Make yourself at home

Random photo of the city of Munich, Germany.
Munich. The last city I've moved in to, so far. 

I see you,…

…I hear you, I feel you. You have moved recently (or even worse, long time ago) to a new place, hoping to build a new life. Now you feel stuck, hopeless… I understand that you may feel stuck and unsure about your next steps. Moving away yet again does not feel like a good solution; but staying where you are seems pointless also.

I am here to tell you that you’re not necessarily crazy nor stupid that your plan has not worked and that you’re feeling the way you’re feeling.

Unfortunately, there are no quick solutions to this situation; let alone coming from some blog post written by a guy you likely don’t even know. But if you care enough to continue reading, I might just have a very solid piece of advice for you.

Home vs “(just) living here”

This will be very anecdotal, but in my life as an immigrant (or if you care about that title so much - “expat”), I have met, roughly speaking, two types of fellow immigrants around me:

  • those who live in a new place and regurarly travel “back home”,
  • and those who have built a home in a new place.

This has been very broad categorization of people, but I am trying to get to the point so I am keeping it simple.

And, very roughly speaking again, people falling in the first group are typically the ones not being happy with where they are at the moment; while people in the second group, well, mostly are.

Advice I give, when asked, to the people not happy with the life they’ve set up in the place they have moved to is typically “you are not a tree, you can move again”. And that can just as well work. But I have realized it is often misplaced advice; as those usually go. As that old adage goes: road to hell is paved with good intentions.

"Meme-astic" photo of a woman with the text in German: "WENN ES DICH NICHT ERFÜLLT, WO DU GRADE STEHST, DANN GEH WOANDERS HIN. DU BIST KEIN BAUM."
Unknown author. From my "Memes in German" folder.

You are so much more than a tree

When giving this advice, I often forgot that people are not literal trees. I’ve realized after repeating this advice few too many times that, with people, issue is rarely about the soil or weather really; it is always about so much more.

You need more than a land, asphalt, parks, sun and the rain to flourish and succeed. So many things need to fall in place, and sometimes they don’t. My usual advice to move on to a new place is, as often as it is missed, also often spot-on. But it is too much of hit or miss - if I gave you, for example, a financial investment advice and I have been as successful in my predictions as you could be tossing a coin yourself, you likely would not want to pay for my financial investment advice services.

So, now what?

Ok, moving to a new place might work out for you; and might not. What could work better?

I have decided to evolve my previous advice to something more, and that is:

Do not just move somewhere, but create yourself a home there.

Easy, right?

Jokes aside - I know this doesn’t exactly sound like a check-list style advice from which you will cross off items and end up living happily ever after. And that’s likely because it really isn’t.

Making a place into a home: not really a check-list

We are conditioned by the society to think of a home of almost exclusively being a place where you live with your partner, you have either pets or kids, and you spend cozy nights doing Netflix & Chill with your partner; or more people. That might or might not work for you.

If you set yourself to achieve this ideal, you might find yourself failing in a mission of building a home completely. Establishing a home does not mean moving in with just anyone you happen to be involved with at any given time. Establishing a home means mainly that you have created a safe space for yourself; and it is a great added value if it is including other people.

Furthermore, if you manage to build a home yourself alone, you will soon attract that special person to build new home on top of what you have built so far. You do not necessary need anyone you don’t already have next to you “just” to build a home.

Start building a home from yourself, by yourself if you’re alone.

Can you identify the problem?

Before you get into the whole game of changing your own mindset, do stop for a minute. Give yourself a little bit of time to consider - is it the place where you’re at that is the problem? Is it something else?

While I believe that the problem doesn’t stem from the place itself, I need to say I’ve been wrong before.

So few things to consider are:

Is the place where you are, by objective measures, significantly better than the place you’ve moved from? Most people don’t knowingly move to a worse place unless they’re fleeing war or terror.

You likely had a good reason for moving, whether it was for better climate, improved finances, or a better work-life balance. Has anything changed since then? Usually, the answer is no.

Think about the culture of your new location, as well as that of your old one. For example - consider if people in the place you’ve moved to are “too cold” or you have expectation of everyone poking nose in your private business, while people living around you in this new place respect your private space and boundaries?

Another issue with the new place is that you may no longer be treated like a child by older people, since they don’t know you from when you were younger. You may expect your neighbors to treat you as they did before, but this is unlikely to happen.

It’s a new place, you need new friends. Creating a new circle of friends can be a daunting task when you move to a new location, especially when you’ve left behind old, lifelong friends.

However, this can also be an opportunity to recreate yourself and how you’re perceived. Since you’re starting from scratch, you can present yourself in any way you choose. Rather than seeing this as an unsolvable problem, consider it a challenge to be met. You may find it more enjoyable and less stressful to make new friends this way.

Additionally, most immigrants and expats find themselves in the same position, with few friends in their new location, so you’re not alone in your search for companionship.

Building a home, finally

If you happened to have managed to pin-point exact problem which is keeping you from building a home - great. Just do whatever you need to change that. If it’s a place - move. If it’s that the culture of the new place doesn’t fit you - move.

But if it’s none of the above, or you feel like it is everything above and so much more - the problem of building a home is likely not external one.

Stop. Take a deep breath. Relax.

What do you need to do yourself to call this new place - home? What do you need in this place to thrive and succeed?

Start by changing your mind. Simply (I appreciate the fact that it is ever that simple, but try it) start calling your new place “home”. Start there, give it time to grow on you, and see how it goes.

Could you fail in this? You could. But listen, remember to have fun at it while you do it. It makes success so much more probable.

In the end

If you manage to find a way to build yourself a home, either at the place you’re in right now or by moving to a completely new place (remember, one thing is still true: you are so much more than a tree), you will know.

How will you know? Suddenly you will realize you’ve stopped going home from a place where you live, but you are suddenly “visiting your family” or friends, or you just like to go to that place you’ve spent your childhood at - for no special reason but to see those people or places again, as you will afterwards go back home.

You will know because you will feel at home.