Moving Thoughts

27 Jan

my little sister made these sweet cupcakes

The other day, a coworker, knowing that I moved from California to New York, asked me about my experience. He and his girlfriend are considering moving from New York to Florida, and he wanted some firsthand knowledge. This got me thinking. It’s been almost two years since my move (!!), but I haven’t really reflected too much, at least here, about how the move has gone, how it’s affected me and my relationships with others, and whether I’d do it again.

Since we’re all still thinking about the new year and what it holds for each of us (beyond the feverish, resolution-fueled exercising I see at the gym and yoga studio), I figure this deserves some attention. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past year and a half (not in any particular order):

Save up.
If you’re considering moving to a new city and you don’t already have a job lined up, wait. Stop. Save. As much as you can, but I’m recommending at least enough to cover your expenses for six to nine months. I’d never been unemployed for an extended period of time before I moved to New York, and I’d never really struggled to find work, so I naively thought that it would take me three to six months TOPS to find a new job.
Boy was I mistaken. It took me a full year, about a thousand job applications, and interviews with three companies (the only ones who responded), to find a part-time entry-level customer service job. Whose salary is not even close to what I was making at my previous job.
Of course my search was hindered by the worst national job market in decades, a failing economy, and an extremely competitive under-employed labor pool in New York City, but I wish I’d really heeded all those friends and family members who expressed serious reservations about my plans to leave a good job without having a new one in place. Especially since NYC is probably the most expensive city in the US.

Use your head.
I followed my heart, moving to New York City to be with CityBoy, my long-distance boyfriend of two years. I don’t regret the fact that we have finally been able to live together and enjoy the kind of day-to-day relationship most couples have, but I do wish I’d fought harder to move to a city in which I felt more emotionally (and financially) comfortable.
Find out what the job market is like in your dream city. Research online or speak to friends who are familiar with the area.
Also, is the pace and lifestyle of that city going to mesh with yours? I like the energy and plethora of cultural and artistic events in NYC, but after a while, I really started to crave a “softer” lifestyle, with a slower pace, fewer events to attend but more time to appreciate them, a closer (proximity-wise) circle of friends, and a climate that makes outdoor activity a joy instead of a trudge nine months out of the year.
Being part of a couple is tough. It’s not just you calling the shots, and you want the other person to feel good about the decisions you make. But you also want to do what’s best for you. Because there will be plenty of time for frustration and resentment if you aren’t happy with your choices.

Be prepared to work.
Moving to someplace new is work, work to find a new job, a new circle of friends, a new favorite coffee shop or bookstore. You have to rebuild your old life from the ground up, deciding which parts of yourself you want to shine in this new place.
I wish I had a magic formula for finding a job. I sort of fell into my current one. But part of that serendipity is perseverance. And a thirst to keep learning. Even though I was unemployed for a year, I volunteered that whole time at a writers organization. They weren’t able to help me find a job, but they did give purpose to my days (besides scanning the online ads and trying to write catchy online resumes). I met a lot of great people, learned some new skills (grant-writing help, anyone?), and maintained my sanity. I can’t stress enough how much it helped to have a place to go where people were depending on my help, where I supported a cause very dear to me: fostering young writers.
As for finding a new community, I haven’t been very good at this. I’m fairly shy around new people, so I’ve relied heavily on CityBoy and a few old friends living in the city. But mostly I’ve spent a lot of time this past year and a half alone. More than I ever have in my life. Which has been strange, and often lonely-making, but it’s certainly made me more comfortable with being alone (almost to the point that it feels weird and stifling to be with too many people, too much of the time).
I am, however, proud of the fact that I didn’t let my “new in town” status stop me from experiencing NYC. All that time out wandering around on my own helped me to find some amazing bookstores and neighborhood shops, and I’ve attended lots of really cool events. So force yourself to get out there.

Focus on what you can do.
Again, being unemployed (without being independently wealthy) for a year is no fun. No fun at all. But instead of getting mired down (too much – sorry, CityBoy!) with frustration and rejection, put your energies into positive things you can do.
At my most depressed, I got out of the house. A good friend recommended exploring the far-flung boroughs I’d never thought to visit. I went for walks, trolled bookstores, explored Central Park, visited local museums. You have to get out of the house, and most importantly, out of your head.
I also recommitted to writing on a regular basis and resurrected the idea of putting together a manuscript. Working on my poems on those jarringly cold days last winter really helped keep me busy and focused on a worthwhile project. I’m still far from a polished collection, but I have a good chunk of real poems. I even downloaded my latest revision to my Nook, so I can read it when the odd fancy strikes (it almost looks like a real book!).
And really stretch when it comes to the kind of paid work you can do. I was mostly applying for hotel management jobs because that’s what I had last done, but the position I finally ended up in was only tangentially related to my old field.
Brainstorm! What skill sets have you used in your past jobs? In what industries could those skills be applied? And don’t be afraid to look at part-time or entry-level work. I’m finally moving to a full-time position, and I hope in the coming years to move up within my company, and get back to (or exceed) the management level (and salary) I was at before I moved.

Lean on your family and friends.
I cannot begin to express how much my family and friends have meant to me this past year and a half. Whether it was through financial support, an encouraging ear, or face-to-face hugs and coffee talk, these guys helped me get through one of the toughest phases of my life. It’s amazing what a couple of laughs over the phone or some inside jokes shared over a bottle of wine can do to raise your spirits.
And what I really learned about my time on the East Coast is how important it is to me to have my friends within driving (or walking) distance. Visits home (and special kudos to those brave few who came to visit us here) and phone calls really aren’t enough. And while I love and appreciate my East Coast friends, they live very far apart and are busy, busy people. Many of them work high-pressure, high-stakes jobs.
My West Coast friends are every bit as busy, but somehow, the West Coast pace of life or the shared priority we gave to our friendships helped us make time for each other on a regular basis. And I need that time. I crave it.
So, would I do this crazy cross-country move again? You bet. I’ll probably (fingers crossed) be doing it again before too long. This time, though, I’m a little more informed and will be better prepared.

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