Returning to your hometown can seem like the end of the road, but I believe it can be the beginning of something beautiful.
My hometown of Macon, GA, while charming, never served as the backdrop for the future I imagined for myself.
At age 18 I left to pursue education and experience (as so many of us do) and was wide open to the adventure that life would show me. My journey took me from Macon to Atlanta for undergrad, from Atlanta to rural Illinois for graduate school, and from Illinois to a small Moroccan village with the Peace Corps. I imagined my time in Morocco would be the spring-board for an international life. But when my two years there came to an end, the pull I had always felt to go abroad had unexpectedly shifted – back to the states, back to the South, back to Macon.
After ten years of being a nomad, the idea of something familiar, something like home, was compelling. I craved a language I knew without effort, a place I could take back roads blindfolded, home cookin’ that gave me comfort, and a community I could participate in as a native. I craved Macon.
And so I did it. I returned to the one place in the world I never thought I’d end up: my hometown.
As I approach three years of living here this spring, I see how returning to my hometown was the best decision I ever made. Returning to one’s hometown can seem like the end of the road, but I believe it can be the beginning of something beautiful. Here are seven lessons I learned (and am still learning) from this homecoming that may aid you if your journey is taking you home, too.
1. We all deserve a second chance.
One of the most stressful parts of returning to my hometown was knowing I would run into people from my past and that their ideas about me were based on my younger self. But these renewed connections also presented an opportunity: If ever I made a bad impression, I’m grateful for the chance to show how I have changed and grown.
In the same way that I deserve a second chance to show who I have become, so do those I used to know. I have to remember that folks from high school might have changed as much as I have. The lesson here is simple: be open. Let people show me who they are now. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll find an unlikely friend.
I’ve realized my hometown deserves a second chance, too. Maybe as an angsty teenager it seemed like the worst place on Earth, but maybe I would have felt the same anywhere. Challenging myself to try new places helps me look at the town with a fresh perspective. If you are struggling, try exploring the town with a friend who has never been there before. They will see things you might have never noticed. Even in the most familiar places, there is always something to see with fresh eyes.
2. Everyone knowing everyone can be an advantage.
When you move back to your hometown, especially if it’s a smaller town or city, anonymity isn’t an option. Not a day goes by where I don’t run into someone I know. Whether I’m in the grocery store, at the gas station, out to eat, or even stopped at a red light, familiar faces are everywhere. And while this can certainly feel a bit claustrophobic and like people are in your business, knowing everyone – and everyone knowing you – can be an advantage. The whole town or city becomes your personal network. Use it.
This network can help connect you when you are looking for a place to live or a new hairdresser. If you need to hire a consultant or a caterer, it will be easy to find someone you trust who can share their experiences with you before you sign a contract. As this network grows, it can even link you to job opportunities you might otherwise not have known about. A community-wide network might mean you risk running into someone while hung-over and in sweatpants running a quick errand Saturday morning, but it can also impact your life for the better in a long-term way.
3. Seek and you shall find.
When I first moved back to Macon, I had no idea where to go or what to do. I reached out to a local nonprofit for an informational interview, and the rest is history. Through this one meeting, I got plugged into professional opportunities, community events, workshops, job openings and even friendships. I went from empty weekends to rarely having a lazy weekend to myself thanks to my packed calendar. The opportunities are there; finding them is a matter of seeking them out. Attend a networking event alone, join a club, volunteer with a nonprofit, audit a class or ask for an informational interview.
4. There is room for your passions.
When I moved to Atlanta at 18, I began teaching myself guitar. As fate would have it, I ended up becoming friends with several musicians whose careers were just taking off. Watching them, it was clear that music was their life. For me, playing and singing was something I enjoyed but had no intention of pursuing as a career, so it didn’t seem worth investing time and energy into this creative hobby when I was so busy trying to get by in a big city. The music scene in Atlanta was lively but competitive, and I didn’t see a place for me in it.
When I moved to Macon, I was able to have a full-time job and still find stages upon which to perform. In smaller towns and cities, hobbies have room to develop and shine without having to be a full-time pursuit. Whether it’s music or visual art or furniture building, your passions can find their place.
5. People are more friendly than you think.
Returning to the states, and my hometown, had me back at square one. Truth be told, I had few friends from my younger years in Macon, and in many ways it was like starting over with nothing. I would meet people who seemed interesting to me, but I would shy away from initiating friendship. Assuming they already had their set social circle, I thought an invitation would be ignored. Once I finally started reaching out, I was surprised at how open people were.
When you meet someone you connect with, ask them to lunch! And more importantly, follow through. As adults we don’t have the same structure that college provided and we have to be proactive in cultivating friendship. Being intentional is not difficult, it just takes a bit of effort.
6. Grassroots are gold.
As our country struggles to find common ground on many fronts, it is imperative for people to invest in their communities. Beyond voting, contacting my senator, or giving money and time to candidates I believe in, I have little say in the national narrative. But I can actively live out my convictions on a daily basis in my community. I can directly impact food security by serving at a food bank, help eradicate transportation barriers by volunteering with a bicycle co-op, or participate in education improvement by reading to kids at an elementary school. Opportunities to push your community in the direction you hope for are around every corner. Being in your hometown, you will have a unique insight and perspective that organizations need, and you’ll see the effects of your efforts in real-time. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re actively making your town or city a better place for everyone.
7. Patience is required.
It is easy to get frustrated when things don’t go the way we want as fast as we want. Every lesson I learned from this homecoming journey is the result of trial and error, commitment to this community, and a whole lot of waiting for things to bloom. There is no formula, and patience is paramount. When you get discouraged, just remember, “all things in good time.” Your hometown will be home again before you know it.