Twelve years ago, I packed my bags and moved eight hours away from everything I knew to a place I had never heard of: Knoxville, Tennessee. I did what so many of us do for young love: I followed a boy. At the time, I was finishing graduate school while my college sweetheart was applying to law schools. My (now) husband’s family had just relocated to Farragut for work, so the University of Tennessee School of Law was a no-brainer for him.
I’m just going to say it: I HATED it here. I absolutely hated it.
(Stick with me Knoxville-loyalist; this love story has a happy ending.) Despite already having plenty of time for life experiences, these sudden feelings of isolation and culture shock were foreign to me. I’d never been truly lonely or homesick in my life, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Outside of my husband’s family, I didn’t know a soul in town when I arrived. No family. No networks. No friends.
To say it was paralyzing, depressing and anxiety-inducing is an understatement.
Those first few years I was angry. I picked apart everything that made Knoxville different from my hometown. I think we can all be nostalgic about the place where we grew up, but I was acting as if I was plucked out of my garden and tossed into the weeds. Next came the denial (is this really my life?), followed by the bargaining (or rather begging my sweet husband to move us back to Missouri). As my only friend in town, my poor guy was at the receiving end of my discontent more often than he deserved.
Anger. Denial. Bargaining.
That’s when I realized all of these feelings were based in grief. In a way, I was grieving the loss of a life I’d imagined for myself — building my career and eventually raising a family in the same Midwestern town I had grown up loving. Sharing the same memories I had as a child alongside my adoring family who would all live close and settle into their roles as grandparents. Even imagining that life would end in tears. I found myself inconsolable, unhappy and left with a choice. I knew if I had any chance at happiness in my new city, it would be up to me to invest in Knoxville. It was time to grow up, remember why I chose to invest in this place and my relationship, and start the process of ‘blooming where I was planted.’
Fast-forward a decade. I’m happy to report I’ve found my love for Knoxville.
I still grieve the distance between my family and friends in Missouri, more so than I can stand at times. That being said, I have an amazing village including my now in-laws and some found-family in my Knoxville friends. This is and will forever be the place where we met our daughter, and where she was born and raised. It’s where we fell in love with the outdoors, where I landed a career I loved in local TV news, and developed a love for storytelling.
Knoxville stole my heart when I finally decided to open it.
To love where you live is a beautiful thing, but earning that love has helped me grow as a person. Perhaps you’re part of one of the growing number of families who recently relocated to Knoxville? Then perhaps you too are experiencing these homesick feelings. These are a few pointers that helped me open my eyes and heart to our scruffy city.
A change in perspective
Get involved in your community: I learned a phrase in my Leadership Knoxville class that has stuck with me: “bloom where you are planted.” That simply means if you’re planted in a city — for a job or spouse — that perhaps wasn’t part of your long-term plans, you can choose to put yourself out there or stay in one place. Instead of hunkering down and waiting/hoping your life will change, why not sink your roots in deep and bloom like a flower? Get involved in a charity, young professional group or local politics. It’s a great way to learn about the area and make new friends.
Find your people: They say misery makes great company. I’m not suggesting a pity party, but seeking out other newcomers makes the transition feel less isolating. Social media, meetups, young-professionals organizations and, ahem, Knoxville Moms are all great places to start!
Own your grief: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional help if you’re feeling lonely or isolated in a new city. As mamas we always discuss the need for self-care. So why not start with both our heads and our hearts?
Learn our community history: You’ve heard the term ‘you can’t plan for the future without understanding your past,’ right? I think that’s true for anyone who has moved to a new city. The Museum of Appalachia and the East Tennessee History Center offers an amazing opportunity to dip your toes in our East Tennessee history. It also makes for a great family outing.
‘Get lost’: One of the best ways to get to know a new city is to jump in the car and start driving. Pick a different area of town to master each week. Grab your WAZE app so you don’t get completely lost, but don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path. Explore neighborhoods, walk the greenways, and grab a coffee at a local shop. Open your eyes and ears to the wonderful people and places just waiting for you to discover. Visit Knoxville is also a fantastic place to start!