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I’ve lived in New Orleans for the past three years. I leave on Wednesday.
Writing this post has been a struggle. I want to express how much New Orleans means to me, how much it has shaped me — I’m a much different person now than I was when I arrived here in December of ’07 — but I find the task to be overwhelming. I’m not sure where to start.
But I guess I can look back and describe who I was when I arrived in the Crescent City three years ago. Yeah, let’s start there.
What brought me to NOLA
They always react one of two ways. The person I just met realizes I’m from Ireland and asks what brought me to New Orleans.
“I actually came here because I was a big fan of the basketball team, the Hornets.”
I either get a blank stare or a laugh.
“No, seriously. That’s why I came.”
Eventually they believe me, but it takes some convincing.
All I wanted to do when I moved to New Orleans was watch and write about my favorite sports team, get drunk and hook up with random American girls. I was the sports-beer-boobs guy, armed with a foreign accent, and that identity suited me just fine for about a year.
Then came the vegetables.
I decided to do a 30-day trial of vegetarianism in January of ’09. I was curious to see what the diet could do for me. As it turns out, it blew my mind and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I came to realize that things looked a lot different from the inside looking out than they did from the outside looking in, and I wondered what else I might be missing out on due to social taboos or my own preconceptions.
I started to question assumptions and pursue growth opportunities more consciously. I joined Toastmasters and some meetup groups. I became an avid reader and found myself having frequent conversations about personal development.
Eventually I came to realize that I wanted to help other people grow like I had been growing, hence this blog.
The past 7 months have been the best of my life. Back in April I made a firm decision about the next chapter of my life and opted to make the most of my time left in New Orleans.
It’s amazing what happens when you give yourself a deadline like that. Your focus intensifies, your priorities become clear. It’s much easier to say no to projects you’re not passionate about and people you don’t care for, making more room for real passions and friends.
Fear also takes a back seat. You figure you’re leaving town soon anyway so you might as well try stand up comedy or tell that person what you really think. And then you find that life becomes a lot more fun when you’re taking those chances and speaking those truths, and you resolve to keep doing those things even when you’re not getting ready to leave a place.
Only in New Orleans
Many of the lessons I’ve learned these past three years I could have learned elsewhere, maybe anywhere, but New Orleans has undoubtedly taken up residence in my soul and greatly influenced the person I’ve become.
The people I’ve met here — whether they be natives or immigrants like myself — are a special breed. They’re fiercely proud of this city, and the rest of the country doesn’t quite understand why. Hurricane Katrina was a terrible thing, but a silver lining is the abundance of kindhearted, goal-oriented people who arrived in the aftermath, people who wanted to help, people who wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves.
I can’t claim to have come here for those same charitable reasons, but they seemed to have rubbed off on me. Our environment shapes us, whether we like it or not. New Orleans and its people have made me a more caring person.
Living here has also helped kill my attachment to material things. My friend Justin refers to the omnipresent cracked sidewalks and peeling paint in New Orleans as “the beauty in decay.” He’s right. It is beautiful. There are lots of things in this city that are old and decaying and lacking actual functionality, but that imperfection is perfect in its own way. Efficiency and getting things done are not the priority here. That’s a gift and a curse, sure, but it’s refreshing to find a place like this in a world where everything is getting faster, cheaper and less personal. Life in New Orleans truly is about the journey, not the destination.
Loyola University also deserves special mention for having helped me become the person I am. It’s no secret that I was delighted to quit my web design job there on November 19th. But that doesn’t mean I disliked my job. (As I wrote in a previous post, I liked it just fine, it’s just that I’m looking for love.)
I’m extremely grateful for my time working at Loyola. I was looking for a job in New Orleans for months and suffered dozens of rejections before Loyola stepped up and took a chance on me back in 2007. Working there for three years helped sharpen my web design skills and I learned a lot about being part of a team and prioritizing. As 9-to-5 jobs go, I don’t think I could have had it any better. I also admire what Loyola stands for. Their focus is on educating the whole person and teaching students how to teach themselves. They believe in diversity and service. It’s a school I’d be proud to send my kids to.
As I leave this city, I leave behind a lot of community. I’ve run in many different circles. I have friends from my days of basketball obsession. I have friends from the Loyola community. I have friends from Toastmasters. I have veggie friends, Art of Living friends and Law of Attraction friends. I have Saints-fan friends, CouchSurfing friends and improv comedy friends. I have friends of friends who have become friends, and I have still more friends who are impossible to categorize.
I’m grateful for them all. Those people have made my life better, and I hope I’ve been able to return the favor in some small way.
I came to New Orleans very much looking to make a positive difference in my own life. I leave looking to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
Thank you, New Orleans. I’m a better person for having met you.