I am not a native born Phoenician. I’m a transplant, just like many others who call the Valley home. I was born and raised in Illinois. I’m not talking Chicago either, which is what most people think when they hear Illinois. Oh no, I’m from small town America. There were 100 people in my high school graduating class, our town population was 4,600 and my cheerleading coach was also my boyfriend’s mom.
4H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) were a huge deal in my town. The county fair was where you spent your summer nights dressed in daisy dukes and cowboy boots. I have memories of walking to the edge of town and looking at cornfields and cows. All along, I was yearning and dreaming of the horizon that stretched far beyond those fields.
For me, I never felt like I could call that small town ‘home’. My family moved there after my parents divorced so I had to make new friends when I started junior high. Like most small towns, mine was a tight knit community. Everyone knew everybody and their business. The kids in my class had known each other since preschool. I found it hard to fit in and even harder to find a group of friends who accepted me and my family dynamic.
To say I was thrilled for high school graduation would be an understatement. I finally had the chance to set off on my own and see the world. Well, more of Illinois since I stayed in state to go to college. But college was a turning point for me. I joined a sorority, I made friends, I was exposed to thinking that challenged the status quo and I began to form opinions of my own instead relying on the ones imposed by my family and my youth.
The four years I spent in college were some of the best times of my life; the cherry on top was meeting my husband! Even though, I loved college, all good things must come to an end and I proudly collected my Bachelor’s degree with plans to start my first job and head to a new frontier. To the Chicago suburbs I went!
The next two years I spent trying to adult since that’s what I was told happens once you’re no longer in college. I was working full time, enjoying being closer to a few of my good friends and I even got engaged. Life was great but I still felt as though something was absent. I still longed to have a sense of independence that I hadn’t yet encountered.
When I graduated, I wanted to stay relatively close to my grandfather, who was 90, and my younger brothers who viewed me as a second mom. Emotionally, my family still depended on me even though I had flew the nest and began a life of my own. My mom had always worn her heart on her sleeve and I remember feeling like I needed to be the rock in our family to get us through hard times; like when my grandma passed away and during her second divorce. This pattern had emerged at some point in my childhood and persisted well into my twenties.
When my husband and I planned a trip to Arizona for Thanksgiving, I never thought it would turn into an impulse decision to move across the country. One minute we were eating turkey outside on the patio, amazed at how beautiful it was. The next, we were calling our parents to tell them my husband was offered a job and that we intended to move before year’s end. I remember feeling scared and feeling like I was abandoning my family. Was I making the wrong decision by giving up everything to take a chance on a new life in a state I had only visited once? Would I be happy there? Would I miss my friends and family?
Moving to Arizona was hands down the best decision I have ever made for myself. For the first time in my life, I felt free. I was able to do what I wanted, when I wanted, without feeling guilty for putting my own happiness before someone else’s. I became happier, more carefree and appreciated living life in the moment. Sure, I miss my friends and family, but I still love them and they still love me. I’m so thankful I took a chance and put myself first. I love this state, my life here and these amazing Arizona sunsets! It feels good to finally be home.