I always felt like, to some extent, I was suffocating. Slowly but surely…and that there was a countdown to how much time I had left before I finally collapsed. I felt like that for 18 years.
Stuck in a small town surrounded by big, beautiful hills that always seemed to be getting closer…the only way out being a winding highway packed with toll booths - a tunnel built into a mountain as the final stretch before you could cross the state line.
My worst fear was that the tunnel would one day collapse and there would be no way out. I had that nightmare for years. Sometimes, even now, it comes back to me.
I always knew I needed to break away from what my family had done for years and find a new place to call home. I always knew there was something much bigger out there waiting for me. I always knew I had to leave in order to become the woman I wanted to be.
Because, the truth is…I felt small, insignificant, and limited. I felt restricted. I felt like the only way to get the most out of life was to go far beyond those state lines and soak up as much information about the world as possible.
You see, your vision becomes clouded when the people you love have settled somewhere for so long. You think that what you see is all there is to life. You don’t seek a way out. And you don’t want to, because why would you leave the only thing that’s familiar to you? It feels safe. It feels comfortable. It feels natural.
To live the life we’ve always wanted to live, we must be willing to do things we never thought we could do.
The scariest thing I ever did was move to a new city where I didn’t know anyone to start a new life.
And it’s also the best decision I ever made.
photo by Jackie Hallinan
I would like to preface this article by saying that no one has more hometown pride than I do. Every time I fly home and start to see those West Virginia mountains in the distance, my eyes fill with happy tears. I’m that obnoxious girl who requests John Denver’s Country Roads at every bar and continues to belt it at the top of her lungs. I begged the DMV to let me keep my West Virginia license plate so that I could hang it up in my house. West Virginia, for me, is a lot like a first love - the one you had to leave because you knew they were bad for you…but who will always have a special place in your heart.
For the most part, I had a wonderful childhood. I had parents that loved me, I did well in school, I played sports, I had friends, and I always had a roof over my head/food on my plate. I truly have no complaints, and my parents worked their asses off to make sure my siblings and I had a good life. I am so grateful for them and for my first 18 years in West Virginia.
However, at a young age I began to notice a dull ache in the pit of my stomach: a craving for something different…a longing for new experiences and for exciting opportunities. I’ll never forget the first time I left the state to go to New York City on a dance trip…it felt like my eyes were finally open for the first time. I got a small taste of what the world outside my small sphere was like, and I was hooked/have been chasing that feeling ever since.
When applying for colleges, I had only one criteria: as far away as possible. I went so far as to apply to places abroad. My dad shut that down pretty quickly…but he did let me apply to The College of Charleston in South Carolina because I had an aunt that lived nearby. And so…this is where I ended up. It was good enough for me at the time. Little did I know that I’d fall in love with the city, its people, and meet the love of my life here.
I may act like I knew exactly what I was doing/what I wanted, but I almost didn’t leave. Honestly? I was so scared. I felt an immense amount of guilt - like I was abandoning my family and my two younger siblings. I thought I would fail. I thought I’d have to come running back and everyone would tell me they told me so. I had so many conflicting emotions around moving away, and every night of my senior year of high school I sat awake in bed going back and forth about what my life would look like down either path I may take. I wrote ridiculous amounts of notes in journals, I drew diagrams, I mapped out 5 year plans…I did it all. In the end, my head thought up as many scenarios as it could possibly hold, but it was my heart that got the final say. And it was telling me to run as quickly as I could toward a more beautiful, fulfilling life.
There are a lot of reasons why I ultimately left. However, to put it bluntly, I was so tired of doing the same shit with the same people every day of my life. I knew that if I stayed, it would be that way indefinitely. I felt so incredibly limited when it came to learning opportunities and job possibilities. I wanted to experience people from all walks of life and live in a culturally blended community where people were interested in one another’s views. I was, quite simply, terribly unhappy with the way my future was headed and felt like I needed a new start. I didn't feel like West Virginia could give me the things that I ultimately wanted in life.
And so I left. And I sobbed the whole night before I was set to go. And I hugged my family so tight I thought they may explode. And I told myself I was making the right decision even though it felt like my insides were ripping apart. And when I drove across the state line the next day, I said my goodbyes to my beautiful mountain mama, thanked her for everything she did for me, and I haven’t looked back since.
Now, I’m not saying that in order to live your most fulfilling life you must move as far away as you can from your hometown. There are SO many people I know who have taken it upon themselves to travel and explore and find ways to learn about all of the things they crave so that they can bring it back home and share it with their own circle of people. I admire those people. I wasn’t strong enough to stay.
And, some people are not granted the same opportunity I was to attend college out of state. I am incredibly lucky. However, people move to new cities with nothing but a dollar in their pocket every day because they feel called to do so…and they make it happen for themselves. You could make it happen if you wanted to, too.
Bottom line: whether to decide to leave your hometown or decide to stay, you are capable of whatever you set your mind to and YOU have the power to make those big, significant changes in your life that are going to leave you fulfilled. You are the only person who can do that. So, it is up to YOU to go out and do whatever it is to make that happen for yourself, wherever that may be.
Your life is only as good as your mindset. It has nothing to do with where you’re located in the world. I simply felt that in order to create a better mindset for myself, I needed to experience new things in new places and leave the place that I felt was holding me back.
I am only one person. This is just one story. Yours can (and will) look vastly different. However, they are all equally important, beautiful, and deserve to be shared.
images from www.forbes.com and ww.pinterest.com
Tori Talks was created to inspire people to become the most authentic and empowered versions of themselves - a space where personal experiences, tips, and tidbits guide others to live strong, grounded, and powerful lives.