This post was originally published on Medium.com.
It’s hard to say this, much less do it, but I’m leaving you, Baltimore. It’s not you, though. It’s me. For the most part.
Ever since I was a teen, I’ve wanted to live elsewhere. I couldn’t wait to get out, and for about 18 months of my life, I did. I went away for my freshman year of college, didn’t really enjoy the school where I was, and then went to live in Brazil and travel around South America for about 6 months. And while I’ve continued to travel, I’ve some how managed to continue to call Baltimore as my home.
When I came back from my South American trip (it was the kind you typically do when you’re young), I had intended to go somewhere outside of Baltimore, but it never really worked out. I got a job and eventually went back to school locally. And it’s probably a good thing I didn’t go to school somewhere else, as I never would have met my wife. We met while working at an international credit card company.
Now married for about 13 years, my wife has decided it’s time to return to her motherland — France. I like being married to her and raising my two daughters. So, I’m leaving you, Baltimore, to build a life overseas.
The departure, as you may imagine, is bittersweet. It’s hard leaving a place where you’ve worked hard to build a life, both personally and professionally. I’ve always found Baltimore to be fairly accessible in terms of meeting and connecting with people, particularly for professional reasons. Yes, I know Baltimore has major race issues — as does the entire country. And yes, I probably have had more doors open for me more easily thanks to white privilege. But don’t think for a moment that my life has been easy because of my skin color. I’ve worked hard to reach a relatively (but perfectly satisfactory) level of success; building a network of personal and professional relationships — and ultimately a reputation — takes years of grinding.
And that brings me to the real reason I’m leaving you, Baltimore. Aside from some family-related reasons for our move, I’m also tired of grinding. It’s been 18 years since I finished undergrad, and I have never worked less than 60 hours/week. That’s either because I’ve had to have two jobs to make ends meet, or because I was going to grad school in DC while working from 6 am to 2 pm just so I could make it to class on time, only to get back home at 11 pm. Or it’s because I was working my tail off to build a business. That certainly has been the most rewarding — and trying — experience of my life, both financially and personally. As fun as that’s been, the truth is that I’m feeling worn out.
That’s not to say that’s the only factor in me leaving, though it’s certainly an important one. But there are many other factors (again, personal family reasons aside). Such as the astounding amount of gun violence in the US. And the growing insanity that is the US political situation that propels a good portion of the para-military, authoritarianism that has recently insinuated itself throughout the US (I’m looking at you Donald Trump). Just when it seems like it can’t get any more insane, it does. We’re quickly becoming desensitized to this type of violence, and I don’t want to be that casual or accepting of it. I also don’t want to be immersed in it.
I’m sure some of you might think I’m giving up on the US, or at least my hometown. I’ve worked hard the majority of my adult life to make the world a better place. And again, I’m tired. (Before you comment on this, you should know that I spent my 20s volunteering for progressive candidates at local and state level, and I spent my 30s building businesses, organizations and events, primarily ones that make us smarter, happier and hopefully better human beings.)
There are certainly things I’ll miss about the US, of course. I’ll miss my friends and family mostly, of course. And I’ll miss Baltimore. A lot. I’ll miss our mishmash of old and new architecture. I’ll miss our small pubs, cocktail bars, and burgeoning food scene. I’ll miss our neighborhoods that seem to sometimes fade into each other, but strive to each have their own individual character. I’ll miss our water-related culture (though, the city where we will live is split by two rivers and is about a 45 minute ride to the beach).
Mostly, I’ll miss the scrappy Baltimore character. It’s true, we have a long way to go as a city, but we can’t lose sight of how far we’ve come. The battle often seem uphill, but I’ve come to the conclusion that most changes are incremental, often unnoticeable until one day things are different. One day you’re a decaying post-industrial city that’s the heroin capital of the country, and the next day you’re a thriving and slowly growing metropolis with a lively social, arts, music and technology scene (though still likely the heroin capital of the country). But that’s always been the Baltimore way: we’re the underdog, under-appreciated for our strengths. We don’t always win, and when we do, it isn’t always pretty (Ahem, Ravens). But we win more often than we lose, and it’s often easy to lose sight of those wins when you’re in the midst of struggling to become a better place. At the same time, we can’t completely be rah-rah about our achievements all the time. It’s a hard balance to strike, I know, but that’s how we have to get things done.
So, what will I be doing in France? Well, the easy answer is that I’m not sure entirely. For one thing, I want (read: need) to write. 20ish years ago, I thought I was going to be a novelist. And now, at 40, I’m going to work to make that happen. I also have a few short story’s and children’s books I want to work on.
I’m also exploring a few business ideas — things I can work on from anywhere and one that is particularly related to French food culture. I’ll still do content development (I will be writing professionally, after all), and I’ll be doing a few other side projects that will just be fun, and possibly make a little money. And I’m definitely going to travel as much as I can afford.
To all my clients: Thank you for putting your trust in me. Thank you for giving me the honor of helping you grow. I have rarely taken on a client whose business or organization I didn’t believe in (though there were a few), and I feel like we’ve worked hard to make the world a better place.
To all my friends: Thank you for your kindness, your caring, your companionship. Thanks for the laughs and mostly thanks for helping me be a better person. There’s nothing I couldn’t have accomplished in my life without you. Please know that my door is always open!
Some last thoughts: I couldn’t be prouder to be a Baltimorean. I’ll take that grittiness, that unfinished roughness, that work in progress, scrappy DIY attitude. I’ll take real action and real accomplishment over chest-pounding any day. I’ll take our contradictions, our struggles to be better, to be more than what we are. I’ll take our take-on-the-world-and-make-things-happen-on-our-own-terms way of thinking. My brain is hard-wired to Baltimore, and that I’ll take to the grave.