A woman leaning off the edge of a building as she looks downward

Like many 20 and 30 somethings, I had to make a strategic and smart decision to move back to my hometown after living (mostly) in Los Angeles since high school. Growing up in a small Midwest town, I stuck out like a sore thumb when I said I wanted to go to fashion school in L.A. The moment I decided that I wanted to attend this school, I was met with an onslaught of reasons from other people about why I might be making the wrong decision.

One person said, “The only reason a woman should go to college is to get her M.R.S degree.” In kinder words, they were telling me fashion school was a waste of time because going to college as a woman really should be about finding a good man to marry. This wasn’t the first moment that increased my desire to be fiercely independent, but it was a moment in time that catapulted me into a journey of wanting to prove that being a woman never meant I couldn’t be powerful on my own. 

Being a woman never meant I couldn’t be powerful on my own.

I wasn’t afraid to speak up in my classes in high school about subjects that mattered to me. I wasn’t scared to use my voice to challenge the status quo, and I sure as hell wasn’t afraid to tell the boy who sat next to me in science that he had no idea what he was talking about when he told me I overdressed for school and it made me look like Hannah Montana. (Although at the time, I took it as a compliment.) 

I left home at 18 years old to attend a fashion school more than 3,000 miles away and to live in a city that I had never visited but felt like it was pulling me closer every day. I knew that I couldn’t possibly do anything else. I was confident in my decisions, goals and how I wanted my life to look. 

I was living in L.A. on and off for the next few years. I had become a version of myself that I was proud of. I felt comfortable in who I was; I had become friends with people who seemed to understand me like I never thought possible. I had experiences and worked with people and brands that I once dreamed of. I was living in a place that cultivated all the best parts of me, and I became even more assured in myself and my beliefs.

I was living in a place that cultivated all the best parts of me, and I became even more assured in myself and my beliefs.

Yet, as the age-old saying goes, life isn’t always cupcakes and rainbows. It doesn’t go exactly how we expect it. When we are faced with life’s curveballs, and it feels like we have failed, do we continue to listen to our own voice? Or do we lose trust in ourselves and put our hope in what others have to say?

A series of events and tough decisions led me to move back to my hometown. It was best for my family and me. I was blindly unaware and unprepared for the amount of culture shock I would experience upon returning home. I felt blindly out of place; it wasn’t that my hometown had changed that much or that there was something wrong with it. It was that I had changed.

I felt like an outsider. How was it that a place that held so much nostalgia also felt like a place that I was visiting for the first time? It’s a weird feeling moving back to a place where you have so many memories. It’s almost like I was supposed to pick up right where I left off. Was that even possible? Would I even want to?

I felt like an outsider.

Throughout time, I felt like I had each foot in two different worlds. One foot in the doorway to the person I had become, and the other foot trying to walk back through the door to the person I was before.

Without feeling any real grounding to either side of myself—the new or the old version of me—I started to shrink back from any real version of myself. I stopped wearing the outfits that I loved. I stopped doing the things that brought me joy. I no longer voiced my opinion on things that mattered to me. Ultimately, I let my new surroundings change the voice inside me.

I was embarrassed that my identity was tied to a certain place, rather than connected to my soul. If I was who I thought I was, couldn’t I be that person anywhere? 

I decided on a rainy day in August that I could. I slowly started bringing back outfits that I loved, picking up old hobbies that I lost and letting my opinion be known on subjects that mattered to me. I slowly started to feel that buzz of my life coming back together. 

I decided that I am me—the true, authentic version of myself—wherever I go. I have learned that being my authentic self means merging the new and the old, leaving neither behind. 

Does where we live define us or do we create and define ourselves wherever we live? 

Image via Elke Van De Velde, Darling Issue No. 21

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