I’ve always wanted to live somewhere other than the area in which I grew up. Don’t get me wrong, my hometown isn’t some soulless backwater sucking the life out of all who live there. In fact, had I not been raised in this particular area of the Cotswolds then I’m sure its diverse art scene, plethora of independent shops and cafés, award-winning farmers’ market and beautiful countryside walks would have me racing towards the nearest estate agents faster than you can say ‘organic cheese’.
Living a five-minute drive from the house I grew up in and a stone’s throw from my old school, however, was not what I had planned when I said a final goodbye to my university in South Wales almost thirteen years ago; or when, as a sixteen-year-old school girl, I enthusiastically entertained the idea of hopping on a plane to America for my first solo trip abroad once I’d finished my GCSEs.
Back then, my imaginary future knew no limits, geographical or otherwise. It was only as I got older, as time slipped away and I became conscious that moving – changing – wasn’t as easy as my younger self had once thought, that I realised I was both financially and mentally stuck. The little voice in my head that had prevented my American trip from turning into anything more than a teenage fantasy, the one telling me that I wasn’t, nor probably ever would be, brave enough to move outside of my comfort zone, was steadily growing louder.
According to reports, almost half of Brits live in or near their childhood homes and that certainly seemed to be the case where I was brought up. I regularly found myself bumping into people I went to school with, in the street or at the shops, and I knew a number of families locally with multiple generations living just a few miles from each other, my own included.
On the other hand, I was also conscious of the people in my social circles and beyond who had moved away from their childhood homes, choosing new places to explore and greater career prospects over family and familiarity.
I certainly wasn’t blind to the benefits of living so near to my loved ones (and I would never judge anyone for wanting to stay close to theirs), but for me living in the place where I grew up felt like living in the shadow of the person I once was. Whilst I stayed there (and I did so for twelve years after returning from university) I would never push myself to become the person I wanted to be. I appreciated that this was predominantly a mind-set of my own making, but even so, I knew that for me a location change was the only way to acheive any kind of personal growth.
Last year, life took a turn I wasn’t expecting. I was on adoption leave with our new child when my husband was offered a job fifty miles away from our home. This was a career-defining move, a job that would benefit all of us financially and one which would allow my husband to take significant steps up the career ladder. Shortly after he accepted, we began to talk seriously about a potential move away.
Whilst the job was still within a commutable distance, staying put would mean my husband would have to sacrifice time with our child to spend three hours a day travelling to and from work and we both knew that that option wouldn’t be good for any of us. I guess, in the end, my hand was forced and, as it turned out, I only needed to silence that doubting voice in my head for the few seconds it took to sign a contract on a new house in order to move my life forward.
Three months in and, whilst many people I know who’ve moved away are starting to consider a return to their hometown, I can happily say that putting down roots somewhere different has given me a renewed sense of self, but maybe that’s because I so desperately wanted it to? Moving away in my thirties as opposed to my twenties – when I had no real commitments, but also no sense of purpose or determination to make it work – was, perhaps, what needed to happen in order to make the move successful.
That’s not to say it’s been easy. Settling into a new town, particularly in your thirties, can bring with it its own difficulties. Often, by the time you reach your fourth decade, you already have your close friendship groups established and trying to become the new friend in a new group can be tricky. That’s not to say it’s impossible and now that I’m older, wiser and more determined, I frequently find myself pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone to talk to new people, something I rarely did before I moved away.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I vividly remember someone telling me that wherever you go, you take yourself with you (I didn’t realise it was a Neil Gaiman quote at the time!). I’m not going to pretend that I’ve completely reinvented myself since moving away. I still have all the same worries that I had when I lived in my hometown, but for me, mentally, moving somewhere new has given me the space I needed to make small changes, to slowly create a version of myself that is closer to the person I want to be.
As for my family, I still see them regularly (we haven’t moved too far away) and I’ve found that because we don’t live as close to each other anymore we’ve swapped our quick morning coffee or lunch dates for whole days filled with fun and activities. Yes, the time we have together is less, but in terms of quality it’s more, so much more, and that, for me, can only be a good thing.