Tuesday, September 10: Describe a distinct moment when your life took a turn. When I relocated to Des Moines more than a year ago, I really thought it would be no big deal--I mean, I had made my way in Chicago for three and a half years, I was in my mid to late (gulp) twenties, I used to visit Des Moines all the time as a child for the infamous state fair, and my boyfriend was here. No problem, right?
Wrong. So wrong. I completely underestimated the particular difficulties of getting used to a new city, making new friends, starting a new job in a new industry, finding new hobbies, figuring out where everything was, and basically just figuring out the new culture of a place and where I saw myself fitting it. It was hard. So hard, in fact, that I probably cried every day the first six months I lived there. I felt like I sucked at my job. I felt like everyone already had their own friends (or had babies and husbands and consequently no time for friends), and I missed my friends terribly. Seeing family required at least a three hour drive, and my parents and sisters were six hours away, which made visiting difficult. I constantly compared the city to Chicago, and consistently viewed it as falling short (yeah, I was that person). Not to mention dealing with the shift of a long-distance relationship to "oh hey, you're around all the time"; that had its own challenges, and my boyfriend had already lived here a while with a great job, lots of friends and a solid routine. I found myself surprised over and over again how hard it was and how long it seemed to be taking to feel like I belonged. And that made me want to give up and move away as quickly as possible pretty much every day for a long time.
I also kept waiting for a sign, a moment, that would indicate I should stay, that yes, my life could be here and it could also be great. Of course, that's generally not how life works, is it? I kept waiting, and waiting, and complaining, and moping, and then finally . . . I realized I was making myself miserable. So I stopped. Instead of lamenting all the things Des Moines lacked in comparison to Chicago, I celebrated its many unique qualities--the low cost of living, zero traffic, delicious restaurants, multiple neighborhoods with their own personalities, a thriving art culture and young professionals scene. Instead of waiting for all my new friendships to magically appear, I made the first move: I asked cool girls that I hardly knew to happy hour, I went to social events (by myself!), I got involved with a few different nonprofit organizations, I joined a yoga studio and started saying hello in the locker room, I set up a dinner party with all the women in my apartment building. Instead of being intimidated by my job, I tried to reframe it as an opportunity to improve my skills, learn a whole lot, and grow as much as possible. Instead of waiting for a sign that I was in the right place, I embraced the place and did all I could to make my life here feel right.
And it worked. I still wasn't ready to declare that OMG I HEART DSM, but I didn't hate it either. It took many more months, and it's still a slow process, but I realized how far I had come when a girlfriend called to say that she had been offered a position in Des Moines. She wanted to know: Could I tell her about what it's like to live and work there? Absolutely! I replied, making a list of all the wonderful things Des Moines had to offer . . . and quickly realizing the irony. I had been converted. I was an Iowan. And I was kind of happy about it.