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12 Things I Learned From Living in Chicago for an Entire Summer

Updated on March 17, 2017
Colin Wattonville profile image

Colin Wattonville is a business student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, with a background in marketing, entrepreneurship, & finance.

Whether it is temporarily or permanently relocating for work like me, studying abroad in college, a need to start fresh, or maybe just a burning desire to experience a different lifestyle, almost everybody will end up moving away from home at some point in their life. Here are several things I learned about life, myself, and the city of Chicago after living there this past summer.

1. Traffic Is A Valid Excuse For Being Late

Growing up in a fairly small city with a population just shy of 1,000,000, I never understood why everyone in movies would say, “Sorry I am late, I got caught in traffic.” The sheer number of cars in Chicago is unbelievable. What was even more unbelievable to me was that I could be going a whopping ZERO mph on the interstate and that traveling only a few miles could take me up to an hour—the same amount of time it could take me to get to an entirely different city back in my hometown.


2. Blinkers? What Are Those?

Besides the insane about of cars, adding to this craziness is the fact that probably less than 50% of them use turn signals. Hell I even see police officers cutting people off without signaling. Also, I am almost certain that city buses do not come equipped with these lights.

3. Speed Limits Are Just Guidelines

There are so many people doing so many different things that are important to them, all while living their own lives. That being said, no one will stand in your way of getting to where you need to be. Everyone tries to get to their destination as quickly as possible; it is a free-for-all. One of my first days up here, I came home and asked my boss if the odometer on one of our company cars could be broken. I asked this since although I was going with the flow of traffic, I looked down to see that I was going 90 mph!

4. If You’re Not Moving Fast, Get Out of the Way

This doesn’t just apply with driving, but with walking, ordering food, doing business, everything. If you are taking your sweet time then you are being annoying to those around you. I have always been very fast-paced, but I even found myself receiving glares from others a few times for going at a speed that was fine for me, but wasn’t ideal for others. I tried to keep my pace more rapid throughout the summer, not just to help add productivity to my day, but to also be kind to others and help them do things more quickly.


5. Everything is Bigger and More Abundant

From the grocery stores that are two or even three stories tall to the deep dish pizza, there is more of EVERYTHING in this city. Everything is supersized and scaled up to perfectly serve the massive population of the city.

6. Doing Business in Smaller Cities Cannot Compare

Because everything is so much more abundant, the potential growth for new businesses, such as the one I have helped my cousins start, is so much greater. Businesses reach literally millions more than they do in my hometown. If a business can succeed in a large city, then it can certainly succeed in smaller ones.


7. Business is Built on Relationships and Handshakes

While this city is constantly on-the-go, I realized that the best way to succeed in business is to stand out by going out of your way for others. In a city that is so hurried and often focused only on the next task that needs to get done, taking a few extra moments to talk to your customers or to a business partner will make a huge impact. Be personable. Be professional. Be genuine. Let others know who you really are and what you stand for.

8. You Never Know Who You May Run Into...

So make sure that you always dress to impress and are nice to everyone.

One time while I was working, there was a lady not too far from me in an aisle at a grocery store. I heard her asking for help trying to find a certain product for “a client” that she was shopping for. I quickly turned to her and offered her two free samples of our product—one for her and one for this client of hers. Who could’ve been on the other end of that shopping list she was carrying around? A CEO? The mayor?

Another time during work I ran into a guy who had stopped to ask me what company I worked for. After I told him and explained to him what our company was all about, I then asked where he was from. The response shocked me and I am certain that I will never forget our conversation as long as I live. He responded, “I am the director of marketing for Coca Cola.”

9. This City Has It All

Mom and pop shops. Famous restaurants and fast food chains. Beaches. Amusement parks. Major sports teams. Trains. An international airport. You name it, Chicago has it.

10. Long Distance Relationships Are Not Easy

I would be lying if I said I was not concerned about how my relationship would be affected from spending three months in a different city. Despite being romanticized by TV shows and movies, long distance is nothing special. In fact, to be brutally honest, it sucks and it is difficult. Going from being with someone you care about so much every day to only being able to video chat for a couple of hours was a huge difference that was not easy to get used to. You find yourself worried about the other person, hoping they are ok and having a good time. So many emotions come with this and your relationship gets tested in ways that it never has before. Just be prepared for tough times if you are thinking about doing long distance.

11. Everyone is Selfish, But That's OK

Everyone puts themselves first. In traffic. While walking. When getting onto the train. While talking to others. It's just how us humans work. Living in Chicago, particularly after a long conversation with my cousin the last weekend while I was up there, made me realize that everyone is trying to pursue their own goals; trying to shape their own future. That jerk that cut you off in traffic may have wanted to get to the office early to make sure everything is looking perfect for a new client. The biggest lesson I learned from this summer is that people are selfish. Most of the time, people don't wrong you out of spite, but rather because they believe that it is in their best interest.

Most people go through life seeking happiness. On a fundamental level, happiness is what we base the majority of our decisions on. We all are looking out for what is best for ourselves. There is nothing wrong with this as long as you do not let it get out of hand and still find time to build positive relationships and make others happy as well.

12. Become Content With Being Alone

I knew only a handful of people going into the summer and left knowing only a few more. Although I was sharing a townhouse with my boss, we did not spend much free time together. Because of these things, I got used to being in only my company. I knew that this was probably going to be the case going into the summer. I would be alone most of the time.

However, instead of this being a negative thing, I found myself using the summer as a reflective, self-improvement time. I focused only on Colin. I tried new things. I finished two online courses, read a couple of books, started working out again, started doing yoga, watched numerous webinars on different business topics, and started to write articles such as this one. This summer was probably the most productive three months of my entire life. Combine that with a ton of self-reflection and I can honestly say that my summer in Chicago was life-changing.

© 2016 Colin Wattonville

Share any story of when you have moved away from home. I would love to hear how it changed you and what you learned from it!

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