Ask Colin: Out of Place at Home

I am finally back home in Florida after 18 months of living and working in Shanghai and Bangkok.

Now that I am home, I am feeling out of place here, not unlike the feeling I had overseas. I am not sure what is happening. What do you think I should do to adapt to being home? Could you give some advice? Can you relate?


Hey Ketsana-

I can absolutely relate, and I suspect most people who have left home to live elsewhere at some point would be able to, as well.

There are many reasons for that sense of being out of place even in your own hometown, but there are two primary ones I’d like to address, here.

The first is that you, while away, have grown.

You’ve changed in both subtle and significant ways, and those changes have adjusted the way you see the world.

You’ve viewed things from novel perspectives, you’ve three-dimensionalized your perception. You’ve shifted your paradigm, and the consequence of that shift is that you now see familiar places, things, and people from different angles. And that can be uncomfortable; especially at first.

The second is that your home has also changed. And it went through those changes while you were away.

The environments and communities in which we live are always changing. But generally we are changing in parallel, so the changes feel natural, happen iteratively and quietly in the background, and occur slowly enough that we seldom notice them, except in retrospect.

When you step away for a while, though, those slow, steady changes amalgamate into something more noticeable. Or rather, they’re more noticeable to you, because you didn’t experience the tiny steps along the way, firsthand. You were elsewhere, changing in other ways.

This is the same reason, by the way, that when you return home after a period of travel, other people will likely notice changes in you before you notice them in yourself.

Just as you missed a collection of slow-evolutions back home while you were away, but immediately recognized the totality of them, added together, when you got back, so too will friends and family notice your tiny, iterative changes, in aggregate, when they see you again.

All of which is interesting, but not directly helpful in dealing with your sense of disconnection from that home and those people.

One way of looking at all of this that I’ve found to be valuable, and that helps me avoid feeling disconnected from the places I’ve lived, is to approach every single place—including my hometowns—as if they are a new challenge, a new land to discover.

In other words: approach the place you grew up the same way you approached Shanghai and Bangkok when you first arrived. Treat them as settings with infinite potential, myriad mysteries to solve, and countless corners to explore.

This heuristic is beneficial in that it can help you see familiar places as new and interesting and worthy of unbiased consideration. Rather than expecting them to be a certain way, you can approach them impartially—you can allow them to be what they are, now, rather than judging them by the standards of something they haven’t been for a while, or perhaps never were.

This angle of thinking also helps you see your future homes this way, ensuring that you never get stuck on a plateau of familiarity, wherein a cozy, habitual rhythm causes you to see the region in which you live as dull and predictable, but the rest of the world as novel and interesting.

Far better to maintain a sense of wonder and awe, the tickle of curiosity and adventure, even in your own home town. Even familiar places can become, and remain, ever-shifting sources of surprise and delight, if you let them.

So appreciate the familiar things for what they are, but don’t be afraid of embracing the disorientation and confusion, the perspective-shifts and uncertain footing. These features can be indicative of a home, just as they can be indicative of an adventure.

The world changes, we change, and the more we can embrace both of these realities, the more capable we are of finding happiness and fulfillment wherever we might find ourselves.

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