Moving between cities, and from one country to another has been a big theme for the past 10 years of my life. My best friend who officiated our wedding even made a point about it in his speech.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to call so many places home, for meeting people from all over, and for taking in all the different cultures. I'm also grateful that I moved with my partner because it made every change and transition so much less anxious. Finally, I'm grateful to the people around me who kept reminding me to enjoy being in the moment, without thinking too much about what the next move may change.
The truth is, I didn't love everything about it. I recognize that many of my moves were driven by the feeling of 'I'm never enough'. And by somewhat blindly saying yes to every career opportunity without knowing what it is that I need or want.
But looking back now; I've grown so much as a person and I would not have learned the lessons I'm sharing here now. These are some of my personal reflections from the past 10 years, and zooming in on the most recent move from the US to Canada.
"To successfully set boundaries, you first need to know what your needs are." I can't remember who said this to me, probably my therapist. I always struggled to set boundaries, but as I started to reconnect with myself over the past 2 years, I noticed that I was getting better at it. To her advice, I finally knew what were the important, almost sacred things that I wanted to draw boundaries around to protect them.
For me, these were things like spending time outdoors, date nights with Alex, regularly connecting with my close friends, or reclaiming a morning routine. Boundaries in the context of moving came to play for the first time in 2019 when Alex and I decided to move from San Francisco to New York. We both felt more in control and grounded in that decision because we knew what the non-negotiables were.
Fear to commit
I don't mean commitment issues in a romantic relationship. At the end of the day, I'm writing this from a happy, long-term relationship of 10 years.
I'm talking about the fear of committing to one city, neighborhood, apartment. Because "surely we'll be moving again soon...". After we moved to New York, although I was content with that decision, I couldn't get myself to live in the moment and constantly thought about it being temporary. In the past, all our moves were abrupt; we'd end up selling all our stuff and starting from scratch elsewhere. The thought that everything is temporary prevented (or tried to prevent) me from enjoying things like buying a more comfortable sofa, a better espresso machine, or from investing time into a new friendship.
Meet my cast iron skillet, or what became my metaphor for commitment during that period. After all the time wanting to get one, I finally felt settled enough in New York that I bought it. Mind you, they're not expensive. But they're the last thing you'd think of getting if you lived out of a suitcase. It may seem like a silly metaphor to others, but it means a lot to me. As I'm writing this from our apartment in Vancouver, I briefly look over my shoulder to see the skillet on the stove. It made it here, and it taught me a lesson along the way.
Continuation of self
It's March 31st, 2021. We're in the car driving to San Francisco after spending a month of my sabbatical at a beautiful cabin by Lake Tahoe. With one window down, we can smell that spring is arriving in California while still getting hints of the pine trees. I briefly look into the rearview mirror and see the last bits of the Sierras disappearing behind us. It's 11:39am when my phone buzzes with an email. I start reading the first line while paying attention to the road. "We regret to inform you..."
This is an email we've been anxiously anticipating for a while. We weren't selected in the US immigration lottery and will no longer have a valid visa to stay in the country after May 2021. With 1 month to pack up our stuff and leave the country we called home for the past 3 years, I'm about to learn my most valuable lesson about moving so far.
With all the moving in the past, I left many friendships behind, or sometimes I would not even allow people to get close to me because I knew I'd be leaving soon. But this time, I learned that I didn't have to bury the old me in one place before moving to the other. And that I'll have my closest friends, my tribe, always by my side. This is all grounded in the fact that when I move, I can bring myself with me. And the journey of self-learning and development will continue, as opposed to being reset with every move.
Don't forget to grieve
With my tendency to fix and problem-solve, as soon as we got back from California that spring of 2021, I started organizing everything for the move to Canada. Doing all the practical things I could control. I did this with every move in the past, and I got really good at it to be fair. But only now, with a little hint from my therapist, I realized that I always kept myself busy from feeling the emotions connected with each move. This time I'd pause the packing and take myself out for a solo walk around our Brooklyn neighborhood. I probably played a melancholic soundtrack in my head to get into the "mood" of saying goodbye, which is a bit ironic, but I managed to connect with my own emotions, which was the goal.
I know that Vancouver wasn't my last move. I wouldn't want it to be. Especially as we soon start a new chapter and welcome our first baby here. I want her to see places and learn at least as much as I did over these past 10 years. And when we move, I'll bring myself with me.
To Copenhagen, Hong Kong, London, San Francisco, and New York.