This Terrible Freedom

This Terrible Freedom

Coming of age in Austin, Texas

 

I never expected to fall in love with Austin.

It was the logical choice, of course, with thriving industries in both my field of study (advertising and public relations) and my personal passion (film). But my rebellious streak nearly prevented me from following the mob of recent college graduates to this trendy town. I’d also never been a city girl and hadn’t quite given up on the idea of exploring another country after graduation. My missionary kid roots balked at the thought of a future without airports.

Yet here I am six months later, with every intention of building a home in this exciting city.

My aunt and uncle graciously offered to let me stay in their guest room, so I hit the ground running: networking, applying for jobs and soaking up every beautiful thing. Within the next few months, I went to my first concert, attended Austin Film Festival, met a favorite author at a book signing, started volunteering with SXSW, went paddle-boarding on the river, and ate at countless local restaurants. I started to fall in love with the city’s creative vibe, perfect weather and gorgeous skyline. Even the traffic wasn’t as much of a con as I had expected it to be.

Before I knew it, I could see myself spending the entirety of my 20s here. And that realization shocked me.

I’m very good at transition. Having grown up between Thailand and the United States, the longest I’ve lived anywhere is five years. Sure, moving stresses me out as much as the next person, but I’ve become familiar with the emotions it brings and the rhythm of constantly adapting to new environments. But now that staying still is a viable option, I’ve realized it’s the long-term that scares me. The idea of “settling down” has always seemed ludicrous.

But maybe this is the next big adventure. Suddenly, I have no deadlines in sight, no further demands on my time, no clearly defined life stages to cross off the list. My flimsy paper degree is sealed and signed, but my future is unnervingly blank. The next steps are mine alone. I find myself on the brink of the rest of my life, and this terrible freedom is bringing me alive.

 
 

“For those who are lost, there will always be cities that feel like home.”
 

Simon Van Booy

 
 

I’m on unchartered ground now. This is the city I’ve chosen, and now it is time for me to come of age.

My first observation is the change of pace. Things move slowly in the 8 to 5 and I start to wonder if I’ll ever get around to changing the world like all my professors and the commencement speaker said I would. At first, I’m frustrated and the disappointment is crushing. Then I realize that with my whole life ahead of me, I can afford to pace myself. In fact, it’s necessary. Lasting impact is only possible with an investment of great amounts of time and energy. That’s something I’m excited to experience as I devote myself to a long-term lifestyle. For the first time in my life, I have the chance to see things through to the end.

I have also realized there are many methods for chasing dreams. There is just as much courage in working a traditional job to fund my passion as there is in quitting my job to pursue it. These are two different approaches that have the same result, if I am committed. There’s no shame in having a safety net. Personally, I have chosen the stability of a full-time job but have created a habit of showing up early to the office so I can work on personal projects. It’s so freeing to realize that I don’t have to starve to be an artist.

Probably the most disconcerting transformation in this time is that of my friendships. Ironically, I’ve learned that it’s only when I leave a place that I start to discover who my true friends really are. Well, to be more precise, who my lifelong friends will be. I realize that some friendships are just for a season, a specific time and place. But there are others who, like family, are always at the back of my mind and in the depths of my heart.

But even the rhythm of those friendships inevitably change with distance, and I start to recognize that nothing replaces the comfort of friends in close proximity. Thus begins the slow and often awkward process of building new friendships. I click with someone, we exchange contact info, and then cross our fingers, hoping that by some miracle our schedules match up. We manage to meet, and if we’re lucky, we do so again. We introduce each other to each other’s friends and pray that everyone gets along. Meticulously planned lunch meetings turn into casual hangouts and spontaneous explorations of the city — until eventually our lives have meshed.

Sometimes I see photos of their old high school or college friends online and I wonder what history I have missed, and if I will ever be able to make up the lost time. I resolve to make myself a permanent fixture in the story of their lives, carefully nurturing the fragile little ecosystem we’ve created.

This is my city, and the history I’m building. And this is my prayer: that my roots grow deep and spread for miles.