I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if I’m miserable and feel like a misfit in my small town, then I can leave, right? That I can just back my bags, buy a one-way ticket to New York, and not look back. You think that leaving is not at all a difficult choice to make. Sometimes matters are beyond your control and not everything is depicted in a black and white color scheme. There is a grey area and people often don’t acknowledge the factors that play into relocation.
I go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and grew up in Middleton, Wisconsin. Granted, Middleton is not exactly a minuscule town, with a population that borders 20 thousand people, but to me that feels tiny – almost claustrophobic. Madison, where I go to college, is also far from a small town with a population of nearly 300,000 people. Regardless, I still feel stifled. Seeing the same faces, going through the same motions, and having limited opportunities can take a toll on someone who has a big city personality in a small town.
It’s borderline torturous to see the same buildings, go to the same places, and to know that if you really want to make it big in the journalism industry, you have to relocate to a major media market. On that note, if one’s goal is to land a job at a publication in a city such as New York, it is increasingly hard to even score an interview if you are not from that state. It’s panic-inducing and not just in the slightest. It’s also panic inducing to know just how much of a hold your small town has on you and to know deep down just how limited you are in your opportunities and ways of escape.
I am by no means trying to be dramatic. My goal is not to pull a “woe is me” attitude. I work hard for what I have and am sincerely grateful for the incredible friends, family, jobs, and internships that I have been given. I blend in the best that I can. I save whatever money I can from my part time job and post writing samples from publications into my CV. I am doing the work. I am trying with everything in me to not allow my location to stop me from being happy. But on a similar note, I have found myself compromising my dreams and even my own personality and style just to match the small town standards. I have found myself straying from wearing certain outfits to not appear “overdressed”. I have found myself straying from talking about my feelings and aspirations in order to not be perceived as “high strung”. I have found myself smiling but internally screaming whenever I hear the words “you need to relax,” “you’re so uppity,” “oh, you’re doing so well already, why do you need to leave Wisconsin?” and “if you’re so unhappy, you should just leave!” because trust me when I say that I wish I could leave more than anything in this world.
But to leave implies leaving for a purpose. It implies knowing that the goodbye will be permanent and that there is at least some security in the job, relocation, and connections made. I am a college student and certainly don’t bestow unlimited funds. I don’t have thousands of dollars at the ready to relocate to a city that can keep up with my energy and free spirited ways just yet. I don’t have at least a somewhat stable job to relocate to a new city for at this stage of my life. Moreover, my family and friends are here and they mean everything to me. They are why I stay. They are my rocks. They keep me sane when all I want to do is fly away and start a new life, the life that I have desperately been trying to create for years. If I could, I would take my loved ones with me. I would take everyone who has always been there for me in personalized suitcases and we could leave Wiscrapsin together. That would be the most selfish act that I could do (not to mention inhumane, who wants to be in a suitcase??). Just because I am colossally unhappy where I live does not mean that I would want to make someone else equally unhappy by bringing them to a city that is not where they want to be. I could not live with myself if I did that.
My travels have left me with unrivaled joy and inspiration and I am fortunate to have been able to see so much of the world at the age of twenty-one. I am beyond lucky to be able to have experienced places such as New York, California, central America, and Europe. I am beyond proud to be a Polish-American and to say that I am not only from Wisconsin, but from Poland, with ninety nine percent of my family living there. My wanderlust has led me to unrivaled experiences and an adventurous heart. My spirit is wild and reckless, but also tranquil whenever I set foot in a new destination. Coming home to my small town is always the hardest thing I can ever do and I feel like a part of me dies every time I hear the words “welcome home”, because I know that I have not found my home yet and need to permanently leave where I came from in order to find it.
Until that day, I will try to stop being angry whenever someone tells me to count my blessings. I will appreciate all that I have and surround myself with the people I love. I will keep an open mind and attempt to be optimistic. I will try to keep in mind that life is about the journey, not the pit stop along the way, and that some pit stops are longer than others. But most of all, I will keep it in the back of my mind that everything happens for a reason and I should just sit back and enjoy the ride instead of frantically grabbing the wheel.