Be Better Where You Are

where you are

“It’s the person, Ma, not the place. If you left here, you’d have been the same anywhere else.” – I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak.

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to get the hell out of small town life in England and move to North America. I’ve always felt like the USA is where I’m supposed to be, and I can’t tell you how many times my wings have been battered and bruised through beating at the bars of the cage I’ve imagined myself in.

The opportunities aren’t here. The people here aren’t my kind of people. The choices are limited here. All along I’ve seen going to the USA as the answer to the question of “What am I to be?”, and over the years I’ve looked at all kinds of ways to make the move, but short of taking a corporate job or marrying into a green card I’ve been kinda stuck.

So instead I’ve been to the USA as often as I can. Miami 3 times. Boston 6 times. Chicago twice. New York 4 times. Orlando 3 times. San Francisco 6 times. Portland twice.

I’ve loved each and every one of those trips and each one has made me feel alive. Returning home to my sleepy little town in Kent I’ve flown straight into the centre of a bad mood, my frustration at being back pushing an ugly fog over everything.

My unhappiness in having to live where I live began to tower over me like a bully makes a child shrink.

I’m sure I could have found solutions to the visa conundrum and I could have found a way to get out to the USA more permanently, but a simple realisation stopped me — I was being two different people on two different continents. The person I wanted to be when in the USA, and the person I didn’t want to be when in England.

Two people. Two experiences. Squeezed into one life.

Polarising the best and worst of who I was only created conflict, so I made myself look at what kind of experience I wanted, rather than becoming more embittered about the kind of experience I thought I couldn’t have.

And I decided that I had to be better where I was first.

Otherwise, I’d simply be moving my battered wings around the world, finding something else to rail against.

But this isn’t just about geography. It’s about anything that moves you to want something better. A bad relationship that you want to run from. A job you hate and want to get out of. A business that’s failing. A heart that’s breaking.

It’s easy to bring frustration, cynicism, bitterness and even anger into your life when your life has something in it that you’d rather not be there. Any schmuck can do that, as I’ve ably proven.

But with your worst qualities as your motivation you’ll never make a dent on any meaningful change. All you’ll be doing is bruising your wings.

Instead, make a simple choice like I did. Make a choice to become okay where you are right now, to bring the best of you to what’s right in front of you rather than the worst of you.

It’s right there. Right now. It just needs you to choose.

Photo by Gabriella Corrado

58 thoughts on “Be Better Where You Are”

  1. I can’t emphasise enough how timely this article is for me. I was – again – thinking about moving to another flat, to another city or maybe even to another country. When I’m not happy with myself and my life I always start to plan to move elsewhere and most of the time I do it. But this time despite the fact thay I’m thinking about moving somewhere else, at the same time I had this thought that wherever I go there I will find myself again and I should be first be happy where I am.

    I was confused with these thoughts and your article is confirmation that I have to wait this time until I am happy where I am.

  2. Roy is right, they haven’t been. Steve is very, very, very lucky to have been to as many great places as many times as he has been.

    You know, watching the Olympics in London and seeing how achingly beautiful the city looks on a daily basis seriously kicks my ass, especially after I SWORE to myself after finding out London got the games for 2012 that I WOULD be there. Of course, I am not. Not even a vacation at all this year.

    So, I take comfort in knowing that I’ll be traveling locally to Antietam and indulging in the Civil War history I love so much next month for the 150th anniversary of the battle there. And maybe one day getting back to London. Now, I just have to remind myself that I can’t do it and know there’s plenty of other people who can’t, either.

    1. That’s the first time I’ve heard London described as “achingly beautiful” Patricia! There are some beautiful parts of the city, without doubt, but I still have a kind of love/hate relationship with it.

      Funny thing is, I was lucky enough to go to the Olympics just yesterday, and found that the nature and spirit of the people at the park reminded me fully of the generosity of spirit that I encounter in the USA. It was gorgeous to see that coming from the normally recalcitrant Brits.

      It’s tough for a lot of people. Being grateful is huge.

  3. What a fantastic post! I’ve been in the US most of my life, except for small trips here and there, mostly for work. The four times I’ve been to the UK have been among my favorite times and memories.

    But…what if I was the same person here that I was there?

    What an absolutely simple – and profound! – idea. Thank you!!

  4. Good points. But what do you say to the “Life’s too short to do something that doesn’t make you happy” people??

    1. I’d say there’s a big difference between instant gratification and engaging with something that matters.

      Happiness is an attitude, joy is an emotion. I think you can decide whether you’re happy or not – even in the middle of struggle or hardship – but people too frequently attach happiness with specific outcomes.

      Joy, I think (and I’m no expert) is an emotion derived from the resonance of the moment.

      Both can be caused by quick wins, but they’ll fade all too quickly. But if you engage with something that matters to you, bring into your life the things that have meaning – then you’re good to go.

  5. I understand the feeling when you want to leave and do your own thing. The anticipation, frustration and impatience. Mental strength and gratitude are components to making your next move a success. Why be miserable in a new place with the same tired attitude and behavior from the old surroundings

  6. Some quotes that I always remember:

    “Wherever you go, you will be there”

    “You can’t run from yourself”.

    “Are you going to something? Or trying to go from something (yourself)?”

    I stuggled with the same issues myself for several years. I moved quite regularly – always thinking I was going to something. But, it was merely trying to get away from what I am.

    The wake up call for me started when, living 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle, I got fired from the job that brought me to that locale. Shortly after getting my notice, a new attitude overwhelmed on me. Two days later I got a new job in the same community. The next 8 years there were the best in my life.

    But all good things must end, and I relocated elsewhere for various reasons. I do not regret leaving my ‘home’, but do not enjoy where I am.

    And have found that although you will always be where you are (or where you go), you can’t take the people and scenery with you. I have discovered two very important things about me – I like being in a beautiful location (typically one involving mountains) and I like being in a community where most people recognize you (typically a small town).

    The community I live in is far too big for me (60,000 – yes, very small for some). For me it is faceless, and I need to relocate to a smaller community. It is also not in a very scenic location and again, I need to relocate elsewhere.

    I will always be with me and would not trade that for anything in the world. I do know that for utmost happiness I need somewhere very scenic and not so faceless.


    1. Really good point John – it’s important to know what matters to you in your environment and look to get those things in place. When your happiness or ability to get on with yourself is conditional on that, then there can be other issues to look at first.

      Looks to me like you’ve got it sorted :)

  7. Steve…you have just described me…I live in Kenya, East Africa and everyday every minute I want to live this country to any destination in the world..Everyday that passes I hate this country to an extent I would change my nationality, names etc. All I have know is pain.. a graduate with no job, heartbreaks…I keep hoping that I will safe enough money to move from this country!!!

  8. Nice work Steve,
    Hope the changes are permanent for you. Australia is where I’m staying…plenty of room to ‘stretch your legs’ and keep the mind operating at peak efficiency.
    be good to yourself

  9. Steve

    Thank you so much for speaking from your heart. This article really resonated with me because all summer long I was feeling that “I should be somewhere else”. I guess it’s like the old adage ‘no matter where you go – there you are’. I need to be OK in my skin first – the location is irrelevant. Thanks for the reminder.


  10. “Two people. Two experiences. Squeezed into one life.” – This is probably the most striking thing I’ve read all day. Going to chew on that one for a while.

    Loved your post – rather timely for me. Thanks for your thoughts.

  11. One line in your article caught my eyes (“And I decided that I had to be better where I was first”.) – that is so very true – As for myself, i found that why i felt depressed, down or even lonely at some point of time in my life was mainly due to a memory or a combination of memories, memory of a certain thing(s) or situation(s) – but the problem i had initially was that i could not link the feeling of depression, loneliness etc to the memory because i was totally engrossed only in the feeling (depression etc) and the memory was working in a very subtle mode in the background …. then i found meditation, thru meditation, i found out how the mind was working in the background, bringing up all these old feelings (of depression, loneliness etc) when i was in a certain place and situation – and thru meditation and watching i realised what they really are, they are just that, “old feelings” rehashed and re-introduced to me, when in actual fact i am in a new time and new situation and suppose to experience a new experience. Slowly i started watching the mind (and its trickery) and gave more space to what was happening at the actual moment, which is the present. The present slowly increases more and more. My suggestion is try meditation, be patient, it is not an easy path, but definitely a rewarding one:)

    1. Brilliant. I practice mindfulness meditation to help me manage a health condition and have seen how beneficial it is. It’s great to hear how significant it’s been for you – thanks!

  12. Hi Steve,

    I can truly relate to what you’ve had to say here on this article. Many of us, have experienced the need of having what we perceive to be “better” on the other side of the fence. However, like you’ve shared here, the best way for us to combat this way of thinking is simply by finding a way to appreciate and show gratitude for where we are in life. When we choose to express gratitude for the little things in our lives, we begin opening unseen doors for us to receive more in life. I live by a saying I came up with during a rough period in my life that says, “Celebrate the smallest of victories by releasing yourself daily. They prepare you for the bigger victories. They will also distract you from some of life’s defeats.”

    1. Gratitude is enormous isn’t it? These days we seem so fixated on critiquing everything, controlling everything and judging things that too many people have pushed gratitude aside.

      More power to you Deone.

  13. Hi Steve,

    Thank for your post. It definetely right. I have moved to one company to another one. As I found no happiness there. But again, happiness is in ourselves I am working in a Canadian company but still searching for another happiness.Let me try to love what I am, wherever I am. You know, I always love the place I live, my home. In a small village in Bali island. I have also traveled some cities in Oregon and Washington states in Northwest as well as some cities in Asia but again, I found the real happiness is in my small village where I was born. It is amazing place to me. Trying hard to grow the happiness and share those happiness to people around me. Thank you much Steve.

    1. I love how you say you’re growing the happiness and sharing it with people around you – generosity of spirit is one of the most amazing things on the planet.

      Don’t try too hard though Sri – it’s found in simplicity and grace, not in the act of striving.

  14. So, SO true, I am struggling with this very same thing…in small town, rural America. Making the choice to be the best you that you can be right where you are…is often more challenging that hopping a flight and setting up shop somewhere else. Thank you for posting!

  15. The thought of finding the best of yourself in where you are is very interesting. I think it is highly important for us to understand the difference between contentment and complacence. This makes me wonder if what you have mentioned here would result in complacence as well. Perhaps not, as it is an elevated state of self-awareness to accept your current situation and make the best out of it. But the question is, how do you know if it’s the right choice? How does one know that its okay to not pursue the happiness that lies elsewhere? I think these questions always bother me.

    1. Great question.

      For me, it has to come down to honouring what matters to you, which is a deliberate choice about what you engage with and how you engage with it. If that’s a deliberate focus that’s applied and re-applied then I don’t think it can slip into complacency or habit.

      I’ve found that you can honour what really matters wherever you are, but I can also see that there can be times in life where that isn’t the case. If your environment simply can’t supply you with the elements that allow you to engage with what matters, then you gotta change it.

      Similarly this works in a hierarchy. If a different place (and remember that this can also be about community, friends, partners, etc) allows you to engage with more of what has meaning and relevance then it makes sense to follow that, right?

  16. There’s an old saying that the grass is greener on the otherside. Whatever it is that’s different it always appears better than what we have. The trick is to love what we have and make it greener. If that’s a town or country we can find a new way of looking at it and parts we didn’t know about. We need to learn to have adventures where we are (whatever that is).

  17. Wow. Its comforting to know that people actually feel like this to. I hate my small town in the USA but I’ve always thought thats all the world is, is more small towns. More cages, its very much like bruising your wings against a cage. It is a case of really bad cabin fever. But your small insight gave me a great perspective so thank you…alot. I really needed it.

    1. You’re welcome.

      It’s funny how much energy you can waste beating your wings against the bars of the cage and how little that really achieves (i.e. nothing). It’s always more exhausting, frustrating and draining than looking for ways to “be better where you are”.

  18. Hi Steve,

    I have had a similar yearning to you, since 1958, when after only 11 months, my ‘homesick’ parents baled out of emigrating by ‘free’ passage to Canada, and consigned us all back to Belfast, N. Ireland.

    It was like going from living in Hollywood Technicolor back to Ealing Studios black and white. From my first supermarkets, back to smelly old corner shops. From an iconic, light gold, sci-fi, 1950 Bulletnose Studebaker Landcruiser, to a black Ford Prefect. From $100 weekly income, to as little as £5. From “Please come to our house for a meal” to “What religion are you”?

    Canada was the Promised Land, 50 years ahead of the UK, in 1957, and more importantly, 3 centuries ahead of Northern Ireland, in socio-political progress.

    Within 2 years, and several house moves, eventually ending up back in Belfast, my family had broken apart, and 5 children (by then) were scattered across Belfast NSPCC children’s homes.

    We came out, a further 2 years later, to: no father, abject poverty, often a lack of basic food and clothes, and life in an outcast, sink pond, pre-fab aluminium bungalow, council estate, for the next 10 years – where most of the 5000+ inhabitants were unemployed. From bright-eyed, upwardly-mobile, émigrés to the equivalent of American ‘trailer trash’ in just 3 years. Talk about a childhood culture shock..!?

    By 1960 my legally separated father, (aloof and eventually divorced), spent 10 years, between 1960 and 1970, paying off $2000 to Canadian Emigration for our ‘free’ passage – with provisos, because we failed to stick it out for at least 2 years of staying in Canada, to qualify for free passage. So he had to repay both-way trips for the whole family.

    Trans-continental travel by ship or air in the mid 1950s was 10 times more expensive than now, and only for the wealthy.

    It’s like having a £20,000 credit-card debt today – further impoverishing his ability to pay child maintenance for 5 children

    Since Canada I have behaved like a headless, bloodless chicken.

    The only cure for me will be driving Canada from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Vancouver British Colombia – 4000 miles west, over a 2-3 months sabbatical.

    Think: ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert M Persig (1974).

    My brother Howard was born there, 1958, in London, Ontario, just 2 weeks before we returned to the UK. Twelve years ago he sold his 1 bedroom flat in Bracknell and swapped it for a 3 bedroom, detached house, with a double car garage and a 1/4 acre of garden, for the same money, in London, Ontario, where he was born. He complains about having to shovel snow every winter. Chance would be a fine thing! He has never been back to the UK since.

    Enuff said…

    1. Wow, that’s one hell of a story Paul.

      Goes to show that environment can have a massive impact on us, but I really don’t think it precludes being at our best. Even if you know and feel that you need to be somewhere else, that journey is made immeasurably more pleasant by learning to be okay right where you are first.

  19. Thank you so much for that Steve, strikes a similar chord to my life as well. You can always catch me being frustrated, angry and what not. I”ve been through a depression lately and and it me feel so inferior that I hated everything around me, I didn’t even communicate well with mum. Now that I’ve been through it, I’m learning to appreciate things, I’ve found out that I’m so good at so many different things which is wonderful. You hit the nail with this one, I must thank you for that.


  20. Wonderful thoughts. I’ve been bored, frustrated, and restless where I am. My friends tell me just move if I’m so unhappy. I’ve looked for other places hoping they will give me what I want. Some look fabulous, but are they really where I want to be?
    One day I took off work and spent the day in my town as a “tourist,” even going to the local information center. I found some great new things I didn’t even know existed. I was so busy trying to look at the grass on the other side I missed the jewels at my feet.
    Can I say it’s made me want to stay here? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s given me a fresh, more realistic mindset to think from.
    I can run all my life and still not be where I want to be. I have to learn to be content with who I am where I am to be able to objectively see what I want to modify. I want to make a change, but one that runs towards something I really want, not merely running away.
    This article and the repsonses have been so encouraging. Thank you!

    1. True. Funny how little we notice of what’s right under our noses all the time we’re bored, frustrated and restless, isn’t it? As soon as you wake yourself up and start being *curious* agan, you notice what’s already there.

      Sounds like you’ve got it nailed Beth – so happy for you!

  21. you’re more than welcome to come to the u.s.a., where we feature trillion dollar wars, scientific ignorance/denialism, toxic food hegemony (monsanto), crumbling infrastructure, crumbling education, wage slavery, institutionalized racism, a bloated prison/military/industrial complex, a perfectly entrenched plutocracy fueled by revolving-door lobby politics, poverty induced by health-care costs, and lots of “friendly generous people” that europeans and brits love to trumpet the praises of.

    1. A heap of problems indeed, and the health-care system would be a massive reason why I wouldn’t be so quick to head out there permanently. The way things are done these days is systemically flawed IMHO, both here in the UK and in the USA, but I think that’s a topic for another article ;)

  22. Too funny. I had the opportunity to go to London, for the Olympics. I stayed a week, which wasn’t nearly enough time to take in everything. I thought London was spectacular. The architecture blew my mind. I love America, but we can’t compete. I thought, “Why would people here EVER want to vist the US?” lol I loved it all.

  23. I know how you feel!! I too lived in the Uk (Oxford) and longed to move somewhere else, I hated the gloomy wet weather, I hated it getting dark early in the winter, I hated the miserable English people who couldn’t even be bothered to say a hello in the mornings.

    But I did it, I moved away. I am now living in Brazil. Been here for 5 years and I live right on the beach. Every morning my wife and I go for a stroll along the beach and the people here are so much more friendlier.

    If you want something that bad, then get up and do it!!

  24. Steve,

    Don’t give up. I was born in Kent and grew up in Manchester. When I was 14 I went to San Francisco to stay with my Aunt for 3 months. She had moved to the states and lived in a beautiful suburb. Everything about the trip was cool to me. I went to school with my cousin for a few weeks and we wore jeans – no stuffy uniforms. There were no school lunches only amazing deli sandwiches my aunt made us. I learned how to skateboard and had even helped my cousin with a paper route. The sun was beaming everyday and my uncle took us all over in his convertible. At the time my hometown was dreary Manchester. I came back home and new I was going to live in the US one day.

    In 1988, I packed up and got on a plane. I had no job, no idea how I would legally be able to stay, no plan and no contacts. I have lived in Los Angeles, Naples Florida and now back in California in Huntington Beach. I get up in the morning and go surfing. If I want to in a couple of months I can surf in the morning and snowboard in the afternoon. Choice and opportunity here are unlimited.

    I have only been back to the UK twice in 24 years and both times were recent. England is an amazing country, full of great history and beautiful countryside, but if you ever live here, you will find it hard to go back.

    You could have probably legally emigrated here by now if you applied some years ago. I think it is quite easy to get an investors visa or you could do what I did, just come and worry about it when you are here. Americans love Brits, especially if you are fresh of the boat, so I am sure you could find something to do.

    I guess I am an adventurer at heart. I recently went to live in Asia for a year on a whim. Life is short… do what’s in your heart.

    Good luck and contact me via Bondi Buddha if you change your mind about moving here.


  25. Thank you for writing this Steve, I’m an Indonesian who’s been studying in Singapore for 7 years and just like how you loved USA, I loved Singapore. I always thought that I will spend more time there and perhaps make a dent or two in the corporate Singapore world. However due to some unfortunate circumstances, I need to go back to Indonesia.

    This article reminded me that I don’t need to be in Singapore to make a dent in the universe. I can actually make a difference in my home country.

    Thank you!

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