Wherever You Go, There You Are

When I worked for a year as a barista at Starbucks, I had a supervisor who absolutely hated me. Lest you think this is another example of my penchant for exaggeration, I assure you that hate is the appropriate word. While I cannot claim to be blameless in the situation, I cannot understand what I did for her to routinely treat me as terribly as she did. I was often so shocked at her meanness that I was literally speechless. After one particularly bad interaction, I remember her telling me, “I know I might seem like a b*tch, but this is just who I am at work. I’m not like this in real life.”

I was stunned into silence until I got home and started processing what she said. I’m not used to flat-out contradicting my supervisors, but I knew I had to call it was it is—a lie. You don’t get to be one person at work and another “in real life.” Who you are at work is who you are. Who you are online, is who you are. Who you are on vacation, in the classroom, and when no one is watching— that is who you are.


Flash-forward several years after this incident and I had moved to Vermont for the summer and found myself in what felt like an entirely different life. My life in Burlington was unlike any other phase of my life- fleeting, solitary, wild, deep, and transformative. I enjoyed my chaplaincy work and colleagues at the hospital but I also found myself with more freedom than I’d had in a very long time. I had none of my normal social circles, responsibilities, or routines and it made me feel like someone else entirely. When I talked to my friends from home, I jokingly called myself Summer Laura because I was so different than Normal Laura. We laughed as we wondered what Europe Laura might be like.

But as it turns out, there is no such thing as “Summer Laura” or “Europe Laura.”  There is just one Laura and there’s no getting rid of her.


The famous phrase, “wherever you go, there you are” keeps coming to mind. All my jokes about who Europe Laura might be made me forget that traveling halfway across the world doesn’t actually change who I am. For better or worse, I brought all of myself to Prague. I brought the side of me that loves adventure and can make friends quickly, but I also brought the side of me who finds it easier to plan and dream about what’s next instead of enjoying the moment I’m living in. I brought the Laura whose unearned confidence can take her around the globe and the Laura whose fear of vulnerability keeps her from the care and friendship she so desperately wants.

It turns out that Europe Laura is just regular Laura who happens to be living in Europe. With all the free time I now have, I’m forced to look myself in the mirror without the excuses of “I’m just so busy/ tired/ stressed/ etc.” I’ve had to accept the irritating, embarrassing, and unseemly parts of Real Laura as well as the undeniable good in me. I suspect I’m not the only person who has gone through this. I think we all have the voice inside our heads whispers “if only...” and “when...”

If I lived in a different place...

If I didn’t have this job...

If I wasn’t in school... 

When my kids move out of the house...

When I find The One...

When the news finally slows down...

then things will be different. Then I will be different.

I wish that were the case. I wish all it took was a change of scenery to change who we are, but I haven’t found that to be so. You don’t need to move to Europe to come to terms with the fact that the Real You is always along for the journey. To be sure, a good vacation, sabbatical, or escape from a harmful situation can be truly life-changing, but for the most part, if we want to be different than who we are today, we just have to do the work.


I am a big believer in transformation. I don’t know how you could be a Christian and not be. I am endlessly amazed at stories of people whose lives are unrecognizable from how they used to be. Stories of recovering addicts or formerly incarcerated individuals who have changed their lives are often described as “no longer the people they once were.” It’s tempting to use that language, but I wonder if there’s cause for hope precisely because they are still the same person they were when they lied, stole, cheated, and abused. Hope of transformation isn’t a hope of becoming someone new; it’s a hope that all of who you are is capable of being transformed into the best version of you truly are. It’s the first law of thermodynamics— energy can be neither created nor destroyed— only transformed. Our hope is not to destroy who we are in hope of becoming someone better, it’s a hope that even the worst parts of us are capable of transformation.

As a Christian, I see transformation happening by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit at work. Call it what you want, but I don’t think transformation is possible on our own. The most powerful story of transformation is of Saul on the road to Damascus. Despite the name change, I don’t believe Paul became an entirely different person. The gifts of leadership, passion, debate, and bravery were already inside him. Transformation meant that his life and his actions were for good instead of harm but Paul was still himself- all the good and even all the ugly that surely surfaced from time to time. But Paul’s story is not the only reason that I have hope that I have room for growth and perhaps even radical transformation in my future. I also have hope because of my own story.


When I look back at who I was as I teenager I both groan and marvel. I groan when I think about terrible things I said, hurtful opinions I was convinced were right, and the rash impulsivity of High School Laura. But I also have to marvel at how all of the personality traits that I value most in myself were present then— the fight for justice, unrelenting honestly, boundless energy, and aptitude for leadership. They may have just been nuggets lying underneath the violent hot mess that I was, but they were there. When I feel like a completely different person than who I was, I remember this is what growth looks like. I am a far better version of myself than who I was 10 years ago, but I am still me. It’s like an ever-sharpening image coming into focus until the clearest, truest image is finally visible. I can’t wait to see who I will be 10 years from now. 

Wherever I go, there I am, so I might as well stop making excuses for behavior that I don’t like in myself and get to the hard and scary work change, growth and transformation. There’s no magic formula, no escape to somewhere new where the Best Laura will suddenly appear. There’s just the daily commitment to not spend my first and last moments of the day scrolling on my phone. The daily choice to choose to write instead of starting a new series to binge watch. The daily decision to choose gentle kindness instead of the need to prove how I’m right. It’s just the daily work.