Houston gets a bad rap. People loooove to complain about Houston if they live here and criticize it if they don’t. And you know what? I get it. I’ve been there. I have looked at I-45 and thought it was quite possibly the ugliest place in the world. I’ve been trapped at home because of flooding after a tropical storm and regretted not going to the grocery store ahead of time. I’ve been drenched in sweat walking from my front door to my car. I’ve traveled to beautiful places and asked myself, “Why do I live in a concrete jungle?”
But here’s the thing about Houston, or any place you live, really: you will always find what you look for. (I didn’t make this up, by the way. It’s called confirmation bias.) If you’re looking for evidence that a place is terrible, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for beauty wherever you are, you’ll find it. You just might need to adjust your definition of beauty.
Having lived both a short drive from the beach on the West Coast and also an hour from the Rocky Mountains, my transition to Houston was a little rough. I had certain things I thought I “needed” from the place I lived–proximity to outdoor activities, a walkable neighborhood, politically-progressive neighbors. Looking back, these factors were a reflection of my own narrow definition of myself and what I thought I needed to do to be living a “good life.”
The Place I’m In
Luckily for me, I’ve always prided myself on having an internal locus of control. I have always admired people who manage to live meaningful lives despite difficult situations. If Malcolm X could educate himself and set the stage for his future achievementss while in prison, if Viktor Frankl could pursue a life of meaning in a concentration camp, then surely I could somehow live an authentic life even in the suburbs of Houston, Texas.
And so I decided that I want to have the personal integrity to be myself and be happy as myself wherever I may be. I started to challenge my narrow definition of what it takes to have a “good life,” and instead began to ask myself who I want to be (rather than what I want to do). I let go of those old ideas of myself and my life, let go of the resentment I had towards Houston for not being what I thought it “should” be. I began to see a therapist and am now working to identify my own core beliefs about myself so I can improve my own understanding of myself.
And through all of this, I’ve discovered the hidden beauty of Houston–a vibrant energy, an enduring spirit of entrepreneurship, a sense of discovery. Houstonians have come from all over the world and pride themselves on their independence, and so they are comfortable when other people may be different from themselves. They are overwhelmingly friendly, kind, and generous. There is an abundant food culture, thriving museums, countless music venues. And the weather–the extreme summer heat and humidity and hurricanes– gives us at least one thing we can always talk about.
Do I go hiking every weekend? I do not. But I have developed a rich and rewarding yoga practice in its stead, which has awakened me to my own need for mindfulness and self-care.
Do I spend my days surrounded by people who agree with my every political and religious belief? I do not. But I have found new ways to connect with people and I am working towards fostering a sense of common humanity, which is sadly lacking in places like California and which has made me a more compassionate person.
By allowing myself to discover and embrace Houston, I’ve relaxed my own definition of myself. I no longer have a narrow understanding of who Lindsay Aarons is and what she “needs.” Instead, I focus on opening my heart to my current experience, and I am better for it.
If you can’t be in the place you love, love the place you’re in.
P.S. Houston is Inspired
While we’re on the subject, check out Anthony Bourdain’s episode of Parts Unknown that was filmed in Houston. His opening and closing segments brought tears to my eyes, and–though it sounds so cheesy–made me so proud to be both an American and a Houstonian.