We all grow up a little out of place.
I can’t remember a single time in my youth when I was not hell-bent on the idea that as soon as I grew up, I’d figure out where I truly belonged. I mean, it certainly wasn’t in my hometown – I was a budding creative and a stimulation-starved extrovert being raised in a small, conservative town. I was convinced that geography was the only thing holding me back from the life of my dreams. As soon as I got out, I’d find my true place in the world. And I’d stay there forever.
This plan had some accuracy to it. Except the problem with escaping the life that you don’t want is settling on the life that you do. For years I roamed around – changing cities, changing life paths, changing my ideas of what I wanted the future to look like as often as most people change shirts. Some things seemed right – for a while I’d settle on one city, one partner, one career path – but something better always snuck into the back of my mind. ‘What next,’ became the mantra. Always where next, who next, what next.
I spent years searching for the place where I belonged. And I wasn’t alone. Every new city I travelled to, with every new plan I took on, I met others like me – people who felt eternally unsettled. “Where’s home?” We’d ask each other, and shrug as a response. Home had never been a place. Home was a vague, future destination we were all hoping to find. When we got there, we’d know it. That was one thing we always agreed on.
It took me a long time to recognize the intense veil of naivety under which I operated during that time in my life. I assumed, like so many others, that home was a physical destination and that its existence did not require my participation. I simply had to show up and it would be waiting for me. It was a basic game of Marco Polo. It didn’t occur to me that home was a subjective term. That belonging was a relevant experience. And that my never-ending search was precisely what was keeping me from belonging anywhere at all.
Here’s both the beauty and the madness of it all – there is no place in this world where you belong. Not yet, anyhow. There is no city, no profession, no place where a you-shaped hole has been perfectly carved out in the Universe. If you are waiting – or even actively searching – to find this place, you will be waiting forever. It’s not a plane ride away. It’s not a couple years coming. It’s non-existent. The world has created nothing in anticipation of you.
This is what you learn when you pass through a thousand different cities – when you search places and faces for years, trying to find a place that begs you to stay. Nowhere is going to demand you. Nowhere misses you. Nowhere lacks you before you have made your impression on it and therefore you will never stumble upon any place where you magically belong. But that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.
The truth about the place where you belong is that it doesn’t exist because you haven’t created it yet.
Our mere existence does not necessitate our belonging. But our actions do. We are born with everything that we need to make a lasting imprint on this world – to carve out a place, however humble, that aches for us whenever we leave it. A place that fits us. A place that grows us. A place where, come hell or high water, we belong.
There is no shortcut to getting there. The process of making ourselves irreplaceable to anything is a long and arduous battle – one that could take most of our lives. We have to determine what we love. What we have to give. What we can offer the world – or at least some small corner of it – and invest ourselves accordingly. It takes years to build a community. It takes even longer to change one. There is no concrete measure of when we finally belong to a place but the unarguable first step is to devote ourselves to the creation of such a place. To stick with one thing for long enough to transform it into something that resembles our own heart and spirit. It’s not a place that we will stumble across – people waiting for us with outstretched arms and open hearts. It’s something we will create, through sharing our own hearts and minds with others.
The truth about where you belong is that it does exist, somewhere in the future. But it needs you to bring it to existence. It needs you to come alive, to bleed yourself into it and to leave your lasting impression. It needs you to belong to it first. And eventually, you will find that you’ve created your own home at last.