Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I want to pick up and move away from Athens and start my life, but I have no idea where to begin. I was wondering what you would tell someone who wants to follow in your footsteps and make a life-changing decision after 22 years in the same place -Megon

Well, for what it's worth, I personally wouldn't recommend following in my footsteps, as I can't walk a straight line on level ground without tripping over my feet. As I stumble towards middle age, I consider myself more of warning of what not to do. Still, a serious questions deserves a serious answer.

Before I start, though, I say wherever you’re planning on going, do it. Moving is stressful as hell but it’s also incredibly rewarding on so many levels, no matter where you go. A place like Athens is easy living, so just going through all the nonsense of uprooting your life will teach you so much about not only the world outside Clarke County but also about yourself, as clich├ęd as that might sound. And the best thing is you can always come back to Athens.

First and foremost, be deeply and thoroughly confident the reasons you're moving are valid ones. "Starting your life" is a good enough reason, but if you're running from something it will follow you and if you're looking for something you can't define you won't find it. Just be sure, and "because I'm bored where I am and it's time to go" is a good enough reason, as well. “It seems like a cool town to live in” works for me as well. Human beings are incredibly adaptable and we can exist anywhere, it’s just a matter of having fun when we’re there.

Secondly, this is a life-changing decision. After so much time in one place, you undoubtedly have roots put down, friends, habits, comfort zones, and such things. All that will be gone if you move and you'll have to start all over. It's pretty damn tough and it will change your life in ways you can't imagine now. Not ever town’s grocery stores sell your favorite brand of bread, for example.

Okay, so much for all that. First thing, pick a place to move to. I realize that sounds simplistic, but it's deceptively important. Again, this is a big decision and a huge change, so you want to make sure it's one that's rewarding. I can't tell you where to move, but find a place that appeals for some reason, be it for a career or just because it seems like a cool place to live.

Secondly, pick a date to move and stick by it. You will give yourself outs and excuses. I'd been planning to move to New Orleans since 2005 and found hundreds of reasons not to go. So, pick a date and make your plans around that date. Make it happen and do not let yourself dodge the move. If you truly want to move, you will regret waiting.

I'd recommend giving yourself at least six months and preferably a year. For one, you're going to need to save up plenty of money. Moving is ridiculously expensive, even if you do it on the cheap, and you'll have to take care of things like rent, bills and food even if you can't find an income source right off. Plus, you will want plenty of time to settle your affairs in Athens and say your goodbyes. Speaking of which, make sure you close all your doors behind you properly, both financially and personally. That stuff will chase you down if you don’t, believe you me.

Once you've picked the place and the date, start doing some research on the new place. Compared to just about any place else, living in Athens is ridiculously cheap. Many college towns are like that, granted, but bigger towns like Chicago or Boston will put a serious dent in that nest egg. Plus, the economy's pretty bad, making life that much tougher.

So do your homework. Check out the job market in your new town, especially if you have a specific career in mind. In your bigger towns, the service industry's usually a reliable bet, but many towns have busy seasons and dead seasons. Something to keep in mind. Also, learn about the new town’s layout and what part of the town has what your looking for. In New Orleans, for example, life in the French Quarter’s different from life in Bywater which is different from life the Marigny which is different from life the Garden District. Every neighborhood has a specific flavor, and living in one might turn you against the whole town.

Along with the job market and the neighborhoods, learn something about the prospective town’s history and culture. You probably have a reason why you’re moving there, but be able to back whatever emotional impulses with facts and solid information. Things like crime rate, public transportation and cultural events will also affect how you’ll feel after the move. Visit the town before the move as much as possible and connect with people you might know who live there. If you don’t know people who live there, the internet provides a myriad opportunities to get acquainted with natives.

When the moving day comes, I recommend traveling as light as possible. If possible, get rid of what you don’t need, store what you want to keep and just move with what you absolutely have to have. You know what that is better than I do, but it really does help. Not only does it cut down on the cost of moving, it gives you the opportunity to figure out what’s really important to keep and what’s just stuff. Material possessions are a drag on the soul.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t lose heart. Again, this is a major life change and as exciting and exhilarating as it will be, the whole affair is pretty damn scary. You’re leaving your friends, maybe your family, your comfort zone, and all those little things that make life livable for a strange town full of strange people with absolutely no guarantee you won’t fall flat on your face. You’ll have doubts before, during and after the move, wonder if you did the right things, and consider that maybe you shouldn’t have left.

That’s perfectly natural and don’t let it worry you. Just don’t give in the first time the going gets rough. As long as you can financially make it work, stay at least a year and give the town a chance. There’s no shame in being scared, second-guessing yourself or even failing and having to move back to the comfortable so long as you give it your best shot.

Not knowing exactly who this is asking the question and what the circumstances are, I hope this pitiful gibberish is of some help. I’m assuming you grew up in Athens. It’s a great place to live and I miss it, but it’s a big ol’ world and I really believe that to fully appreciate a town you have to immerse yourself in it. We do ourselves a disservice, I think, if we look at the same scenery every day of our lives. Even if your choice turns out to be a bad one, you’ll gain so much just by trying something different and forcing yourself to learn to live in a new town.

Keep positive, make it happen, be smart, and give ‘em hell.

Ask me anything