Boston became my new home when I walked out of the Harvard Square T station, saw three empty bottles of Robitussin on the ground, and thought, “Well, looks like someone has been drinking Robitussin again” and continued my walk home without a second thought.
Human beings are adaptable creatures. I am not the first person to have this notion. In survival situations, we have adapted to circumstances that would be considered insane by normal standards. Of course, I’m not talking about survival adaptation. I’m talking about urban adaptation.
I come from a small town in rural Pennsylvania. Before moving to Boston, my biggest urban adventure was living in a small (I’m talking 20,000 people) “city.” Boston taught me what it meant to rely on public transportation, how easy it is to get angry at tourists, and how common it is to feel dwarfed and small in a massive population.
I used to be nervous being on the street by myself. I’m used to a small town environment where people pay attention to you. It took me weeks to realize that just about everyone is not paying attention to you at all. This realization is liberating and, somewhat, dehumanizing. I tend to stay with liberating.
My social anxiety made it hard to function in a small town where your are constantly scrutinized by people that you have known for your entire life. How can you form a concept of self when you are always in fear of judgement? Answer: You…can’t.
People’s opinions are important. I understand the attitude of “fuck you,” where you decide that everyone and everything can got to hell. You are who you are, I get that. But there is also importance in constructive criticism. When judgement keeps you for taking chances, breaking away from comfort, and developing, then you need a bit of that “fuck you” attitude. A new environment is perfect for that type of freedom.
I dipped my toe into self-definition during graduate school. I found a group of friends who were open-minded and adventurous. I embraced my inner-geek, challenged myself as a writer and person, and, most importantly, became comfortable with the strengths and weaknesses of my own intelligence. But I still felt caged.
Deep inside of me, there is a need to impress people that I no longer have any contact with. Essentially, I am still trying to be the popular kid in high school. Even after five years at a good job, a master’s degree, and a significant, loving relationship, I needed people who I don’t even interact with to see me as a success. That’s fucked up.
Breaking out of my home state was what I needed to let myself out of my own limitations. It may seem ridiculous, but I am much less likely to run into high school acquaintances in Massachusetts and that makes me happy.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I still feel the need to impress people that I have no real relationship with. I probably always will. But through geographic separation, a bit of bravery, and a growing well of measured self-confidence, I’ve found the ability to not only adapt to a new location but also to adapt to a fully-formed self. I can do things for me. My life has become solely mine.
I feel more confidant than I have in my entire life. For someone like me, that’s saying a lot. I’m still awkward and, sometimes, I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. But steps forward are always better than steps back.