Derek Sivers

Why I left America


I was living on the beach in Santa Monica, California, and life was perfect. I was in paradise, and deeply happy.

Friends wanted to travel, but I had no interest. I had already lived a few years each in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Portland, and San Francisco. Santa Monica was perfect. I loved the weather, the people, the lifestyle, the business opportunities, and everything. It was the best place on earth.

But I always want to learn and grow. To grow intellectually, you need to be surprised. If we’re not surprised, we’re not really learning. We may add new information, but not really update our understanding of the world. No “Wow!” No “Aha!”

To keep learning and growing, we should always seek out new perspectives. Appreciate music, food, and experiences we initially dislike. Read about subjects we know nothing about. Understand people we disagree with. Take on new challenges. Avoid routine.

I started feeling like my happiness and comfort — my feeling that things here are the way they should be — might make me stagnate, plateau, or atrophy.

Yes I could have forced myself to learn and grow from home. But I’d be fighting the gravity that pulls me into my comfortable chair and routines. I wanted an environment that forces me to grow. Somewhere full of daily surprises, whether I seek them or not.

So I forced myself to leave America. Leave my comfort zone. I considered finding new perspectives inside America, living in Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Alaska. But why the artificial boundary? Why not Turkey, Nigeria, Finland, Indonesia, Israel, China, and Brazil?

Places have a living philosophy. I wanted to understand these different approaches to life. I wanted them to also feel like home.

So I set off into the world, with that goal. Move to a place that feels strange, until it feels like home. Constantly learning and growing. Then do it again, pursuing discomfort, until the whole world is my home.

For another side to this story, read “Why I let go of my U.S. citizenship”.

scene from the movie Big Fish

(This picture is from the movie “Big Fish”, where at the beginning of the hero’s journey, he finds a paradise, and everyone there begs him to stay, but he says, “I’m sorry, I may never find a place this nice again, but I need to go out into the world and have my adventure.”)