Growing up in a small town in southern Utah, one thought always crossed my mind: “I can’t wait to get out of here.” The confines of my hometown combined with perspectives that didn’t seem to go beyond those boundaries only made me more anxious. It was obvious I didn’t fit in, and at times I wondered if I ever would. I had dreams of big cities and bright, colorful lights in the night sky. I yearned to live somewhere with a few close friends rather than a place where everyone knew everything about me without really knowing me. My whole life I had lived in and gone to school in small towns in Utah and Colorado, so when I held my college diploma in my hands and headed to Denver, I thought the city life would be just what I needed all these years. Looking at the tall buildings as I drove along 1-25, I thought this was the start to my life in cities and that it would only continue to get better in bigger places. However, after a few months I realized the city was not everything I thought it would be. My realization wasn’t that I yearned to return to small town life, it was that small town life had more insights to offer than I understood. Now that I’ve lived in both large cities, medium-sized towns and small off-the-wall locations, there are few valuable lessons I’ve come to understand from those littler-known spots on the map:
Living in a place with limited options means you have to be more creative with finding things to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “There’s nothing to do,” when I lived in a larger city. With a plethora of options, you’d think I would have my evenings and weekends booked, but sometimes friends were busy or I didn’t have any interest in all the happenings around me. Growing up in a small town, I resented having little options of things to do and thought that with more I’d be out and about in no time. The truth is, anywhere can get boring. After a while, you’ve done every activity you can, thinking you have no other possibilities, that’s when you have to get creative. After deciding to move back home for graduate school, my weekends currently consist of projects for my sister’s wedding, coloring, reading, calling friends for long necessary conversations and planning my next hiking outing. Best thing of all is that I have the energy to think of a future travel adventure!
There’s something to be said for quiet mornings and evenings. Every morning I hear the same bird tweeting the same familiar song. It sounds like it gets old, but that’s not necessarily true. Although I enjoyed my time in Chicago and miss the city’s vibrant feel, I don’t miss hearing the same couple arguing outside my bedroom window. I don’t miss occasionally seeing police car lights flashing and waking me up at three in the morning. It feels good to open my window and get some fresh air without having to hear horns honking or worrying about someone looking in from the street outside.
Just because you live in a bigger city doesn’t mean you’re immune to close-minded thinking and judgments. Growing up in a small town, you constantly feel as though you have to be a certain person in order to fit in and everyone is judgmental and categorizes. Ironically, some of the most tolerant and accepting people I’ve met have been from small towns. They understand how it feels to not be like everyone else and they don’t care what I do or how I see things. The ironic thing is that in some bigger places I’ve lived, I’ve met some of the most narrow-minded people. In Chicago, an acquaintance of mine assumed that since I was from a small town in southern Utah that I had no perception of the rest of the world. I was constantly given reassurance about city life and the real world or instructed about situations like how to deal with the homeless. If they only knew about my mom’s constant hunt at yard sales in Salt Lake City and in her own home for tents, sleeping bags and second-hand clothes for the homeless shelter. Just because a place is small doesn’t mean it’s immune to issues like homeless people, crime and drug abuse, everywhere has its struggles to handle.
You can have trouble fitting in anywhere. It’s true. No matter where I’ve been it always took time to find people I connected with and for them to feel comfortable with me. Being an introvert isn’t easy anywhere you go, but I’m finding I make closer, stronger friendships because of a person, not necessarily because of a change of place. What makes a difference is your mindset, and change of attitude can turn it around.
The actions you take affect others in the situation. The one thing I always hated about growing up in small town was that whatever I did, everyone seemed to know about it. Or worse, people jumped to conclusions about my actions and it spread everywhere. The truth is, the same thing can happen in a bigger location, just ask any politician running for office right now. If there’s anything I’m finding it’s that news spreads because actions speak louder than words. People often think their actions don’t matter and that they won’t affect others, but that’s not the case.
There are people who feel just like you do in a small town. Most recently I ran into someone I went to high school with at my graduate school assistantship. I always liked her, but never knew her very well, that was until we sat down and started talking. She loves to travel, she’s lived many other places and she couldn’t wait to get out of our hometown. Turns out we had more in common than I realized and there’s one thing we shared now that we’ve returned home: that it’s not that bad.
People living in cities may want to leave just as much as those growing up in a small town. When my friend’s boyfriend told us he didn’t understand why we grew tired of Colorado, I wasn’t sure what to think. In my mind, he lived in southern California, why would anyone trade the beach for the mountains? Then, he began to list reasons: pollution, dealing with rough parts of town and traffic. At this point I got it. Many times you hear stories about those living in cities and rough neighborhoods who dream of the opportunity to get out and find success. After getting on I-805 in the middle of San Diego traffic, I thought, “Having a five minute commute everywhere isn’t all that bad.” My move home is temporary, but I can’t deny that I enjoy walking to work every day and if I forget something, I can run home to get it, like I did when I forgot keys for work after my lunch break yesterday.
Even though I’m still undecided as to whether I prefer a city or living in a smaller setting, I’m beginning to see that small towns aren’t exactly what everyone thinks. Having grown up in a smaller area, even though I always longed for adventure, I found a good framework to build my life around. I’ve learned even more about tolerance, acceptance and having an open mind from traveling and living in metropolises, tiny mountain dwellings and everything in between. The next time you visit a small place, I hope you’ll see what I have: that a large perspective can exist in a little part of the world.