Like art, the tweets of birds are an international language that all can interpret, though I swear the little yellow birds that frolic in the old stone birdbath here on the porch are tweeting in French.

Breathing deeply, I take in the cool air and the view of the mountains that were made famous by Cezanne, who painted frequently near this very spot — an old yellow farmhouse with shadows of olive trees playing on its stucco walls. Looking down the long outdoor hallway, covered with vines held up by old wrought iron lamps, I can see the village awakening and begin to hear the sound of church bells in the distance. I’m here with my fine art group at a stunning five-star hotel, Domaine de Manville, deep in the countryside of Les-Baux-de-Provence, France.

Deep Gratitude

It’s hard to wake up in a place like this without feeling tremendously grateful. I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to be here, to lead and spend time with this group of friends and see all the art treasures in the area, I’m grateful for how being here changes my perspective and disrupts my comfort zone.

Scrambled Brain

Though we’re all pretty comfortable here, our brains scramble anytime we leave the comfort of our own surroundings and are exposed to new sights, new language, and new experiences.

We all strive for comfort and familiarity, yet it is discomfort that stimulates growth and helps our brains discover new possibilities.

Bumbling Along

Being here in France, trying to communicate with people who speak little or no English, really stretches my non-French-speaking brain. Reading menus without translations, making out road signs, or trying to figure out labels on a drugstore shelf is both frustrating and invigorating. I love the challenge and the stimulation.

A Grand Tradition

Back in the 1800s, wealthy families would send their graduating sons and daughters on the Grand Tour, which was six months or a year abroad. It was considered a necessary rounding of one’s education to experience Europe, its languages and great museums, and its extraordinary geography. I think it’s a valuable experience every graduate should have if they can.

I Should Have Quit

I made my first trip here at 19, traveling with my parents. I remember wanting to stay longer, so I phoned my boss at the radio station begging for one more week, but he refused. It was such a wonderful experience here, I was tempted to quit my job and backpack around Europe. Looking back, I wish I had.

An Annual Trek

Eleven years ago, after a near-death experience, I told myself I would travel to Eurooe at least once a year, and I have accomplished that goal. Once the kids are in college, I hope we can spend more time traveling the world to experience its unique cultures. I consider it my continuing education.

What are you doing to disrupt your comfort zone?

Seeking Discomfort

It doesn’t require a trip to Europe, and not even a trip to another place at all (though if you’ve not done it, it’s worth saving for). Getting out of your comfort zone is just a matter of forcing yourself to do something you would ordinarily never do or have never considered doing. It might be as simple as going to an ethnic festival or trying foods you’ve never tried, reading things you would never otherwise pick up, maybe taking a class in something completely foreign. Instead of watching TV at night, I’ll watch online courses in things I know nothing about. I recently watched one on fashion design and another on psychology.

Supercharged Mind

The key is being intentional. Though accidental discomfort can be exhilarating, we tend to live routines that keep accidents from happening. Yet if you’re intentional, you are supercharging your brain, which impacts everything you do, keeps life interesting, and makes you feel better about yourself because you’re learning.

Comfort is the enemy of growth. Discomfort is a jewel worth embracing.

I encourage you to take your own Grand Tour of discomfort. You’ll be amazed at how your brain and attitude will change.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Starting out last Monday, Laurie and I flew to Nice, France, arriving Tuesday in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, an old medieval hilltop village in the South of France. Our hotel there, the Colombe d’Or, has a rich history of art and has housed movie stars, film directors, and artists like Miro, Braque, Chagall, Calder, Picasso, and others, including a group of 12 artists who joined me to paint the distant mountains and cobblestone streets.

When one of my readers knew we would be there, she offered to show us the great painting spots and painted with us. She also had all 12 of those on my painting trip to her lovely home for dinner. Special thanks to Elisa and Paul Mussin for their hospitality.

This week following the painting trip, we met up with my annual Fine Art Trip, celebrating Van Gogh and Cezanne and their old stomping grounds as well as seeing the great museums of the region.

Soon after returning home, I’ll be seeing many of you at my Figurative Art Convention & Expo, one of the great opportunities to learn to paint under the greatest of the great masters. I hope to see you there November 10-13 in Williamsburg, Virginia: