I feel like I want to open this post with a refrain like “I hate to be negative but…” or “I don’t want to turn this blog into a stream of disagreement,” but neither of those things are strictly true. With that dose of honesty out of the way, I have to disagree strongly with this article that Medium threw up on my front page today. The concise message of the post is that one needs to move away from one’s home town in order to live an interesting and meaningful life, and be an independent expert in one’s field. The key phrase is “At home you’re always only an outgrowth of your perceived past.”
Remove the terms “at home” and “only” from that sentence and it stands, but of course it’s not really the same thing. The idea that moving somewhere else places you in a greenfield where you can independently metamorphose free of links to your past is a myth. It’s a myth sold by marketers, travel bloggers (who are a subset of marketers) and lapped up by young people that’ve not yet had the fortune of accumulating significant life experience.
There are many things you can do to try to make a dramatic and lasting change in your life. Moving is certainly one of them. Changing your physical appearance is another. At a certain point in my own life I wanted to cease being a passive and depressed young man, so I cut off all my hair and moved on. But making these changes doesn’t erase your past. You don’t have to let it bind you, but ignoring it and pretending it isn’t there probably isn’t going to make you a better or more successful person.
The author goes on to say that when you move you’ll be judged by what you produce, and on your merits. Perhaps barring people who come from very small towns, I don’t see this as being necessarily untrue for any given person’s city of birth. My hometown‘s a reasonably-sized city, although it’s often denigrated for a small town mentality, but even there I was judged by other professionals on my competence, presentation and resume. Generally speaking, no-one would have reason to know anything about my past.
There are of course people who won’t judge you on your merits, but by other criteria. If you move, this will be equally true for the place you move to as for the place you move from.
So go on and live, love, grow. Move around the world if you want. Don’t let this act fool you into thinking that you’re “leaving the past behind.” The act may help you change – but we’re all changing all the time. For all that changes, your past is still going to be there.