My little sister and I had decided to go to Morocco. I was a junior in college, and I was studying abroad in Spain. She came to visit, and she figured that since we were already in that part of the world, we might as well go to Morocco.
So we went. We took a boat across the Mediterranean, then we took a bus to the border. We walked across the Moroccan border—women in one lane, men in the other.
We got to the other side. We did not speak Arabic or French, the local languages. We did not have any local currency. We did not really know where we were going.
There were no “Welcome to Morocco” visitors booths on the other side of the border, and no guides—just 50 cab drivers rushing at us and yelling in languages we didn’t understand.
But we went onward. Those days in Morocco redefined travel for me. We took buses that should have broken down decades earlier. We stayed at a five-dollar hotel that may or may not have had running water. We had no way to communicate with the outside world.
And yet…it was a wonderful experience. We got ourselves lost, and then we found our way.
If you haven’t already, you should try it one day. Getting lost could make you a much better employee.
The Case for Chaos
Here’s a secret: those who’ve gotten themselves lost when abroad—and particularly those who’ve found themselves in trouble—are often the ones who know how to stay calm when everything goes wrong at work.
And I promise you: One day, everything will go wrong.
Some people rise up in those situations. Some people blow up.
Don’t be the latter.
Some skills you cannot learn at school, and this is one of them. School cannot teach you how to keep your head on straight in a bad situation.
The only way to learn that is to put yourself in weird situations and try to find your way out. And the best place for that is abroad. If you’re lost in Morocco or China or Saskatchewan, you might not be able to rely on the smartphone in your pocket for answers. You might have to (gasp!) use your own intuition and resourcefulness to fix the problem.
But what’s wonderful is that once you’ve figured out how to solve a problem under the weirdest of situations, you can find the confidence to deal with stress at the office. You can probably fix whatever’s wrong back in the real world.
Step Outside Your World
Here’s another thing world travelers do well: they’re often willing to step outside their comfort zones and try new things.
That’s a hugely underrated skill. Many of the best workers are the ones who are willing to go way outside the box to find answers. They’re also often the ones who’ve done the same thing abroad. Anyone who’s ever had to talk their way out of a weird situation in a language they only half-understand knows what I’m talking about.
That’s why I make a point of working with people who have had experience abroad. And it’s why I’m leery of working with those who don’t travel—or those who are just bad travelers. If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Amazing Race and seen a team blow up at each other when the littlest thing goes wrong, you know the kind of people I’m talking about. Those people are fun to watch on reality TV, but not so much fun to work with.
I’ll take the coworker who’s gone abroad and stayed cool when things fell apart over the reality TV star anytime.
How To Get Lost Abroad
So do me a favor: the next time you travel abroad, spend an afternoon without a map. Spend a day without a full plan.
Let yourself get lost. Let yourself be curious.
I promise you: one day, those skills will come in handy at the office.
Now, I don’t encourage you to make the travel mistakes I’ve made. I don’t recommend that you intentionally get yourself into significant trouble abroad.
But if you do, and if you survive it and stay composed along the way, you’ll have an answer the next time a potential employer asks you how you work under pressure.
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