Growing up in a small town – Why you need to leave before you stay.

Finding real happiness, exploring your possibilities and most importantly – discovering YOU.



Ok, ok, FINE. I guess the image of a tumbleweed on a deserted country road is a bit dramatic. I didn’t exactly grow up in ‘the middle of nowhere’ but I did grow up in a small town and I did leave. So hear me out.

Let me start by saying I almost didn’t leave. I had no solid reason to. I had my family, a great group of girlfriends I adored and some idea about what my future might hold. My decision to leave my home town was based on the incredibly naive idea that if I made this big, grand gesture of moving across the country, my ex-boyfriend and I would get back together. Only, I found out that was never his intention and we never did get back together. So my leaving town was not some hero move like, “She’s out to take on the world!” No. It was for a boy who broke my heart. I know what you’re thinking. “Sara, you’re an idiot!” Yes I am. Here I was in a city where I had no friends, no family, no job and no fucking idea what to do. And guess what? This is EXACTLY what I want for you as well. (Except for the ‘leaving town for a boy’ part – don’t do that. Ok?)

You see, the hard part is not finding your way around. It’s not making new friends or landing a job and a place to live. That’s all relatively easy in comparison to actually leaving.Which is why most of us never do. If I think back to the group of 18 year old kids I graduated high school with in 2010, how many left and how many stayed? I know one number is significantly higher than the other.

Now, this isn’t to say you don’t have every right to live your life however you wish. Of course you do! It is perfectly understandable to want to stay where you feel comfortable. Where you feel safe. Where you have security. You know everybody, your parents are close by for family dinner (or you need to borrow 50 bucks!) You know that Friday nights at your favourite bar with your friends you’ve had for 10 years is always a good time and why would you leave that behind? I GET IT. Believe me. Security, comfort and general happiness is not overrated and I am in no way undermining anyone’s decision to spend their life in one place. Its YOUR life. I know there are people I went to school with who are now married, have the most beautiful little babies and are as happy as can be. They have created wonderful lives for themselves. But kids or no kids, married or not, I am writing this is for those of you whom, from time to time, lay awake in the middle of the night and wonder… “What if I did that?” or “What if I didn’t marry him?” or “I’m totally unattached. So, what do I want?” Because can we be honest with ourselves for a moment? We all do this. You get out of bed, you somehow make your way to the bathroom, you look at yourself in the mirror and you ask yourself, “What the fuck am I doing?” That’s when it hits you. You had absolutely no idea anything was wrong until now. This moment is not one to be swept under the rug until it happens next time. There will be a next time. Trust me, I know! The weeks that follow will be a foggy rut of your everyday routine and constantly saying “I don’t know what I’m doing.” You can’t figure it out. I’m not saying I have the answer to all of your problems here, but the one answer that I know to cure most of life’s biggest questions that we have about ourselves and where we’re headed, is found outside of your comfort zone. And the best recommendation I can make, is to pack your bags and leave. Just leave. Whether that’s taking 6-12 months to travel or whether you decide to move somewhere new entirely. Could be for a few years, could be forever. But what you’ll discover and learn in that period of time is invaluable and I want you to know why.

As we’ve grown up, our wonderful parents have created this safe little bubble called “home.” It’s where everybody takes care of you. You make friends in school, some you fall out with and some you keep well into adulthood. You and those friends go to the same three restaurants, you order the same thing, you hang out with the same people, you go to the same events every year and it all morphs into this very comfortable blur. You get a full time job, that pay each week buys you a little distraction, maybe some of it goes towards a house, you meet a guy who is friends with your older brother or you meet a girl who goes to the same gym, you move in together and you’ve made it. You’ve done everything you were supposed to do, right? And you’re asking me “Is there something wrong with that?” Well, if you’ve travelled at least some of the world, spent a few good years elsewhere, have met lots of interesting new people, have experienced those eye opening, beautiful moments on your journey and then decided your heart belonged “home” and that’s where you wanted to settle down – then no. Of course not. But if you’ve never left and you’re doing the same thing week after week, year after year and you’ve never known anything different – then YES. Truthfully, HELL YES. There is something wrong with that.

That ‘something’ is you not having any idea. Any idea about what else this world has to offer you. Not having any idea about who you really are and what really makes you happy. Not having any idea about what you’re truly capable of – how could you? You’ve never left. You don’t know of any other kind of life you could be living. Not having any idea whether the man you’re with is really the love of your life. How can you possibly know that? You just decided out of the pool of a couple hundred country bachelors, he wasn’t the worst sort. Harsh, Sara. But fair. Don’t you think we all owe it to ourselves to live our BEST life? To not settle for less than what we deserve? What we deserve is undeniable happiness. My Mother went on a girls trip with her best friend to see the world. She walked into a tiny little bar in the evergreen and gorgeous country side of Wales and sitting there with a pint was the love of her life! Who would have thought? She certainly didn’t. I’m not saying that travelling the world, or moving away for a while means your life will be all roses forever after that. I’m saying you will at least have given yourself every opportunity to explore MORE. Given yourself the opportunity to meet new people. Those new people will change you. Help shape you as you discover more about what you do and don’t like. They will introduce you to new things you never would have known about staying home. You’ll move to a new city and stand on your own two feet for once. Mum and Dad aren’t 5 minutes away anymore. You’ll get your own place with new housemates. You’ll have to use Siri to get everywhere for a month. You’ll get a new job, have an awkward first day but by Friday night they’re inviting you out for drinks – hey Presto! New friends! They’ll take you out for martinis and Salsa dancing. On a Wednesday night! What? Things are open after midnight?! Or… you’ll go see the world. You will see places that will absolutely take your breath away. You will see bright lights in big cities that never sleep. You will have unforgettable nights out with strangers that will set your heart on fire. Fun you never knew you could have. You will kiss someone on the Cumberland River bridge at 3am after dancing all night and you’ll feel, in that moment when they’re looking at you, like home can be anywhere you decide! You will see sunsets over European beaches. You’ll see snow capped mountains that look like postcards, but are actually the backdrops of towns, home to the most beautiful people in the world. You’ll eat food that makes you realise a pie and chips really sucks. You’ll have moments where you’ll stop yourself and say “Wow.” That sounds cliché, but you do. I have stood in the middle of London on a Saturday night and said it. I have watched ferocious waves crash against a frighteningly large cliff with a tiny white church in Wales and said it. I have ridden horses through breath taking countryside in Tennessee and said it. This isn’t a brag-fest, it’s me urging you to leave. You need to.
(And laying on the beach in Bali doesn’t count!) On a smaller scale, I moved to a new city and settled into a life I made out of nothing. Of course you can too, wherever you decide. I made new friends I’m so happy I found. I got a job in an industry that taught me so much and I worked with some of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. And in that time I’ve made even bigger plans. What I’m trying to get across is that in that time and throughout my travels I discovered my real passions. I’ve discovered who I am – the good and the bad. I’ve become more open, more accepting, more patient – because I know more now. I’ve seen more. That’s the thing too, once you get a taste of what else is out there, you want to taste it all. What better way to find out who you are and what makes you happy then by just throwing up your hands and saying “let’s go find out.” Trying anything and everything. Meeting everyone. Going anywhere! Once you do that, each time you go home, you’ll have changed. You’ll see it all a little differently. Some things won’t be so great anymore and some things you’ll have a new appreciation for. Some friends just won’t “get it.” You’ll let them go and that’s ok. Your friends you met on your travels are coming to visit. You’re planning your next chapter – Another trip? A career change? A move? All of that is growth. All of that came from you exploring and opening yourself up. You can’t grow if you limit yourself. Some people never grow with you and that’s ok too. Their reluctance doesn’t have to be your journey and your journey doesn’t have to stop for anyone else. Keep going. We all know that famous quote from Coach Carter *eye roll* stay with me… My favourite part of that quote is this. “…Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…” So shine on. Go. Do it. See it. Experience it. Feel it. Meet new best friends even if they replace your old ones, they’ll be ok. Cry. Laugh. Laugh so much your stomach hurts. Kiss. Dance with people who don’t speak English. Get lost in a city you don’t know. Move away. Eat Frozen meals while you unpack Ikea furniture. Start a new career. Find your new favourite bar. Anything. Leave.

I know as you’re reading this, you’re taking it all in, but there’s one thing in the back of your mind. Its barking at you. You’re irritated. “That’s all well and good, Sara, but how?!” And my answer is I don’t know. I don’t know your situation. You don’t have to leave home and move straight to New York City. But go, and keep going. Believe me when I tell you this, you will figure it out. The one thing you won’t do though, is sit your grandchild on your lap when you’re 60, 70, 80 years old and tell them stories about how you and Becky took a piece of cardboard from a carton of Extra Dry one Friday night at John’s house and slid down the hill. You’ll have real mesmerising, life enriching, inspiring stories. How you met their Grandfather in Dublin and you spent your first anniversary in Paris. How you and your best friend from San Francisco took a ski trip to Switzerland. How you saw the Northern lights. How you had an unforgettable weekend in New York’s nightlife. How you got lost in Prague and didn’t care. How you ate your way through Italy and get a Christmas card every year from a beautiful old Deli owner you befriended in Sicily. How you moved to a new city, became something you didn’t think was possible and now love waking up everyday to the view of ‘new home.’ Thats what my parents have given me and as I keep going, I hope I can give to my children. I’m still on my journey and I have so much more to see.  I don’t have all the answers, but I know I’ll find them. I know everything will turn out how it’s supposed to as I keep learning and exploring my possibilities. Come with me.

I hope that you are happy and have everything that you want right now or are working towards it. Just don’t mistake content and comfortable for happiness. Before you decide to spend the rest of your life in that beautiful little town we call home, leave. If your journey leads you back here – amazing! If it doesn’t – fantastic! You’ll find people and places that make your heart really sing.

But until then… Just. Leave.








9 thoughts on “Growing up in a small town – Why you need to leave before you stay.”

  1. I grew up in a small town as well. I agree that it really develops a sense of home. I’ve found that you do need to leave to find yourself. My friends that have stayed home are pretty much the same person, me and the others who left are completely different because of all the new, uncomfortable situations we’ve found ourselves in.

    Great post, it really got me thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

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