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Jillian Thomas Polyak

Marriage & Family Therapist

Chicago, IL

Embrace each setback to discover what you truly want.

Two years post college I was living in Los Angeles, working at a small financial services firm, and enjoying a close-knit group of friends. Everything was good, and yet, I felt unfulfilled. I wasn’t challenged, and I couldn’t shake the nagging sense there was something more I could be pursuing. So when an old college friend called me from Chicago to ask if I was interested in being her roommate, my answer was a resounding "yes!"

A couple of months later, I found myself two thousand miles from home in a city I had visited only once before. I had arranged an internal transfer with work, and had already begun to spend time with my new colleagues. I was confident that the move was exactly the challenge I had been seeking, and I eagerly made plans to explore my new city.

Two weeks later, I was laid off. It was September 2008, when the housing bubble popped and the financial markets crashed, resulting in the closing of many firms, including mine. I was initially optimistic; I dutifully searched for jobs each day and sent out dozens of resumes. As fall deepened into winter, I struggled to maintain confidence in my choices and myself. What had I been thinking, leaving my stable life in California, close to family and a much broader support network?

To top it off, right before I left Los Angeles, I met a guy. Given my impending move, I didn’t expect anything to come of it. However, as we continued to talk every day, my casual long-distance crush bloomed into something much deeper. We visited one another frequently (a perk of being unemployed!) and exchanged "I love you’s" in December. It became quickly apparent that long distance was not a sustainable relationship model for us, and once again, I found myself at a crossroads.

This was my make it or break it moment. Would Chicago become my home, or just a footnote in my story? It wasn’t so long ago that I was eagerly packing my bags, full of hope and excitement. Now, jobless and broke, it was downright seductive to turn around with my tail between my legs and move back to California.

Instead, I chose Chicago. As easy as it would be to return to California, I had never walked away from a challenge before – and I wasn’t about to now. Instead, I embraced each setback as an opportunity to reassess what I really wanted. I lost my job, but found a career; and despite the distance, my relationship continued to blossom. By the time spring rolled around, it became clear my commitment to Chicago had paid off. I found a temporary job and gained admittance to a prestigious graduate program. As for that casual crush? He chose Chicago, too – and now he’s my husband. Nearly five years later, Chicago has given me everything I craved, including a family and a career. And we can’t wait for the next big challenge.