Home is where the (____) is
I had always lived somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a short stint in Massachusetts, until I found myself boarding a plane to Australia. My mission was to open up the new APAC headquarters for my company (at the time). I had a six-month visa with a “we’ll see what happens” instruction from my manager.
I embarked on my new journey with no expectations (mostly because I hadn’t visited the country first,) before committing to a temporary relocation. But I had only heard wonderful things about Australia, and wasn’t too concerned with the probability of being unhappy in my new surroundings. My brother always refers to me as being the adventurous one. Although I’ve never gone skydiving, I suppose this would be one of his examples.
Moving to a new city, country, continent, and hemisphere had been both a blessing and a challenge. My “no expectations,” soon turned into finite comparisons, when I decided that six months was not long enough to execute my business objectives or to have truly experienced a cultural shift. Upon being given a choice, I decided to embrace the unfamiliar and uproot myself permanently to Melbourne.
Returning back to San Francisco to say goodbye to my friends, family, and possessions, was extremely difficult. I had a beautiful studio apartment that I used to joke would be an investment that I would keep, even if I eventually got married. You would have to rip it out of my cold, dead hands! I also loved my car. I loved all the things that I had collected in the previous six years of living alone. Things that I thought defined myself and my status.
There are two distinct moments that helped me to mentally and emotionally separate from the things I had collected in San Francisco:
- I had almost lost everything in a four alarm fire in SF, one year prior to my first moving to Melbourne. I will always remember standing in the street, embracing my neighbour, tears streaming down our faces. I don’t cry often, but I was frozen with helplessness at the thought of how many of us were and could be displaced. I had two thoughts when the firemen told me I couldn’t run back in to get some things: At first, my practical/logical side thought about what a pain it would be to file my taxes because most of what I had were paper documents not readily available in digital form.
And then it dawned on me. All my photos of my dad were pre digital camera. He had passed away unexpectedly when I was 20 and the only photos I had of him would be burned…Everything else I owned, was in fact, replaceable. Thanks to the incredibly hard work of our firefighters, my building was spared.
2. When I arrived in Melbourne on a temporary basis, I was introduced to another American, who was an entrepreneur and spent a chunk of time in Australia. I invited her to my office, and she offered a very sound piece of advice to another colleague in my Landing Team, who had relocated from Canada. She told him to truly give Melbourne his all. “Don’t try and keep your feet in two places.” (Coincidentally, a shaman had told my friend this same advice while we were travelling in Guatemala.)
This advice seemed brilliant to me, at the time. I couldn’t keep half my things on one side of the world and move half to the other. I couldn’t live in a constant state of fear that something wouldn’t work out and that I’d need to move. I needed to give 100% to wherever I was at the moment. But, in hindsight, I was too black and white.
I no longer am so attached to the idea that home needs to be measured in the physical. I could have been more mindful and focused in the present time. The old saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.” My challenge now, is to learn how to form a stronger mind-body connection to my heart.
Melbourne, Australia is a beautiful city. There are so many people who have moved from other countries or lived a multi-national life. I’ve found myself in many spontaneous conversations about how as a modern person with no permanent address — a nomad of sorts — creates a home for oneself. Many people have told me that they bring something with them that reminds them of home, such as a favorite blanket. Some bring framed photos. Others set up their temporary space with something that makes them happy, like a vase with flowers or candles.
In comparing notes, I have a few sensory items that can immediately remind me of previous times and places. I have a SF Giants blanket that holds many memories: from living with my friend and her dog — who always loved to steal the blanket from me, to moving to college in Massachusetts. It’s traveled with me to every apartment I’ve ever lived in since moving out of my mom’s house. I also have a room spray that makes me feel relaxed and happy. Whether in SF or Melbourne, it’s the smell of my own apartment.
I now ask all traveling and adventurous friends if there is one item they bring with them to feel “at home.” The best answer came from an Aussie mate that I caught up with in NY. In her true colorful and bubbly fashion, she exclaimed, “My heart! I don’t bring anything; I just bring me.” …If only we all found it that easy to do! But maybe it is.
I’m learning to go where my heart takes me. That means settling in where I am both inspired and where other people believe in me. It also means to not be afraid to walk away from the places and people that are familiar but hold you back. I am learning that home is a state of mind. Even what I once valued as home (San Francisco) can change drastically. It’s gone. It’s a different city and community now. But I’ve found bits and pieces of that old feeling in other cities, like Melbourne. Home is not static. It’s like the ebb and flow of the ocean. We can stand in one place and over time realize, that something has moved. It’s us.
If I could give one piece of advice now, it would be to give your heart completely to where you are, while still being adaptable to the idea of change and movement. In the last year I’ve split most of my time between Melbourne and SF. There’s a piece of me, like muscle memory, that exists in both locations. I don’t need to leave one for the other. Rather, I pick up and continue, adapt and grow, wherever my feet plant.