getting out and staying in

When I was growing up, even though I had a blessed childhood, I had one laser-beam-type focus—getting out of my tiny hometown. I had dreams of big cities. I had dreams of high-powered jobs, small apartments and an 80-hour work week. I was going to get out. I was going to be important. I was going to change the world. And I certainly wasn’t going to be stuck in a nowhere town for the rest of my life. I wasn’t going to be like all the washed up adults that still lived in the place they grew up. I was going to be different. I was going to be something special.

It seemed so cut-and-dry when I was 18. There were two choices—you were either able to break the chains and get out of the small town you grew up in or you fell-short of your potential and stayed locked in the hell that was small-town Indiana forever. It never even occurred to me that there was a third choice—choosing the small-town life. And now, here I am, a decade later, and I’ve made  that choice. I made the choice to stay in.

It’s interesting how immediate the realisation was that the life I thought I wanted wasn’t for me. It was within only a few weeks of being in college. Even though I went to college in a relatively small town (80,000 people, half of which are students), it still felt too big. It felt too impersonal. It felt too claustrophobic. It became painfully obvious that “getting out” wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t just homesickness. It was a deep-seated feeling of misplacement. It wasn’t for me.

Very quickly, my dreams of high-rise condos and frequent flyer miles dissipated and a new dream appeared in place of it—I wanted to live a life I chose. Regardless of if that meant living in a tent on farm or in a penthouse apartment, I wanted to give myself the opportunity to choose. So I worked hard in college and after. Everyone told me I was “meant for greatness” and I totally believed them. Although I’m sure by “meant for greatness” they meant some important life in an important city and to me “meant for greatness” meant the potential to be whatever I wanted.

So after college, I tried it out. I did a quick jaunt living and working in a “real” city complete with skyscrapers, Starbucks on every corner and interstates. Man, did I hate it. I didn’t just feel misplaced anymore, I felt totally and completely out-of-my-element. I felt alone. I felt confused. It was a really, really dark time for me. Suddenly, the thing I’d so desperately wanted to escape only a few years prior—small-town life—I craved like it was a drug. I moved a few more times after my time in the big city, but I was always thinking about going home. I was always sure I’d get back there. I always knew it was what I was going to choose.

And now that I have the choice, I’ve chosen home. I chose staying in.

I am so proud that I gave myself the ability to choose. I honestly feel like I could go anywhere and do anything. Nothing is holding me back.  I am so proud of myself for working hard and being the best me I can be and giving myself the opportunity to choose my life.

I know a lot of people probably think I’m a failure. I’ve moved back to my hometown. I’m living in the house I grew up in. My parents are my neighbors. My future kids will probably graduate from the same high school I did. But I don’t feel like a failure. And I certainly don’t feel like I was forced into this life. It was a conscious, clear, and purposeful decision that I made. If anything, I feel like the most successful person I know, because I chose my life. I chose small town. And that feels amazing.

How do you feel about your hometown? Did you want to get out? Or stay in?


  1. says

    I never left my hometown. I couldn’t imagine life anywhere else. I love London and think it’s the best place in the world to live. I think because I have roots here, my family are all within an hour of me on the train (and my mother is closer if we meet after work!), I get the best of the big city and a small town. I don’t exactly live where I grew up but having kids that went to the same school that I went to sounds great, it sounds like community and security and isn’t in any way a failure. Some of the wisest and most open minded people I know never travelled or moved from where they grew up and some of the most travelled people I know were the most closed minded. What you bring to anything and knowing what nourishes you is the most important thing.

    • Cassie says

      Security is SUCH a good word for it! That’s totally what it is. I feel comfortable in a way I haven’t since I left when I was 18.

  2. Rachael says

    I’ve been reading your blog for several weeks now, and I feel it’s about time to leave a comment on one of your posts! This one really touched me though, since I have just recently moved back to my hometown as well. I live in Southern Maryland, in a small fishing town that my dad grew up in. I grew up in the same house my father grew up in. Like you, I wanted to get out, and not be a “failure” that stays in the same place their entire life. I went to the University of Maryland, and lived right outside of Washington D.C for four years. It wasn’t until I met my future husband, who happened to grow up 1 mile from my childhood home, that I realized I wanted the small town life. Now we live in my grandparent’s old one-bedroom cottage that sits on three acres in my small hometown, 1/4 mile away from my parent’s house, and one mile from his parent’s house. We love it! We enjoy the everyday pleasures of having a yard to care for, a vegetable garden that excites us every day, and the simplicity of sitting on our rocking chairs on the front porch. I’m so happy I’m not the only one :) Thanks for posting!

  3. says

    We moved around quite a bit growing up, so I don’t really feel like I have a hometown, but we did live in the same town I went to HS in for the longest. And boy was that place a pit. Once my sister and I graduated HS even my parents couldn’t wait to get out. Since they moved, no one in the family has been back even though it’s only a half hour south of where they live now.

    • Cassie says

      Hmm! That’s really interesting! I never moved as a kid, so excuse me if this question is weird, but do you feel like you have a “hometown”? Is it the place you were at the longest? The first? Your town now?

      • says

        I consider the Chicago-area my hometown, but I don’t get attached to one house or town or neighborhood. I moved from Chicago to Austin two years ago and I could pick up and move from Austin to Wherever and not think much of it.

  4. Athena R says

    I couldn’t wait to get out of my town, not so much that is was small, but it was stagnant. I still have no desire to go back to live, but I do go back to visit my family. I still live in relatively small town, but it’s not as small as the one I grew up in and it’s only an hour from the beach with much more growth opportunities. I actually prefer small to medium sized towns over large cities.

    • Cassie says

      You know, Babyface talks about his hometown that way, too. It was large-ish, but incredibly isolated and close-minded.

      And I am SO jealous that you are an hour to the beach!

  5. says

    Dear Cassie – great post!

    First of all I think that everyone who feels the necessity to judge another should not be taken serious 😉 You are no failure and I think that you did so much better than the people who are just leaving their hometown because they “always wanted to” and who are maybe not recognizing their inner feelings might have changed about that. As long as YOU are happy, everything is perfect! I am going to do the same and leave open every possible option – ten years from now I’ll see where it lead me 😉

    Greetings from good ol Germany!

  6. says

    I had the exact same mindset as you growing up in small town Ontario. Not only was I in a small town (Pop: 9000), I was also living in the town that was known in the 30 minute radius of small towns as being the grungiest, the one with the least promise, and the laughing stock of all the little tourist towns around us.

    All I wanted to do was get out, and I moved 7 hours away for my undergrad. I then proceeded to spend 6 years just trying to get back. I ended up in suburbia Ottawa which suited me just fine. I was a 20 minute drive downtown, had everything I needed around me, and was a 45 minute drive to the parentals.

    Life changed again when I met a boy and now I find myself living in Toronto, which I swore up and down I wouldn’t do. It’s working okay right now because we live just far enough away from downtown, but not too far, and again, everything I like is close to me. If I had the chance though I would be running back to a small town if I could! Big City living is realllly not my thing.

    • Cassie says

      It’s so interesting how some people are meant for the big city and some people definitely aren’t!

  7. says

    Regardless of what people choose, I think it’s super important to get out of your hometown and live or travel around a few places and figure yourself out, who you are and want you want. If you keep going around, great…if you choose to come back, awesome. As long as you know it was your choice: )

    I thought I’d never live in a suburb with an HOA and here I am! While I’d love to have a old small house, right now my lovely house with an HOA is perfect for us because we chose that house.

    • Cassie says

      I totally agree with you! I’m amazed at people who have no interest traveling other places. I mean, I’m not all that well traveled, but leaving home makes me appreciate it so much more!

  8. says

    I grew up in a smallish town with about 100,000 people. I know to many that probably isn’t considered “small” but the town held such a small town mentality that I could not wait to leave. There were no decent jobs, only one political stance was acceptable and there has still been very little growth since I moved away 8 years ago. I now live in a suburb of a very large city and I love it. THIS feels like home. Before I always felt like I was trapped in a place I didn’t belong.

    • Cassie says

      Hahaha, definitely not small to me! My town that I live in (which I actually don’t, it’s just the closest town to me) is 1400 people. :) But I totally understand the small town mentality. My husband is from a city about the size of yours and he said it was so closed-minded.

  9. says

    So I’m the exact opposite from you in that I can’t imagine living in my hometown ever again! I moved out of there 11 years ago and while I enjoy going back, it’s not the place for me. I’m from a town of about 6,000 in western Massachusetts, and while there are a few cool places nearby, most of the area’s not for me.

    What’s funny is that BOTH my siblings live and own houses in my hometown! My sister’s a lot like you in that she moved to Boston for college, but couldn’t wait to get back home with her husband after they graduated. My brother hasn’t ever left the area, so it made sense for him to settle with his wife (who he started dating in high school) in their hometown too. And then there’s me, who moved halfway across the country at 20, moved back to New England at 28, and will probably be moving to the west coast in a few years.

    Home’s been an interesting concept for me as an adult because I’ve moved quite a few times and have lived in a few different areas, and while I’ll never actually live there again, I consider western MA my home.

    • Cassie says

      I think “home” is an interesting concept for everyone! I never really felt at home in Bloomington, even though I lived there for over a decade.

  10. says

    There is not way you should categorize your move back to your hometown as a failure! To me, success means finding happiness and fulfillment…and it sounds like you have that :) Congrats!

  11. says

    I love this post. I always felt the same way too, growing up in very small town Vermont. And I LOVE living very close to DC now. It makes me so happy. But I also miss my family, who ALL live in Vermont still. There is no shame in going home. Maybe someday we will make the same choice.

    • Cassie says

      I think it is really interesting how many people think they might eventually end up “back home”. :)

  12. says

    I can totally relate to how you felt growing up. I desperately wanted to get out of my hometown and do bigger, better, and different things. I’ve lived in a few different places, but all within around a 4 hour radius of my hometown, so it isn’t too far. My entire family (and my husband’s) still live there, so we visit often (around once or twice a month) and luckily are only about an hour and a half away. The irony is that I always thought my hometown was small (around 39,000), and ended up finding a home in a place that is significantly smaller (24,000) and am so much happier.

    • Cassie says

      “Small” is definitely a relative term! The town I moved from (about 80,000 people) was considered SUCH a small town, but to me, it felt HUGE! I mean, you could get delivery pizza! That wasn’t something you could do in my hometown. 😛

  13. says

    I grew up right outside of Washington, D.C. and never thought I’d live there for good. I didn’t hate it, but I work in a field where I have to go where the job takes me (academia) and I’ve lived in tiny towns and big cities since then. Now I live in a medium-sized city (200,000) and LOVE it. I expect to be here the rest of my life. My entire family has moved across the country from where I used to live, so there’s nothing left for me where I grew up, except memories.

    • Cassie says

      Hmmm! That is interesting. So because you whole family is gone from your hometown, do you still consider it “home”?

      • says

        Not at all. It’s just “where I grew up.” I have memories, and even friends there, and I’d like to go by the house I grew up in, but even the church I was married in was recently accidentally burned down. My husband and kids are “home” for me!

  14. says

    Oh, this post stirred up feelings in me that I’m not quite ready to face yet.

    I love my town. I always have.

    I’m making plans to move far, far away from it and everything I know. That scares the fire out of me, but I keep reminding myself that nothing’s permanent. I can always come home if I have difficulty living in paradise, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

    That sounds like I don’t want to chase this crazy dream. I do, very badly. It’s still scary.

    • Cassie says

      It’s definitely not permanent. To give you an example, my sister moved to the West Coast (from Indiana) after college, she met the love of her life, they got married, had kids and made a really nice life for themselves in Oregon. A few years later, after most of her husband’s family was gone, my sister got to thinking about how nice it would to be back in Indiana near her family. So they did it. They packed everything up and moved across country. They got jobs and we were very lucky to have them for two years. At that point they said, “We love you. But we miss Oregon!” And they just packed up and moved back two weeks ago. I think they would have forever kicked themselves if they hadn’t tried Indiana, but they did, and now they know that Oregon is where they belong.

  15. says

    I applaud your choice to “stay in”! If I came from such an awesome little town I’d certainly be tempted to do so but I think it takes the right kind of commitment to stick to your roots like that.
    Right now, I’m choosing to stay in my home state and that’s just about the right amount of localness for me. I do think that getting away from where you come from is important because it gives you perspective on what you have and what it’s like away from home.

  16. patti says

    While I love living in Bloomington, I plan to eventually move back down to your neck of the woods…Mitchell to be exact…out in the country, not in town…I just have so many wonderful friends and family there that it will always be home to me. Good luck with this new phase of your life!

    • Cassie says

      I love the Mitchell area! It’s such a nice area for living out in the country, but still being close enough to all the “big” cities to get everything you need.

  17. says

    You did what was right for you and Craig, Cass. That’s the most important thing!

    I left my hometown and I’m glad I did. I grew up in the country – the nearest town was about 400 people (maybe). I was so jealous of the “town” kids who had playmates, haha. The nearest big city (Rochester, MN – home of the Mayo Clinic) was at that time probably around 50,000-80,000. Its now over 100,000. I went to a tiny high school (80 kids in my grade) – I am thankful for that. I can’t imagine being in a class of 900 kids (or more)! I liked knowing each one of my classmates and in some cases their parents and siblings. I went to community college in Rochester mostly because I didn’t really know what I wanted to be and it was cheap. My husband grew up 30 min west of Minneapolis, MN on a horse farm. He ended up coming to my junior prom with a mutual friend he met through 4H and the rest is history. We dated long distance for almost 3 years and as soon as I graduated my 2 years of community college I hightailed it to Minneapolis and I can’t imagine going back. I love that we have so much culture here – the theaters, restaurants, festivals, etc. You never get bored. I also love not having to drive 20 min + to get groceries or run to Walgreens, etc. I still go visit my parents monthly and I have to admit – even the couple days I’m there I go bonkers with nothing to do lol. I honestly think if it weren’t for my parents Lucas and I would even move to another state or even Europe. We’d totally be up for that – but my mom would have a coronary. :-)

    • Cassie says

      Oooh! Europe! That’d be awesome. It sounds like you guys definitely made the right move getting out. :)

  18. Jen in MN says

    I grew up on a farm in the upper midwest. A VERY rural area. Like you I was so eager to get OUT! I went to college in a neighboring state and then moved halfway across the country once I graduated. Lived there for over 3 years and met and married my husband during that time. Well, right around the time we got married I got SUPER homesick for home and my family and the midwest. So less than 2 years later, we did it. We moved “back home.”

    It lasted about 18 months for us (-; It WASN’T the right move in our case for a host of reasons, and it was a difficult period for both of us in a lot of ways….but I’m still glad we tried it. We would NEVER have known what was best for us, if we hadn’t given it a go.

    We moved back to that same neighboring state I went to college in and have been here for over 6 years now. My husband is getting the itch to move back to HIS home area now, though….so we are seriously considering doing that in the next 2 years. We have kids now and our oldest starts school in 2 years so we’d like to settle somewhere (“for good” hopefully) before that time.

    So my progression so far has been: SD, MN, SC, SD, MN….SC!?!? I’m noticing a pattern here, ha.

    Great post and topic! Glad you are happy in your new/old spot (-:

    • Cassie says

      My sister did the exact same thing (see my reply to Lydia a few threads up). Good for you for taking the leaps and trying it all out! If you don’t, you’ll never know!

  19. says

    I love this post. I’m actually struggling with the same exact thing right now. Right out of school, I thought “gaining my independence” meant that I had to leave the small-town life and get an “important job” in a big city. Now that I’ve lived in DC for nearly 3 years, I realize that I actually hate it. I feel claustrophobic, frustrated, and as you said…lonely.

    I’ve been thinking about moving to a smaller town in VA, where I have some friends and people who are important to me. It’s just now whether or not I have the guts to take a leap of faith and do it…

    • Cassie says

      Take the leap of faith. If your situation is anything like mine (and it sounds like its similar) you will be so much happier. :) And if it doesn’t work out? The big city with the big jobs will always be there.

  20. Candace says

    I love my hometown and always will! I don’t live there because there isn’t a market for my career field. I think, like you, I just wanted the ability to choose my own option instead of being forced one way or the other. The place where I ultimately bought a house is similar to my hometown in some ways and different in other ways. When I was younger, I would never have dreamed of living in a place remotely similar to my hometown, but now, I just really appreciate the simple way of life that exists back home. I mean “simple” in the most positive way possible. I really enjoyed this post. Being from a small town, I think it’s awesome that your family is so close to you and that your kids will go to your same high school. The sense of community is one of the things that makes small towns so great, and to have your family as part of that community is an added bonus!

  21. Allie says

    I feel the exact same way! When I left for school, I was thrilled to be living in a big city (Minneapolis) and to get out of the suburban life. A mere 4 years later and a lot of frustration with how I feel living here has led be back to the city I grew up in. I love it there. I never would have figured that out if I didn’t “get out” in the first place though. It’s all about the journey.

    Great Post!! I’m so happy to know I’m not the only one who feels this way! If I could I would buy the home I grew up in! Being 22 and having a bit of student debt to pay off, I doubt that dream will become a reality in time. I’m pretty sure by the time my brother graduates High School in 2 years, my mom will be ready to buy HER dream home in New Mexico.


  22. Zoe says

    While I’ve grown to respect my “small-town” heritage as I’ve grown older, I’m incredibly glad to have left, namely for the opportunities that have been opened up to me.

    Living nearer to the city has given me access to better jobs, school, and I’ve made a ton of like-minded friends (I’m pretty active in left politics).

    I always felt pretty isolated in my hometown. I had (and have!) friends, sure, but I never quite “fit in.” While fitting in isn’t the be all end all of my existence, it certainly is nice to have someone to talk to about things you’re really passionate about.

    I’ll always acknowledge and look back fondly on my hometown. But do I think I’ll go back to stay? Nope. Even if I’m only 35 miles away.

  23. says

    I moved to my hometown when I was a baby. Well, I guess I should say my parents moved me. I didn’t have a say in the matter :). I stayed in the same house until I went to college (in my hometown!) and got my own apartment. My hometown is amazing and gorgeous and I probably could stay here forever. But! Not the college. It’s huge and anonymous and it makes me miserable. So, I’m leaving in a year to attend a much smaller school and I am so excited. The entire city has a smaller population than my entire university here. I completely understand the feelings of misplacement you talk about. I hope I find what I’m looking for when I downsize next year.

  24. Jennifer says

    Ooh, this is such a tough subject for me. I grew up in a big city in the Southwest, and now I live in Chicago (moved here for grad school) with my husband. I miss my family SO much, and for me, home is where the heart is! Chicago didn’t feel like home at all until my husband moved here with me because I had no family or close friends here. I don’t really miss Arizona itself, except maybe the weather, but I really wish I could see my parents and sister more often. My husband feels the same way, which makes things even more complicated since his family and friends are all back in his home country of Switzerland. Right now, we are staying put until my PhD is finished, but everyone is always asking what we will do afterward and I don’t have a good answer because we don’t even know ourselves!! Good for you for making the decision that makes you and Craig the happiest!! :)

  25. says

    I love this post so much. Although my hometown is actually a city, I think of the small town I live in as my hometown(I did spent some time here as a kid too, but mostly grew up in a big city). The summer before my graduating year in high school my parents decided we were moving to this tiny little town. I fought it so hard but eventually moved with them of course. I had the same vision of my future as you did to, but now I’m still living in that small town with kids of my own and now I’m fighting to stay here. Funny how drastically things can change :) It makes me SO sad that people can sometimes view it as a failure, living in a small town. I feel so bad for them because until they experience it they don’t know what they’re missing out on. I would NEVER trade this place for a city :)

  26. says

    Um… can I copy and paste this blog post into my personal life journey journal?

    Grew up in the small town of Warsaw, Indiana (actually lived in a smaller village within the town, called Winona Lake), was so ready to burst free to college in Bloomington. Loved Bloomington, loved college, but was ready for the big city of Chicago. Once I got here, I was like, “okay, I’ll get used to this” But that feeling of being misplaced, wanting small town life again like a drug, etc…. I can totally relate. I’ve been here in Chicago almost a year now, and I’ll never say that I regret this decision because it has made me realize that I don’t want to live in a place like Chicago for long. I can check this one off of my experience list (not to mention I’ve grown so much as a designer and a leader), but I think where I’ve grown the most is realizing the things that I want the most in life when it comes to calling a place home.

    I’m not going to call it quits here too soon…. but small town life in Indiana is calling my name.

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