When I first moved from Manhattan to Fort Collins, CO, I always assumed that I’d be back. Most of my world lived in the northeast, I loved the culture and pace there, and, frankly, at the time, NYC was pretty much the only place that I deemed worth living. My plan was to go adventure in CO for a year or two – because I did want the ‘adventure’ (and, let’s be honest, the bragging rights) of being out of my comfort zone – while simultaneously working on a viable plan to ‘move back.’
That didn’t work out. As it turns out, there’s a whole world outside of NYC, and somewhere around 19,381 places that I’d be perfectly happy living in. Maybe even happier than in the Tri-state area. And at some point, I stopped hoping or expecting that Life would lead me back there, and started accepting that my path did not have a clear ending nestled in the suburbs of the northeast, or compacted in the sleepless city. For awhile, I even moderately rebelled against the idea, expressing disdain for even the suggestion that moving to an area where nearly all of my loved ones live would be something I might want to do. Ridiculous! Why would I want to go ‘backwards’? There’s nothing for me there.
Except that there is.
While the vast majority of the time, I am literally joyous about where and how I get to live my life, there are moments when my heart strings feel painfully stretched to the Atlantic. Like when my new sister-in-law and I exchange emails and I realize how much I like her, but also how little I know her. Or when she tells me about the baby kicking her tummy and I realize that I will be 3000 miles away when Brother’s first child is born. Or when I think about Rooms’ kids not knowing who I am. One of the more obvious and painful realizations that I had when I first flew the northeastern coop is that everyone’s lives keep going; whether or not you’re planning to move back, nobody is waiting for you to get there to get married or have babies or grow older.
I love the life that I’ve chosen, even though the decision comes with some occasional heartache. There is a lot of value in choosing to travel (to sum up all of my lifestyle choices into one word), to branch out; there is an equal amount of value in staying put, in having roots. The most salient lesson I’ve learned in all of my twenty-nine years is that everything – everything! – in life is a trade-off. You can have almost anything that you want in life, you just can’t have everything that you want. I’ve found this to be one of the basic truths in life: you can get married and have kids young, but that may cost you traveling in your 20s. You can get drunk and have a great time with your friends one night, but it may cost you productivity and health in the form of a hangover the next day. You can work less, but you’ll have less money. You can work more and have more money, but less free time. Everything is a trade off and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways to live, there are just options, and our choices are what shape our lives and define our values.
The key, I think, is to be mindful of the choices we have – which are different for every person – and strive to make the one that is most in line with who we want to be and how we want to live. And sometimes, even when you make the best choice for yourself, you still feel a tug in the other direction, and that’s okay. That’s normal. A certain amount of questioning your choices is necessary; it’s called ‘self-exploration’ and is arguably the most important work that we do in this life.
I’m still content with my choice and I know it’s the best one for me right now. And I find ways to compensate for what I’ve lost: Skype dates, emails, phone calls, this blog. I may not be able to ‘have it all,’ but I have a life that I love and people that I care deeply about, even if they are a plane ride away.
And in the end, I’m always just grateful for having the freedom to choose.