Up until last month, my boyfriend Nick and I had lived in Oregon all of our lives. We both grew up in small towns outside of Portland, and then, after high school, we migrated into the city like people from small towns tend to do. For the past few years, Nick worked at the cheese counter of an upscale Portland grocery store. Like most things in our lives, his job was fine, but it wasn’t spectacular. We felt stagnant in many ways, like we were passively living a life that had been set out for us, rather than choosing the life we wanted. Looking back, we lived in Portland not because we wanted to, but because we always had.
A weekend trip to Nashville changed everything. Within hours of landing in the city, we knew we wanted to move there. After feeling anchored in place for so long, the prospect of picking up and moving made us feel practically weightless, not to mention giddy with excitement. We couldn’t wait to start a new life. But first came the responsible plan.
We decided that in order to save up enough money and properly prepare ourselves for such a massive move, we needed to hunker down in Portland awhile longer. The lease at our expensive Portland apartment was about to end, so we began searching for a 6-month lease at a cheaper place in the suburbs where we could save money. It was only six months, but by the way our enthusiasm dulled it might as well have been six years.
“So we’re staying in Portland for six more months, huh?” Nick sighed, after we’d finalized our responsible plan.
“Yup,” I said.
It didn’t feel right–we wanted to hit the road right away–but it made sense, so we began touring apartment complexes on the affordable outskirts of a city we didn’t want to live in anymore.
Our hunt for temporary housing played out like a depressing real estate version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears:” each place was too ugly, too expensive, too owned by a guy named Dieter who we were fairly sure was a serial killer. Nowhere felt just right. With each wrong apartment, we grew more and more discouraged. Plus, the lease at our current place was winding down quick, and we needed somewhere to live.
Finally we found a place on Craigslist that was in our price range and in the area we wanted. We went and met with the landlord and walked through the apartment. It wasn’t perfect, but it was OK. It was the first place I could actually see myself living, even just for 6 months. As the landlord wrapped up the tour she nonchalantly said, “Oh, and one more thing. There’s a train that comes by every morning at 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. It’s not a big deal, but it does shake the house enough to knock all your frames off the wall.”
We were so desperate for a place we said, “No problem!” and grabbed an application.
“Great,” she said, “I’ll get back to you in a few days.” We were the first ones to apply and had perfect rental history, so we figured it was a lock. We didn’t exactly want to live there, but it was still a relief to know we had something lined up.
That Saturday morning, as Nick was getting ready for work and I was about to head out to run errands, the landlord called. “I changed my mind,” she said. “I don’t want to deal with a 6-month lease. Sorry.”
We looked at each other in a panic. Our current lease was up in a week. We had to figure something out, and soon.
“What if we just left?” I said in exasperation, after reviewing our options. “I wish we could just sell all our shit and move to Nashville right now.”
Nick’s face lit up in a way it hadn’t since we’d resigned ourselves to staying in Portland. “That would be so awesome,” he said, but again, we set the idea in a pile of Awesome Things We Talk About But Would Never Do. We had to stick to the plan. We had to hit our savings goals. We had to be logical. We couldn’t deviate. I told Nick I would tour one more apartment while he was at work.
The last apartment I toured was in our price range, minutes from Nick’s job, and even had a balcony that overlooked a wetland. There weren’t any railroad tracks nearby. It was pretty perfect, and yet when I walked back to my car, application in hand, my eyes began welling with tears.
I called my best friend Katelyn and told her what had happened, about all the places that hadn’t worked, and the shaky railroad house that refused our application, and the perfect apartment that had made me cry. “What do I do?” I said. “Why is this not working?”
She paused for a second. “This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to say, but I don’t think you guys are supposed to stay in Portland any longer. I think you need to go.”
And the moment she said that, it was like an anvil lifted off my chest, and I could finally breathe. The clarity came instantly. Our life in Portland wasn’t working because it wasn’t supposed to work. We’d been listening to our heads instead of our hearts, and we were ignoring every subtle and not-so-subtle nudge away from this stagnant stage of life and toward a new one. Hearing it from someone else, someone I loved and respected, someone who was brave enough to speak the truth even if it meant advising her best friend to move 3,000 miles away, that made all the difference in the world.
When I got off the phone with Katelyn, I called Nick at work with excitement building in my chest, and I repeated what I’d said earlier that day: “What if we just left?” This time, though, I meant it, and this time, I could barely finish my sentence before Nick said, “Let’s do it.”
As soon as we made that decision, our life stopped falling apart and started falling into place. Our current landlord offered to let us stay for one more month so we could tie up all our loose ends in Portland. We sold all our stuff on Craigslist and ended up making exactly the same amount of money we thought would take us 6 months to save up. We said goodbye to our friends, took a long weekend and drove across the country, afraid and inspired and unsure of what awaited us, but increasingly sure we were heading in the right direction.
When the winding Tennessee highway opened up and we got our first glimpse of the famous Nashville skyline, we knew we’d made the right choice.
Turns out that Nashville was ready to welcome us as dramatically as Portland seemed to push us away: within a few days we’d found a house and Nick was offered a job he loves. We’re still finding our footing, and it’s definitely tough not knowing anyone in a new city, or keeping our clothes in a big pile because we can’t afford a dresser quite yet, but those moments pale in comparison to the feeling of following through on a big, crazy dream.
“Can you believe we actually did it?” We ask each other over and over and over again, in the kitchen, walking around the neighborhood, driving through downtown.
The usual response? “I can’t believe we waited so long.”
If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that taking a leap is always worth it. Even if you have no idea where you’re going to land, be brave enough to step up to the edge of the unknown, and listen to your heart. You could spend years making a logical plan to prepare yourself for the life you want, but what it really comes down to is this: if it feels right, jump.
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