Relocation as a Transformational Experience

RelocationHow many times have you moved in your adult life? There is a roughly 50-50 chance that if you are middle aged or above, you do not live in the state in which you were born. Slightly more than one half of the population between 25 and 55 were born in their current state of residence. (Source: 2010 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau) Have you thought of relocation as a transformational experience? One that you can maximize in its positive effect in your life?

There are many reasons that people relocate to different states and parts of the country: a job transfer, military assignment, a more desirable location to raise a family, etc. As we get into our fifties and beyond, more and more moves are to be near children, grandchildren, or parents. Or perhaps you would like to be in a more pleasing climate or just to have a major change of setting.

In this process, we all bring with us mindsets, lenses and attitudes toward our new locations – which greatly affect our experiences. If you move from city to suburbs, city to country, suburb to city – whatever the type of community – there are differences that we anticipate and things that may surprise us. If the move is to a different state, even to another part of the country, there can be cultural differences of various kinds, political climate changes and more.

When we relocate, we have the opportunity to allow and invite the experience to widen our perspectives and our future in profound ways. It may even transform us in ways we could not have anticipated.

The key to maximizing the positive effect of this experience is to approach the move with a sense of adventure and discovery. Although we may have chosen our new location with certain criteria in mind (climate, proximity to family, return to where we lived as a child, etc.), there are always aspects of the location that we will only discover once we are there. There will be a tension between creating a new comfort zone and being intentionally open to the nuances of the rhythm, norms, expectations and history of the new area.

At first, you will focus on getting a grasp of geography, transportation options, locations of stores, etc. to reestablish daily routines. Beyond that, I have experienced a unique time in the first months and years in a new location when I am most open to discovery and intentionally seek to understand the area in which I am. This is a time before everything becomes the new routine, the new normal – when it is so easy to go into autopilot.

If you are a photographer as I am, this is a prime time to take photos of things and places that are new, which often raises questions I want to explore. For example, early in my time in Nashville, I visited the oldest cemetery in the city where the moss and algae-covered old tombstones revealed peaks into the history of slavery and other unique parts of Nashville’s history. This ignited my curiosity and stimulated other visits, reading, and reflection on the history of the south and what it means today. As time went on, I became aware of how this area played a unique part in the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. All of that profoundly affected my understanding of our history, since I had previously only lived in the north. It also provided insight into how that affects current attitudes and politics.

I have found that as a “new” person with a sense of exploration, I have discovered things that people who have lived in a location longer are not aware of. It is so easy to settle into a small geographic area and create a cocoon of sorts that we lose the opportunity to continually be stretched and challenged to grow. If you are considering or have recently relocated, try adopting this attitude and outlook.

You can get some of the benefits of relocation, and have some fun too, by pretending you are new in your location and look at things from that standpoint. Many of us have experienced a bit of this when we have out of town guests and are showing them around. We become aware of activities and places that we don’t ordinarily enjoy. Be intentional about exploring and reflecting on things that will broaden your thinking and ignite your curiosity to learn more or get involved.  An even simpler step is to do more walking or biking if you ordinarily drive a car most places. Slowing down your pace and intentionally paying attention can be illuminating.

By intentionally focusing on discovery and reflection, we can broaden our own understandings of history and our own place in it as well as what that means for what is happening today and in the future. It may inspire us to embark on formal or informal study on something we have discovered and explored. It may move us to get involved in an activity or cause. It may cause us to make different choices about specifically where we live and the groups and organizations with whom we affiliate. It can transform our experiences, outlook and indeed our future.