.Vienna or does where I live define Me?

So far, Vienna is awesome and this city is everything I always dreamed of. Art, entertainment, peace, quiet, culture, books, readings and all for a reasonable price. Vienna has me covered. Also, as a Ph.D. student, I have a student ID. Someone asked me the other day if the area, city or place someone lives in is an indicator of the person’s success. More specifically: Does someone choose to sit in their backyard on a farm on a warm fall day in *insert rural area* doing nothing because they are in peace with themselves and feel fine just sitting with their thoughts, or does one sit in their backyard because they don’t have the capability, motivation or are afraid to live in a different place, to go places, to see other things, to explore and discover? “How did you just leave this small town and move to another country or even a bigger city,” a friend asked me.

I have to back up a tiny bit. I love peace and quiet and rural lifestyle. This is how I grew up. But I also love the thought of being able to go out and have opportunities. I moved from Coburg to Munich, from Munich to New York, from New York to Canada and from Canada to Vienna. I grew up in a place where there were porches aplenty. A few months after I turned 17, I left my hometown Coburg chasing my own version of success. At that time, success meant to me passing Police Academy to become a Police Officer. I had an awesome job and made Big City. I felt successful and fulfilled. And I lived in a big(ger) city. My dream.

The closer I get to 40, the more curious I am about the way people in my life mark their own successes. Take most of my friends, who remained in my hometown while I loved being away in my teens and eventually racing after various career milestones at the United Nations in New York. One of my friends back home has two children and lives in this awesome farm house which has a porch for sitting. It would be impossible to say which of us is more successful because it is simply not objective. We have both put tons of work into making our respective dreams come to fruition. Despite our polar-opposite journeys, we are both motivated, busy, and capable because whether you choose to live in a big city or rural areas, there is always the potential for reward. That is important to remember. Let me tell you, your life is not bad just because you chose to stay in that town to build a life for yourself and your family. If it works for you, then that is fine. It didn’t work for me, so I left. Simple as that.

In the past, I have wished some of my friends and I shared similar paths so we could have grown in the same direction and swapped advice along the way, but now I find solace in our differences. But all this ensures me that we are living our lives as intended. To look around, to realize and acknowledge that everyone can find success, regarding the size of their goals or where they live is key. Thinking this way can be incredibly reassuring because it means your motivations are yours and yours alone. Meditating on a porch and living in Midtown Vienna are two extremes of what it could mean to succeed. Ask yourself if you are happy where you are, right here, right now and what you really crave. Some of my friends back home seem like they are grappling two things right now: What it means to be successful (and work yourself to death) and where they want to live. I think it will be difficult for anyone to parse either until they reconfigure their definition of success into something more personal. Working my ass off somewhere versus slaughtering a pig in a little village are two commercial extremes of what it could mean to succeed. Until you establish your own definition, I think these will continue to feel inadequate to you. What does success mean to you? What do you really want? You are never stuck.

So, what do you want? Move to Vienna, too? Come and visit me. More specifically, what do you want right now? Look at your life; really examine it. Are you happy? Are you alone or with family? Are you stuck at work? Are you bored? Are you calm? Are you exhausted? Are you one step away from burnout or nuclear meltdown? Is the reality of this life crisp in your mind or more like a scene out of a sad movie? Do you want art, culture, artistical intercourse, Opera, entertainment, excitement? If you are finding it hard to answer these questions, I suggest you start to write or journal. It helped me immensely to list everything I want, then circle the things I desired the soonest. Then look at these words and link them together, considering the resources you will need to achieve some measure of them. Get literal: Are your goals related to a specific industry/company that operates out of a certain city? And if so, does that city conflict with any of your other goals? How do you feel? Have you felt any of these things before, and if so, how? My lists usually never go according to plan, but asking myself these questions helped me tap into my own desires, instead of looking to everyone else’s. Keep in mind that you can be successful and valid and fulfilled without ever leaving the country, state, or town you were born in.

These days, what does it mean if I woke up and craved the pace of my hometown? I would buy a train ticket and be home in four hours. Would I judge myself for returning to the place I was once so desperate to leave? No way. This is and always will be my Homebase. Where we live(d) and grew up is a large part of our identities, unpacking our thoughts about where we call home will always be a complex and deeply personal process. Am I successful? Is my life perfect? Nope. Far from it these days.

Sometimes, for some people, their most potent version of fulfillment cannot happen without a drastic life change. If you have those feelings, it is a matter of assessing how hard you want to work to make it happen, and sometimes, making peace with the fact that your other goals (porch/terrasse-sitting) might just have to wait a little. Listen to your gut and heart. Those organs will will tell you.

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