After college, many of my friends moved to big cities far away from home. I briefly entertained the idea of following in their footsteps, enthralled by the wonder of the unknown, allured by the prospect of something different. The thought, though nice, didn’t last long. The truth, you see, was that I wanted to want to move away. I liked the idea of venturing out into the world, of claiming places so unlike home that other people would have no choice but to be awestruck, mystified, and perhaps a little intimidated by my new, cultured perspective. How cool and sophisticated I would seem to them.
How lame, really, and how utterly embarrassing to confess that I was more concerned with how others perceived me than with how I perceived myself. The question should have been and should always be, “What is your heart telling you to do?” Instead, I was asking myself, “What will impress your friends, your family, your peers?” I wavered between pleasing others by moving away and pleasing myself by moving back home (although, as with all things, it wasn’t as clear-cut at the time) long enough to exhaust anyone who dared to ask, “So, what is your plan after graduation?”
My plan, it turned out, was to marry my high school boyfriend, to raise two kids ten minutes from their grandparents, to teach at a high school not far from the one I attended as a teenager. My plan, it turned out, was to move back home. And for some reason, perhaps because of my own insecurity, I’ve felt the need to justify that decision ever since I made it. As if living in Houghton makes me less intelligent than someone who lives in New York or Chicago. As if living in Houghton makes me less worldly than someone who lives in Denver or St. Louis.
This, of course, is ludicrous. Nonetheless, we often equate the choice to move back with inferiority, as if it’s not a choice at all but rather an act of necessity. They must have come home because they can’t find a job somewhere else, because they can’t afford a place in the city, because they don’t have the courage to “cut the cord” and leave their family. These assumptions are made automatically and subconsciously, which can make it difficult to see and admit when we harbor them. I, for one, am no exception. I still catch myself thinking them from time to time, despite that I know they are untrue.
Here’s what is true.
There are differences to make everywhere. Educating a student from southeast Iowa is no less important than educating a student from a big city. The impact is not any less substantial, the result any less relevant. There are relationships to treasure everywhere. My friendships, the old and the new, are no less dynamic or enjoyable than friendships in a big city. There are lessons to learn everywhere. My daily experiences are no less varied or illuminating than lessons learned in a big city.
The point isn’t to make a difference somewhere else; the point is to make a difference. People can change the world from any location, including where they grew up. I think sometimes we need reminded that home is part of that world.