Growing up in Boston and having gone to school in Cambridge, I had a strong conviction of East Coast superiority. I loved the history of Boston, the competitiveness in Cambridge, and, after spending two summers in New York, the pace of Manhattan. There was a gritty, dog-eat-dog mentality that permeated throughout the city, both up in the boardrooms and down on the streets. There was a toughness and an urgency that New York required, as evidenced by the fast walking, fast talking culture. And even though the suits could be parading around with million-dollar bank accounts, they all still carried themselves as if entering the school of hard knocks: brows furrowed, collars up, and wielding a vast repertoire of profanity.
Even with its rat-race culture, I loved New York. During my senior year of college, I interviewed solely for jobs that were based in the city. Having grown up in the ambitious East Coast lifestyle, it just seemed like a natural progression to move to Manhattan, with its promise of hard work begetting career advancement.
I ultimately accepted an offer to work in a program which required a year in New York and a year in Los Angeles. When I got my first assignment, I was devastated to learn that I was starting in California. On a cold, wintry day in Boston, I packed my bags and flew out to the West Coast. I figured I’d just wait it out for a year until I got back to New York, where my career would actually begin. After all, LA was about its actors and singers, smoke and mirrors, and Britney and Kevin. Instead of M&A, I figured I’d just find T&A. It certainly wasn’t the same type of professional environment that I expected in New York.
Throughout my year in LA, I did encounter many examples of the superficiality that I expected when I first came to California. Most conversations centered around the gym, the beach, or the latest celebrity debacle. Meeting people out on the town invariably turned into a casting session. There was an endless supply of aspiring actors, models, and dancers moonlighting as waiters, secretaries, and personal trainers. There was a sleepy, slow pace to LA, where people mostly ambled along. Furrowed brows and premature wrinkles were nonexistent, if not for the worry-free lifestyle, then for the rampant use of Botox.
To my surprise, I found myself drawn to many aspects of the laid-back, West Coast lifestyle. One huge part of this was the weather. When I first arrived at the Burbank airport in January, I was greeted by 65 degree weather and bundled-up Californians. My landlord, wearing a thick black parka, apologized for how cold it was. (Over my year in LA, I could count on one hand how many times it rained. Almost 90% of the days were over 70 degrees and sunny…even in “winter”. I remember going to the beach in February, and just like in the Corona commercial, feeling disappointed when a cloud would appear in the bright blue sky.) The beautiful weather was something I didn’t expect, and it seemed to justify the slow pace of LA. Lying on the Santa Monica beach in the middle of March, I remember feeling rather smug–while my friends back in New York were shuttered away in their tiny apartments, I was out on the beach every weekend, enjoying the sun. While they were trekking through snow and maneuvering through the NYC subway system, I was cruising down Ventura boulevard in my car, windows down, radio blaring. While they were working weekends and long hours, I was putting in ten-hour days at most, with enough time to go to the gym and still get a margarita after work.
Yet even with this carefree lifestyle, there were often times when I felt anxious about the life I was living. I almost didn’t want to get too comfortable… it seemed like I was getting complacent or soft. I worried that I was losing my drive and ambition to the allure of comfort and sun. I didn’t want to become the stereotypical airhead Californian, without a care in the world. I’d think of the negatives of living in LA (the superficial people, the earthquakes, the traffic, and the smog) and remind myself of my East Coast convictions. I was bred to be a New Yorker after all, and there was some built-in angst that I had to have. Even with all the comforts out on the West Coast, I was never free from anxiety about my career, future, and ambitions.
A week ago, I moved back to New York to start the second year of my program. As I sat at my austere desk and looked out on the gray horizon, I missed the carefree days of life in sunny California. I can’t help but reminisce about LA and its anti-New York philosophies: work to live, don’t live to work. Life’s too short. Don’t worry, be happy.
A year ago, I would have thought that these philosophies were just an excuse for being weak, lazy, and of course, soft. Now, I’m not so sure. I don’t think I can ever completely embrace either side. As much as I loved LA, perhaps I’m programmed to feel guilt for “settling” or being too comfortable. Perhaps I can’t shake that gnawing ambition and ensuing anxiety. But now that I’ve seen how the other half lives, I don’t think I can bear the rat race of New York. I’m still awed by the intensity and energy of the city, but I’m not quite as keen to be immersed in it. Maybe that means I’m more willing to sacrifice career for life, in order to have fewer wrinkles when I’m older. Or, maybe I just need a few more weeks to get used to the fast pace of NYC again.
At some point I’ll have to choose… but I’m probably just not ready to do it now.
Update (6/25/09): What I Love About New York City
Update (10/14/09): Oddities in New York City
Update (3/31/10): I’m moving back to LA … Guess I’ve made my decision, huh?
Update (4/30/10): Goodbye, New York
Update (6/7/10): Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is Los Angeles
Update (6/29/10): Deciding On Lew Yongeles