surface of feminine and masculine terminology, never diving into the nitty gritty because I stuck with the bare minimum to check the box for the day. With German, well, I booked a trip to Austria and Germany and forced my hand to figure it out.

The only way to truly learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. That’s true for a foreign language or the language of your craft. Want to understand the world of finance or a testing laboratory? Immerse yourself in that world and learn the world of pie charts or pipettes. Want to know how to build a house? Join a crew and start hauling lumber. Every apprentice begins completely lost in the world they’ve immersed themselves in. But then something funny happens—your hand is forced and you slowly, awkwardly begin to learn. We’ve all experienced this in school and in our earliest days after graduating and beginning careers. But then we get comfortable and stop challenging ourselves. We stop getting lost. And in our comfort we stop growing.

Taking the easy path slowly kills our learning and kills us in the process. Comfort kills our brains. Kills our dreams. Kills any momentum for big leaps and dramatic turns. In nature we grow or we die, there is no stasis. Yet so many seek stasis.

Maybe diving deeper into a couple of languages doesn’t quite equate to growing or dying. But then again, maybe it does. Challenging our own status quo begins with making ourselves uncomfortable now and then. It begins with stumbling through challenges and finding our way out of it. As with physical fitness, growth comes from stress. There are benefits to being lost. For in being lost we may find our way.

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  1. Getting lost frequently gave me the excuse to ask for directions in Turkish, and Turks are generally very helpful (or at least were when I lived in Izmir in 2005).

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