And the conditions for growth.
The Wrong Latitude
With a doctor standing over me and an EKG report in his hand, I exhaled a sigh of relief knowing that I in fact was not having a heart attack. I was only 23 years old at the time, and I was convinced that the roller coaster ride that was my last year of life had led to my early demise. It turned out to just be stress induced heart palpitations, albeit of the extreme varietal, and at that moment I knew my environment had to change. I was living in Dallas at the time, and although I had plenty to be grateful for, including an amazing girlfriend and some of the best friends in the world, I felt constrained in my life. “Trapped” is most apt summation of my daily existence at the time. Fast forward one year later and I found myself breathing in fresh Rocky Mountain air with a new lease on life. My stress and anxiety had melted away virtually overnight, and it stayed that way for the entirety of my next six years of living in Colorado. Sure, the beautiful mountains and nearly unlimited supply of sunshine played a big part. But it was more than that. It was the energy of the people, congregating from all walks of life and all parts of the country in this one city at the gateway to the west. It was the entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit that made you feel as if anything was possible. It was the nonconformity of the city and its’ people that was just the right amount of weird. This was a place that I could thrive, an environment that would not just allow growth, but encourage it. “Trapped” had no place in my existence here.
Choosing the city we live in is the low hanging fruit of optimizing our environment. It is a big impact decision that can completely change the course of our life, for better or for worse. The tough thing about this is that there’s no book or website that will tell us where our ideal place is. It’s an entirely personal decision that’s based on our personalities, our ambitions, and our triggers. The energy of New York City can be fuel to one person and kryptonite to another. The waves of Santa Monica can be an artistic spark to one person and idle dullness to another. The place does not make the person. The person does not make the place. But the person plus the place together makes something entirely different. The only way I know how to gauge what the right place is for myself is by the energy it brings me. It either lifts me up, deflates me, or keeps me in the middle. I don’t want anything to do with the last two options, as I know they’re not enabling me to be the best version of myself possible. If you’ve ever felt the itch to move, or had that internal nudge that tells you there just might be more out there, that’s your cue to give your location some critical thought. You’re craving an injection of new energy into your life, and oftentimes a new city can provide that.
Freedom From the Expectation of Others
If there’s one thing you take from this chapter, it’s this reality. When we live in a place where we have a history, whether that’s our hometown or elsewhere, we have existing and limiting expectations of the person we’re supposed to be. And these expectations are very, very difficult to overcome.
Take myself for example. I have some particularly fond memories with my fraternity brothers from college. We spent some of the best years and times of our lives together, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. For better or for worse most of those memories have the common thread of partying woven through them. In short, we knew how to have a good time. Fast forward my life ten years to right now, and that version of myself is still how that most of that group of people know me best. They don’t know the Adam that has been through immense amounts of pain. They don’t know the Adam that has been through equal and opposite amounts of joy. They don’t know the Adam that strives each day to be better than yesterday. In short, they don’t know this Adam, the Adam of today. If I would have tried to create my current reality while surrounded by people that have expectations of a different version of me, it would have been very difficult to overcome. This isn’t just my story either. They are all different, and improved, versions of the people they were in college. And just like they’d have expectations of myself relative to the “me” they knew, I have the same for them. I fully expect our time catching up to be over a dip of Skoal and a Natural Light, even if that’s not who either of us are anymore. Those memories and expectations of who we’re supposed to be are imprinted on our brains, and displaying a new imprint creates friction where we crave continuity.
It is much easier to paint on a blank canvas than it is to redo an existing painting.
Freedom from expectations allows us the freedom to create ourselves. We can always take these new and improved versions of ourselves back to our former lives, but only after we’ve made them. It is the creation that is the difficult part. And separation from pre-existing barriers, boundaries, and beliefs is what provides us that freedom to create. We are all the artists of our lives, and our city is one of the best supplies we have at our disposal.
When Home Isn’t Where the Heart Is
Home can be the toughest place of all to leave, if you are in fact drawn to live, grow, and thrive elsewhere. Home is safe. Home is familiar. Home is where we know the names, the faces, the streets, the restaurants, and what to expect from our time there. In a word, home is comfortable. We can be ourselves there, the way we’ve always been. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with never leaving our hometowns. If that is the place that gives us the energy to create, explore, and improve, home can be the perfect place for us. But for many of us that’s not the case. What if we’re not happy with the person that we’ve always been there? What if we feel that internal nudge to explore and remake ourselves, but the comfort of home outweighs the fear of the unknown? We feel like there is a new version of ourselves out there waiting to be created, but it’s a daunting task to think about leaving the old life behind. If you fall into this camp, my encouragement to you is that nothing is permanent. Home will always be there waiting with open arms if and when the time comes to return. If you allow that fear of the unknown to hold you back from ever exploring what could have been, you will never reveal parts of yourself that can only be discovered in uncharted territory. The simple act of having to meet new friends, learn new roads, and create new routines helps us to learn things about ourselves we wouldn’t have known otherwise. The vulnerability of being in a new place can be incredibly powerful to our own personal development. But the only way to access it is to go.
At the risk of losing readers to a terribly cheesy song reference, Jimmy Buffett was onto something when he sang “These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes, nothing remains quite the same.” Changes in latitudes, without a doubt, do lead to changes in attitudes. And nothing remaining quite the same can be a very good thing. We should never feel stuck in the place we are, because the power to change our situation is in our own hands. Much like a redwood could still survive if planted in a suboptimal environment, the same goes for us. We can survive in a city we’re not excited about living in. But why simply survive when we can thrive elsewhere? Our location can be a springboard for our own development, and if we recognize that our current latitude isn’t serving us, it’s on us to change it. If we get the city right, building the rest of our optimal environment becomes easier. But it starts with a map, a pin, and a person. Where to?
Integrating Into A New Latitude (or An Existing One)
A city, in and of itself, is not intrinsically wired to help us grow. Even if we feel the positive energy of a city reverberating from every street corner, we still have to proactively capture that energy. Like a book holding powerful information and knowledge on its pages, we have to open the front cover to access it.
The first month of my new lease on life in Denver was spent in the mountains. I set up shop in a family friend’s vacation home in Evergreen, Colorado. It was, and still is, one of my favorite spots in the world. With no cell phone service, an unbeatable view of Mount Evans, and elk as my neighbors I couldn’t have asked for a better mountain setting. Just 30 minutes outside of Denver I thought it was the perfect parlay into my new world.
But what started out as idyllic quickly settled into isolated. I found myself driving to Denver coffee shops every day just to meet new people and plant some roots in my new home. I was in a new place but not really “in” that place. A month into my time in Denver, I finally settled into a house with my wife just a week after getting married. We had moved to the Washington Park neighborhood, surrounded by 20 and 30-somethings living and loving life in the Mile High city. As soon as I moved down from the foothills and into the city, everything changed for the better. My wife and I joined a gym, joined a volleyball league, got involved in the tech startup community, and starting truly planting roots in our new city little by little. That gym became our second home for the next six years and produced some of our closest friends to this day. That volleyball league evolved into endless hours spent in recreation at Wash Park. That tech startup community led to shaping both of our careers, producing nothing but positive outcomes along the way. We did not just move to Denver. We became a part of Denver. And there is a massive difference. No book can tell you what the best way to get involved in a new place is. That has to come from you. What are your favorite things to do? What are your hobbies? Who do you want to be? Here’s a good mental exercise to help you think through your own city.
Imagine your perfect life five years from now. You have your dream job or own your dream company. You do the things you want to do. You make the money you want to make. You spend your days exactly how you want to spend your days. Where would this version of you spend your time? What hobbies would you have? What company would you keep? Now go spend time in those places and do those things. It’s as simple as that. The easiest way to become a new version of yourself is to simply start being a new version of yourself. If old you spent Tuesday nights at the bar, but new you wants to race a triathlon, spend your Tuesday nights on a bike as the new you! There’s not a soul around to expect anything otherwise. Life in a new city, or gaining a new lease on life in your existing city, is the perfect opportunity to make quantum leaps toward the person you want to become. And it starts with the ways in which you interact with that city.
The latitudes don’t initiate momentum one way or another for us. But they do support or suppress that momentum once we get moving. If your current latitude is suppressing the ultimate version of yourself, by all means find a new latitude. If your current latitude has the power to support the ultimate version of yourself, it’s on you to initiate it. The soil is fertile. We just have to plant the tree.