Recently, I got to spend a few days in the town I went to grad school in, Pullman, WA. Pullman is a small college town in the southeast corner of the state, right on the Idaho border, small, dry, and almost exactly the opposite of what most people imagine when you mention Washington state. Surrounded by rolling hills covered in wheat, about 2 hours from Spokane (the nearest city that meets an east coast kid’s standard for urban) it was about as far from DC, both physically and metaphorically, that I could have managed without leaving the states altogether. To get there my dad and I spent a week driving cross-country together, then a few more days exploring my new town and assembling cheap furniture I’d ordered online. When I dropped him off at the Spokane airport, it was the second time in my life I saw my dad with tears in his eyes. Shortly after, attempting to distract myself with shopping before the drive back to Pullman, I found myself ugly crying in the furniture section of a Target, wondering if I’d just made the dumbest move of my life.
I lived in Pullman for four years, three as a graduate student and one as a verified working adult. I grew up more in that period of time than in all the years prior, through some amazing highs, some devastating lows, and some pleasantly content middle ground. Despite all my new-found maturity, when it was time to leave I was shocked to find that I somehow felt less certain of the road ahead than I had when I arrived. Starting grad school hadn’t seemed like a leap of faith, full-blown “adulting” sometimes still feels like I’m jumping on a daily basis. Pullman was never a place I saw myself living long term, but it was the first home I ever made for myself — I arrived with no family, no friends, no familiar places and left a completely different person.
It has been nearly two years since I left Pullman and moved back to DC, during which I have completely changed careers twice, moved to Brooklyn and back, and got to know myself to depths a younger me didn’t even know existed. My visit had me reminiscing (pondering partially fueled by legal pot shops) on who I was when I lived there, who I am now, and the lessons I’ve learned in between. Some parts of me are dramatically different, some I’m annoyed to see haven’t changed, and there are some that I’ve made peace with and love in new and powerful ways.
Moving by yourself provides you with an amazing gift of self-clarity. There’s nothing like undertaking a big move to realize that some of the things you blamed on circumstances in your last place have followed you, that perhaps these things are part of you, and if you really want them to change you’re going to have to do some work. There is nothing quite so eye-opening as moving 3000 miles only to realize that at the end of the day, the only thing you can’t get away from is yourself. Turns out, if you’ve got anxiety in DC, moving to the middle of a wheat field won’t miraculously change that, and if you’re struggling with your dating patterns after a few years in the wheat, well Brooklyn can only do so much for you. A move isn’t a magic fix, but it will shine a bright light on the places you need to dig in and do work, and there is something a little magical about that.
I’ve learned a lot about myself going through these transitions — that I can find my bearings in unfamiliar territory, that I can build powerful friendships anywhere, that even the biggest changes can become the new normal. I’ve learned to trust my gut and trust that even when it feels like I’m way off course, I’m always exactly where I’m supposed to be. The universe has a mystical way of making it all make sense if I give it a little time, even if that seems impossible in the middle.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that most of the changes I’ve hoped for when I’ve upended my life are internal rather than external, there are some patterns that distance alone can’t break. This understanding and the transformation it has brought to my life is a major part of why I wanted to become a life coach and help others do the same. Change is possible all the time and you don’t necessarily have to drive across the country to get it (though if it’s calling you, you might want to try). I know that I won’t ultimately settle in DC, and I’m still figuring out where my next physical move will be, but this time I know I’ll be making it to accentuate my personal growth, not force it.
Have you been through a major transition that illuminated some areas you want to work on? Are you getting ready for a big move that will usher in change? Tell me about it!