We are where we are.
That is absolutely a reductive statement, but let us pretend it is true, just for a moment. We are where we are. It gives incredible power to the spaces and places we are occupying, whether that is by choice (you went to college in an area, you accepted a specific job, you moved to a particular neighborhood) or not (your parents chose a neighborhood and you’re an adolescent, they chose your college because you were not of age, you went through a natural disaster and were placed in a shelter).
Place can become a thing that we take for granted similar to how we don’t notice the air unless we are choking on it.
Place can set limits on us: where we eat, who we spend time with, what we value, and what we ignore. Place is not neutral; it is an overwhelming driver in how we live our lives, and we don’t give it enough attention in what it does to our lives, even against our will.
In casual conversation with a coworker, a conversation that I would not have had if my location was my normal (me: working from home, them: in our actual office), I was telling her about a time in my life where every single person I was close to in a social setting working in either finance, law, or consulting. Why?
Because we all worked the same brutal hours. We all hung out at the same overpriced places. We all went to same industry parties. We were a micro-tribe in a city of 10-11 million, but our tiny subset made up an entire world. Is it no wonder that we valued the same types of qualities (or lack thereof) in friends and romantic partners? Is it in anyway surprising that we had the same type of low-level, subconscious disdain for jobs ‘not as hard as ours’ (and certainly, that sentiment was returned from others, too)?
Is it no wonder we had tiny worldviews? Of course not, because work is a space, it is a place, and it can easily set limits on what you see, how you feel, and what you think, if you are not careful of it.
In continued conversation with that coworker, she said something particularly insightful, especially for someone her age. She made a distinct choice after she graduated to do two things:
- She changed locations in the city she was in every two months or so, to get a feel for neighborhoods, and to find the one that fit her social and cultural needs, but also gave her a reasonable commute to her job.
- She chose not to live with friends, even though she had a number who decamped to same city she was in post-college, because she “wanted to have a bigger world than the one [she] had just come from in college.”
Where you live and who you live with create a space and a place: it can easily limit what you see, how you feel, and what you think, if you are not careful of it. She was careful about it and I love how clearly she saw the options put in front of her.
In times past, I was not so careful. I was fortunate due to various incidents that, at the time, felt terrible, but in retrospect, forced me to have a diverse group of friends and to be open to many, many new ideas. But, it remains always an inviting temptation and deceptively easy to let my place dictate my living. Occupying a well-loved and well-known space is a comfort; we don’t like change, as human beings, and we don’t like to be forced out of our comfort zones.
But, as we get older, it becomes less an external tyranny that was forced on us and more of a self-inflicted one, therefore, we have the power to fight back on it. We have the power to say and do:
- I always take this route to work; let me take a different one.
- I always eat at these places; let me try a different spot.
- I always vacation at this place and in this way; let me go someplace else or change up the style.
- I always [fill in place]; let me try [a different place].
What are the places we occupy? Bars and restaurants; neighborhoods and cities; vacation spots and parks and beaches; workplaces and hobby-spots… Even our mind-spaces are places that can be occupied: do we dwell in the land of certainty and risk-aversion or uncertainty and risk-embrace? Are we in victimhood or are we in holier than thou ground?
All of our spaces and places are subject to this consideration: if we always, what is the harm, even if it is briefly, to trying something different? We may not like it and can easily scurry back to ‘home.’ We may love it. We may gain empathy for others. We may want to learn more.
This is a shackle that we can more easily throw off than some of the others. We will never know if we don’t try. Who knows, we may even find…