If I don’t belong here, then where?

If I don’t belong here, then where?

I was scrolling through Facebook photos the other day when I noticed one of me in Southeast Asia–on a beach, overlooking a rice paddy, something suitably exotic–and noticed that a friend of mine commented: “You don’t belong in Sacramento.”

Reading it now, it strikes me in a strange way: if I don’t belong in the city that I grew up in, the city that shaped me into who I am, the city whose highway curves and one-way streets and rose gardens I know better than anywhere else–then where do I belong?

I love New York City. Nowhere else is there such a concentration of awesome and interesting people, the experience of all my senses and my intellect being constantly engaged and challenged. I can pick out a dozen moments a day of pure, simple joy: a daffodil blooming, a man singing, craning my neck upward to see the skyscapers jutting into the clouds. It is a city that requires a certain energy and ambition: you can’t survive here simply by being, you must constantly be doing. The flurry of activities and variety suits me and my short attention span, my inability to commit.

Yet I yearn for the ease of Australia, the laid-back grins and lazy accent and coastal breeze. In quiet moments, my mind flashes to morning runs along St Kilda beach, reading the newspaper and sipping an expertly-poured latte in a sunny window, rowdy Sunday sessions and a near obsession with AFL ladders.

I think about how I could afford months of street cart eats and beachside accommodation and sticky sweet Vietnamese coffee for what I pay in a month’s rent–heck, what I pay in a month’s utility payment. I daydream about days spent rock climbing in the morning, swimming in the afternoon, writing in the evening. The constant buzz of a language I don’t understand, the universal meaning of a smile or a kind gesture.

Lately, I’ve been more and more drawn to the possibility of creating a life in California. I miss the geography: the snow-covered mountains, the orchards as far as the eye can see, the calm rush of the river and the break of the ocean. There’s family and there’s the familiarity: I feel like I’ve spent the past few years wandering around the globe and asking is this normal? as the sun blazes in January or thunder strikes in the afternoon. I’m unaccustomed to wild temperature fluctuations, freezing cold, soul-crushing humidity. I know cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers and the flash of red leaves and pink blooms in between.

I’ve wondered if my heart is in San Francisco–and if not, if I’m searching the world for “the perfect place” all while quietly knowing that my happiness lies within. It’s something that still worries me, that still makes me question where I belong or whether I’ll ever be able to fully commit without constantly edging forward or wondering about what-if. How long do I have to be somewhere before I can belong there: before I could fold myself back into the town where people rarely come or leave, before I could call myself a New Yorker?

This isn’t to say I’m leaving New York anytime soon–I committed, remember–or even where I’ll be going next. I honestly don’t know. But that one little offhand comment has unnerved me, made me wonder when and if and how we can belong anywhere. Is it the place that needs us or we who need the place?

Do you think we can “belong” anywhere? 


  • Maybe, just as we can actively create “home”, we can also create belonging. Though I do believe there’s something to be said for the sense that we belong where there is family and familiarity, I am also all too familiar with the restlessness and knowledge that this particular place not enough… for now at least, for me. Perhaps we belong where we are content to belong, whether that means we’re in a “foreign” city or not. And on that token, when we do decide we’re content to belong, I assume, with confidence, that it is linked to a sense of family in the company we’ve surrounded ourselves with.

  • Caitlin

    Home is where the heart is, and that’s not always a concrete place (or even the same place). It’s where you’ve had wonderful experiences, connections to people, and insights into yourself. It can be one place or twenty, some place you’ve been often or somewhere you haven’t been yet. I think it’s human nature to catagorize ourselves, to belong to something, but at the end of the day, you belong where you are happy. Maybe that is one place, or a new place every year. Wherever you are, as long as you’re happy and fulfilled, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be! 😉

  • Shireen

    Brilliant! I’d be just as happy here at home in Seattle as I would be on a beach in Australia, working a vineyard in New Zealand, eating pad thai in Thailand, or fighting the crowds in China. Or would I…? We’re lucky as 20-somethings of this generation that we have the freedom to choose WHERE we want to live, HOW we want to live our lives, and have the ability to try different things. Good for you for being open to every adventure!

  • camorose

    I love that bit about a “sense of family”–I definitely feel like I had that in Nice and Melbourne and now in New York, which totally changes how I feel about a place.

  • camorose

    Well said! 🙂

  • camorose

    Ah, but with that freedom comes choices and with those choices comes the nagging sense of always being able to choose something different…more difficult to be satisfied in this generation, I think!

  • I thought about this a lot while I was in Graduate School in NYC. In the end, I decided to return to the city I grew up in. Surprised myself with this decision, but I haven’t regretted it once.

  • with unlimited choices, decisions are exponentially harder 🙂

  • I’ve thought about this so much, and landed on the belief that belonging, like so much of life, is a choice. We can choose to dive into a new place, get to know it, and commit to it, or we can look for reasons that it won’t work out, fixate on the annoyances, and look for differences between ourselves and the locals.

    I struggled with this as an expat, and when I moved to my new home in San Francisco, coincidentally, I decided that I had to do it whole-heartedly. The city deserved that I give it a chance. A few years in, I do feel like I belong, but that doesn’t diminish the rightness and sense of home that I feel when I go back to my small, conservative hometown in the Midwest. We’re complex people, and can have a different home for each side of our personalities.

  • For me, knowing where I belong comes from knowing where I DON’T belong — I don’t belong back in the States, not right now anyway and not for a while.

    I could say I belong in Asia — moving to Europe truly made me realize and cemented that fact — but really, I just know that I belong abroad. (And for what it’s worth, I feel like you belong back in Oz :))

  • such an inspiring post! My studies are slowly coming to an end and I also wonder what to do next – getting a job, yes – but, where? I’ve been studying two languages – it allows me to do looooads of things,…. too much choice( ? 😀 ) and I have no idea what to do next! But, I try to relax – maybe you do the same – you know that you wouldn’t be able to stay/live somewhere if it doesn’t make you happy.. so .. just go with the flow.. when and if the time comes for you to move somewhere else or go back ‘home’ 🙂 you will know it… :))

  • Once again, I seem to relate 100% to your thoughts. I’ve been in NY for several years now, and not only is my family a continent away and harder each day goes by to be far from, but I too long for a more peaceful and idyllic setting. A place I can enjoy the moment, enjoy the breeze of a beach, not be rushed all the time, just simply be, smell the roses as they say. As much as I love NY, after a few years, it may be time for a change – one that’s been brewing for some time, not sure in which direction yet.

  • I’ve been pondering this

  • camorose

    That is actually reassuring to hear, Andi–especially since you’ve totally manage to maintain such an incredible life of travel!

  • camorose

    My point exactly!

  • camorose

    I really like your way of thinking here, Ashley 🙂

  • camorose

    Oh goodness don’t I know it! We’ll see how things work out 🙂

  • camorose

    Too many choices! That seems to be the consensus! 🙂

  • camorose

    Who knows where we’ll all end up!

  • indeed 😉

  • I have trouble with this sometimes, too. A lot, actually. But I think that… there’s a time to belong and there’s a time to listen to when it’s time to go — if that makes any sense. I think this is a hard question for nomads to answer — because when you have an explorer’s soul, you feel like no place is your home and everywhere is, too.

    Someone who puts it more eloquently than I do is Shannon: http://www.awashwithwonder.com/2013/04/dont-buy-ticket.html#.UXqGn7_GL7I

  • Interesting question to ponder. I think it can be good to not feel completely comfortable in any given situation. The more we are out of our comfort zones, the more we develop into the people we were born to be. Not feeling like we belong places is just part of breaking down those barriers to keep experiencing life. Just my current thoughts on it as it’s been something I’ve recently thought about as well. 🙂

  • camorose

    Oh my gosh LOVE Shannon’s post! yes, yes yes–all of that. Definitely what I’m trying to do by “committing” to New York.

  • camorose

    I definitely like pushing myself out of my comfort zone (well, like might be a strong word) but I also think it’s important to be aware of what’s making me happy. I’m big on making the right changes to stay content!

  • I was not a big fan of the city in which I went to college and considered transferring after my freshman year. But I stuck it out and made it work for me. I also spent a semester in Washington D.C. where I learned that I could actually be a city girl! After college I spent a year in California and felt incredibly unsettled. I met my current boyfriend and last summer we moved to Austin. I visited here last spring and fell in love with it. The laidback pace permeates throughout the city, the weather is great (with even some cold days in winter!), and the people are so friendly. Sometimes I think about moving back to my home state (Maryland) but I just got a job here and I want to make it work. Side note: I think being in a relationship also really helps with settling into a place too. I’m also a Gemini so I can be seriously commitment-phobic but this relationship makes me consider someone else’s opinions and needs too.

  • 🙂

  • camorose

    I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love with pretty much every place I live–but because of that, I’m always wondering if there’s a place I could love even MORE! Makes me a bit unsettled, all the time.

  • I think we just *know* when we find a place we can feel really relaxed and settled in. Only two places in the world have ever given me that feeling and – unfortunately – one of them’s in the states so it couldn’t happen for me. My advice is to keep doing what your heart tells you, go where it pulls you.

  • camorose

    Thanks lady. New York is feeling pretty good at the moment 🙂

  • Kaitlin

    I just discovered your blog and love this post! I’m from California as well and after 2+ years in this city I’m stuck trying to figure out if it’s a move back to LA, SF, another state or here for a little longer. I think things will start to work themselves out but it also comes with a little jump and leap of faith.

  • camorose

    Oh I’m so glad you can relate! Even after living in NYC for almost four years, I’m constantly considering a move back to California. We’ll see how life unfolds!