I moved back to Chicago a little over a year ago. And, as I’m coming up on my one year anniversary in my current apartment, I’m starting to wonder how long I will stay.
On one hand, change is exciting. I could move to a new neighborhood. Maybe (probably not) make new friends there. Try new things.
On the other hand, the work outpaces the return. I’d have to spend days finding an available place that met my constraints (location, size, price, etc). Then more time finding a replacement for my current lease. Not to mention moving and packing.
I’m getting anxious just thinking about it.
So, in my eyes, it’s easy to see the ROI of staying in the same spot: I save valuable time and don’t burden myself with the effort of learning the ins and outs of a new neighborhood.
This makes sense for me because I like my current living situation. It’s nice: it allows me to live below my means while sacrificing very little. It affords me freedom.
If you don’t like your current living situation, then it makes sense to stay put. However, if you’re simply looking to upgrade your lifestyle or get a change of scenery within your existing city, I’d encourage you to think twice about your decision.
That’s my stance on moving within your existing city: don’t do it, if you don’t have to. Find a place you can see yourself living in for 3+ years and stay there; enjoy the compounding effects of living in the same place.
Because, when you do, you can reap the benefits of community. It makes more sense to befriend your neighbors if you’re going to be around for years. All of sudden, you want to put in the effort to get to know your local barista or grocery store clerk. Maybe you walk around without headphones in and actually talk to the familiar faces you frequently see.
You start to behave as a member of something bigger than yourself, instead of a selfish individual, crammed into a concrete box with cool furniture to sleep on.
With that being said, there is a tremendous amount to be gained from changing your scenery. Especially in your early twenties, moving around can be a great chance to ditch habits you no longer find useful and double down on the ones you find important.
But you can’t get those benefits without a large scale move. For example, you can’t get this effect from moving from Lakeview to Wicker Park (in Chicago), but you can by moving from Chicago to Seattle or New York.
Even if you know you’ll end up back in your home city someday, there is a lot to be gained from living in another geographical region for a period of time. There is something beautiful that comes with a fresh start.
Because, when you move to a new city, you don’t really know anyone there. Sure, you may have a few acquaintances, but overall very few people will have preconceived notions about you.
This may seem scary, but is actually liberating. This affords you the opportunity to “reinvent” yourself. You can be who you’ve always wanted to be.
This sounds cheesy and cliche, I know. But I’m willing to bet that there are some hobbies, interests, or insecurities that you have that are suppressed due to your current identity within your existing friend group.
For me, this revolved around the usage of alcohol. As I got older, I started to see the diminishing returns of getting blackout drunk every weekend. But, for a lot of my friends, there was no other way to enjoy an evening out.
So, when we’d go out, I’d have genuine intentions of not drinking. But, one thing led to another, I’d get peer pressured into having 12 beers, and would wake up the next afternoon hungover and hating myself.
My existing friends had an identity of me: a guy who parties hard alongside them. And that was my identity for a number of years…plus, I had a lot of fun doing it.
But, I was ready for a change.
I no longer wanted to quell my social anxiety with booze. I was sick of wasting days being hungover and exhausted. I was tired of being held back by binge drinking.
And although my intentions were set for a number of years, I wasn’t able to break free from the habit of drinking when I went out. And I believe this was because I didn’t have a strong foundation for my new, sober identity.
I had no reference experience for going out sober. All I had were memories of me going out and trying to not drink, but being convinced (read: bullied) by my friends to do so instead.
That’s the amazing part about moving to a new city. The new friends you make haven’t categorized you yet. They don’t view you as someone who drinks or someone who doesn’t. So, when you go out with them and you tell them you don’t want a drink, they don’t pressure you.
And, if they do pressure you, it’s easier to say no because they don’t know you. You have no history with them, so it is not as hard to express your boundaries or walk away from their negativity.
Which makes it much easier to go out and have fun without drinking. Instead of being looked down upon by your friends or zapping your willpower by saying “no” constantly and explaining yourself, you can naturally enjoy yourself with self-respect.
Doing what the fuck you want to do is a nice feeling. But, it’s something you have to experience for yourself first to understand how good it truly feels. You have to taste it to know it’s worth putting up with the snarky comments and judgments to get there.
This is why I gave up alcohol when I moved to Belgium. I wanted a build a foundation for my new identity as someone who didn’t have to drink in social settings. I still had wine and beer occasionally, but would often stay out until the early hours of the morning without having a sip of alcohol.
This made it way easier to say no when I returned home. I knew I could have fun without drinking: I had definitive proof from my times in Europe. So, when I felt myself falling out of the habit and drinking more booze when I knew I didn’t want to, I had the confidence to give it up for 100 days and succeeded.
This would not have been possible without moving to a brand new place and putting these new mindsets on full display.
This is a mental model that I’ve gotten a lot of value from over the years. Between different internships, moving to San Francisco, living in a van, backpacking for a year, moving to Europe, and then moving back to Chicago, I’ve had a lot of chances to ditch bad habits and start fresh with the new ones.
This is the feedback cycle that has brought me to where I am today. And, while I’ve still got a long way to go, I’ve never been happier. I feel free and in control. I have the confidence to say no, be honest, and express my boundaries. I don’t shy away from confrontation like I used to. I have bad days, sure, but I know how to rebound from them.
Most importantly, I am beginning to understand what I stand for and am becoming proud of myself for living up to my own standards.
A large portion of this good fortune and mental strength has come from thrusting myself in variable situations and environments frequently. Dramatically changing where you live is a great catalyst for this and a tool I will return to again in the next few years when things get too comfortable here in the Midwest.
So, to summarize my philosophy: you should only move if you’re going to make a big move, so that you can reap the benefits of a clean state. Don’t just move across the street for the sake of moving; do so with intention.