Home: Leaving, Learning, Returning

A Familiar Place in an Unfamiliar World

Home is where the heart is. Well, my heart has always been in Florida, where I was born and raised. But I haven’t always lived here. I moved away from home for school and my career, and then I was fortunate enough to be able to move back. Though I don't live exactly where I grew up, I feel blessed to live in my home state within striking distance of most of my family. I have benefitted both from time away and from returning to my home state.

When I graduated from high school, I moved three hours north to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida (UCF). After two years in Orlando, I moved back home, finishing my bachelor's degree at Florida Atlantic University. Then in my first major departure from my home state, I went to grad school at the University of Maryland. Soon I made plenty of friends and participated in clubs and activities. Upon graduating, I moved to Wilmington, Delaware to work for a nonprofit organization. I spent the next three and a half years in Delaware and Pennsylvania. My job required me to travel all over the nation, which I loved.

But as much as I loved my job and my time in the Northeast, I missed Florida. I don’t know if it was being so far from family, or the colder weather, or missing those Publix subs, but I knew that after more than six years (read: six winters) away, I wanted back in the Sunshine State.

My opportunity came in 2007 when I was offered a job at The James Madison Institute, a think tank focused on Florida public policy. It allowed me to pursue meaningful work while returning to my home state. Many young people are not so fortunate. They leave home only to find that they are unable to return, stuck on a career path that keeps them near the schools they attended or in major cities where the relevant jobs are. Happily, I was able to find a way to return home while still pursuing the interests, passions, and skills I gained in college, graduate school, and my first post-college job.

In January 2008, I started my new year back in Florida, but it wasn’t exactly the Florida I knew. It was Tallahassee, the state capital, about a seven-hour drive away from where I was raised. But my new position would require me to visit donors to my organization all over the state, so I knew I would be able to see my family regularly. When I visit South Florida, I'm able to stay at my parents’ home and see my family and old friends. This regular travel has allowed me to maintain a connection to the home of my birth.

Tallahassee quickly became a new home in my familiar state. I made lots of friends very quickly and it’s hard not to bump into someone I know anywhere I go around town. In a sense, I have the best of both worlds. I have been able to maintain my connection to the home of my birth while also establishing a new home in a rich community.

There is a subset of conservatives who strongly emphasize the importance of rootedness and home, and on the whole, I agree with what they have to say. But the reality is that our modern life often makes this impossible. Even if staying in one place was easier, there is much to be gained in spending time away from home, particularly early in your life when you are not limited by the responsibilities that come with an established career and family. Each time I have “uprooted” myself, I learned something new about myself. These experiences should not be seen as a threat to the home. In fact, my experiences outside of Florida have led me to appreciate my own home more than ever.

After a time of leaving, however, we all need to find our home. Americans have always been a people on the move, but setting down roots is fundamental to being a fulfilled human. I recommend doing it someplace familiar after first getting to know a few unfamiliar places. Many times in the past I longed to remove myself from the places I knew, only to realize finally my love and new attachment to the state I call home.

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