When Moving is Not the Magic Solution

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S_BethanyS

At the beginning of this month, my husband and I celebrated our one-year anniversary of living in our new city, Nashville, Tennessee. It felt like such a victory, knowing we had survived such a significant change and all the obstacles that came with it.

These days, we rent a sweet little brick house on the east side, we have a garden overflowing with fresh produce that my husband planted from seed, we have a home office to work and write in. I have two jobs that I really love, that challenge and grow my creativity. My husband plays in a band, and he’s finishing the final recordings of a new album.

In very tangible ways, this is the life we wanted when we decided to move almost two years ago. My husband and I had been through so much together for being newlyweds; my mom had died and we could feel ourselves orbiting around that tragedy, surviving yet not moving forward. We knew we could thrive, we just had to give ourselves permission.

So we told our friends and family we were leaving. We packed, donated, or sold everything we owned. We quit our jobs and said goodbye to our too-expensive one-bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs, and we moved 500 miles south.

It sounds adventurous and rewarding when I write it that way. This is the part where I could laud the merits of “living a good story” or proclaim that everyone should just quit all the things that make them unhappy. Another blogger might tell you that ditching their job and moving cross-country set them free AND got them a book deal, so you should do it too. It seems to be a cultural (or perhaps generational) archetype, these days: millennial girl is completely unhappy with her career path/relationships/tiny apartment, so she quits everything and finds a new vocation that makes her deliriously happy, spiritually enlightened, and wildly successful.

But I think the way we talk about “chasing our dreams” idealizes the process. What often gets left out of stories like these is the long, slow effort of everyday choices. The economic privilege of quitting mediocre jobs is usually glossed over. Or the details about how many times they over-drafted on their bank account get left out of the conversation, because it doesn’t fit the narrative of freedom and success.

So here’s the real-talk version of our first year in a new city:

For the first six weeks after we moved, we had no permanent place to live. For the first six months, I worked as a maid for a residential cleaning service. My freelance writing didn’t pay off the way I hoped. My blog sat empty for months, and then my website crashed. Our bank account went negative more times than I care to admit. There was the weekend that will live in infamy, in which we moved into and right back out of a cockroach-infested apartment. A few weeks later, my car broke down and the repairs were too expensive, so I shared vehicles with my husband and our housemate for a few months. It took several months longer to gain back all the necessary furniture we had sold before the move—a couch, a dresser, a desk, a filing cabinet, a dining table and chairs. It took even longer to regain a sense of stability and confidence in our future.

I’ll spare you the self-help speech of “quit everything and do whatever makes you happy!” Clearly, our move to a city was not the magic solution for getting our ish together. For awhile, the move felt distinctly like failure. Progress was so slow that I felt certain we were actually moving backwards.

When I talk with my friends about the parts of our lives that we want desperately to improve, or when I’m relaying all the overwhelming obstacles and small victories of the past year, I’m reminded:

Wherever we go, there we are. 

Each of us absolutely have permission to pursue lives that make us content and fulfilled. But there is no magic formula, no reset button, no shortcut to a better version of our lives. There’s no quick leap into the future where everything is fine and nothing hurts.

Transformation happens slowly, over a whole lifetime. I think each of us know those deeply-rooted parts of ourselves that need restoration and healing, the parts of ourselves that go so much deeper than a job or a relationship or a city. I knew, though I couldn’t even admit it to myself, that finances were my big, instant trigger for shame and fear and self-sabotage. I knew that my husband and I had yet to be really honest with each other about how deeply the trauma of my mother’s death had affected our marriage. The move to a new city helped us see all of it with fresh eyes; it was like stepping back from an impressionist painting to see the big picture emerge from the chaos. But the move didn’t fix me or us; that’s the work we have to do every day now that we’re here.

I’m proud of us for leaving a life that made us unhappy, but that was only the first step. I’m more proud of the hundreds of days since, when we rolled up our sleeves and got to work building a better life, even when the effort felt impossible.

If our goal is to thrive—to live a wholehearted life that gives us joy and resilience and connection*—then it is the slow, daily work we do that will set us free. No shortcuts, no leaps.

So leave if you need to. Or stay. The lifelong work of self-love starts wherever you are.

*Reference to “wholehearted life” is inspired by the work of Brené Brown, particularly her book Daring Greatly. If you haven’t read it, Lovelys, here is a link to the Red Couch Book Club discussion on it from last spring!

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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Bethany Suckrow
  • I love this honesty.
    Thank you for not going all high-gloss with your story, but instead affirming the truth that God is at work in our daily fight for joy, our mundane details of making a living and cobbling together a life in the midst of obstacles and set backs.

    • Glad it resonated with you, Michele! Thanks for reading & commenting. <3

  • jenn

    These poignant and beautiful words were just what I needed this morning. As I finish a year of missionary service this week, I find myself existing in the paradox of the finite and the infinite, and I needed to be reminded of so much of the truth you have infused here. Everyone wants the highlight reel of what it means to pursue passion and seek authentic life, but transformation does not happen in a vacuum and, as you said, “There’s no quick leap into the future where everything is fine and nothing hurts.” Thank you for your honest truth and for the reminder to step back, reflect, and begin restoration with self-love. Deep peace to you and your journey!

    • Thanks, Jenn! Peace to you as you make your next steps, post-missionary service. <3

  • pastordt

    So, so true. Thanks for the honesty check, and for the goodness of this story.

  • Amen, Bethany! It’d be nice if transformation happened overnight, but you are so right — there is no magic formula. Keep fighting the good fight and know, dear sister, that we are all in this journey together!

  • Hey, Aileen.

    <3 <3 <3 and more.

  • Sarah Joslyn

    Preach.

  • Mother goose

    Thank you for these words today. As I write, my husband and I, along with our 11 year old son, are transitioning back to the US after 12 years on the mission field. We’ve been deeply hurt by both our mission and our home church, and are just praying that we can pick up the pieces without becoming bitter and angry. I needed reminding that it takes time, and that we have to do what’s best for us.

    • Wow, I’m so sorry for the hurt that you’ve experienced; those wounds seems to hurt twice as deep when they’re inflicted by your faith community. I’ll be praying for you and your family as you process and heal from this. <3

  • So wise.

  • Bev Murrill

    Oh Bethany, I agree 100% … you take yourself with you wherever you AND it’s the slow daily work we do that will set us free. That’s probably all anyone every needs to know in order to undertake the neverending project of becoming the real ME… she’s hard to find, but she’s there if we’re willing to do the work!

  • Wherever we go, there we are. Oh crap. 🙂

  • Amen, Bethany. I love your honesty and tenacity so much.

  • Timely for me, Bethany. I’ve beguiled by the “chase your dreams” line before and often wistfully think things might be different for me elsewhere. A steadfast husband with great wisdom keeps me grounded (and planted). Thanks for sharing your side of the story. 🙂

  • “It is the slow, daily work we do that will set us free. No shortcuts, no leaps.”

    I really needed to read that. This work of redefining and change feels impossible and slow and heavy some days, like a task that is a joke rather than a task that is good, honest work. Thank you for the reminder that the work builds, a little each day, a choice at a time, a step in the right direction.

  • Kelsey Gunderson

    Wow – this is exactly what I needed to read this afternoon! A year ago (today!) I was Nashville bound for my first “big girl” job. I’ve battled with wanting to move home thinking that would “fix” the feelings of failure I was beginning to have these past few months. Thank you for your beautiful and honest reminder that there is no magic formula for this crazy adventure – just time and effort!

  • Bethany, I loved this piece! And I appreciated your comment about the ability to pick up and move or travel the world is truly a social-economic privilege. So true.

    A friend of mine lost her father this year and it’s her first year of marriage. And while I didn’t experience something to that degree, my husband and I went through a very serious crisis a few months into marriage last year. Everyone always says that the first year is like a fairy tale, but life doesn’t stop and sometimes it can be so, so hard. Thank you for sharing a piece of your story. ((Hugs))

  • meg

    Hey

  • meg

    This post really hit home. I REALLY want to move. But I finally realized it is not the right time. I am learning I can never run away from myself… Thanks for this.

  • The timing of this post is CRAZY.

    “It sounds adventurous and rewarding when I write it that way.”

    Isn’t that the resounding echo of social media/Instagram? Who are these adventurous, brave souls I do life alongside? Why am I such a flickin’ wimp who struggles to make bold, risky choices and then buckles under the weight of bold-choice?

    “The move to a new city helped us see all of it with fresh eyes; it was like stepping back from an impressionist painting to see the big picture emerge from the chaos. But the move didn’t fix me or us; that’s the work we have to do every day now that we’re here.”

    Motherhood did this for me.

    “It is the slow, daily work we do that will set us free. No shortcuts, no leaps.”

  • FYI, you are one of the bravest souls I get to do life with.

    Because you stand at your post and do the slow work.

    I respect and admire that so much.