A One-Way Ticket to Oklahoma City

Just over two weeks ago, I moved back to Oklahoma after four years spent in New York City. Like many changes, it brings mixed feelings. The move makes some friendships easier to maintain and others more difficult; some opportunities easier to pursue and others less probable. It’s hard to complain when choosing between two good things, but that doesn’t make the loss of one of them any easier. I’m not the first to leave New York and won’t be the last to lament the loss of a home that offers 3-star Michelin restaurants and 24-hour Seamless delivery, the Metropolitan Opera and grungy Lower East Side underground concerts, or fashion icons in Soho and the pigeon man in Washington Square. It’s a city for anyone and everyone, but can paradoxically be one of the hardest cities to find your place. For me, it was a city that brought great personal change and one of the most difficult things about moving is that I finally felt close to finding mine.

The thought of moving during a time of personal development brought about a host of anxieties. Not the least of which was the fear that I would revert to an older version of myself; that the progress I had made would be undone or that it would stop in its place. My time in New York had been transformative and I was scared that it would be for naught if I were to leave prior to some ultimate metamorphosis. It reminded me of a talk I had heard from Dan Gilbert, a psychologist at Harvard, where he discussed the “end of history illusion.” It’s a common belief among people that they have just become the person they are meant to be and will be for the rest of their lives. As we go through life, we all have experiences and events that change the way we think about the world. They shape our values, our priorities and who we choose to spend time with. For me, it’s after the biggest changes when it’s easy to stop and think, “ok this is who I am,” and feel confident that it will remain that way. What Gilbert goes on to explain is that there is some truth to the belief that you are coming into your own. The pace of change slows as you get older; you are more like your 30-year-old self when you are 40, for example, than you are like your 20-year-old self when you are 30. However, we consistently underestimate the amount of change we will undergo when looking forward 10 years. So when I fear that I left something on the table in New York, or that I was this close to becoming my true self, it’s a helpful reminder that the transformation is an ongoing journey.

However, I would be lying if I were to say I didn’t think the city itself was a catalyst for beneficial change. Even if I do accept that meaningful progress will continue throughout my life whether I expect it to or not, one’s environment surely has a significant impact on the nature of the change that you undergo. When I think of the first 26 years of my life lived in Oklahoma, I can’t help but think of the homogeneity of the people around me. The multitude of ideas and belief systems that are active in a city like New York was an incredibly refreshing change. It’s important to be challenged by those who don’t share your worldview and it’s healthy to be engaged in debate. Echo chambers rarely lead to meaningful progress and I knew I risked moving back to one if I left New York. As I considered the loss of diversity that would result from a move back to Oklahoma, I noticed an article from FiveThirtyEight that discussed what “normal” America looks like. It was a rebuttal to a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed written by Jim VandeHei claiming that the political establishment was out of touch with mainstream America, and he mentioned visits to Oshkosh, WI and Lincoln, ME as examples of mainstream, or “normal,” America. FiveThirtyEight crunched the data to discover what metropolitan areas actually were the most similar to the U.S. overall based on age, education, and race and ethnicity. The whole article is worth a read if you’re interested; it shows that what many people believe to be real America is actually closer to 1950s America (http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/normal-america-is-not-a-small-town-of-white-people/). More relevant to me was that they ranked Oklahoma City fourth on the list for most representative of the U.S. overall. This really hit home that the echo chamber I had placed myself in for the first 26 years of my life was largely self-selected. Oklahoma City is far more diverse than I give it credit for and the only real barrier for being exposed to dissimilar ideas is one’s own choice to do so, whether consciously or not.

All of this is not to say I don’t greatly value the relationships I have formed in Oklahoma or that they can’t be effective in spurring personal growth. Just as I have changed, my friends have had their own experiences that have shaped them. And in my view, the trust that you have with old friends allows the ability to glean far more insight from their individual experience. It is my hope that in moving back, I am able to reestablish closer relationships with old friends and find ways together that we can provide a positive impact on the community at large. Despite my fears and anxieties of returning to Oklahoma, I am excited about the opportunity to reestablish a life here, discovering how best to utilize a broader skill set and a continually evolving sense of self. If you are reading this and thinking of something that would be great to get involved in, please get in touch. And if you just haven’t heard from me in a while, reach out and we can see how much has changed and what always seems to remain the same.


4 thoughts on “A One-Way Ticket to Oklahoma City

  1. I love Gilbert’s messages! But yes, I often find myself thinking the same thing as you (echo chamber) as I have lived in Oklahoma my entire life. I live in Tulsa now, which is so much different compared to the small town I grew up in. Anyway, welcome back!


  2. Austin Beeler says:

    Welcome Back, Ryan. Glad I ran into you this morning, and hope to see you around more often. Let’s catch up soon, would love to hear about your last several years and travels.


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