First of all, thanks so much to everyone who entered the January giveaway! Based on a random drawing, this month’s winner is KAILA! Congratulations, Kaila! Please send me an e-mail with your mailing address, and I will have your bracelet in the mail by the end of the week. I’m so happy to be able to share my love for The Shine Project with all of my followers. Please be on the lookout for the February giveaway and don’t be shy about entering again!

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Five years ago today, I woke up at 5 AM in my bedroom at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, put on a skirt and blazer (purchased on a J. Crew Factory shopping spree a few days earlier), and boarded a bus to New York City for my first day in the working world. Having finished up all the credits I needed for graduation a semester early, I’d moved out of my dorm room in Washington, D.C. before the holiday break still jobless, but with the help of a little sorority networking, I’d lined up an interview with my dream company in Manhattan in mid-January. Within a few days, I received the offer (confession: when I got the call, I was watching TV in bed in the afternoon and wearing my bathrobe), and on January 30, my professional life started. All of my friends were a few weeks into their final semester of college — most of them taking as few classes as possible — but my life had totally changed.

I spent the weekend before my first day of work pretending that I hadn’t decided to graduate early.

At my company, milestones in five-year increments were kind of a big deal. If I’d stayed in my corporate gig, my boss probably would have sent an e-mail to the whole department today, congratulating me on my hard work and sharing a brief history of my time there. In response, I would have received a lot of “great job!” e-mails from my co-workers. It would have felt really, really good. As much as I love working for myself, you just don’t get e-mails like that when you’re out on your own. You just don’t.

I don’t regret my decision to leave my company and change course, but I can’t help but take a moment today to think about what that milestone would have felt like had I decided to stay.

I’m about to sound like such a millennial, but, whatever: five years is a long time. I can count on one hand the number of my friends who are still with the company that hired them today — five years after graduation. It just seems to be a rarity these days for people in their twenties. My former company, though, was the kind of place that inspired a lot of loyalty in its employees — one of my favorite things each year was to watch as people accepted their ten-, twenty-, thirty-, and forty-year milestone awards. It was pretty amazing! By the end of my first year, I had silently challenged myself to stick around for that long, too.

In the end, that wasn’t meant to be (as we all know), but I still feel lucky to have been part of an organization that modeled that kind of commitment and passion. I would have been proud to reach my five-year milestone today, and I’m proud of all of the amazing friends I made there who are reaching their own anniversaries this year.

Instead, I’m working on the couch alongside my mom, who is spending the morning with me before she heads to a meeting in Manhattan. We woke up and started working at 7 with the news on in the background, allowing us to keep up a steady commentary about the scary state of the world as we go about our business. When I feel like I need a break, I’ll go out and complete the first run of my half marathon training for this year, and then I’ll spend the afternoon getting ahead for the rest of the week, since I’ll be in Philadelphia for a project all day tomorrow.

My life is very different now than it would have been if I’d been celebrating that five-year anniversary today, but I’m not sure there’s ever an objectively “better” or “worse” choice in life. This is where I need and want to be at this stage, but I won’t pretend those four-plus years in corporate America didn’t bring incredible value to my career. I’m grateful for each and every chapter.