Restless Spirit: Why I Refuse To Spend My Whole Life In Just One Place

by Kaitlyn Cawley

Distance is life’s greatest teacher.

It makes our hearts grow fonder, dazzles us with necessary perspective and wedges space between us and all those things we swore we couldn’t live without.

There is nothing like distance to demonstrate – painfully and otherwise – what exactly we need to be happy.

I’ve made a case for moving all my life; I’ve hopped schools, cultures and countries. I’ve planted roots and torn them away; I’ve chased some unflagging ache that leaves my limbs restless, and I’ve refused to settle.

Moving has been a hard reset on my life, and I do it again and again to remind myself how little I really need to be happy.

To remind myself that the people, places and things that have followed me on the messy, muddled map of my making are the only things I really need.

That most of life is buffer, and I long to live in a constant state of discomfort.

I can't live in one place. I'm a different person each time I exhale. I want to try cities on for size and discard countries with my winter wardrobe.

This world has so much to teach me, and staying in one place seems a grave injustice to the ripe, wanton fantasies of every jagged border carved into the globe.

I can't sit still; I refuse to. I am moved by my own indeterminate, adaptive passions. In my free time, I stare at maps, trace impossible routes and sigh at their far corners.

I can’t tell you that I’m right, only that I’m right for myself. What I can tell you, however, is I learned more about myself when my words failed me and a new city frightened me than I ever could swaddled in the protective arms of the place that was comforting enough to call home.

When you separate yourself from your entire world, the who, what, where, when, why all become so much clearer. Distance has so much to teach you; I pray that you let it:

You discover who the important people are

The first few weeks in a new place are filled to the brim with disparate, filler conversations. You talk to people but don’t really speak to them.

Sometimes your only human contact is the exchange of pleasantries, and the few real conversations you manage are necessarily and frustratingly superficial.

You long to be yourself more than anything else, and you’re reminded exactly whom you can be that way with.

As time trickles onward, and you grow and form bonds with new people, you distinguish the people you miss even when you’re not lonely.

These are the people whose names saturate your stories and the ones whom you beg and plead to visit. All the other friends, who were never really friends to begin with, fade from your memory.

You learn the people who contribute to your life, and you miss them intensely.

You learn what few things you need to feel at home

It takes time to acclimate to another way of life. Sometimes it never happens. I’ve felt more at peace in cities within a few days than others I’ve spent years in.

The transition from house to home, from tourist to townie, isn’t like a light switch. It happens gradually: the grocer remembers your name; you run into a familiar face at a bar; a gaggle of tourists asks you for directions.

Tiny little instances build up until you’re one day awash with the distinct sense of belonging. It’s never forever (and it shouldn’t be), but it’s enough to subside the pangs of exile.

It's enough to realize home isn’t a bed; it isn’t measured in years. Home is the pleasure of familiarity and the truth that one half-stranger has the capacity to make your day.

You realize where you want to be

Some cities have taught me I want to be anywhere but there. Some cities have reminded me of the beauty of my home, and some cities have tempted me never to return.

Distancing yourself from the place you grew up is the fastest way to determine what ties you have to places and whether they’re strong enough to keep you there.

I’ve learned I can’t live in the place that raised me, and I’ve met countless others who realized their only option was to return to their cities because no place else has compared.

Moving somewhere differs itself from the honeymoon phase of traveling, when you can cherry-pick the moments and corners of a city that make it great.

It’s waking up to a city the next morning when it’s stripped of its myth and allure and loving it (or hating it) regardless.

When you’ve seen a city in the cold light of morning, you know whether your attachment is romantic or real.

You know when to call it quits

You’re not cut out for every city, and every city is certainly not cut out for you.

When you aren’t buried in your comfort zone, you see all the things that are worth your time and those that are not.

You're a lot less inclined to do the things you don't want to do.

Moving for the first time is like ripping off a Band-Aid: It stings. You realize, however, your adhesion to the city is less of necessity and entirely due to fear.

Each time you do it subsequently, you become a little number to the pain. I’ve found this to be a dangerous skill that helps and hurts with an impartial frequency.

There are far too many nooks and crannies in the universe to settle in a place that isn’t perfect (for you, right then).

I’ve outgrown cities and seen cities I couldn’t grow into, but I will never settle in a place that doesn’t inspire me; in fact, I'll never settle at all.

You recognize why you did it all to begin with

People move for all kinds of reasons: love, opportunity, escape, rebirth.

You might not know what motivates you to pack your bags; it might seem like it’s that promotion or the prospect of new people, but until you’ve separated yourself from your city, you don’t know the tiny little fissures that will eventually build into your big break.

If nothing else, jarring yourself from the familiar is a fantastic exercise in self-analysis. All of your motivations become clearer when your days are spent lost in a new place and in yourself.

When you’re your only companion, there’s nowhere to hide.