Five years ago, if anyone asked me where I pictured myself at 24 years old, I would have hands down said, Probably struggling to work on some show or movie in Los Angeles. Fast forward to my 24th birthday, and I am working at a women’s media company in New York City.
Today, I am still asked rather frequently why I would ever leave LA, as a native Californian and UCLA alumna. These questions most often arise during particularly harsh climate conditions in New York (most recently the Bomb Cyclone). And while my decision to make the pilgrimage to The Big Apple is hardly a question for me today, that certainly wasn’t the case for a long time.
During my most recent stint out west, I spent nearly four years on the “Best Coast” enjoying the sun, celebrities and slow pace before my vision shifted. I still miss my favorite juice bar in Brentwood and that cool five-mile jog to the beach, but today, I do not miss living in La La Land, and it’s not because of the traffic. Arguably, its due to a factor that many people even make the excursion out west in the first place: the culture. A factor that I had even put on a pedestal for years before and even during my time in Los Angeles.
It became apparent, however, that the marble pedestal I had placed the City of Angels on, was in fact, literally and figuratively, quite plastic.
Between internships that rival The Devil Wears Prada, and daily interactions with people in all aspects of my life, there seemed to lack a level of genuine interest, empathy, and reciprocity. Certainly you won’t find a New Yorker greeting a stranger on the street with a sunny disposition, but if you do take the time to get to know them, they are genuine, honest, and real. Perhaps this is due to the singular Los Angeles industry that has been fostered by niceties and connections. I’m looking at you, Hollywood. Either way, the general culture remained pleasant but lacking authenticity and it was slowly chipping away my love for the city. While I felt the facade of the perfect LA fantasy fading, there was a distinct moment when I decided I was done, and it’s kind of a funny story.
In college, Sundays drinking Sangria at Santa Monica’s Bungalow were a fond past-time among my friends and I -- in fact the breezy beachfront haunt remains one of my favorite bars in LA and beyond. One particular Sunday at the Bung, I found myself particularly observant of my surroundings. In one swift realization, I saw that every person outside my immediate group shared the same face. Young, old, across all ethnicities, each person shared the same plump lips, ski-slope nose, and perfectly arched brows. And my first reaction was, Oh, maybe I should look into getting some work done. Artifice and homogeneity had become the standard and I wanted to contribute.
As silly as it seems, it was this moment when I knew I’d had enough of my California dreamin’ and needed to return to reality.
I would like to note here that people should feel comfortable doing whatever they please with their bodies and cosmetic procedures if it brings them happiness and confidence. What I do not support, however, is a desperate need to change oneself for the purpose of fulfilling an ideal at the expense of individuality.
So, in a mission to reclaim my own authenticity, I flew back east and haven’t regretted one thing. While I loved my years in California, cherished my education at UCLA, and still adore my friends who have established their lives there, I prefer to consider the Golden State a vacation rather than a home.
The next time a friend asks why I decided to leave California, while we’re squished between commuters on the L train cursing the claustrophobia, I’ll muster a smile despite the rancid smell of a man across the aisle who probably soiled himself, and reply,
I love New York. This is real life, real people and I wouldn’t change a thing.