‘Everything you want is on the other side of fear’ – Jack Canfield
I’ve been in Paris now for a little over three weeks so I think I’m ready to write about a phenomenon I’ve experienced over and over again on my travels and maybe you have too as a nomad, expat, mover of cities – the first two weeks.
The first two weeks that transpired here in Paris were more or less the same first two weeks I always seem to have when I arrive in a new place. One traveller friend goes as far as to call it his ‘two week slump’, the first two uncomfortable weeks when you arrive to live somewhere new with your expectations high and firmly set, only to have them smashed into a million pieces. All the daydream-y scenes you’ve been picturing for weeks or even months, of you living a beautiful life in your new home are harshly replaced with reality – annoying admin tasks, getting lost, loneliness, disconnection and frustration that you just have to push through and experience. This is your adjustment period and it’s unavoidable.
The first two weeks are not that fun. As humans we don’t like where we are and what we have; we think changing things will make us happy, but we also don’t like change and the unfamiliar makes us feel unsafe. This is a real conundrum and it’s taken me a while to get my head around it. Change can make us happier in the long run, sure, but first we must weather the uncomfortable reality of the unfamiliar.
Maybe it’s that your new bedroom shares a wall with that of a couple yelling at one another often in a foreign language, maybe it’s just that the shower leaks water all over the floor or the towel they gave you is too scratchy, or it’s that you don’t know where they sell the good falafels yet and that amongst all of this you’re trying to pull together something resembling a social circle and scrambling to get your work done from whatever random flat surface will hold the weight of your laptop. All these little, disruptive, unfamiliar things chip away at you until you’re left feeling like you can’t remember why you left the familiarity of the last place, like you want to go home.
This first two weeks phenomenon floors you and you cannot see outside of it when you’re in it, even if you’ve done this a hundred times before. It always feels real and all-consuming and like things will never get better.
So why keep doing this? What can the first two weeks teach you? Why do we have to go through it?
Well you see, I’ve also observed the second two weeks and what happens beyond over and over again. And at this point, the unfamiliar starts to miraculously becomes familiar as we walk the streets over and over again and stop getting lost, as we start to see the same people and say hello and maybe say something more, as we set our routines and find our places and people that make us feel connected, a part of something again. This is a good feeling, it’s the feeling of a warrior who’s conquered in the battle with unfamiliarity and fear, mixed with this beautiful everyday awe and excitement as you can finally start to see the wonder in the foreign, exotic place you find yourself in. ‘Oh the eggs at this supermarket are different!’, ‘Those flowers, we don’t have them at home!’, ‘I love that cute apartment with the windows, that’s where I’ll live one day!’.
I think the first two weeks phenomenon is a perfect example of the human tendency to feel uncomfortable with change. So we tend to avoid it, but at what cost? I’ve often thought of my life in recent years as an experiment, I want to try to use it to see what can happen when you don't let fear direct your life. When you let yourself sit with your very personal, real-feeling, survival-threatening fears and observe them and tolerate them until they fade away and bow out to let something else in, to let you do the things you're scared to do but must.
So I tolerate these first two weeks, I wait them out patiently, and then unimaginable good always comes in as a reward. But it’s always hard to remember this in the first two weeks, so maybe this article can be my reminder, and yours too if you need it.
p.s. I love this song, going to see french band La Femme below at Rock en Seine in Paris on Saturday :)