“To truly understand yourself, your purpose and those around you, you must keep moving. You must move at least five times; five times to open your heart and dip your toes into something new, fresh and life changing.”
I have almost begun the single digit countdown to my next big move: Cambridge, England for (at least) the next twelve months, as I begin a Master of Philosophy in Politics, Development, and Democratic Education (PDDE). It’s a huge mouthful of a thematic route in their Education Department that basically boils down to me investigating how we can use curriculum and school design to facilitate spaces in which students from what I refer to as ‘domestic urban conflict zones,’ can use school to ‘learn to make’ and create a cycle in which what they learn in the classroom is directly translated into their lived experiences in a way that helps them create positive impact and changes in their communities. (Again, I know, a mouthful). And while my excitement about going back to school and living in a new place grows, I am reminded again of all the emotions that accompany such moves.
I would never say that I derive ‘hold fast to my heart’ wisdom from the types of articles that we have all seen that tell you 5 ways to do this, or 9 reasons you should not do that. But once in awhile, I stumble across one that has a title that catches my eye, and I give it a chance. I came across an article a few days ago that was entitled, “Staying is Settling: Why You Need to Move At Least 5 Times in Your Life.” This title piqued my interest. As I read the contents on the page, I began to take a journey over the last seven years of my life, and to the moves that have shaped me in very similar fashion to what the article described. And as I got to the very last line, I realized how much I stood by this philosophy. Maybe not so much in the words that staying in one place is ‘settling.’ I do think that some people just know where they want to build their life and sometimes life just requires such permanent roots. However, I do believe that in movement there is life, and in movement there is the type of ability to grow and change that one does not always find in one sedimentary spot. There is a form of the scientific experiment in moving; a time old positing of questions and and testing them out to see if what you thought was true, was indeed true.
1. To get away from what you know
Your first move is like taking flight for the first time. Like learning to fly, you realize the only thing stopping you from the world is yourself…You have the world in front of you, with nothing but open sky and limitless possibilities.
But first you must leave the nest. You must say goodbye to everything you grew up with, the small world you once considered enough. You must unlatch yourself from the comforts of the familiar and place yourself in the middle of chaos.
This first move is the hardest. It’s the moment you willingly decide to be uncomfortable, scared and alone. It’s making the decision to become a foreigner, an outsider, a refugee. It’s abandoning everything you once cherished for the idea that there’s something better out there.
My first big move was definitely seven years ago when I boarded a one way flight to Boston, a city (and state) that I had never been to before but I had accepted it as my home for the next four years after sending in an acceptance letter to attend Harvard. I always knew I wanted to leave my tiny, rural town of less than a thousand people and see just exactly what else was out there. I knew my opportunities were limited where I was, and I knew that if I could just get a taste of the outside world, I would find my way to the very edges of this earth. Being that far from home and feeling so different from the majority of my classmates life experiences, meant that the first semester was a hard adjustment. I had made a decision to becoming a foreigner in many different definitions of the word, but foreigners also oftentimes bring so much value to wherever they go and can accept to make a new place their home. And over the course of those four years, Harvard became a wonderful home and place of immense growth for me. It allowed me to travel the world (and on someone else’s dime), and I learned to appreciate every opportunity that came my way and drank deeply of each new experience.
2. To find new experiences
The second move you make should be one of restlessness. You should be tired of the same flavors of your now comfortable surroundings. This move is about feeling again. It’s about accepting that you can’t possibly know everything, but you are going to try.
You are going to have experiences, adventures and an unforeseen future. You don’t know who you’ll meet, what you’ll find or how you’ll get there, but you will do it. You will jump into it blindly and openly.
You will make new friends, find new flavors and reignite that passion for life that came with your first move. You will not rest until your hungry soul is placated. You will leave your old friends for new ones, your first language for another and that idea that you’re home for that invigorating feeling of homesick.
While Harvard became home over those four years, it also became too much of a familiar. I had gotten into a routine, and in many ways I was over extending myself because I felt comfortable. I was taking classes that demanded a lot of writing and research, and I was agreeing to more leadership roles in a wide range of extracurriculars. By sophomore spring, I had entered a precursor to burn-out, and I knew I needed to shake things up in order to fall back in love with the world of not knowing what to expect. So I grabbed one of my closest friends, Scott, and we jetted across the Atlantic for a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain.
Being completely immersed in a culture so different from the American one I was used to, with the romantic Spanish language spoken all around me was the move I needed to remind myself of just how much I did not know, and had not seen. And the fact that school was a lot more relaxed than the one I had grown accustomed to, also helped me refocus on other aspects of the world around me. Every day was something new–new people, new sites, new tastes, new smells. And on the weekends, Scott and I, and others we had befriended, would oftentimes go off to another country and briefly experience yet another way of being and living. We had the world at our fingertips. It was a blessing that I was grateful for each day. I did not know what to expect when I made the decision to study abroad, but it was in not knowing that I knew it was what I was looking for and wanted. Between the summer before in Ghana and going straight into my fall semester in Spain, I had stretched myself to new heights of knowing myself and what I was capable of doing and being. I returned that winter different from how I left the previous spring.
3. To chase love
To chase love is to chase happinesses. It’s to decide that you will throw yourself into the swirling, maddening and restless chase we’re all trying to enter. Because love is the ultimate destination, is it not? It’s the reason we move, every day.
If you think you’ve found it… in a person, a city, a job, you must move for it. If your dream job awaits in Spain, you must move there. If your heart yearns for the pink beaches of Bermuda, you must go there. Chasing love is not irresponsible, it’s honest.
Senior year of college, I remember thinking for the briefest of moments that I should be reading case study books and going to interviews with banks and consulting firms like so many of the other people that I knew who would be graduating with me that year. A brief moment. Luckily, despite a severely flawed and lacking career studies office, I had met enough incredible upperclassmen who were not on a ‘traditional’ path, who I could talk to about choosing a different course. Along my road to find that different course, I did stumble across a traditional route of sorts in the form of Teach for America. I applied, and felt very confident because of my past work in education (a field I do plan on staying in) that I would be accepted. When I was accepted, I wasn’t as excited as everyone else was for me. It didn’t feel right.
The summer after my sophomore year of college, I had been granted money to pursue work for a local child rights NGO in Accra, Ghana. My summer writing and implementing programs to help educate children on their rights and how to get help when those rights were being abused, made me feel alive in my work in a way that few things have managed to top. I was part of a community and bringing aid to an area of direct and very real need. When I left to head to Spain, I felt like my work was not done. And there’s nothing I hate more than unfinished work. So even though I got accepted to TFA, I continued to search for ways to make moving back to Ghana possible. Three weeks before I was set to move to Miami, I got word that I was being granted a postgraduate public service fellowship that would sponsor me for a year of work. I loved (and continue to deeply love) Ghana and its people, and I am so glad that I chased it that year instead of just taking the first thing that came my way. I knew it was the ‘crazier’ more ‘unpredictable’ road, but I was ready to BE there and EXPERIENCE that unpredictable road. I needed to see what post-graduate Delia was capable of doing and being, and in pushing that boundary, I would be able to finish what I had started.
That year brought me greater clarity in what mattered to me in values, more insight into my thoughts on education, made me better prepared when I transitioned back to TFA, and introduced me to my first love. It was an incredible whirlwind, that picked me up, and after it had put me back down, everything it had touched was marked deeply by the relationship I had with that space and place.
4. To escape that love
Love isn’t infinite. It can be found in a moment, a single dose or a fleeting romance. It can be a year of perfect love with someone who isn’t supposed to stay in your life. It can be in beaches that bring you peace until your heart years for something new. It can be in the first bite of pasta and over with its last.
Love isn’t defined by its length but its capacity to touch you and change you. Just because it doesn’t last doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.
You must never settle, never give in to the idea that you can’t have another one. Because the world is full of things to throw your heart into, things to make you weep and realize (yet again) why you’re alive.
After a year of being immersed in the red dirt of Ghana, landing back in America was an uncomfortable jolt. In an instant I went from a simple existence (cooking on the floor, water from my well, no running water, etc.) to a life that seemed filled with excess. And Miami was a capital of excess, even while being home to those who had so little.
When I left Ghana, was the right time to leave. I had accomplished what I had gone back to finish, and I had made a promise of return to children I had yet to meet in Miami. I couldn’t help but have the internal struggle though that somehow I was doing the normal by going back to TFA and I was going to settle into a life devoid of the “exotic,” the ever-new. I would go from the child who was learning with each day to the adult who needed to immediately have answers because I was now in charge of other people’s children. I had so much love and peace in Ghana, and coming back did not excite me, except to see my family. But I was wrong.
I was wrong to think that one only finds the ever-new thousands of miles away. I was wrong that I would not find exactly what I was looking for within my grasp. I will always have Ghana. That red dirt is a part of my bones and who I have become. And just because I am no longer there does not mean that what was there was not the journey I felt it was when I was there. But it was always meant to be a finite journey. An affair to remember. There in Miami, was still very much a feeling of immense growth and learning. I entered a world in which I was once again the foreigner. Here I would find more things–or I should say students, my children–to throw my heart fully into. Students who made me realize you don’t get just one love, one life-shifting journey in your lifetime. Miami in all its problems and dichotomies was the imperfect-perfect transition from my temporary search for love across the ocean. And even though there are parts of that love (again, people) that are no longer part of my life, I now know that they just become something else that you take and learn from, and move forward.
5. To begin all over again
You must resist the confines of comfort. You must defy the idea of settled. You must never resign yourself to the ordinary or the easy. You must challenge tranquility for the promise of something greater.
To live is to be born and to continually live is to be reborn, again and again. As a new person, new lover, new friend, you must willingly evolve and transform into new versions of yourself. You must never allow the new place you’ve created to become the final place. You must consistently defy the idea of comfort.
Here I am, two years after moving to Miami, no longer living and teaching there. The summer found me easing out of my Miami life in California, and now I am spending time in The Town Where Time Does Not Reside, before being swept away in another movement, where I’ll begin journeying all over again.
Staying in Miami would have been easy. I could have taught anything I wanted to, and it would have been an entire environment that I knew the basic ins and outs of from days of tracing the same paths of work and personal life. I had a close group of friends, who defied my claim that I would not make closer friends than the ones I made in college. But it wasn’t where I saw myself long-term. And I wasn’t being developed in the ways I wished to be developed. I felt like a placeholder. I looked great where I was, but I did not have to be there. So I made the difficult decision to leave, and to go in search of, once again, that something that would help me to continue to evolve and grow. My students were growing, but I was not, except in the sense of understanding how to teach reading better, but that was not enough for me. So in a week when I leave for school, I will start to figure out what those next steps look like, but I am content in my thinking that I will feel that I am exactly where I am meant to be.
I don’t know where my next move will be after England. It is too early to tell. I just know that whether it is to get away from what I know, find new experiences, chase or escape love, it is always a chance to begin again in some manner of the phrase. Here’s to a few more footprints in the air.