A Second Chance at Coming Home For The First Time

by @EricMartinRuiz

Earlier this month, my wife and I sold our house in Los Angeles and moved to the Central Valley in Northern California. For several years now, my wife and I had debated when not if we'd make the move. We were confident that NorCal was a ten-year play. But then 2020 happened. The challenging year, coupled with a layoff and a new job, forced us to reevaluate what was important for our family.

We'll always love Los Angeles (except for the traffic and annoying basketball fans.) Yet, the lifestyle we wanted for our little unit wasn't possible in the big city, given our circumstances, priorities, and long-term goals. Northern California, specifically the town of Ripon, has the combination of traits we for the next chapter of our lives.

Not only is the move an opportunity for our family to set roots, but personally, it's my second chance at coming home for the first time.

I grew up in Modesto, a few miles down the road from Ripon. I left the city for the first time in 2007 when I transferred to San Diego State University after receiving my A.A. from Modesto Junior College. I came back in 2010 as an idealistic, romantic, and arrogant college graduate. Like most Millenials, I harbored big hopes for life after university. I dreamed of the lucrative career, the sexy paycheck, and the status that came with the life I expected to graduate into. In fact, I was offered a full-time sales job weeks before I walked the stage. But I didn't want to stay in San Diego. I wanted to move home and intertwine my life with the community that raised me.

Much like Will Arnett's character in Arrested Development, I quickly realized I had made a huge mistake. The Modesto I wanted to return to no longer existed. I had romanticized and sterilized my hometown, stripping away the feelings of inadequacy and the curiosity that impelled me to move out in the first place. What was left was a city as an idea, not as a physical place. In some sense, nostalgia is nothing but optimism persevering (shout-out to Wandavision). But it also clouds our memory.

I was disappointed that the Modesto I thought I was coming back to wasn't actually there. To make matters worse, my hometown was still feeling the aftershock of the Great Recession. I had graduated into the worst job-market of my lifetime. Local employers like Save Mart, Gallo Winery, and Conagra Foods were cutting back on new hires. It was difficult to even get a call back for entry-level, seasonal work.

For better or for worse, men judge themselves on how and what they provide. My self-worth was tied to the job and work I could attain. When viewed through this anthropological lens, one can understand why I didn't have the highest opinion of myself. However, I failed to grasp that all of this was temporal. Sadly, I couldn't see past my circumstances, much less think strategically about opportunities. Because I could and I did find work. I had side-gigs and part-time jobs.

However, instead of welcoming the work with humility and gratitude, I failed to appreciate the opportunities. I was satisfied with doing the bare minimum. I never got fired or dismissed, but I fell incredibly short of what I could have done if I had made a full effort. I didn't yet understand that it's not always the specific opportunity but instead what you make of the opportunity that determines success.

I was too immature, too arrogant, too reactionary to see that I was standing in my own way. The recession in and of itself was challenging, and my bad attitude was adding to my problems. I wasn't just struggling to find meaningful work and, more importantly, meaning in my work; I was struggling in my personal life, too. Since I wasn't happy with where I was in life, I didn't feel worthy of the love and support from those closest to me. My mom once sat me down and told me that this would pass and that I should be grateful for my health and education. She was kind and supportive in a way she hadn't been in decades. But I pushed her and other family members and friends away.

I also killed any budding romantic relationships. How could I love someone else if I didn't love myself? On the one hand, this dissatisfaction was a hint that I was capable and demanded more of myself. Without the proper guidance from mentors and/or the right attitude, this dissatisfaction and unhappiness can spiral out of control. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself caught in a self-destructive cycle.

In early 2012, I was charged with a DUI. Almost 18 months after moving back, the litany of bad decisions and poor judgment finally caught up with me. The homecoming I had fantasized about during my last year at SDSU had turned into a nightmare., and it was essentially my fault.

Ironically, just a few weeks before I was pulled over into the Target parking lot, I had made the decision to clean up my act and to move back out of Modesto. I more or less realized the kind of work I wanted wasn't available in my hometown, so I broadened my search to the Bay Area. A friend of a friend who lived near San Jose in the heart of Silicon Valley graciously offered me his spare bedroom. He told me I didn't have to pay rent until I found a job. By this point, I had been humbled enough to recognize an opportunity.

I left quietly, no social media announcement, no long-winded blog post. After an almost two-year decay, my withering homecoming came to an end. I'd be lying if I said I was confident with my new station in life. I took an internship at a startup for $40,000. Two years prior, I had turned down an offer for a full-time sales role in San Diego that paid $45,000 plus a sales bonus. It took me two years to appreciate what was right in front of me.

More importantly than professional success, I found maturity and perspective. I learned personal responsibility and took agency over my  life. I'm back again. Only not as a 22-year-old idealistic millennial. Instead, I'm a 33-year husband and father. As future NBA Hall of Famer Stephen Curry said, I still have a lot to accomplish, but nothing to prove.

I hope I get it right this time.