Coming of age: lessons from life in a new city

A few weeks ago, I finalized my move up to Lexington (Kentucky,) which is about forty-five minutes or so north of Berea, where I grew up, and a half hour north of Richmond, where I lived for the last two years of college and first year after school. I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I’m liking it, and my answer has been the same: I’ll let you know once it settles down.

The truth is, the week or two following my move have been incredibly turbulent. My girlfriend of five months ended our relationship (I’d rather not talk about it, so I won’t,) I’ve spent ungodly amounts of money between the deposit, getting our utilities activated (I’m waiting on the gas people as we speak,) eating out because I don’t have dishes or food, and getting stuff for the house that I’ve never had to buy before (ie. Rugs, towels, cleaning supplies, trash cans [why aren’t those pre-installed in houses?!?!])

But things are finally beginning to slow down and I’m beginning to feel a little more settled, so I’m able to look more objectively and less emotionally at how the move has been.

In a word: necessary.

In a lot more words: this has been a real coming of age experience for me.

Learning to Tackle the Bare Necessities

From the moment I was born until April 6, 2014 (that’s a little over 23 years,) I lived with at least one member of my family. All my needs were taken care of, and everything that needed done for me was done for me, usually by someone else. Occasionally my dad would prod me to do things myself, but a lot of times he ended up doing them. But as soon as I moved out from my brother’s apartment, I was on my own. My roommate is no enabler. He had me call our landlord myself to make an appointment to see this place, he had me go to Kentucky Utilities to get our utilities turned on, and he had me call our gas company to set up service. (he doesn’t know my propensity to delay or have other people do things for me, he’s just a busy guy who has his own stuff going on. It actually ended up being perfect.)

In other words, my safety blanket of family has been completely removed. For the first time, I’m completely taking care of myself. Not in a way that indicates that nobody has my back, but in a way in which the urgency that I get things done and taken care of is very clear. It’s a well-needed lesson in adulthood, one I’m learning a lot later than I cared to, but I’m grateful for.

[side note: also in moving, I’ve seen a lot of generosity at work. People have given us so much that I am very grateful for. This does not in any way take away from the reality of the lessons I’m learning.]

Tackling the Question: Who am I?

I mentioned earlier my recent breakup. Now, before you get the idea in your head that I don’t know who I am outside of the relationship, let me assure you that that’s not the reason I’m writing this. I’ve never been of the mind that you should lose yourself in a relationship to a degree at which you lose your identity if that relationship ends. In other words, know who you are inside the relationship as well as outside of it. Don’t invest in a relationship so heavily that you fall apart when it ends.

While I don’t believe that the breakup was the “will of God,” I believe that He’s using my now-singleness to address some things that are deep in my heart. One of those things is the issue of identity. I was talking to a friend recently about how I like it when people are honest and direct with me, and she said “okay, I’m going to be honest and direct with you about something,” (she’s also pregnant and filterless) “what I’ve seen in you, Jeff, is a lot of up and down. One week you’re committed to doing something and the next week you don’t care. I just want you to know who you are.

It was funny that she mentioned that because I’d never dealt with that question until the day before the breakup. I was at the local park in Richmond (where I was spending the day.) in addition to stress of moving and preparing for a life group, my frustration culminated in the fact that I couldn’t score (I was playing soccer) to save my life. Every shot I took hit the crossbar, and that seemed perfectly microcosmic. It seemed around that time like I couldn’t win. Like the things I tried, I failed. It seemed like I was flirting with success, or rather that it was flirting with me, but I couldn’t get the satisfaction of scoring (succeeding.) After another hit of the crossbar, I picked up the ball, sat down in the middle of the field, and asked, “God, who am I? What am I doing? What’s going on right now?”

Last night I met up with a friend for an event called “Pedals and Pints.” Neither of us had done it before, but it consists of checking in at West Sixth (a local brewery/tap room in Lexington,) biking a route (you can choose your own route or use one they suggest) coming back and enjoying a beer. I met a few people last night through this event and we sat down to talk afterwards. Throughout this process, that question plagued my mind: “who are you, Jeff? If someone asked about you, what would you tell them?”

The easiest answer to this question is to resort to professional life. It almost seems logical in this day and age to describe yourself by what you do. Actually, “what do you do” is arguably a more common question than “who are you?” But it’s also a limiting question. To say that I am what I do is not to say a whole lot – I serve coffee for a living. (there are many facets to it that I don’t really understand, but it still isn’t a whole lot.)

But it was in those moments, as I was interacting (even slightly) with a new group of people that my perspective began to shift and my idea of an answer to this question deepened, even slightly. To think that all you talk about with new people is your career seems absurd. What about your interests? Tendencies? Habits? Hobbies? What do you like? Dislike? What drives you crazy? What’s your story? Where are you from? What have you been through?

Somewhere along the line I let my perspective of what makes up a person get shallow to the point of believing it all had to do with work, but that’s bonkers.

I’m learning a lot about the question of identity by thinking about things such as what kind of friend I am, the sports I enjoy, the way I work (not just the work I do,) how I engage people, whether or not I’m shy or outgoing, etc etc. And I think this move has been good for that.

Redeeming Time

The thing that’s driven me the most crazy about my life since about September is that I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time alone. I was always in the car, driving to and from work, rarely spending time with people because it can be expensive unless you go to one person or the other’s residence. Well guess what – now I have a house, and I can host people for dinner, music sessions, or just hanging out! And now I’m in a city in which I have plenty of people I know and whose interests vary in a wonderful fashion. My goal is that now that I’m more centralized (more of my life happens in one place) I will spend time with people instead of just being alone most of the time. And so far, so good.

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