On Being a Rolling Stone

Look around! Do you like what you see? Are you glad for where you find yourself? Are you happy where you are? Some people are, by all accounts, are just that: happy where they are. I would very much like to be one of these people. If only I could manage.

For you see, it would spare me a lot of goodbyes. And I am not good at those at all. Being good at goodbyes is a somewhat necessary requirement for those who relocate — a prerequisite of sorts. Relocation, that is picking your life and moving it from one place to another. It is something I like to do. 16 times I have left behind and brought along family and friends, pets and houseplants. I am, you could say, accustomed to change. 

Because relocation is — by its very nature — a process of change. It involves a change of your physical location, and also your emotional state. Sorting, donating and shipping your belongings is emotional, even if done voluntarily. It is also quite addicting, for relocation carries with it the hope for new beginnings and opportunities.

On the positive side, there is a feeling of excitement, as you are off to a fresh start. On the negative side, there is the feeling of anxiety, as it means leaving behind that which is safe and familiar. It is, if you will, a bit like riding a roller coaster. And just like riding a roller coaster, relocation is not for everyone. Some people find the idea quite mad. And for good reasons. After all, it is not just a location you leave — it’s the people, too. Relocation means leaving behind family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. The goodbyes are awkward at best and difficult at least, both for the person leaving, and for the people staying behind.

Staying put is a way to skip the goodbyes, and to show your appreciation for the here and now. It is to prioritize what you have, instead of what you might have. Such appreciation is hard to show when you’re relocating. When you relocate, you are essentially telling someone that you are ok with leaving them behind. That they are not all that important. That they are disposable. Such a message makes for acquaintances, not friends. In my case, it also makes for a somewhat slow career.

Relocation, for or despite of work, can make or break a career. One way or the other, it always gets the job done.

Every network I build, I must build again someplace else. Every step I climb on the career ladder, I climb twice. It is a slow climb, a trudging one, and more suitable for freelancing than employment. 

It is, at times, less rock’n’roll than one may think. Rock’n’roll is to be wild and free. And sure, I am a bit of a rolling stone, but never mind Mick Jagger or The Temptations. No, I am way less cool, way tamer, and bound to my own shackles. I am merely someone who finds it difficult to stay put. Someone who struggles with staying in one place. Someone who relocates. I started relocating in my teens. At the time, I was itching to leave the battlefield of my parents’ divorce, and eager to put some space and silence between myself and the yelling, sobbing adults in my life. I came back, bitten by the relocation bug. I relocated again in my early twenties. And then again in my mid-twenties. And then again, and again, and again …

It is a matter of great sorrow for my parents. They are, and have been for many years, saddened by the distance I put between us. My decision to relocate left them feeling deprioritized and shoved aside — a process that is repeated for every new relocation. It is a ceaseless and exhausting process, for both parties involved. It is a decision hard to accept. It is a bad conscience on subscription. Relocation — is it worth it do you think? I believe it depends. It depends on your motivation, and your expectation, too. For a relocation to be worth it, there has to be a personal gain. A gain that makes up for the loss. A gain that is up to you to define. It may be work, it may be romance, it may be anything but relocation itself.

Make no mistake about it: Relocation is labor and logistics, buried by cardboard and taped in bubble wrap.

Gaining new perspectives and a change of scenery will not make up for any of the exhaustion, because something that happens when you relocate is this: It gets old. And it gets old fast. The initial excitement of finding yourself in a new place won’t last, you’ll see. People who relocate become quickly habituated to their new surroundings. That cute little town center you were so excited about? It will quickly lose its glister. The big city perks you looked forward to? They will soon feel less glamourous.

Another thing about relocation is this: It changes your outlook on life. It makes you — and this is a scary fact — care a little less about holding on to stuff and people. People who relocate frequently are more likely to view their belongings and their relationships as non-essential, compared to people who move less often.

The more we move, the less we become attached.

On one hand, this detachment is a concern. Why? Because it may very well have a negative impact on your overall quality of life. If your nomadic lifestyle leads you to trivialize social ties, you will be less likely to get what you need from your social network. I for instance like to throw dinner parties, but with no social network to speak of after my most recent relocation, who am I going to invite? This creates a deficit of fulfillment. A deficit, which can negatively affect my mental and physical health. There is a very good chance that relocation will make me lonely. And loneliness kills by way of social isolation. It’s a slow and silent death on yet another night binge-watching Netflix.

On the other hand, the ability to detach yourself from objects and people may be a blessing, too: It may provide you with the chance to live your life with less physical and emotional ballast. Take my father, who for decades has been contemplating to sell his childhood home. No matter how straightforward the process may be, how financially advantageous, he cannot bring himself to do it. The thought causes him mental and emotional pain. A pain, which feels foreign to me. So foreign, that for the longest time I could not comprehend what all the fuss was about. 

Unlike my father, I have called many places my home, without owning them, and without the notion of holding on to them for memories sake. To me, home is a warm and fuzzy feeling. It has to do with unconditional love and mutual acceptance of each other’s quirks. It has nothing to do with the contents of my suitcase. To me, home is an abstract concept. To my father, it is a house — with brick walls, a roof and a crumbling plumbing system. A house, which he helped build, inherited and now stands guard for. A house he cannot sell.