For those that don’t diligently follow me on social media (what are you even doing?), I spent the last month back East indulging in some educational pursuits. The philosophy major inside me hates to admit it, but I was in dire need of some hard skills. So, I found the shortest, most intense business program I could and crossed the country with a blazer and a pencil skirt and no idea what to expect.
After four weeks in a basement classroom, I have come out of the experience with improved excel skills, a vague understanding of corporate finance, and a slightly wrinkled pencil skirt. I also gained an immeasurable appreciation for where I live.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy the Northeast. Five years spent exploring the Adirondacks, Greens and Whites on foot and ski gave me an appreciation for wooded trails and alpine peaks. My time spent in its dozens of dispersed hamlets defined my sense of community, while the respective crunchy markets and farm-to-table dining has shaped my culinary philosophies. If it weren’t for the East, I wouldn’t understand rain, know how to run downhill, or have ever discovered cider donuts. For those reasons, I can dedicate parts of who I am to the region.
But despite all that–the love and the growth and the wooded trails and all–I could never fully feel at home there. Honestly, for a long time, I never fully felt at home anywhere (insert teenage angst here).
I wrote my college admissions essay on the many houses I’d lived in during my young life. Being from a family that has a propensity to regularly relocate, by the time I was applying to college I had lived in 16 houses across four different states, which included attending 2-3 elementary, middle, and high schools each. Going to college was going to be easy for me. I had moved so much by that point, it was just another school transfer.
But, one thing wouldn’t be easy: answering the question “Where are you from?”
Right as it was getting to be cool to be a gypsy soul, a citizen of the world, a resident of Earth, all I wanted was to be able to definitely express my hometown. I didn’t know what it took to truly be “from” somewhere, at what point I could actually call myself a local of Utah, Colorado, Washington, and/or Idaho–but I pretty much always wanted to identify with all of the above.
As I boarded my plane a month ago, I prepared myself for another round of evading the “from” question. Turns out, this time wasn’t all that hard. “I am from the West,” I explained. “And I live in Idaho.” Once we had worked through the difference between Iowa and Idaho, with a follow up of me not living in a potato field, my audience was generally quite pleased with my answer.
My answer also doubled as an explanation for why, in a sea of nantucket reds and boat shoes, I had shown up in a sweaty trucker hat and pair of Chacos. Despite the dirtbag getup, I came into the program with big business aspirations and real anxiety over reconciling the two. Turns out, I worried myself for nothing. Over the course of the next month, my education not only formed around the understanding of profit models and networking etiquette, but also how incredibly privileged I am to live the life that I do, where I do.
It struck me that, even in a group of immensely talented students from impressive backgrounds, my life experience–in skiing, in the mountains, on the trails–is not normal. Sometimes surrounding ourselves with so many rad people, who do rad things, can generally destroy our perception of our own radness. Getting out of that bubble gave me the opportunity to recognize just how exceptional a mountain life is, and, more importantly, that it doesn’t have to conflict with career ambition. In fact, it adds to it.
And I couldn’t wait to return to test that theory.
My love for the West culminated in my first moments back in the Salt Lake City airport. When I exited the plane, the first person I saw was a dusty stranger in a ball cap who seemed so happy to see me. I then encountered a couple of sunburned gals who just wanted me to “have a good one,” and an entire family rolling together in Salomon trail shoes. To my own surprise, I began to cry a little.
I began to cry a little, perhaps as a result of my 3 AM wakeup, but also because I felt a certain belonging that I have so long failed to pinpoint. At the foot of the mountains, in the bustle of the summer, amongst a flood of travelers, I felt like I had air to breathe, and space to fill. It wasn’t so much the particular location, but the particular feeling.
I was home.
I just thought that feeling was pretty neat. Maybe I’ll do something with it.