Pack (and Unpack) Wisely: Confessions of a serial transplant

main.jpgSo, Twin Cities, you think you’re pretty great with your high volunteer rates, your appeal to young professionals, and all your other chart-topping, quality-of-life rankings you’ve pulled in?  But where do you fall on the list of Best Cities for Transplants? Turns out, there isn’t such a list. Really, it’s subjective and unique to each transplant, so such a ranking may be flawed from the start.

The truth is, Twin Cities, you are pretty great. I’m guilty of the list-effect – I moved here in search of a robust nonprofit culture, rooted in progressive and organic organizing, professional in its volunteerism and appealing to young people who aren’t quite hipster, but want to pretend like they are for a couple years of their young lives. 

Even if another city would top a best-of list for transplants, laying down new roots can be a rocky process. In the past five years, I’ve lived in 11 states for no more than 6 months in a given state, and most recently moved from Indianapolis, IN. I’ve learned through my own ups and downs and have some advice for success to share with the new neighbors:

1. Set goals

If you’ve made the move here, you may have some kind of agenda. If not, what is it you want to accomplish in a year? Are there activities, organizations or events you think you’d like to be a part of? Putting a goal just outside your reach—but not too far that you can easily procrastinate—can help you take serious strides toward getting to know your new city.

I hope to enroll in graduate school within the next few years and while being so close to the Humphrey makes me drool, I’m just not ready for that commitment. So I instead enrolled in the University of St. Thomas Mini-MBA for Nonprofits. The semester-long night classes provide me with networking opportunities, classroom reorientation and an affordable way to brush-up on some nonprofit generals.

2. Show up

Sounds like a no-brainer, but getting where you want to be takes presence and participation. As networking guruLars Leafblad will tell you it’s all about showing up and speaking up.

As a hopeful young nonprofit professional, the first logical place I showed up last summer was a YNPN-TC happy hour. I liked my time enough that I attended another event, and soon was volunteering with their Membership and Communications Committee. In February, I was elected to the Board of Directors, accomplishing another goal I had set. It progressed simply because I kept showing up and kept speaking up, and now I’m looking for what’s coming up next.

3. Think about office culture

Having quit my job in order to relocate here, I spent last summer in a job search fury. One thing I did not prioritize in screening my potential employers and positions was the type of office culture and makeup I would be working in daily. While I was fortunate to find a great job at an amazing organization, I didn’t consider how much a built-in network of peers could influence my acclimation to a new city. A similar network has been a blessing for me in the past, and is something that I hope to find in my next position. 

4. Know yourself and your talents

I was really eager when I first moved here. I was signing up for all sorts of volunteer opportunities, going to meetings and events, handing out my personal business cards. But for all the buzz, I knew something was missing. I learned the slow and hard way that acclimation takes time; you can’t force something to fit. Take the time to consider how you want to spend your time and where your skills should best be spent.

5. Acknowledge what’s hard (but don’t complain)

They say breaking up is hard to do. I say making friends is hard to do. Perhaps it’s that other areas of life provide us built-in networks (work, sports, school, volunteerism, childhood, etc.), but nothing has been more difficult than making new friends. One of the most fruitful tactics has been connecting with friends of friends–it’s safe, easy, and most times Facebook does it for you. The tricky part is figuring out how to ask someone out on a friend date. There’s only so much that’s organic in the initial stages of friendship making. I’m still working on this piece of the transplantation, and I know I need to push myself and set more goals in this department. 

Transitions and transplantations are hard. But they’ll only be harder if you don’t acknowledge it, set some goals for yourself and be intentional about making the most out of your move to one of the best cities in our nation. Good luck!

Transplants: What other advice can help someone acclimate to a new city? Natives: What steps can you take to help new transplants find their way in the Twin Cities?

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