I’ve been experiencing a lot of change in the past two years. In this short span, I’ve moved (officially and unofficially) maybe four or five times? From Los Angeles to Minnesota to Salt Lake City to Indiana back to Minnesota and now to Virginia, with pit stops along the way. It’s been a lot. And sometimes really intimidating. But like with all things: practice makes perfect — or at least tolerable.
I’ve learned a few patterns and shortcuts to smooth the transition to a new home — hacks that make me more adaptable and provide opportunity for finding community and stability when neither manifests on its own. Here are some ideas I’ve gathered on how to stay grounded when you move to a new city.
Moving provides a ton of opportunity for self reflection and evaluation. What else are you going to do with all the time you have to yourself? You don’t know anyone, and you’re spending a lot of time packing, driving, unpacking, and finding that one yogurt brand in a new grocery store — which means you have more than enough space to think about your life.
Because you’re feeling displaced, that reflection can easily turn stressful: What am I doing here? Why did I make this move? Where am I going? Instead, focus on remembering when you felt like you were at your best — ponder the things you love, the things you’ve gained, the things you’ve learned from your previous location. See if a pattern emerges that offers clues about where you find joy, then push to build those into your new setting.
When reflecting on what you love, the qualities you want to leave behind will present themselves. Maybe there’s something to learn there as well — perhaps there are patterns of behavior or habits that are worth identifying and avoiding. Be open to learning about yourself, but let that positive, joyful vision lead.
2. Find your watering hole
This will mean different things to different people. I’m a fan of the local barstool, but it could be a local diner, a five-star restaurant, a bakery, or a library. The point is this: When you feel alone, don’t fall into the trap of cooping up at home.
Put yourself out into the world where life can happen. Brave the chasm between your studio apartment and the great unknown. There’s unbelievable power in walking into a restaurant on your own and realizing that you can dine solo and have a great time. Be your own best companion. Talk to the bartender — or don’t. You’re free to accept or reject what the world lays before you, but you’ll never have that option if you spend all your time watching Netflix.
Anyone who is looking for community knows that you only find connections by going out and meeting people. Potential friends aren’t canvassing the neighborhood looking for you — you have to go out and put yourself in social situations. And maybe even take the initiative to be a connecting force, yourself.
But here’s my big tip when it comes to making friends when you move: Don’t limit yourself to diving into just one community. Lean into your multifacetedness. Meet artists, readers, athletes, nerds, musicians, and cheerleaders. One community may click more than another. What matters is creating options.
You are not limited to the first five people you meet. Put the energy in, and the world will meet you.
4. Apply who you are to where you are
You’ve developed a constellation of interests and talents and esoteric knowledge about whatever it is that jazzes you up. You shouldn’t leave that behind just because you moved to a new city. If you’re a skier who’s moved to the south, that doesn’t change who you are — you’re still a skier. You just may need to work a little harder to keep that part of you alive.
So do the work to preserve what’s important to you, even if you can’t find it in your new hometown. You’ll become better at your “thing” because of it, and you might make new connections along the way. Either way, you’ll be sustaining an important part of your identity, which will help you feel more like yourself when most of the time you feel like a stranger.
5. And vice versa: Apply where you are to who you are
We are all works-in-progress, and the interests you’ve developed served you well for one season of life. But you’ll have many more seasons — in 20 years, you’ll look back at this time of your life and marvel at how little you knew. Being a newcomer to a city is a great opportunity to let the local culture and history shape you.
Be open to learning in your new environment, and make it specific to your new home. Maybe you’re a wine guy but there is a thriving craft brewing scene in your new city — change up your menu and take advantage of the local expertise to broaden your palate. If you’re a snowboarder but you find yourself on the coast, you could naturally try surfing. Allow new experiences to inform who you want to be — they are an opportunity to grow.
Every move makes a big impact on your life, so keep your knees bent and stay loose and flexible. Rigidity will only lead to breakage. You’ll face some push and pull with your new setting, and your task is to balance how much you bring to it, and how much you let it bring to you. Either way, you’ll be transformed — and you have the opportunity to make a lasting mark when it’s time to take your next step.