How Moving to a New City Alone Changed My Life

Moving from Los Angeles to Chicago–a city where I knew no one–helped me grow more than I ever could have imagined. I had no idea who I was or what I really wanted in my 20s – those years were spent in finishing school just 90 minutes from my hometown in a dead-end relationships all while struggling to figure my career and life out.

I had no idea how to get out of the rut I was in and convinced myself that I maybe didn’t want to work, focusing all my energy into getting married and having kids by the time I was 30, because surely that would solve all my problems. I’m so glad that didn’t work out when I thought it should.

Here’s what I learned when moved from the West Coast to the Midwest, and how starting over in a new city completely changed my life.

I became open minded 

As a creature of habit, nothing could have prepared me for how much my day-to-day life would change. Or having to wear snow boots half the year. I woke up on August 2, 2010 in a new city without a regular grocery store, favorite lunch spot, or a close friend nearby. My first apartment was a high rise with a doorman (for safety) and my most recent one was just a few feet off the ground floor. In the past almost 7 years, I’ve lived in 5 Chicago neighborhoods.

I went from working at home from 2007-2016 to working with a business partner, then in an office a few days a week, and eventually, to a full-time team of 5 and a p/t director of brand partnerships (who I work very closely with / is now a good friend).

I tried new things

From saying yes to events and plans I wouldn’t normally say yes to, I learned to put myself in new situations in order to meet new people and ultimately, to grow as a person. I hate public speaking but have said yes to speaking engagements on my own a few times because I know it’s good for me.

This might seem random, but I gave up all seafood when I was 9 and started eating (some) seafood again a few years ago. A seemingly small feat–but I was a really picky eater and became a lot more adventurous. At least for me.I grew up

From learning to navigate the city to moving to an “up and coming neighborhood” to taking public transit on my own–something I’m ashamed to admit I was nervous to do–I learned how important it is to put myself in situations that make me uncomfortable. Things that were once a big deal are second nature now.

It meant putting myself out there–saying yes when invited to try something new, going to events where I didn’t know anyone, and experiencing new things.

I learned how to be on my own

After dating someone for the entirety of my 20s, I didn’t really know how to be on my own. From the day-to-day to the big stuff, I was forced to figure it out. One Christmas, I woke up at home in Chicago–just me and Buddy. A year later I was waking up at Conor’s mom’s house in the suburbs. Learning to navigate the city and getting through nights, weekends, losses, and moving made me so much stronger. As tough as it felt at times, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I was on my own but not alone, and finally figured out what I was capable of.

I dated for the first time ever

After spending 19-almost 29 in a serious relationship, I found myself going into 30 single for the first time in my adult life, and was ready to start dating. It was everything from fun to a little bit terrible, but I learned, grew, and at least I got some great stories out of it, right?

I networked

I went from having very few friends and no real network outside of them to having a good group of close friends and a pretty great network here in Chicago. I’m so lucky to have met some great friends in this city. And I found a wonderful support system in my friends.

I redefined the meaning of home

It took a while, but Chicago feels more like home than LA ever did. It’s where I started The Everygirl and met the man I’m going to marry. I always imagined possibly leaving someday, but in a few months, I’ll have a husband, in-laws, and a big, wonderful extended family in Chicago. My move completely shaped my life–who I’ve become and how I will be–and I can’t imaging living anywhere else.

I used to look at the city skyline in awe of the fact that I lived here and then one day, that disbelief went away. One day, I touched down at ORD and that was it. I was home.

Have you ever moved to a new city? If not, is it something you’d consider?

  • I’ve moved twice to a new city but this upcoming move will be the first I am doing on my own. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Thanks for writing about your experience, it’s comforting to read all the good that came out of it.

    • I’m excited for you! It’s definitely hard but so rewarding!

  • anoninga

    I’ve made 4 moves. Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and just recently, Washington DC. It’s chaotic, expensive, and each experience has been fulfilling in it’s own way. I wouldn’t say that each move has completely altered my life but I have experiences gained, both good and bad, from each.

    • Oh wow. I’m impressed! It’s a lot and each move might not change your life, but they will help shape who you become, and that’s something. I feel like it forces you to try new things, be more flexible, and to grow.

  • Whitney

    Thank you for this post. I moved to Chicago three years ago and immediately started dating someone. My three year relationship just ended and it feels like I’m moving to Chicago all over again. This gave me a renewed sense of purpose moving toward my goals. Thank you, thank you!

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Whitney. I know how hard break-ups are (especially longer-term ones). I ended an almost decade-long relationship after moving to Chicago. These big changes and also reset you and open doors for exciting and new opportunities. Sounds like you already know that. Just remember you’re stronger than you think!

  • Love love love this post, Danielle! I learned a lot of the same things when I made the move from NY to Chicago. It may have been scary and a little lonely at first, but now I’m sure it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life!
    Lauren |

    • Me too! Such a great city to call home, isn’t it? x

  • Beth Blair

    I just moved to San Francisco with my family from Chicago, where I was born and raised and have lived for 14 years since college. I didn’t quite realize how much I was in love with Chicago, until I left. I also think this move has been harder since I never took a big leap like you did as a single person so have felt very settled in Chicago. That being said- reading your post about not having my grocery store, or coffee shop, or workout studio- I sometimes think that’s been the hardest part of this move. I don’t have someone to list as my son’s emergency contact besides my husband and I – and that is terrifying. But I think I’ve had to remember it took me 14 years as an adult in Chicago to truly know where I wanted to live among all the neighborhood choices, so if our first choice here isn’t perfect- that’s ok. And I’ve learned I have to reach out to the friends I do have here- even if they aren’t as close as my friends in Chicago, that doesn’t mean they can’t be if I put the effort into those friendships, or making brand new ones by putting myself out there. I appreciate all your posts on these topics- although it does make me miss Chicago. Not sure why moving away from that city in June was a good idea- would have been much easier in November. 🙂

  • What a great read Danielle. I too relocated and learned so much about myself so quickly. It was a life changing experience and I recommend it to anyone and everyone. I learned different lesson about myself than you did but that is why I was so interested in reading this post, we all have different things to learn at different times in our lives and what’s beautiful is sharing our stories and experiences.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • Jessika Garcia

    Such a good read, Danielle! I’ve been away from my home island for over 10 years now and I totally agree with you in that my home island never felt like home as much as the city I live in now. Being on my own is tough and i’ve been lucky enough to have someone (who is also away from home) to rely on for support because sometimes it gets hard. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  • Pingback: What was the hardest part about moving from LA to Chicago? |()

  • I have been feeling the same. I moved from my hometown in England to Belfast last year and it’s challenged me in ways I never expected. It’s funny how going into it I had expectations of what moving would be like that were totally turned on their head!

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