My first breakdown came about seventy-two hours after I moved to New York City.
I had just graduated from Calvin less than a week earlier, abandoning a community I loved in pursuit of adventure—in the form of a risky, low-paying temporary internship in the most spectacular, ruthless city on earth.
Mumbling “what have I done” over and over to myself in my closet-sized Queens apartment with my suitcase only half-unpacked on the floor is not exactly my proudest life moment.
I’ve changed cities a whopping four times in the last eighteen months—parachuting into everywhere from east coast metropolises like Washington, D.C. and New York City to the rural west of Boise, Idaho.
Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I stepped off that first plane.
- Name The Loss. Change on this scale becomes a substantial threat of instability and uncertainty. But when we make major life changes, we don’t resist the change itself, per se. We resist loss. There’s plenty to lose: friends, family and a place to belong—not to mention the little, unexpected things that constantly remind us we don’t belong, like having reiterate that you want a “soda” every time you try to order a “pop.” The often-overlooked first step is just to name these losses—big and small—and give ourselves permission to grieve them.
- Take Lots of Initiative. When we move to a new place, our lives have been turned upside-down. So it’s difficult—but imperative—to take a step back and realize that everyone else’s life has stayed almost exactly the same. Some people will make an intentional effort to make you feel welcome in their city, but those people will be few and far between. Latch onto them. Say yes to everything. For the rest of the people you want to meet, take a deep breath and make the invitations yourself. I didn’t really get to know some of my favorite people in Boise until my last month there—just because I never said “let’s grab drinks.”
- Don’t Rush to Conclusions. In that same vein, let’s take a step back and remember that relationships take time. Settling into a new job, or a new church or a new neighborhood takes time. We aren’t going to be best friends with anyone in a month. Or maybe even six months. We aren’t going to feel at home in our new jobs during our second week. And we can’t replace lifelong friends from our most formative years in a matter of weeks.
- Find a Church. How does God usually show his faithfulness and comfort in our lives? Friends, family, familiarity, and belonging. But there isn’t much familiarity or belonging when we move to a new place. Most importantly, church grounds us in our true, unchanging identities in the midst of a topsy-turvy season of life. It doesn’t have to be your dream congregation with exactly the right music and perfect coffee. Some of my most meaningful moments in Washington and in Boise happened on Sunday mornings and with the people I found there.
- Make Some Small Immediate Habits. Here’s another way to find some immediate stability: fall into a few habits. This will give us some familiarity. Maybe it’s learning the barista’s name at your new favorite coffee shop. For me in New York, it was running the exact same route after work. In Boise, it was finding a half hour to wander around Barnes and Noble. Find something tangible that you can own and go to for stability.
- No ‘New City, New Me’ Resolutions. One of my biggest mistakes when I moved to New York was trying to kick all of my bad habits during the first week. I thought this was a fresh start for me: I was going to eat healthier and go on Facebook less. Turns out some of those “bad habits” were major ways for me to stabilize, and trying to kick them made the move much more tumultuous than it should have been.
- Keep In Touch Back Home. Although it may seem like it at times, moving to a new place does not mean our old friends cease to exist. People who have walked through our most formative years are not “fallback friends.” Yes, these relationships will look different. When I moved to Washington, some friendships actually got much stronger through the distance. Others fell by the wayside. But spend some of that initiative reaching out to friends and family back home—they are not as immersed in the change as you are.
Ryan Struyk (’14) graduated from Calvin with majors in political science and mathematics. He currently covers the 2016 elections for abc News in Washington. He’s also done political polling in New York City and reported on the Idaho state legislature for the Associated Press in Boise. In his free time, Ryan enjoys talking about inferential statistics, music theory, and his beloved Detroit Tigers.