That was going through my head one day in 2003 when someone told me I should go there. Our organization was sending young recent graduates there to work with young people. Go, work, live, play, he said, and it will be the best experience of your life. So I went. And I fell in love.
Sarajevo was everything I could have wanted. It was a city big enough to have everything one could need, but small enough to be conquered by a group of young people. There were so many neighborhoods, so many people, so much culture and complexity. I came to love that city and the people in it.
The only certainty in life is change.
So then came the day when we decided to move to another city. Our organization had decided to open a new location in Mostar, and we made the decision to be part of the new endeavor. It meant leaving the city we had come to love and making a new home in a new place.
After our move, we noticed some interesting things about our new location…
Mostar isn’t actually that hot. We used to think, “it’s so hot there”. We’d often see newspaper articles (in the local newspaper, of course) claiming it’s the hottest city in Europe. When we actually got down here, though, we realized it’s actually cooler on average than Atlanta, or Memphis, or anywhere in Florida — basically, anywhere else we’ve ever lived or visited (except Sarajevo).
Mostar is a lot like a small town. We used to think of it as a city, with different boroughs and different subcultures existing side-by-side. But we quickly learned that it operates more like a small town, with a much stronger local community that includes everyone. You can’t come and go without people noticing here.
Mostar isn’t really a tourist town. We always thought of Mostar as being synonymous with the Old Bridge. Soon after moving here, we realized that there is a very large part of town that Western tourists never see — and it functions just fine.
Change never ends up the way you thought it would be.
We were faced with two very interesting things. First, we missed our old home. We lived there for several years, and it had become a part of us in many ways. But we weren’t there anymore, and there wasn’t anything we could do to change that.
Second, our new town wasn’t the town we thought it was. It wasn’t worse or better — it just wasn’t what we thought it would be.
Change brings complexity.
For a while after our relocation, we thought of Sarajevo often. We miss the things we used to see every day, the people we used to talk to, the places we used to eat. But after a while, we realized that if we didn’t learn to love our new location, we would be robbing ourselves.
So, now that we are looking back at things from a new perspective, here are some things I’ve learned…
You can’t love something if you want it to be something else.
A thing, a person, a place… you have to love it for what it is. If you keep trying to say, “well, it’s not New York, but it’s got some theaters and a big park, so we can manage while we’re here,” then you’re probably never going to be able to really like that place. You’ll just be stuck in a state of continually comparing it to something else.
You can’t love a place if you aren’t there.
If you go away every chance you get, then there’s no doubt — your heart is probably somewhere else. You’ve got to spend some time there, and learn the good things and the great things that make other people love to live there.
You must accept the truth — that there is no “better”.
Conventional wisdom wants us to assign values to things and label things “good” or “bad”. And that’s a temptation we have, especially when we have to leave a place that we like. But the truth will always be more complex than that — our new location won’t be better or worse. It will be different. And if we don’t understand that difference, we won’t be able to fulfill our full potential there.