I considered studying abroad in Uganda my senior year of college, but not for reasons you would expect. I wasn’t thoroughly invested in Ugandan history and I didn’t know much about the nation’s current struggles. In fact, I can honestly say that I knew close to nothing about Uganda short of how it was spelt. The real motivators in this consideration were my smart and adventurous friends. Two of my closest friends were graduating and another was studying abroad for the following semester. When I finally connected the dots and realized they were all going to be gone while I was still in school, the only logical course of action was to ship myself to a foreign country. Obviously.
Needless to say, it didn’t take more than a fifteen minute meeting with my academic advisor to realize that Uganda was not the place for me. The thought of change made me restless and the restlessness made me want to run. This mindset has crept up during times of significant transition in my life. I enjoyed high school but was ready for a change of scenery when the principal handed me my diploma. Similarly, in the months leading up to college graduation, I looked forward to the next phase of life, albeit with a healthy mixture of excitement and anxiety. But eventually, the nicely paved path that led me from preschool through college brought me face to face with adulthood and I was terrified.
Whether you are overwhelmed by the influx of possibilities or dismayed by their absence, the most intuitive reaction to have in the midst of uncertainty is to leave. Start a new life in a new place with cheaper rent, a quirky neighbor and a shot at the fairy tale ending. As young dreamers in the Land of Opportunity, the fear of “selling ourselves short” or “having regrets” runs rampant. This fear has given way to the unrelenting restlessness that has come to define our generation.
For some of us, leaving is the perfect solution. Moving out of my parent’s house for college was the best decision I could have made. Living on my own for four years, I learned how to cook, clean, manage my finances, and interact with a landlord. Allowing ourselves to change and experience newness is one of the most important disciplines we can cultivate in our twenties. Even though this means uncertainty, the hope is that this uncertainty would cause us to grow. Out of this hope comes the hankering to explore.
For others however, leaving is simply the expected solution. We are expected to spend our twenties leaving, and save staying for our thirties. Many of my dearest friends have moved to different states or countries since graduation. In watching them take these bold steps to new places, I have at times questioned my decision to stay local even though I have found local opportunities in my field. The influences around me make it easy to believe that if I am young and ambitious, I simply must leave.
When catching up with a good friend and fellow graduate, we shared about our experiences since graduation. She moved to another state for a job opportunity and expressed that, “Whenever I say ‘yes’ to one opportunity, I can’t help but think that I’m saying ‘no’ to a million others.” When she said this, I immediately recognized the same mindset in myself. By the end of our conversation however, we both recognized that this mindset can be harmful and make us uncomfortable with commitment. Due to the sneaking suspicion that one day we will look back on our twenties with contempt, we often try to do everything, go everywhere and meet every one, without considering that this nomadic lifestyle may or may not be our path to lasting satisfaction. We avoid stability at all costs, worried that stability will make us comfortable and comfort will make us settle. We fail to see that staying could be a different kind of challenge, one that helps us grow while also preparing us for adulthood.
Staying will help you establish a home for yourself. Committing to a location means accepting all of the details that you like and dislike about it. If you stay in a place long enough, you’ll find parts of it to love and parts of it to hate. This is true of any location, even if the one thing you hate about a place is that it takes you away from loved ones. After becoming this familiar with a place, we have a decision to make. We must decide if we want to make that place our home or let it be what some places are meant to be: a fond memory. Even though the thought of being rooted may terrify us right now, it’s something that we will undoubtedly appreciate in the future.
Along with establishing a home comes establishing a community. Making an effort to be a consistent presence in the lives of those around you will teach you how to build lasting relationships. This effort to invest in individuals will help develop a community in which you can be encouraged, challenged and loved by people who truly know you. By staying, you allow the space and time necessary for this community to develop. You dedicate yourself to knowing others and being known by them. To learning about their strengths and weaknesses and allowing them to identify yours. Ultimately, staying helps us develop the healthy habit of committing to imperfect places with imperfect people who simply want to be known.
So consider the merits of staying.
Leaving might be exactly what you need. From Korea to Nicaragua, I have watched friends move to countries all over the world and they have never once looked back. My goal is simply to encourage you to make the decision for yourself and be certain that the voices of your YOLO-chanting friends are not making it for you.
Photo by Mackenzie Rouse