Can I start over in my own town?
August 23, 2012 6:00 PM   Subscribe

New leaf, same old city? Seeking advice—both practical and symbolic—on attempting a "fresh start" in a city I've lived in for 10 years.

I'm 29. I've spent the last ten years flailing around, hopelessly and embarrassingly, in a deep, confusing quarter-life crisis. Basically FREAKING THE EFF OUT over what to do with my life. I've started jobs and abandoned them weeks later. Gone back to school (for a degree in French!) and dropped out after a semester. Tried my hand at freelance writing only to burn out after a few years. Moved away for a grand adventure only to slink back after three months with my tail between my legs. Proclaimed my love for a girl only to change my mind a year into it.

Basically, I've been a flake. And I'm pretty self-conscious about it.

The good news is that I'm getting my shit together. In two weeks, I start a professional masters program that will set me on a very promising, purposeful path. It's a transition I've spent three years mapping out, and I'm thrilled to finally pull the trigger.

The bad news, though, is that, thanks to cheap in-state tuition, I'll be doing it in the same city where all of these misfires took place—a town full of spurned employers, ex-lovers, frenemies, and many, many other people privy to my small failures and humiliations. And as proud as I am to grow up, to turn over a new leaf, I'd be much more confident with this transition if I were truly starting over in a different city. The place I'm living in reminds me too much of my past failures, and I worry that the social circles and creative scene I've been kicking around in might hamper my evolution as an adult.

So, Mefites, anyone have experience with manufacturing that "fresh start" feeling? Should I change my look, switch from contacts to glasses or maybe grow a beard? Swear off my old haunts for awhile, take a break from the rock shows and art openings? Perhaps I just need to remind myself of all of the simple perks of NOT moving (no need to find a new hairstylist!). Or just delete all the never-dialed contacts in my phone.

I'd love to hear from people who managed to change their lives without changing their addresses. People whose circumstances forced them to navigate their social situation in a new way. Maybe you successfully regrouped after a messy breakup. Maybe you went sober. Maybe you changed careers and adopted a whole new identity.

The city I live in, by the way, is an arty, progressive town of about the same size and cultural cachet of Portland (but it isn't Portland). Translation: Big enough to have a robust creative community, small enough to constantly run into all the same people in that creative community.

Oh, and this is all anonymous because, well, I feel I could use all the anonymity I can get.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I recently did this when a relationship ended. New bedroom furniture & a bold color scheme w/paint, curtains, & bedclothes made a sad place where I felt crappy about myself into a private sanctuary. Maybe you could try something similar in the room you'll be using to study to help ground you & get you focused on your schoolwork. You're going to meet new people in your masters program, don't worry too much about your past.
posted by headnsouth at 6:30 PM on August 23, 2012

One thing about reading your description I thought about: a lot of people don't try as many things as you have tried, and haven't learned from their mistakes. It's okay to be a little flakey in your 20s, especially if you have learned from the different routes you tried. It sounds like you are ready to do this. So, congrats on trying lots of things and being ready for the next step. Give yourself props for having the bravery to try lots of stuff.

I think a lot of your fresh start will start naturally through being in school full time. Getting your master's, in my opinion, is about 1.5 times more intense than undergraduate school. I also think that graduate school is more conducive to stronger friendships with a smaller number of people, because the program is more intense and people are older, so it's less of a party atmosphere and more of a small study/hang-out group atmosphere. Will you be exposed to new people outside of your previous social circles? Can you host or set up a study group at your house or a new spot you've wanted to try?

If you are handling classes well and completing necessary work assignments, maybe start one additional goal, either related or unrelated. Can you shadow professionals in your future career? Can you volunteer once a week or biweekly to gain experience? Have you always wanted to do 100 pushups in a row? Working on self-improvement is a great way to boost your confidence and see positive change. Measure it in a way that feels meaningful and encouraging to you (chart/graph/journaling/stickers on the calendar/whatever).

Finally, if you are now able to switch apartments, especially if being more convenient to your classes is possible with a move, DO IT! I love the feel of a fresh start with a new apartment and room.

Good luck to you and your new start and new adventures (and new mistakes, because they will happen, but that just means you are learning).
posted by shortyJBot at 6:33 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Recreate the experience of moving somewhere far away. Change your phone number and email and delete all non-relatives from your phone. Get rid of all/most of your physical belongings. Move to a new neighborhood. Throw out your old clothes. Put yourself in new social situations just like you would in a new place - go to a bar by yourself, join a club, try online dating, whatever gets you out meeting new people.
posted by bradbane at 6:35 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've done it, in the city I grew up in. The city's full of people I know from high school, and people I knew from when I was married. I returned to the city after getting divorced while I was abroad, it felt totally unwelcoming at first. And then it got a lot better.

90% of those aforementioned people I'd rather not run into anymore, but you know what? When you run into them, hold your head high and smile, be friendly enough and polite enough to exchange a little nicety, and that's all you have to do. Best to show people you don't like that you are happy and confident, which they'll translate into 'you're doing well for yourself'.

Making new friends takes a lot of time. Fortunately, going to school is a great way of making new friends and finding new interests. I made most of my current circle of friends while in grad studies. Find out what activities are available on campus, you might find a new creative group to get involved in - friends of mine were all into the university's ballroom dancing club. My policy of saying 'yes' to any invitations or social opportunities (unless pre-booked) definitely paid off in terms of new friends thinking me a reliable person to call and come out for fun. You can't be shy and a home body if you want progress.
posted by lizbunny at 6:43 PM on August 23, 2012

I like to get a drastic hair cut, but that doesn't work as well for men. The fact that you are starting a masters program is great for making a new start. Consider moving into student housing, or a shared apartment with some of your new classmates. Commit yourself to networking for your future career and forming strong connections with all the new people in your program.
posted by fermezporte at 6:45 PM on August 23, 2012

Focus. Focus on the damned degree. Stay home and study. That's how you start over. "In two weeks, [you] start a professional masters program that will set [you] on a very promising, purposeful path." Let that be the center of your new life.

No one cares about whether you grow a beard or whether you wear glasses. No one cares if you choose a new favorite color. Forget your public image. That's just vanity. The only thing you need to change is to stay home in your jammies, unseen, and study when you would have gone and flitted about doing inconsequential things.

So maybe that's one thing that you suggested that you ought to follow through on: "Swear off my old haunts for awhile, take a break from the rock shows and art openings?" Do that. And not just for awhile. Get your degree. Get a new job. Be a serious over-30 adult for at least as long as it takes to get a degree. And only then think about going out to be seen, especially if your "old haunts" (bars and cafes and parties?) are where you wasted your 20s.
posted by pracowity at 1:53 AM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

You get a fresh start by breaking out of old habits and allowing yourself to develop new ones, either through repetition or inadvertently. Don't focus on your public image, don't focus on your apartment or your car; focus on what you do.

If you have been dating people, stop dating; if you haven't been dating people, start. If you have been taking classes, take a break; if you haven't been taking classes, take a class or two. If you have been driving, take the train, and vice versa. Swap walking for biking, or waking up early for staying up late. Let the house get messy for once, or start keeping the house clean.

Change your habits so that you change your perspective.
posted by davejay at 12:32 PM on August 24, 2012

Move to a different place in your city. It'll help you create a whole new relationship to your city, neighborhood, local haunts. If you drive, start biking. If you bike, start walking. It'll redefine your geographical relationship to the city and make things feel fresh. Get rid of things in your apartment. Pursue a new hobby and make new friends in a different scene. Prioritize new people and new experiences. Be kind to everyone you run into. Don't worry so much about what they think.
posted by theflash at 6:49 PM on August 24, 2012

I've done this (sort of). Basically, introduce as much change as possible into your life. New beard, new hair, new clothes, NEW FRIENDS. New coffeeshop. I don't agree with pracowity that your public image doesn't matter--it may matter to your own self-image to seem different on the outside. But yes, if you throw yourself into this new pursuit, most of those changes will probably come automatically through immersion in your program, and you will not have time to consider your past mistakes at length. Especially if you no longer associate yourself with those who remind you of them.

Above all, look forward.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:12 AM on August 25, 2012

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