Realizing the Value of Choosing to Stay

Can this place hold you?

A workplace consultant asked me this question three years ago. I was two years out of school, two years into my first real job at an advertising agency in Chicago.

Like usual, and like every other 24-year-old, I was restless. I questioned what I was doing. Was this job enough? Was this really what I wanted? Was I happy? Should I have just married that boy from college so I wouldn't have to be working at all right now? Was there still time to join the Peace Corps?

I've been told that I wear my emotions on every single inch of my body. My neck stiffens with frustration. My jaw sets with anger. My calves light up with discontent. Restlessness as a feeling becomes my physical state and it's impossible to ignore.

And so, this company consultant came to talk to me.

Can this place hold you?

I tend to move fast. My legs are strong. My pace is quick. My steps are purposeful. I'm a runner.

I walk out of bad movies and bad dates before they're done. In seven years I've had eight different apartments. My current apartment is filled with half-read books. As a rule (or maybe it's a habit?), if i'm uninterested, I leave.

I landed in a notoriously promiscuous industry -- one that tends to suit an I'm-so-restless-I-can't-even-stand-it mentality quite well. Clients shift agencies often, and so do agency employees. Moving quickly from one company to the next is the norm. Change! More money! More respect!

Can this place hold you?

Over time, I've changed departments and positions. I've watched co-workers come and go. I've had stretches of stagnation and I've had promotions. I've had mini-meltdowns, medium-tantrums, and I've grown up. The question from that thoughtful consultant has become my mantra during periods of restlessness (a physical and emotional state that I've grown to accept as a relative constant, a truth about my being -- or maybe my age -- rather than a problem that always necessitates dramatic action). I repeat his words as a test to myself: if the answer remains yes, I stay. As soon as it becomes no, it's time to make moves.

Can this place hold you?

There's no question that change is good. And, of course, so is more money. And, mostly, so is respect. I'll always believe that time is not for wasting on carpeted apartments, dates that don't excite, or the chapters of books that bore you. I'll always run. But lately, amidst the backdrop of constant change, I've been thinking more about the value of riding the waves instead of jumping the ship. I've been thinking about loyalty and roots. I've been thinking about the value of growth in the strong arms of consistency.

Can this place hold you?

Next month marks my fifth anniversary at the same ad agency in which I started. Five whole long years. This matches the length of time I spent wasting tuition dollars at college and beats any relationship anniversary I've ever had by just over 360 days. My parents, I'm sure, attribute this to some sort of small miracle. But the truth is, despite any fleeting moments of restlessness or discomfort, I really like this place.

What I've learned in these five years is the unexpected value of choosing to stay.

Certainly not all the time and not in every aspect of life. I think that movement is everything, usually. But I've come to realize that if you can find a place (a job, a city, a home, a relationship) that really can hold all of who you are -- a place that lets you change and fail and learn and succeed, a place that lets you wear your restlessness on your entire body and allows you to work through it, a place that gives you the freedom to be yourself and then challenges you to be better -- that just might be a place worth not walking away from.

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