I cried almost every night when I found out. I didn’t want go. I love to travel, but my feet were firmly planted in Texas soil. There is an unmatched pride that Texans have, and it felt like a betrayal to leave my home state. But in 2008, duty called, and despite my best efforts, moving trucks took my entire life a thousand miles away to the shores of Jacksonville.
I wish I could tell you that the sun and the sand instantly warmed my heart, but that would be a lie. My new home and I got off to a rough start. I arrived nine months pregnant and alone waiting for my husband to finish training another thousand miles away. For three weeks, I lived in fear that I would go into labor without him. I had no friends. I had no job. I had no idea where I was. I had no idea who I was anymore. The only thing I had were weekly appointments with my OB and boxes that needed unpacking in a small rental house I had seen once on a house-hunting trip months before. Looking back, this move (and the first couple years here, if I’m honest) would become one of the lowest points of my life. As is the case with struggles, it was also the dawn of something new and great I created in this place I didn’t initially want to be.
As I celebrate 10 years here in the Sunshine State, I am grateful and shocked to be filled with Jax pride. I want to encourage all transplants to take heart, because Jax can be your home sweet home if you let it. Starting a new life no matter where is difficult, but y’all, it is doable. Now that tough stuff is in my rearview mirror, I want to extend a helping hand to those of you in the transplant trenches.
Be Brave… This the most essential trait of a transplant. I am not one to sugarcoat things, so let me give it to you straight. You are going to be the girl who walks into a room without knowing a soul, and it won’t be just be a one-time thing. Figure out what scares you the most about it, acknowledge it, and get over it. Once I drove myself across town to a moms’ night out I found online, walked into a pizza place and sat down among a group of 10 total strangers. I took an empty chair, introduced myself, and guess what? These women probably thought I was weird, but they knew I was gutsy. I didn’t meet my best friend that night, but I had a belly full of yummy pizza and some interesting conversation which was much better than crying my eyes out in my bedroom like I had done so many nights before.
Show Up… Whether you see an event on social media or someone extends an invitation to you, you gotta start showing up. Is it scary? Yes. Is it awkward? Totally. That is the worst part though, I promise. Jax Moms Blog wasn’t even born yet, so I didn’t have half the opportunities that you do. We offer events and neighborhood groups designed to reach people just like me back in the day. Moms just “get” other moms. It is so easy to find common ground because we have so many similar struggles, kids the same age, pre-kids lives, etc. Sure, it’s a little like dating, but you’ll find your mommy match in no time.
Just Takes One… I can’t tell you when, and I can’t tell you where, but I can guarantee if you keep showing up, you will find a friend. If I’ve learned anything from this move, it’s that it only takes one friend to make you feel like yourself again. I met mine at a local MOPS meeting. I took a seat at a random table, and she introduced herself first. We hit it off because we both had two girls around the same age. Fast forward a couple weeks, she invited me to her workout class. That class forever changed my life. I found my best friends there. That group of women challenged me to dream again, to run the Boston Marathon, and my social calendar filled up with playdates left and right. A couple years later because of her friendship and influence, I even became a successful small business owner. All because I showed up.
Unplug… We are only human. Some days it is cathartic to wallow in social-media self pity. Have a moment, make it snappy, then repeat after me, “I solemnly swear not to fall victim to the social media lies that state my new life stinks because I don’t have a lot to post yet, and my hometown friends are leading their best lives without me.” It will sting to see your tribe hanging at your favorite places with your favorite people. If you waste your time investing in sadness, you’ll miss an opportunity to find happiness with a new friend and a new place here. Have a moment when you need it, but make it snappy. You have a new life to live, and it is isn’t inside a screen!
Jacksonville really is an ideal place to live. It’s a growing city with strong communities within that give it the feel of a small town. The coffee shop down the street knows me by name, and for a double-name girl that means something — love you Bold Bean at the beach! Chances are I’ll run into someone I know every time we go out to eat. On the flip side, we can see the Jags play at a huge NFL stadium, shop at Nordstrom, and all hail the IKEA that opened last fall. The best part is if we don’t have something, it is coming. Local businesses are loved and even Forbes magazine says Jax is where it is at! Home will always be home wherever that may be for you. Just know that Jacksonville welcomes you and hopes you’ll make the most of your time here. You never know, you may end up staying here like me and loving it more every day.