The Time I Decided Not To Move To New York City After All

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you,” said Joseph Campbell. “You have to move to New York,” said all my journalism professors ever.

For a brief, delusional window of time, my goal was the same as most of my classmates: finish school, throw caution and common sense to the wind and ship out, jobless and penniless, to worship at the altar of Manhattan. My adviser was sure I could do it — “everybody gets a job within three months,” he said. While it is appealing, this idea that if you just try hard enough, it will happen for you, I have found that, unlike my fifth-grade science teacher, life doesn’t always wait for triers. Practicality won out in the end, as it so often does for me, and I decided to stay in Chicago instead.

I was upset, but only because New York began to feel more like a “now or never” as I watched friends and acquaintances successfully follow the script, happily installing themselves at big name publications while I continued to work mainly from my bed. But most things are not now or never, not really, and anyone who says otherwise is writing a romantic comedy. I’m happy in Chicago, as deep down I knew I would be, with an established network of friends, a great neighborhood where there are not one, not two, but three taquerias all named La Pasadita on one block, and where the kids from next door play volleyball in the street and tell me I look like their science teacher. My apartment is spacious, pretty and half the cost of something half its size in Manhattan. The city is the perfect blend of strange and familiar, full of both memories and things I have yet to discover.

I started trying to write this piece several months ago, around the time I decided definitively to stay. At that time, it actually was a story about settling, though I wouldn’t have admitted it. I had myself convinced I was championing my decision to listen to Lindsey Buckingham and go my own way.  But recently I was presented with an opportunity that, had I gotten it, would have required me to drop everything I have here, all the things I listed that are so great about this place, and move to New York. I worried myself literally sick, coughing and sniveling and obsessing for a week, but if it came down to it, I wouldn’t have hesitated to leave.

In the weeks that have passed since I was passed over for the job, I have found myself time and time again feeling grateful. Grateful for the tacos at La Pasadita, the world’s best roommate and a city that is just as full of possibility as New York and twice as meaningful to me. Career-wise, I would describe my current state as that moment when your mom finally lets go of the bicycle seat and you have a brief moment of wobbly exhilaration. I’m doing it, I’m really doing it, and for now, everything is great. If I’m going to crash, I’d much rather do it here, where the city is gentler and my friends are close by to patch up my scrapes.

It’s a very human thing, I think, to be continually unimpressed by our own successes, to enjoy them for five minutes before we return to thinking about all the things we have yet to achieve, and I’m as guilty as anyone. But the greedy maw of my ambition can wait to be fed while I try my best to do some actual living beyond the frantic grasping at success that is all too common among those of my chosen profession. Chicago is not a finish line. New York is not a finish line. There is only one finish line in life, and when I think about it, I don’t really want to get there. TC mark

image – Rhys Asplundh


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  • Nicole Nejati

    I’m going through this exact same decision. Should I stay in Chicago or move to NYC? I almost moved out right after graduation, but was afraid of getting laid off when the economy was a lot worse than it had been before. Chicago will always be home and is a great city, but sometimes I can’t help wonder; if I never leave and try NYC will I always wonder? It sounds terrifying to leave a great job, city and network of family and friends for the unfamiliar, so I keep thinking “why mess up a good thing?”

  • Joehertler

    In the wise words of Carl Sandburg… “I’m an Idealist. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.”

  • Iamsoy

    Unless you have a fantastic, career altering job opportunity, don’t move to New York. It is overrated – that’s a given. But unless you want to live in what is a more expensive, dirtier campus consisting of only adult-freshman-dormitories with adults acting like horny, FOS freshmen, then spare yourself and work on becoming a fully functioning adult rather than an emotionally and financially stunted post-grad.

  • Natasha Young

    I’m in a similar boat. I think I’ve got a good thing going here in Montreal, but I’m an American, I speak French but I am certainly not competent enough to work as a journalist in both languages, and there isn’t exactly a huge English-language writing/journalism industry in this city. If I can’t manage to get good enough work while living here (though I do freelance writing, which helps but so far pays irregularly and little), I’ve determined myself to flee for New York City.

    But I can have a far, far nicer standard of living here, I have the love of my life and my cat and my friends here, there’s a pretty killer music scene here which I have managed to become connected with through my work… I have every reason to want to stay, except for the risk of insufficient employment. So, I don’t know. I totally vibe with this article, but at this point I can’t rule out moving to New York yet, if it turns out to be a better career move. There’s got to be a way for me to have the dynamic cultural journalism career AND continue living here, right? It’s the internet age, right?!

  • Walek

    Why does everyone stupidly move to Manhattan? Good god. 

  • Kai

    I think I need to move to Chicago! (Calgary is fine, but easy to harp on)

    • Damen Handle

      you wont be disappointed.  you will meet some great quality, interesting people in Chicago.

      • Kai

        but are there jobs?

      • Damenhandle

        Like everywhere, depends on what you majored in :)

      • Kai

        Film studies and dropping out. I’ve got employment & benefits without a degree, so it’s easy to stay put.

      • CausticWit

        Jobs are not “like everywhere” in Chicago. Everything (from walking dogs to slinging drinks) is competitive. It is a great city though.

      • GUEZT

        you read that wrong.

      • CausticWit

        No, Guezt, I didn’t.

      • GUEZT

        Hmm, still think you did. I believe they meant that the Chicago job market is similarly competitive to that in other cities. So the fact that you commented that the opposite was true, but then justified that with a sentence about how jobs are hard to find… makes no sense.

      • Damenhandle


  • Amanda

    did you get that quote from the inside of an Honest Tea?

  • Damen Handle

    I loved this piece. I ‘ve gone through alot of the same feelings in the past few years.  I wrote this comment on a piece a few weeks ago, but it still feels appropriate here:

    I grew up in Chicago, went to school in DC, then spent two years in NYC, and now I’m back in Chicago. I love NY- its great, vibrant and dynamic, but Chicago has that PLUS spirit and heart, and that’s what I need in my life now. There’s a part of Chicago that is firmly globalized and moves at a fast pace, with high culture, restaurants, art and music; but there’s another part of Chicago thats rooted in Old World urban America, with generations of families living in bungalow houses and eating italian beefs while watching the Bears. There’s something about walking the streets of Bridgeport or Logan Square and getting a Chicago Dog from a hole in the wall joint, hearing the conversations of old-timers in the neighborhood that always makes me smile. I love the fact that from there I can go out to a gallery opening in Wicker Park or a lounge in the West Loop, and still feel a part of the spirit of the city. That’s what I love about Chicago that I didn’t get in DC or New York, that you can be the type of person that eats a street gyro for one meal and then fois gras for the next and be completely satisfied nonetheless. Granted, my time in NYC was limited and my experiences don’t speak for everyone, and New York is a special place where so many dreamers come, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as connected to day-to-day humanity and community as I do when I’m in Chicago. It really is a special, beautiful place to call home.

  • Jordan

    I just drove to NY and Boston and back for job opportunities and after having spent a very small amount of time in each city, of course in awe of the lure of both of them compared to my yappy chihuahua of a town Orlando, I realized that it may not be all that bad down here.

    [Your city] may not have all the draws of an NYC but it does have whatever life you’ve built while you were there.  And in the face of leaving for a town more than twice as expensive, that’s worth a lot.  The decision isn’t all money of course, but it’s big.

    I wonder at 26 whether I’ll get any cool years with my funny, smart, wealthy, worldly (oh, and imaginary) Manhattan friends, but I just got an offer down in Orlando so I guess I’ll have to wait to find out!

  • Nicole Thompson

    Your phrase ‘worship at the alter of Manhattan’ was the most beautiful thing ever.
    I like Chicago better, anyway.  I grew up in the suburbs of Chi.  True about the real estate, too.

    I’m in a similar period of my life, where all my friends are in the process of deciding what they want to do and making it happen and being successful and all sorts of shit, and I’m just sitting here and stewing my toes for a little while, lagging behind them.  But for me, this is all just the process I have to go through in my own personal journey.

  • Reader in FL

    Beautifully written, delightfully charming and easily identifiable. Julie, you did a wonderful job with this piece and with your decision. Congratulations on moving forward with competence and happiness. 

  • Frida

    I need to find some of the magic in Chicago before I go away for college next year.
    I moved here last year, but haven’t seen as much of the good side as i’d like.

  • Vicky Nguyen

    Too many people prescribe to the idea that NYC is where it’s happening. I mean, maybe it was a few years ago, but with the way things are going, it’s honestly more than good enough to be at a time and place where you feel happy. Everyone’s rushing to finish, but what’s the point? If we’re meant to get there, we’d get there.

    Beautifully written. I loved your logical perspective.

  • macgyver51

    I’m from Georgia, spent lots of time in both, sticking with Chicago every time. Why? Because the people are nice there. NYC can shove it.

  • Haley F

    You should check out Richard Florida’s books about why people live in the cities they do. I happen to do live in New York currently, but it was never a long goal or dream. More like a “Hey I think it’s time for me to leave Toronto.” And not really caring where I was going –  2 months later I arrived here.

    I’m a big believer cities have a huge impact on your happiness for various reasons beyond how cool they are. Friends, family, jobs.. I personally love New York and feel more at home here than I ever have anywhere else because it fits me and how I like to live at this point in my life. But I think people should respect that not every city is for everyone, and while New York is fun and awesome, you can definitely find equal opportunities in other places. Except Toronto. That place sucks ;)

    • a torontonian

      seriously, eff toronto.

      • Damen Handle

        Is ti really that bad? I’ve only heard good things! The diversity, the vibrancy, etc. I’ve heard its basically a Canadian version of Chicago.

  • Haley F

    Also I find you Americans tend to think small. Living in Chicago and want to expand your horizons? Go to Paris or London or Barcelona or Dubai or Singapore or Tokyo. There are so many other amazing cities in the world to visit and live in.

    • Sevensister

       Have you ever lived in Singapore? Exactly. It’s not amazing so don’t go recommending to others, ok sally?

  • Jessica Lendi Dickson

    Just wanted to let you know it was an absolute pleasure reading this, I admire your language and expressions and a serene sense of realization upon conclusion. It’s super groovy, keep it up.

  • NoSexCity

    Your assessment is pretty on-par. Something about the comfort of a place that you call home (and the friends, and the cheaper rent) sounds particularly appealing as the weather starts to change.

    • NoSexCity

      Besides, New York isn’t going anywhere.

  • Anonymous

    This article should be called “I had absolutely no real reason to move to New York so i didn’t.”

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