Two months ago, I moved out of Richmond, VA, the city I’ve lived in since birth, to Long Island to live with my girlfriend. I knew what I was getting myself into with moving. I think I did, at least. You can’t prepare to uproot the entirety of your life, yank it 300+ miles up the East Coast, and not at some point realize that what you’re doing is, to say the very least, leaving your comfort zone. Leaving your hometown, or anywhere you've lived for a significant period of time, isn’t just stepping away from a place. It’s stepping away from everything that made it a home to you.
The process of adjusting to this change hasn’t been an easy one, nor is it anywhere near complete. But it’s happening, slowly but surely.
I’m not the kind of guy who never knew anything outside of his backyard. I’ve done plenty of traveling both in and out of the country – in fact, over the last couple of years, I’ve developed a nagging travel bug. That was largely what prompted me to consider moving in the first place. Before meeting my girlfriend I was looking at a move to anywhere from Nashville to Toronto, and even had a plan in place to move to Los Angeles with my best friend at one point. But all of that being said, my hometown of Richmond was – and still is – very integral to who I am. Everything and everyone I know and love is there. My immediate family, my friends, my alma mater, and everything that comes with those things are all located in Virginia.
I’m lucky in that a lot of close friends already live in New York, so it’s not like making this move would be skydiving without a parachute. Still, there’s something to be said for stepping away from a life you’ve built for yourself as opposed to one you live with out of habit. And here's what it's taught me so far.
You'll Need to Find New Spots
This is a little obvious, maybe, but there’s also something comforting about a routine, which I didn’t realize until I’d been in New York for about a week. We take ours for granted, usually. Most people have their “places” – our favorite bars, coffee shops, bookstores, the gym we go to daily, even our regular car repair shop. You don’t realize how integral some of these things are to you until they’re gone.
It sounds so trivial, but as much as I readied myself emotionally for the change, it got to me when I realized I didn’t have a coffee shop I could walk to from my new apartment. I’d had the same coffee shop within walking distance of my last three residences. It wasn’t just a place to get a cold brew; it was a place to be when I needed just that. And it hadn’t occurred to me that a comforting place like a coffee shop to frequent wouldn’t be waiting for me gift-wrapped and ready when I arrived. Do your legwork ahead of time.
Get Out as Often as Possible
The biggest struggle in adjusting to a new life, I think is just having somewhere to be. When you move somewhere new, especially early on, you don’t really have any obligation to be anywhere. No gym, no job (unless you’re lucky), no sense of regularity in your day-to-day. Rebuilding that from the ground up takes time. It takes effort, too, and a kind of effort you aren’t used to exerting.
I’d be lying if I said it was anything but incredibly hard. But once it starts paying off? It’s so unbelievably rewarding. Even the small steps pay dividends. I wouldn’t be exaggerating in the slightest by saying that my life in New York improved exponentially once I signed up for a new gym and found a cafe with good coffee and wifi ten minutes from my house. Establishing new patterns and finding new places that bring you joy isn’t just fulfilling internally; it also integrates you into your new community. In simpler terms, it makes your new home feel more like, well, a home.
Take a Small Step First
Home is a special thing, especially your first one. It’d be naive to assume that good experiences with hometowns are universal, but for me, it’s very much the case. I would hate to have lost that. But even if you love your hometown, consider taking an extended vacation from it – before you find yourself not loving it anymore. Because it’s not just the town you're leaving. It’s everything else in it.
Over the last year or so, many of the friends I’d made through college had moved to new cities, often with burgeoning careers to go with them. It was a little strange still walking around my college campus every day (I lived a quarter mile away from it). And I was being presented with career opportunities that, unfortunately, weren’t convenient to my part of the country. I figured it pertinent to try to explore some of the other opportunities that were out there before I found myself living in a hometown I no longer recognized or even loved.
I made the right decision. I never loved Richmond so much as I did the last two weeks I lived there. I saw the friends and family that mattered. I tried every restaurant I hadn’t had the chance to yet. I spent every morning at the small combat sports gym I’d grown attached to, and never half-assed my time with my teammates and coaches there. Long drives, dinners with friends, and goodbyes that meant something made sure that when I did hop in my car that early Saturday morning, I knew what I was leaving. And I knew it wouldn’t be goodbye, but, “See you later.”
We all have to leave home at some point, I think. It’s a rite of passage, whether it be for college, a job, or just to see more of the world. It’s a major part of growing up, learning who you are, and finding your place in the world. I firmly believe that you don’t know who you are until the ground has dropped out beneath you; until you’re placed in a situation where your comfort zone has vanished and you’re forced to adapt. It might not be in the form of leaving your hometown - I’ll be the first to admit that you can find yourself without a sense of home without leaving the city you grew up in - but it has to happen eventually. Traversing the pain that comes with it, and finding the joy in that journey, has been one of the greatest adventures in my life so far.