A little over three years ago I packed up my life on the East Coast and moved to San Francisco. Over the past few months I packed up again – this time to move back east and part with, if only temporarily, my beloved San Francisco.
December 2020 —
As we drove out to the airport and city lights faded into the background I couldn’t help but smile to myself. It was a bittersweet feeling to be leaving, like the sort of feeling you get when you finish a really good book.There were parts that made your heart throb and others that made your heart ache. There were other parts when you weren’t sure where things were going, and others when you were sure you know how the story would end. But then there was a twist, and then, suddenly, it was over. You’re not sure what to do with yourself now. To some extent you’re sad because the story is done and you’re not quite over it. It’s the kind of book that leaves you wanting more, but over time that feeling fades; you move on. Still, you’re so glad you read it. You know that, while the story wasn’t perfect and there were parts you didn’t like, the book changed you, if only just a little.
There’s a good chance there will be a sequel to my San Francisco story. However, I know that if I do return, I won’t be telling the same story as I did the first time around. I grew tremendously throughout my three years in SF. As I move out, I am putting that piece of my life behind me along with all of my unrealized hopes and dreams for what I wanted to get out of my life in San Francisco.
When I first moved to San Francisco I was idealistic about what my new “big-city” life entail. I would have the perfect job, the perfect apartment, the perfect boyfriend – that’s what an adult life should be like, right? I’d work in my “perfect” job and live in my “perfect” apartment until my “perfect” boyfriend and I got engaged. Then, we’d move in together and live happily ever after….or something like that. I didn’t exactly have all the details figured out, but that was the general idea.
I did find a great apartment, with a fantastic roommate who I met through work. The job, however, was not as glamorous as I imagined. Not that public accounting is ever all that glamorous, but still. Overall I really liked my job. For a job straight out of school, I was working on some really interesting projects. I started work with a big 4 public accounting firm working with venture-capital backed companies. Most were kind of like the stereotypical software startups you picture when you imagine Silicon Valley (like HBO’s Silicon Valley). For being an accountant, what I was doing was pretty cool. I found the companies I worked with to be fascinating, and the laid-back tech culture was a good fit for me.
However, I quickly learned that there were tradeoffs to having my “cool” job. Within just a month or so of starting work, I was thrown into an IPO. The experience was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. For the first six months I lived in San Francisco I worked on this IPO that required me commuting at least an hour and half to two hours each day, and working 12+ hour days. Between the long hours and commuting out of the city every day I missed out on a lot of the happy hours and events that my peers were partaking in. While other people were out building friendships and making memories I was stuck picking up coffee for my team and staring at excel spreadsheets until my head spun.
That stint of time that I worked on that IPO was arguably the most challenging time in my life. My hopes and dreams for a life in the city got a hard reality check. The long hours and work stress took their toll on my relationship. Not only that, but the reality of what I wanted out of my life in San Francisco, and life in general, evolved over that time.
I look back now on those first six months in San Francisco with fondness. Maybe it’s the “graduation goggles,” but really that time shaped my entire experience over the next three years. I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not gone through that. Hell, I might not be leaving San Francisco now had I not worked that IPO.
But here I am, glad it happened.
The stress and emotional rollercoaster I endured made me push aside the fantasy of a living a perfect life. It made me question who I was and what I wanted. It made me realize that, above all else, I needed to prioritize my happiness. Not the happiness of my boyfriend, or my co-workers, or my friends, or even my family. If I was going to be happy and fulfilled, I needed to make decisions that were truly my own. I needed to be independent before I could depend on someone else. I need to make sure that I am happy before I worry about what anyone else thinks.
I think a lot of us experience, or need to experience, this sort of reality check. We have an idea of what life should be because it’s what we’ve heard from friends or seen on TV and social media. The thing is, the life we see on the screen isn’t our own. What makes someone else happy might not do the same for us, and that’s okay. It’s okay to have your life turned upside down for a while if it helps you figure out what it is you really want; what it is that makes you happy and fulfilled. That’s what San Francisco did for me.
Fast forward to today, and I am now leaving SF fully of my own volition. It wasn’t easy to make that decision, but it was my own choice – one where I was prioritizing my own happiness regardless of what anyone else thinks. I love SF, but right now I know that I’ll be happier if I’m closer to friends and family.
My three years in San Francisco weren’t at all what I expected them to be, and I’m so grateful for that. I think I’d be miserable now if things had gone to plan. I’m grateful for the late nights I spent working on that IPO. I’m grateful for the wonderful and challenging teams I worked with during my stint in public accounting. I’m particularly grateful to the guys on that IPO team who helped me through a tough time (whether they realized it or not) through wall sits, Waffle Wednesday’s, and sneaking into bars to crash someone’s birthday party. I’m grateful for the subsequent heartbreaks and lessons I learned about love and relationships. I’m grateful to the roommates I had and am thankful that I always had a safe and stable place to go home to. I’m beyond grateful to the friends who became family while I was so far from home. Above all, I’m grateful to the city of San Francisco for all that it’s given me, and all that it’s taken away.
I may very well be moving back to San Francisco in another six months, but it won’t be the same. I’m moving out and I’m moving on from the fantasy of the perfect life that I brought with me to the Bay.
Sure, I’m terrified to start this new chapter. What if I’ve made the wrong decision? I’ll have no one to blame but myself. But here’s the thing about “wrong” decisions – there are always lessons to be learned. And with this one, at least I’ll have learned to follow my heart.
While I may be leaving SF, these people won’t be leaving me. Thank you all for making the past three years so memorable.