About 1 year out of college, and after 1 crazy job, I moved to Chicago to start graduate school. It was the first time I had ever lived smack in the middle of a big city and boy was it eye-opening for me. I wasn't particularly unfamiliar with city life, however. I grew up outside of Washington, D.C. as a child, spent my summers with my cousins 45 minutes outside of New York City, and I even had a short stint living 30 minutes outside of San Francisco in the 7th grade (where I discovered Roxy board shorts and LL Cool J) before moving to the medium-sized city of Madison, Wisconsin in 1999 (where I discovered brats and rediscovered cheese).
I moved to Chicago in the dead of winter in 2008 (January to be exact). Adam and I had just started dating (my now husband). He gallantly helped me collect all my things from family friends basements in Madison and from my family's home in Florida, single-handedly assembled all of my IKEA furniture for me, and then went on his way back to Indianapolis where he lived at the time. So, I was on my own. Big city meet Lindsay, Lindsay meet big city.
I had moments of feeling excited about the independence and was wooed by the big city lights. I felt some satisfaction and saw some humor in taking the bus to Michigan Avenue to go to class (was I actually going to school in downtown Chicago?!), getting a gym membership, scoping out my local grocer, flower and coffee shops...sure. But the gist of it all is that the day-to-day in such a big city made me anxious...really anxious (at least at that time in my life). Maybe if I lived in Chicago now it would be different. It was a couple years of firsts. First time being financially independent. First time living by myself. First time living in a big city. First time being a graduate student. First time being in a serious long-distance relationship. First time having my identify stolen. First time not really knowing what I wanted to do professionally. First, first, first.
I was afraid to walk alone at night (night being 4:30 pm in the winter), so I wasn't working out as much as I normally did (my great equalizer when it comes to stress management and self-reflection) because it was dark by the time I got home from class. I didn't know many people in the city except for my best friend living 15 minutes away, but I had no car and no way to get to her without paying for a one-way cab fare of $30. She had just gotten married, had a new sweet puppy at home, and moved to the city herself to start her life with her husband so we didn't see much of each other. I didn't have a tv so I would turn on NPR every night as I made my pasta for dinner (cheap and before I knew what carbs were!) and the only place I felt really comfortable was at home in my teeny 420 square foot apartment (that Adam later moved into with me and we lived in for 8 months together! If that's not a test on a relationship then I don't know what is!)
Two years later, after Adam had moved to Chicago and shortly after I finished my graduate program, we moved to Boulder, Colorado. Immediately upon arrival (and after our headaches from the change in altitude subsided), I could feel myself breath. Boulder was the size city that just felt right to me. Just as Madison had. There were hiking trails and wide open spaces, not sky -scrapers (although those are exciting for a time, for me), and I felt at home. I determined medium-sized cities are the best fit for me after my Chicago experience, but it took living through that experience to learn these things about myself.
It will take you time to figure out what environment best suits you - what surroundings most inspire, comfort and nurture you. It's the process you undergo to figure these things out that really stretches your muscles and allows you to grow. You also may not have the option to pick your city size at different times in life, but the coping mechanisms you learn over time will help you adjust to new environments or to acclimate to an environment that doesn't feel quite right to you (like big city living as a poor graduate student for me!)