Should you move and start over?

A reader wrote me this week and asked:

I often think about moving and “starting over”. It’s on my to-do list but the time just never seems right. Perhaps you could share your success and challenges with the emotional baggage that follows us even when starting over in a new city.

I thought I’d share some thoughts with you about my experience.

There’s the old saying “Wherever you go, there you are.” I’ve also read in numerous studies on happiness that our environment only plays 10% in our level of happiness. 45% is biological and the other 45% is the person’s outlook and attitude.

With that said, we often think that it’s “the move to a new city” or “the new job” or “the new relationship” that will bring us ultimate fulfillment. That’s usually not the case.

I my own experience, I’d say that my move to New York brought out the best in my courage and bravery to try something new and get out of my comfort zone. It was uncomfortable and scary. I knew I always wanted to do it which is why I made the decision to move. I believe that when we have a thought that stays with us for a long time, we owe ourselves the opportunity to try it out or else we’ll regret later down the road that we never did it. The downside is that I did bring my so-called “baggage” with me. Literally and figuratively!

I’ve struggled with bipolar and depression since my late teenage years, and the depression came right to the forefront as I made the move to New York. I found myself isolating in my room and not wanting to go out of the apartment except for interviews and getting food. Thankfully with the help of my therapist I’ve been able to get into a routine that serves me much better emotionally and mentally. Now I write in a journal every day and make it a point to think about my gratitude list on a consistent basis. I also started going to a support group which has been good for socialization and realizing I’m not alone.

Change is really hard! It’s not easy. Based on the studies and my own personal experience, I encourage you to look within yourself first before moving to a new city. Asking yourself questions like “What am I escaping from?”, “What do I really desire?”, “How do I want to feel?” “Do I need to be in another environment to feel this way or can I begin to source these feelings where I currently live?”

Even though I believe each of us can find happiness in any environment, some cities and towns are better suited for us culturally and sociologically. For example, I would encourage a lonely gay man living in a rural, homophobic town to move to a place where gay men are accepted and celebrated. He should feel comfortable and inspired by his surroundings.

The same goes for realizing and practicing your values. Values should align with your environment. For me, I value nature and spending time outside. I didn’t realize that New York would force me to spend so much time indoors because of the crazy weather. In realizing this (and other factors as well), I’ve found that New York may not be the best city for me based on my values and temperament. I’m glad that I only signed a 3-month sublet because I have the flexibility to go somewhere different now.

As for timing, there’s never a “right” time to move unless there’s an external factor such as a job in a new city, a long distance relationship that needs to be closer or your house sets on fire. The timing will come when you make the decision to change. No one else can make this decision for you.

It’s so important to take responsibility for your life. You owe it to yourself to cure your curiosity to move or else the thought will stay with you longer and it will just get louder and louder. There’s a great Oprah quote that goes,

Difficulties come when you don’t pay attention to life’s whisper. Life always whispers to you first, but if you ignore the whisper, sooner or later you’ll get a scream.

I’d hate for you to wait for 1, 3 or 20 more years and keep hearing the thoughts in your head to make a move when you really wanted to.

So now you’re thinking, what a contradiction! Max is saying you owe yourself to move if that’s what your heart desires, yet there’s all this evidence that tells us we bring our baggage with us wherever we go and it could be the wrong move. Here’s my response to that:

Life is a series of experiments. Every experiment has a hypothesis, a test and a result. I believe we need to experiment as much as possible because it’s the only way we know if our hypothesis is true or if we should try something different. When you move to a new city, your hypothesis is that you’ll achieve something that you’re looking for (better environment, job, relationship, etc.). If your hypothesis doesn’t work, it’s ok! It was just a test. You can always go back to the city you moved from or go someplace different.

You’re never stuck in one place unless you have obligations that are keeping you where you’re at. Even so, there are always ways to get out of obligations. You always have the ability to quit, say no, sell the house, get out of the relationship, and leave. Remember you’re the only person who is responsible for your choices and actions in life.

To bring it all home, I summarize my advice into this statement and ask you this one question:

Know yourself and your motivations before moving.

Can you achieve your desired outcome where you already are by changing your attitude, or do you need to be in an environment that’s more aligned with your values, culture preference and identity?

If you change your attitude in your current situation, you’ll most likely begin to have new feelings and experiences that reshape your existing environment. This can be wonderful and it wouldn’t require you to move!

If you believe with all your heart that a new city will contribute to your overall happiness and well being, pick the city that’s aligned with who you are and make the move! Life is an adventure and it’s meant to be lived. The last experience you want is to be on your death bed and regret not making the move.