As simple as it sounds, as much as it seems like the life equivalent of an incredibly complex algebraic equation being answered with “2,” get out. Because there are few emotional quicksands as powerful as feeling trapped, rowing in circles with one oar that you cannot stop pushing, in a life that you do not enjoy but feel completely unable to stop.
Sure, buying tickets to a far-off destination would be a very concrete solution — and an undeniably attractive one. Who doesn’t want to hold a piece of paper marked “One-Way” (was there ever a more profound way to label a mode of transportation?), and take the first crucial steps into a life filled with the language and people and food and architecture you long for? Of course we all want to move to New York, or Hong Kong, or Berlin, or Buenos Aires — but that may not be possible now. I remember feeling so painfully frustrated so many times at my logistical inability to change my settings for any number of reasons. No matter how many times I scrolled through blogs or photosets of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing, it wasn’t going to pay my debts or finish my studies or magically put me in a place where I could up and leave with minimal downsides.
Of course, if you have the ability to pack things up and leave (and want badly to do so), do it. The times in our lives in which we can up and start our lives with the closest we can hope to get to a clean slate are few enough to count on one hand, and every day we accumulate more responsibility that clouds around us like spider webs, limiting our mobility. If there is a clear door marked “EXIT” and you are constantly pacing back-and-forth in front of it, only hesitating to walk through because of some un-nameable fear inside you, just take a deep breath and go. Because that fear, that fear of the unknown, and possibly falling flat on your face, and having things not turning out exactly as you imagined them — that fear never goes away. No matter how much you prepare yourself for a soft landing, there is going to be a period in which your stomach is in your throat and you’re on the plane, looking around, thinking “What the fuck did I get myself into?” That is inescapable, and also part of the fun.
But if, like so many of us, the option to just remove yourself from the zip code you feel is stifling your entire ability to exist is not at your fingertips — there are so many other things to change. We often forget that so many of the mundane, grating downsides that we attribute to the cities we’re in are often simply a symptom of the life we surround ourselves with. Almost any city can look fresh and inviting if seen through eyes that haven’t gotten sucked into an exhausting routine of the same bars, the same people, the same gossip, the same merry-go-round of limited romantic possibilities. But life is full of things that can be changed with relatively little effort and financial backing, things that we take for granted as unchangeable when they are active choices we make in our everyday lives.
When was the last time you picked up a new hobby? Joined a new meetup group? Started actually trying to learn that language you’ve been talking about working on for years? Did you know that there are tons of activities where strangers get together and practice sports or social activities, often for the very purpose of expanding a social scene that feels stagnant? Of course we know these things. We all know, on some vague, offhand level that we cold join a club, or start going to a new Friday hangout, or join a dating site to avoid meeting the same five people at a bar over and over again. We know this, but when entrenched in a life that seems a never-ending routine of tedium and sameness, they can seem as far away as the plane tickets we can’t afford right now.
It is so easy to think that “going nowhere” is a personal struggle that we must go alone, that everyone else around us is content to live mediocre lives while we are constantly yearning for something more, something just out of reach. But we are all oscillating between states of finding new things to be happy about in life and feeling utterly trapped by the monotony of the day-to-day. If the everyday becomes overwhelming (and it will at some point, it always will) there are a million things you can do to assuage it. But the first step is always taking action, is realizing that the things you think are ingrained in your life (your social circle, your job, your apartment, your hobbies, even your city) are as ready to be changed as you are willing to change them. The only thing that is sure not to help, however, is complaining about how stagnant your life is. Because no one wants to end up the guy at the coffee shop who’s always talking about moving to California or starting a new business, but never does. Don’t be that guy.