I was once allergic to routine. It felt threatening, something that would trap me and prevent me from living my life fully. The rigidness of routine meant no spontaneous lunch plans with friends, no impulsive weekend trips to New York City, no time to stroll on a new path without knowing where it would take me.
It meant confinement to the hustle and bustle, instead of the slow exploration of quiet moments.
After all, it was by breaking routine and shaking up my life that I learned who I was— I replaced daily library cramming sessions at UNC with nightly dancing in ruin bars in Budapest; I ditched my everyday walks through Chicago’s snow-heaped sidewalks for walks in the local market in India.
Breaking the comfort of routine allowed me to explore.
But I’ve since discovered the utility of routine. Only through small habits and daily manageable increments can I reach my goals. It’s the banality of routine that gets shit down.
Realizing how long I’ve been “trapped” back in the U.S. is a bit surreal. The wait to escape often feels cumbersome. A lot of people suggested I use my time to travel around. I did a bit of this—visiting friends/family in the North East and galavanting off to Mexico. I’m about to head to Nashville and then Chicago for my remaining time in the U.S. This means leaving N.C. for good.
But, interestingly, I’ve mostly coped with this wait through routine.
Hometown Hero Routine
I looked forward to going to bed early because I looked forward to getting up early: usually between 6:00 am or 6:30 am.
There is something so special about walking downtown at 7 a.m. to Cup-A-Joe where I’d sit outside, watching the sunrise, having a black coffee and a blueberry score (or pumpkin bread) while reading and journaling.
I started to notice other people’s routines. One of the employees would usually arrive around 7:30 and momentarily tie his little dog outside. Sometimes, members from my gym would come on Fridays after the 6:30 am class. Always, the same man would sit outside on one of the picnic tables with his bible greeting everyone.
I eventually started talking to him. We had some interesting conversations about China, how technology has shaped our neurology, and what it means to be a good person. He even lent me a book (which I still haven’t started).
Then I’d walk through the sleepy town to Broadreach for the 8:30 class. The morning is quiet so I have time to listen to podcasts and or meditate.
My 8:30 class became the highlight of my day. I had planned to just show up back in Hillsborough, keep my head down, get my workouts in, and get back to Malaysia ASAP. But, as I do, I accidentally fell in love with everyone there.
If I listed everyone’s unique personalities and quirks, the entire blog would be about my gym. But, honestly, there is something so special about having a good gym group and saying goodbye this morning was difficult and also full of all kinds of silliness. Every morning, I knew I’d get a great workout, be inspired to try my best, and have at least a few launghs in the process.
I wasn’t expecting to make the physical and mental progress I made this summer. I definitely wasn’t expecting to laugh this hard before, during, and after all my workouts. But I guess that’s what happens when you show up every day and have an amazing crew and friends/coaches that push you.
Some days I would meet a childhood friend by the slides in the park after Crossfit and we’d hike Eno Mountain. Other days, I’d go to a cafe to work or just sit on the front porch and work from home.
Most evenings, I walked along the river and do the mountain trail while listening to messages from my friend Molly or an audiobook.
On my walks by the river, I’d often see the same woman pushing the stroller or the same man running. I knew what time the train would come and that all the kids would take off to stand under it while it went over the bridge.
A Sense of Belonging
A funny thing happens when you have these routines. I always considered that it was helpful in getting stuff accomplished, helping me achieve my goals. But what I didn’t predict was how it ties you to a place and gives you a sense of belonging.
It’s funny–my hometown is so different than when I left it 13 years ago. It isn’t home anymore nor has it felt like “home” in many years. But now, I almost feel like I established the same “new” sense of home I established in Beijing or Kuala Lumpur in Chandigarh—little details that make you feel part of something bigger and connected to the community. Except this time something I built instead of something given to me at birth.
That being said, it’s time to go. When you recognize a chapter is ending, I think it’s wise to move away from a good thing while it is still good instead of drawing it out past its expiration date.
And so, I’ll be city-hopping until Malaysia gives me my green light!
So long, North Carolina. You’ll be cherished and missed.