This article goes out to the newbees. The just-got-a job-in-Jax people. The dreamers. The dazed. The confused. The just graduated from college. The ready for changers.  The should I stay or should I go-ers…

So, welcome, new North Floridian! Take your coat off, because 1. it’s hot. And 2. you’re going to stay awhile. Don’t think so? Ah, well, let me take a moment to convince you. As I was pulling out of my driveway and headed to Florida for a summer internship, I didn’t really think that my life was about to drastically change. With my belongings packed, I waved goodbye, and left. I never thought that would be my last time living at that house, permanently. Nor did I think I was leaving behind who I was … permanently.

Many people picture love as this moment where fireworks go off, sparks fly, your heart skips a beat and things just feel right. Well, maybe the movies over exaggerate it a little, but nobody ever told me this moment didn’t necessarily have to happen with a person.  What about a state or city? Nobody ever told me this could happen with new hobbies, new environments and new friends. In my case, this happened with all of those things for me, right here in North Florida.

Ocean Dive

North Florida. Seems kind of like a random place to love, right? Well, here’s why you should find love here, too.

1. You can be whomever you want.
Whether you had an awesome life back at home, a crummy past, or “not bad” but “not great” life, it’s your time to start fresh. Want to be a surfer? You can be that. Want to be an adventurer? You can be that, too. Want to simply be absolutely awesome? You can definitely do that. Nobody knows you here yet, and that’s the best part of all. It’s up to you who you are going to be. You don’t need approval or validation from anyone. And guess what, a beautiful thing happens when you stop seeking approval and validation from other people, you find it. Your life is going to change whether you are ready or not, might as well be who you’ve always wanted to be.

2. It’s a tourist town without tourists.
Jacksonville is awesome because it has all the perks of tourist town without fanny packs, not that I have anything against fanny packs. You have the beach, awesome night life and so much more. Maybe we don’t have a theme park, but we have St. Augustine. St. Auggie is technically a tourist town, but it’s so cute and fun that you kind of just forget. The Jacksonville/ North Florida area has more restaurants and fun eateries than I have ever experienced in my whole life. I have been here a year and haven’t even put a dent in my “to go out to eat at” list.

3. There’s plenty of opportunity.
The North Florida/ Jacksonville area has a great job market. Part of the reason I didn’t go back to my home in Michigan is because I found such incredible opportunity here. There was slim to nothing for me in Michigan. But suddenly, Jacksonville showed promise. Maybe you’re similar to me. Perhaps you’re here because you needed a new job. If a door closed, that’s because what’s behind it probably isn’t meant for you anymore. Maybe, just maybe, North Florida is your window. Jacksonville has arguably the most diverse economy, the lowest unemployment rate of the major metros in the state and the second highest average salary of the major metro areas in the state. Be thankful for those closed doors, because they unknowingly gave you wings to fly. Not to mention, the connections I established helped me build a name for myself. And even if my connections leave Jax, the information they provided for me will always remain.

3. Nothing is more than five hours away.
Want to go to Disney World? Only two and a half hours.  Want to go to Tampa? Just three hours. Want to go to Miami? Okay, that’s a hike, but five hours really isn’t terrible. My point is, you can take a killer weekend trip without costing you an arm and a leg. You have the ability to DRIVE to some of the coolest places in the country that some people will fly across the U.S. and pay hundreds of dollars for.  You can take a vacation without ever really leaving, and if you ask me, that’s one heck of a perk.

4. Surf and Skate culture.
Growing up, I have always been a Tomboy. I remember once when I was little, I bought myself a skateboard, and my parents promptly took it away. They always kept me in soccer, which is totally cool and all, but I knew deep down that there were other hobbies that were meant for me. Now that I have finally made that move to Florida, I allowed myself to bring that side of me back out. I started to surf and skate here and I realized that, holy moly, I am actually good at this! And, it just feels right! Here, there is nobody to hold me back. I allowed myself to dress the way I have always wanted, without judgment from my people in my hometown thinking, “ That’s not you.” Whether or not you want to surf or skate, allow yourself to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.  The only person holding you back from yourself is you.

5. Beach life is awesome.
I never thought the day would come when “going to the beach” didn’t mean packing up for a trip across the state. Something SO great about Jacksonville is that we so many local beaches to choose from. Jacksonville Beach, Neptune beach, Ponte Vedra, Atlantic Beach, St Augustine, are all within an hour. A day at the beach won’t take you forever to get to. Not to mention, I use the beach for so much more than lazy beach days. I surf there ( best thing ever). I go there to read. I go there to think. I jog. I watch the sunrise. I go to the beach just because I can.  In fact, I practically live there. But I am not one bit ashamed of that  because I love it there. I look forward to going to the beach every single day. And I’m telling you right now, once you get the itch, you will too.

6. You made the right choice.
Every decision you have ever made ultimately landed you exactly where you are right now. So, even if it was a “wrong decision” at the time, it might have placed you precisely where you need to be. No matter how much you battle in your mind if you made the correct decision, or if you should turn around and run away, no matter what kind of choice you made to stay here in Florida, it was the correct decision. For all you know, North Florida isn’t your final destination. It’s a stepping stone to get you from point A to point G. But, while you’re here, stay awhile and enjoy it. Figure out who you are. Find love with places, personalities, foods, culture, new music and new hobbies. Discover your spiritual side, surf the ocean, feel the breeze of the sea on your face and immerse yourself in North Floridian culture. Find love in Florida, and take those loves with you wherever you may go. Remember, if worst comes to worst, you can always go back.

The person you are right now is going to be a different person than you will be in a few months. I can almost guarantee it. As I reflect on my year in Florida, it’s insane to think about who I was when I first arrived here, and who I am now. I’ve changed, and I am proud of my evolution. Sometimes you find yourself in a season of change, and it will come in an as fast as the wind. So buckle up, get out there, and reinvent yourself. Discover who you are. Be independent.  Learn new hobbies. Meet new people. Be the person you have always wanted to be. Remember, you are young, so now is the time. To truly live, we must be willing to take risks. You might just discover yourself in the process.

No, I didn’t fall in love with Florida.I wouldn’t say I fell because by definition, that would imply that I rapidly moved downward. Instead, I found love IN Florida, and I am gradually making my way to the top.  Now, it’s your turn.