Relocation, and Why It’s Not Quite as Scary as You Think

Nobody is this happy when moving.

Moving has always been a huge part of my life. Up through high school, I had lived in four different general locations, in ten different houses and apartments, and attended a fair number of different schools. And in college… let’s just say I did a fair bit of relocating. (Eight apartments in five years? Lady, you crazy.) I became remarkably adept at putting everything I own into boxes and bags, sweeping out my room, saying goodbye to the familiar corners and windows and not turning back.

But no matter how many times I moved, there was definitely that moment. Leigh characterized it well last week when she wrote, “Oh, my God. I’m moving across the country. What am I thinking?” I’m living through that now, too: Two weeks from today, I’m picking up my life and moving it back across the country from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Portland, Oregon.

I did the same thing eight months ago when I graduated from college and got this job in Philly. I was nervous and eager and excited and scared. Moving when you’re little is one thing. Your parents are coming with you, they take care of most of the logistics, and you’re just along for the ride. Moving to college, for those of us who went to school farther away from home, is a little scarier. Moving across the country for your first full time job, the real foray into being a pseudo-adult? That was horror-movie fear.

Moving back? I’m having trouble finding the words to describe it.

For all intents and purposes, Portland is my dream city. As students at the University of Oregon know, Portland is the holy grail. 107 miles up the road, we make frequent weekend trips, sometimes during the week for shows or parties with a late night drive home, our compatriots asleep in the back seat. The bike lanes are abundant, the coffee is bitterly brilliant, the farmers markets overflow with fresh produce, the bands play late into the night. The people are friendly and my new job presents an incredible opportunity to further my career. On paper, everything should be great.

But this move is more terrifying than any of the others. And that doesn’t make any sense.

As I said before, moving has never been hard for me. I love change, and adventure. But for the last six years, every time I’ve moved has come at the logical end of some task. The end of a school year, the end of a summer internship, the end of college. May 8th is special only insofar as it’s a little less than a week until I start my new job. And life in Philadelphia is going to go right on without me.

I think that’s the difference. When you graduate from college, you’re eager to get out into the real world, to start your own life free from the shackles of higher education. You and all of the people you graduated with. From then on out, though, it’s you against the world, trying to make the freeways bend and the clouds move in a certain direction so you won’t get rained on while you’re packing the moving truck and won’t hit too much traffic on your way out.

Maleable.

But that’s the excitement that I think Leigh was trying to get at. When you move as a post-grad/pseudo-adult/whatever people are calling us these days, it’s on your own terms. You get to decide when you’re moving, how much you want to pay, where you’re going to go. Yeah, jobs dictate those decisions (woo money, amirite?), but ultimately we are the masters of our own destinies. And that’s how I’m keeping myself sane through this whole process. Even though many aspects of this move are not entirely up to me, I’m doing it on my own terms (as much as I can).

That also means I’m remarkably unprepared. Two weeks out, and I’m still not entirely sure how I’m getting all my things across the country. I’m still trying to finagle rent and deposits and wrap things up at work and see all of my friends at least once before I go. And I’m starting to be sad about leaving this city that I never really got to know, that I hope to return to someday, that gave me the leg up from unemployed college graduate to working millenial.

When I brought this melancholy to the attention of my father, he pointed me to a column in the New York Times where David Brooks asked his age 70+ readers to write essays evaluating their own lives. I won’t get into the details of the sad story contained in the article (feel free to read it yourself), but I will say that it’s about how quickly our ideas about the future can change and how that has long-lasting effects on our lives. Perception, Brooks notes, can change in an instant. My dad’s email to me read (from the article):

The fact is, we are all terrible at imagining how we will feel in the future. We exaggerate how much the future will be like the present. We underestimate the power of temperament to gradually pull us up from the lowest lows. And if our capacities for imagining the future are bad in normal times, they are horrible in moments of stress and suffering.

Given these weaknesses, it seems wrong to make a decision that will foreclose future thinking. It seems wrong to imagine that you have mastery over everything you will feel and believe. It’s better to respect the future, to remain humbly open to your own unfolding.

It was this idea that gave birth to my moving philosophy. Life is an adventure, and not in the cheesy, bumper sticker and postcard way. Every single experience shapes every other experience, and our perceptions of those experiences. But we have no way of knowing what the effects of our decisions will be, and we have no way of knowing how we’re going to feel about it.

That doesn’t make this move any less scary, but it is making it easier to deal with. For me, moving on my own terms is about being open to the possibility of… well, anything. I can come back to Philly, I can stay in Portland for the rest of my life, I can move to Canada or Guam or back to Hong Kong. But Lyzi 20 years from now is a woman that I do not yet know. I don’t know her goals, her desires, her priorities, her values. I don’t know how she will perceive the world.

I do know that someday she will be sitting around the dinner table, talking about the crazy eight months she spent in Philadelphia, the anxiety she had about her move back to Oregon, and the adventures that came from it. And I’m sure she’ll look back upon this time fondly, with a soft smile, sipping her tea, and serving it to all her friends.

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One thought on “Relocation, and Why It’s Not Quite as Scary as You Think

  1. LYZI! I love this. This is among my favorite quotes: “From then on out, though, it’s you against the world, trying to make the freeways bend and the clouds move in a certain direction so you won’t get rained on while you’re packing the moving truck and won’t hit too much traffic on your way out.” I had to carry boxes into my Bed Stuy apartment in the rain and of course struggled to open that awful front door! It’s part of the fun though, and you’ll reflect on this in thirty years with nothing but fondness. You’ll laugh about the stress, too. No pain, no gain. I admire your willingness to change your life when you know you could be happier elsewhere. Not everyone is brave enough to take such risks

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