“What if we just decided to move away?”

It was late. My husband and I were on our deck, drinking wine under a sky full of stars. We’d been discussing the lack of opportunities in our town when I brought up the idea of looking elsewhere.

On paper, it sounded crazy — we were living the American dream — owning a picture-perfect home in a small Southern town where everyone knew our names. And we were contemplating giving it up — to do what? Move hundreds of miles away, to a city full of strangers and a rented townhouse. 

I spent the first three decades of my life in this town, the kind where families have lived in the same zip code for generations and kids end up having the same high school English teachers that their parents did. There’s a church on every corner and everyone knows your business.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to move away. I wanted to live somewhere with tall buildings and glittering lights, full of adventure and opportunity. Sometimes life has other plans, though. I married young and started a family, putting my dream of moving away on hold. Instead, I became a homeowner at 23, purchasing a house that was only a few miles from the hospital where I was born.

It seemed like a smart idea — the next logical step in life. The house was in a safe neighborhood and desirable school district, with cathedral ceilings, sunny rooms and a backyard for my son to play in. Over the next few years, I poured all my energy into suburban life: hosting parties, planting a garden and carving pumpkins on the front porch. A little family and a plot of land: by many standards, I had it made.

Still, I could never quite silence my inner desire for adventure. I was tired of going to the same restaurants, having the same conversations and driving past the same places I had for three decades. It felt like I was living someone else’s dream, not my own. Everything was so settled and it seemed I had missed my chance at city life.

There’s a fine line between comfort and stagnation. I worried that if I didn’t change it up, fear would get in the way and I’d end up feeling trapped and resentful. The thought of leaving my hometown didn’t scare me as much as the regret I might feel if I stayed.

We decided to relocate to a city where both of our jobs would transfer and where our son would have far more opportunities than our small town would provide. Things moved quickly once the decision was made. Before long, I was packing my stuff (what remained after some serious downsizing, anyway) into a U-Haul and preparing to leave my tiny hometown behind.

On the morning I moved away, the weather was perfect – one of those blue-sky summer days without a cloud in sight. I couldn’t wait to fuel up and start driving west, towards the rented townhouse I hadn’t yet seen in person.

Hundreds of miles later, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I turned the key and opened the door to my new place: wall-to-wall dark brown carpet, one-window rooms and renter-beige walls. The place was cramped and charmless. Thinking of the family and friends I’d left behind, I felt the first pang of homesickness. Had I made the right decision?

Of course, most people feel this way when they move away from their hometown for the first time. But I wasn’t some bright-eyed college freshman; I was 32 years old.

Trading my familiar town for a city with nearly a million people presented some growing pains. At times, I missed my cozy home and the ease of small-town life. It was hard to get used to renting after spending so much time in my own place. I longed for the familiar faces back home.

The move made me think about myself differently. It strengthened my confidence and allowed me to be more bold in my decisions. It also opened the door to opportunities I never would have had if I’d stayed put. 

When I felt isolated, I reached out to a couple of non-profit groups and started volunteering. When I found myself spending too many days indoors when the weather turned cold, I signed up for my first half-marathon; training gave me a reason to get outdoors and moving. And after seeing just how many opportunities existed in my new city, I was inspired to go back to school so that I could sharpen my skills.

It may sound bizarre that I uprooted my life when I was living the American dream, but it’s given me a new sense of possibility. There is no finish line — we are all constantly changing and it’s never too late to start fresh. And while I spent many afternoons daydreaming of moving back during those first few months, I’ve now started looking forward to my next move. After all, the world is too big to be tied down to one small spot on the map.