A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
Question: Where to if not here?
So if I am to leave and to head somewhere, where shall it be?
This is actually the wrong question. It is based on a premise that may not be right. Step back, reword, and try again.
I am leaving a stationary existence in DC. How many of those words am I replacing?
The first, and most important question is the path, not the destination. Am I transitioning to a stationary life in another place? Or to a transitory or nomadic life in many other places?
If I am traveling, am I doing it as holiday, or exercise in finding myself, or in gaining life experience? Am I traveling for me? Or am I finding a job that would send me away, working on the road?
If I am choosing a stationary life, am I choosing the location? Or am I choosing a job or activity, and letting that dictate my location? Am I moving to Vietnam? Or is peace corps sending me to Laos?
How to tackle these questions? Well, why am I leaving?
I am leaving because I didn’t get into a career here that truly captured me. This is not, long term, what I see myself doing. But could I just find a different job and transition to that? Could I stay in DC and jump industries? Yes, I could. But that’s not what I want.
Then why am I leaving?
DC is a very conservative city. Dress sharp, work hard, stay in and watch TV, go to trendy restaurants and bars. Though many exceptions exist, the default here is a very mainstream path, one that doesn’t revel in the alternative, music, biking, hiking, getting out, trying new things. That isn’t me. And this is the only place I have truly lived long term.
DC is where I grew up. My family is here. My high school friends are still largely here. Some of my college friends are here. As are most of the friends I made after moving back post-graduation. The social life and support networks I built up over the years are mainly based here. But they aren’t truly here anymore. In many ways, DC is my Gettysburg. Important things happened here some time ago that forever altered the way my history progressed. But those events are past, and the players in them have largely moved on. The high school group has disbanded. The post-college crews have lost lynchpins to their cohesion. People have changed, evolved, made improvements and made mistakes. People have been lost to their own devices or cut out based on their actions.
When I moved away and was gone, people lived their lives without me. And I came back into a different life, trying to shoehorn myself back into the role I used to play. But long gone are the days when I could convince 50 people to show up to a house party in Reston.
DC is a loaded term for me right now, filled with implications, feelings, and visceral reactions. The life I’ve had here for the past year is one imbued with some strong emotions. Some are great and I’ve had some great times with great people. But some are negatives. Self-doubt. Depressive phases. Failure to break into an industry. Missteps on various paths. Though I could just try to wash it all away and start fresh, it isn’t what I want to do. I want a fresh start in a place with no connotations to me. I don’t want to walk into a place with history. I want to sort my life out in a place where I know nothing else. It will start out neutral, and it will come to exist in my head as the place that I answered questions.
So that’s what I need to look for. The last point speaks to the very nature of my next steps – transitory vs. long term. DC is not a place I feel I can honestly figure out the next phase. It will have the aftertaste of DC on it, and I’ll be making the decision from a mindset of escape. I need to be elsewhere to figure out what I am actually doing. So, change of scenery to figure out what change of scenery.
Then the next place will not be long term. But it won’t be a stopover either. If I am to sit down and figure things out, to soul-search and research, to ask and interview, then I will need time to do it. And so I choose a destination for a few months. Enough to enjoy and settle and get into a routine of sorts. But not enough to take the place for granted, to fall into a rut, to develop long-term behaviors. I am moving to Melbourne or Sydney again in spirit, though not in practice. Australia is out. Too much connotation.
I can choose to stay in the new city if that is the right answer. But it will be exactly that – an active choice rather than a passive one.
So where to stop over? If a problem with DC was that I have too much memory here, I need a place with little or no context (1).
And if I had the problem of trying to put a new me back into a world with pre-existing yet disintegrating groups from days gone, then new me needs to avoid places with an existing social circle of which I’m a part (2). If I am using this new place to sit down and sort things out for the future, I shouldn’t be walking into a place expecting a version of me from the past. As with Australia, I am walking into a place where I can define who I am and who I want to be. The people there don’t know my past but for what I tell them.
But as I found when I first got to Australia and was out of sorts, in a daze, unable to get my footing in a strange place, having some connection on the ground can be a life saver. I’m stronger than I was when I touched down there three years ago. But I don’t need to prove that. And so a place with some friendlies would be ideal. A connection to family would be as well. So a city with a friend and a family member (3). If I am making a go at sorting myself out on the larger scale, then someone who knows me pretty well would be helpful. I have the lifelines to those decade-long friendships as long as I have a connection to digital communication. But those afternoons sitting in a café and breaking down my life, those evenings of decision and crisis – those times work better with facial expression and gestures and someone in the room to interact with. So, ideal is a place with someone who knows me, will have these talks with me, and will call me on my laziness, my stalling, my hesitance, and my deluded thinking as needed (3a).
And to the fact that DC is so buttoned-down, I should find a place further from that end of the spectrum (4). The ideal city will be one that I might fit better with the culture – more laid back, more accepting in general, more outdoorsy, less status-focused, less corporate/political. Not all of those are critical, but getting a city that isn’t DC is what I’m aiming for. And while I’m sorting me out, I’ll be learning to live in a different culture entirely. I may hate it and call it quits on that, missing DC and come running back long term. I may love it and realize that I my soul belongs in an entirely different part of the country. But either way, I learn.
As to rural vs. city – city (5). I could do rural for some sorting out of life. Load up on books and movies, on questions and conundrums, and just head out to the expanse to sort it all out. But I’m not ready to go all Into the Wild just yet. I’m not even ready to go back to the suburbs. I have truly loved and valued that I’m a fifteen minute walk to multiple concert venues and bars and restaurants. That I can bike just about anywhere I need within 20 minutes. That I have access to fairly frequently running public transit (compared to the suburbs). That I’m in the heart of it. I love city living, even when I hated DC living.
The timeline and the goal push me to stay in America (6). Going overseas would require too much up front cost and energy for a trip of a few months, and too much energy on the ground sorting out new systems and language, being the outsider. Getting the education on a new place and new culture is a side benefit, not the goal. I can choose to put oceans between me and DC from my next stop, but not for my next stop.
So, I’m looking for a city that is laid back, more alternative, where I have some family and a friend (as opposed to just a friendly) without having a social circle or history, where I can sort out for a few months, in the US. Ideally a place where the cost of living is lower than DC (not hard). Ideally with a job market that isn’t terrible, though since this is not about the long-term and I don’t know what I want to do, a flourishing corporate job market is somewhat irrelevant past the point that it implies a flourishing support industry job market.
DC is out. Durham and Seattle too due to social circles. NYC and Boston have social networks on the borderline of too big for me. Also, if escaping the DC mentality is a goal, NYC and Boston aren’t really stepping too far from it. LA and Phili are out for being LA and Phili. Louisville, Madison, Austin, Nashville, Memphis, San Diego, Milwaukee – all have their appeal and not much in the way of loaded history. But I’ve only got friends in Madison, no family, and I’m moving in winter. Family brings in Denver/Boulder, Albuquerque, Outer Banks NC, and the SF Bay Area. ABQ, Outer Banks, and Denver/Boulder lose on the lack of friends and lack of interest. And the bay area loses on affordability, and somewhat lack of interest. So that leaves one city as the lead candidate. As the winner of the “Where Will Justin Go Next” competition for 2014.