Moving, along with marriage, divorce, death, major illness, and a handful of other situations, is considered by mental health experts to be among the top ten most stressful life events. Stress is relative though, and I think after you move three or four (or 17) times, your stress level decreases, and your learning curve increases. This month, I just moved for the 17th time, and I can honestly say I really wasn’t significantly stressed about it. Sure, there is always some pressure around moving; it’s messy, hectic, and exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Life is also messy, hectic, and exhausting, but it occurred to me last week during my 1,200 mile trek across Washington, Oregon, and California, that if I can apply what I’ve learned from moving multiple times, to my life in general, it might help me respond to stress more effectively overall. I’m hoping it might help you too. Here’s what living at 18 different residences, in 13 cities, across 7 states has taught me.
Courage means you show up even when you’re afraid
By the time I graduated high school, I had attended three elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools, and lived in four states. I always walked in to each new classroom the same way – alone. When you are the perpetual new kid on the playground it means you are always the last one picked for the recess kickball team, unless you have the courage to step out and take a chance. I learned early on that I could sit on the sidelines alone, and wait for someone to reach out to me; or I could show up on the playground, smile, introduce myself and get in the game immediately. In life, we have to show up, in spite of our fears, if we’re going to get what we need. Franklin Roosevelt said that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the assessment that something is more important than our fear”.
I discovered I had to take the initiative if I wanted to have friends. Sometimes I was afraid; what if they reject me? But the desire for connection was stronger, and gave me the courage to push past my fear and say Hello. At our earliest life stage, and on our most primal level, human beings crave connection. While talking to people may be more of a challenge if you are a less extroverted personality type, we can all listen, and let’s face it – most people, no matter what their age, want friends who are better at listening than talking. By taking the lead in any situation, saying hello, smiling warmly, and asking people to tell you about themselves, you can develop some wonderful connections, and maybe even some real lasting friendships. All you need is a few seconds of courage to get the conversation started.
Relationships are the only real lasting investment
Throughout the years, and across the continuum of 17 moves, I have lost things, and also had possessions stolen, broken, and completely destroyed. Stuff is just stuff. It is temporary, and you can’t take it with you when you die. So, why do people get so attached to their stuff? I don’t know. I’ve learned not to. Things are replaceable. People and relationships are not. At the end of the day, all we really have are the memories we have made with the people we love. Family is family, and God chooses our family. I have learned that honoring my family brings me joy, even when it’s hard. Friends are the family we choose. I am blessed to have some friends around the country who are like family to me. The connections are that strong because we have taken the time to invest in each other’s lives. That means not just being a fair weather friend. True friends stick around when the storms of life hit. Rain or shine. Both laughter and tears bond people. And some of those friends may just help you move when the time comes!
Change can be exciting
This lesson took me some time to learn. When I was changing schools for the sixth time, (my parent’s choice), and when I was moving to a new city as a young adult and beginning a new job (my choice), I wouldn’t say excitement described my primary emotion in the moment. Terror would be more like it. Remember that 1st life lesson about showing up in spite of our fears? Whether you are moving or not, change is inevitable and a part of life that can be uncomfortable and scary. Constant moving shaped my perspective such that I realized while I may not always have a choice about some of the changes I face in life, I will always have a choice about my attitude toward change. I can embrace it, be curious about it, learn from it, and enjoy it; or I can reject it, resist it, ignore it, and be angry about it. The latter breeds a sense of hopelessness, and resentment, while the former breeds a sense of hope and excitement. When you allow yourself to be open to change, rather than closed off to it, you may discover some exciting new adventures and rich new relationships that you would otherwise not enjoy. Some of my favorite and most memorable life experiences have come from exploring new places and developing meaningful relationships with new people, born from a change in circumstance.
Flexibility is a life skill I simply cannot do without
Life skills are like muscles; the more you exercise them, the stronger they will become. Moving, whether it’s across the street, or across the globe, requires working out several life skill muscle groups, including problem solving, organization, and taking the initiative in relationship building. But far and away the single most important life skill that I use every day, and I believe I learned largely from many moves, is flexibility. Flexibility is the ability to adapt, modify, and bend to change. Like life, moving is filled with uncertainties, setbacks, delays, barriers, and bumps in the road. Things don’t always turn out the way we plan, and if we cannot modify our plan when the truck with all of our stuff in it doesn’t show up, or our spouse doesn’t show up in the marriage, or the raise doesn’t show up on our paycheck, or a clean bill of health doesn’t show up in the doctor’s report; we will lose hope. We all need hope. Rigid people break. Flexible people thrive.
Be open to other perspectives (i.e. always get a second opinion)
My husband and I learned this lesson the hard way. A few moves ago, we moved across several states, and chose to hire a professional moving company. I had never done this before, but I remembered when I was growing up that my father’s employer had hired a professional moving company a few times to move our family. My recollection was that it seemed much less stressful. Funny how your perspective is different as a kid, than when you are the grown up paying the bill. We only got one quote, (first mistake); we were not present when they packed everything (second mistake); and they did not give us a firm arrival date (third mistake). They were late arriving, which created a problem with our move-in date. When we got to the other end and got the bill, I almost fainted. It was three times what they quoted us. When we started unpacking, we discovered many of the hidden charges – do you really need three large sheets of packing paper to wrap a standard kitchen glass? Just like in moving, in matters of life, it pays to get a second opinion. There is more than one viewpoint, and more than one way to do many things. Getting another perspective can broaden your awareness or understanding, and perhaps help you make better – or at least more informed – decisions. A second opinion by a doctor can save your life; a second perspective by a counselor can save a relationship; a second quote by a mortgage (or moving) company can save you a lot of money!
Faith increases resiliency
The longer I live, with every move I have made, and in every change of circumstance, I have noticed a pattern in my life: When I practice the principles of my faith, I am able to recover much more quickly from divergent circumstances, disheartening changes, or disruptive challenges. That is the true definition of resiliency. For me, faith in God is about believing that Jesus is who is said He is and that He has my best interest at heart, even when I don’t understand a situation. It’s having confidence that He is in complete control, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but it’s not because God doesn’t care. It’s because He cares enough to let us make our own choices; we are not his puppets. Sometimes, we suffer the consequences of our own poor choices; sometimes we suffer the consequences of others poor choices. Moving has taught me that just like life, there is very little that we are in complete control of. That’s where the beauty of trusting God with the outcome comes in for me. It brings me comfort. And strength. And hope. I have learned that while I cannot control others, I can control my response to them, and I can choose to do the right thing no matter what anyone else is doing. I can trust God with the rest of it, or stress out about it. I choose to trust God. It’s a much more peaceful and resilient way to live.
Hope whispers, be open.
While I may not have learned everything I need to know from moving – there are those kindergarten lessons of sharing, playing fair, cleaning up my own mess, and saying I’m sorry when I hurt someone – the experience of changing addresses exponentially has taught me some valuable life lessons. I hope that sharing my reflections with you might make your life a bit easier, less stressful, or even add a new perspective to your own life lessons, minus the work of multiple moves!