I grew up in a very conservative, close-knit family where weekends and free time were pretty much very predictable – going to church, having Sunday lunch together, visiting grandparents, watching a movie, etc. It was routine and it felt safe. Even if there was no plan for the day, I did not have to worry because whatever was decided, we were going to do it together. It was comfortable and I thought this is how life was going to be. I would grow up, have a family and still have that same set of habits, which there was absolutely nothing wrong in.
Seventeen years ago, I decided to challenge myself to new experiences. I moved to Chicago knowing only a handful of relatives. I stayed with them for a time and then eventually got my own apartment. It was a good feeling – that sense of independence that I never felt all my life. It wasn’t easy because with it, also came the challenge of truly making it on your own. I had to discover who I wanted to be and what I enjoyed doing. At 24, I had to make new friends with no structure such as school or a social group to help me. It was hard and at times it still is.
I started to enjoy quiet time and my private space (sometimes, a little too much). This was the total opposite of the environment I grew up in, where you were constantly surrounded by people whether it be your immediate family, relatives, or friends. I joined networking and meet up groups in areas that piqued my interest. In essence, it was like starting life all over again at an age where all your peers were settling down. In time, I met a few good friends who were the basis of my social circles. I realized that I was at a point where I can actually choose who I wanted to be with. It was liberating.
And so Christmas meals and July 4th weekends were spent with friends who I eventually saw as family. These were mature friendships, which I ended up valuing all the more. For a lot of young professionals who are no longer within the confines of their home towns, there is that urge to reach out and engage with the unfamiliar just to avoid the isolation. Making plans was something you had to actually think about and exert a degree of effort in.
There is a great deal of acceptance and sense of self with where I am now. I surround myself with good people who I consider my family in every sense of the word. They have grown to know me in recent years and, slowly, unconsciously, this has become my new view of home. It is indeed different but is no less satisfying.
Life is about building mini-families along the way – people you come across who you find a comfort and security in. I have learned true belonging is not just with relationships you were born into. Rather, it can develop in time, with individuals who have affected you in positive, deep and long-lasting ways.