Decisions is a series dedicated to the choices we make in our lives and the factors that led us to our given resolutions. We welcome guest posts to this series to hear about how you’ve tackled a life decision. Email your story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, contributor Meryl Williams explains why she’s leaving Portland, Oregon, to return to her home state of Ohio.
I’m Moving Back to My Home State After Six Years Away
Six years ago, I quit my day job and moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago. I lived there for five years and then decided while on a solo vacation to move across the country to Portland, Oregon. (Did I mention this was after a breakup and a quarter life crisis?)
Weirdly, the Portland move was easier on me than the cross-Midwest jump, but unlike Chicago, Portland didn’t quite stick the way I envisioned. Now I’m moving back to the Midwest, back to Columbus. I think there are a lot of reasons for it, and none of them are anyone’s fault.
I felt shell-shocked when I landed in Chicago. It was a much bigger city than I was used to, and I felt undeserving of the job I got after four months of underemployment (surrounded by other 20-somethings who also had never worked for a start-up before). I couldn’t convince myself at the time that I was equally worthy of being there. I was 24 and crippled by imposter syndrome.
Shortly after I got to Chicago and started my job, I experienced the vivid, plunking realization I was not as special as I’d let myself believe. I was not alone in having moved from another city to be in Chicago. In fact, almost everyone I became friends with was a transplant, whether it was from Michigan or Arizona or Utah or Washington or another country. My fellow Ohioans and I were a dime a dozen; there were just so many people in Chicago. It was exciting but intimidating at the time.
It took a long time to feel like I belonged in Chicago. I remember when it happened; it was eight months after I moved, but only a couple of months after I got the start-up gig. I was driving back to Chicago after an Ohio visit to celebrate my niece’s second birthday. I was driving through Indiana blasting the Decemberists album that came out that year, feeling fully the independence I was enjoying even though I was broke and I missed my family.
That moment didn’t really come with Portland, but I think it’s largely because I didn’t let it.
Moving to Portland meant leaving a big pool for a smaller, but growing, one. It was easier to find and identify the players in local media, roller derby and other areas I was interested in. I interacted with some of them on Twitter before I even got to town. I was a lot more confident at age 29, and I’d gotten good at changing cities by then. A lot of what I learned ended up paying off. I jumped right in with my local roller derby rec league and started freelancing for a local alternative weekly paper. I joined a writers group and made friends at a co-working space I’d found for myself before I got there.
Portland is full of transplants too, arguably in a more noticeable way than Chicago. The difference is, a large majority of those transplants migrated north from California, particularly the Bay Area, after either getting priced out or seeing the cheaper housing opportunities in Portland. I’m the only former Chicagoan in my circle, and one of very few Ohio natives. I feel less shame in telling Portlanders I came here from the Midwest because the general attitude among them is, well, at least you didn’t come here from California.
Even three years ago, the idea of going back to Columbus meant that something in The Plan had gone horribly wrong. I considered it back then, when my serious relationship was failing, and I couldn’t find a good job in my field. Luckily, a better gig came along at last, and I moved on from the dude with whom things weren’t working. Thanks to that better job, I’m able to work remotely and no one at my company minds if I’m in the Pacific Northwest or the Midwest. It meant I got to try a year in Portland, and I’m thankful for it.
I’ve grown a lot in the last five years, and even in just the last two. I’ve been single the whole time I’ve been in Portland, and while I don’t plan to stay that way forever, I’m grateful for what that status afforded me during my year in the Pacific Northwest. I met a bunch of awesome women I love being around; I lived by myself for the first time, not counting the months after a live-in breakup; I finished the first draft of a book I wanted to write. I don’t think I could have done that if I had stayed comfortable in Chicago.
Now, I find myself looking into local roller derby rec leagues and co-working spaces in Columbus – the exact same things I was doing just a year ago, in preparation for getting to Portland. I just made a Twitter list of Columbus writers and creatives I want to meet up and work with. I can’t believe how excited I am to go back to a city I left six years ago. I have two nieces now, and they’re 7 and almost 4. I can’t wait to have them over for weekends in the city and to be there in person for birthday parties again.
I don’t regret moving to Portland, and I am glad I did so without a ton of expectations. A lot of good things came of it, and now I’m ready to go home. I have no idea how long I’ll stay in Ohio, but I can feel how much I need it at the moment.
Meryl Williams is a writer working on a collection of essays about learning to play roller derby. If you want to see more of her writing, sign up for The Sleeper Hit newsletter or find her on Twitter (@merylwilliams).
(All these lovely Portland photos provided by Meryl.)