california: the long & short version

The first day I moved into my new apartment in the sunny (and I mean sunny) state of CA, I went out to dinner with one of my business associates. When the waitress came to take our drink order, he told the waitress that we were celebrating a big move from the East Coast to the West Coast. The waitress turned to me and asked me why I moved – naturally, right? Wouldn’t that be anyone’s reaction? And I stumbled to answer.

It’s not that I didn’t know why I moved to California – It’s just that it would take me a half an hour to explain to someone for it to make sense. I didn’t have a short answer.

I promised myself I would take some time to think about a short answer to “So, why did you move to California?” by the time I came back with my boxes and car. Inevitably, people were going to continue asking me. And I still haven’t completely answered everyone in my life already who has asked.

So, the short answer: “Because it scares me and I never thought I could do it, so I did.” Short, but if I told someone that I basically wanted to conquer some fears and challenge myself, it was a respectable answer.

The long answer is more complicated, but a crucial piece.

There is still the part that it scares me – because it does. I cried and put a rush application to Rutgers (a mere 30 minutes from my house) my senior year of college because I didn’t want to be 3 hours away from my family. I didn’t want to miss birthday parties, minor holidays or homemade Italian gravy and visits from Grandma every Sunday. If I couldn’t move 3 hours away via car, I knew there was no way I would ever be able to move across the country.

But it only scares me because it’s outside of my comfort zone. Which I’ve been living in since I came home from college at age 19. (That’s almost 10 years fam.) I CRAVE comfort. I love sweats and warm blankets and routine. I was afraid of moving really anywhere outside of my house and away from my comfort zone. And then what if I fail? What if I spend all this money to move and then I’m homesick and I hate it?

Moving away – in general – was scary. But deep down I found myself wondering what it would be like if I didn’t fail. What if I had done something that scared me, that I thought I couldn’t do? Wouldn’t it be that same happiness I experience daily thinking about my 100lb weight loss? To have finally done something you thought you couldn’t do? To challenge myself in a way that was uncomfortable, only to open new doors for me?

What about my friends? Wouldn’t I miss them? I finally feel like I’m at a point in my life where I have friends who are valuable and I enjoy spending time with – and I’m going to just walk away from that?

And my FAMILY! I didn’t want to break my mother and father’s heart and there was times I knew moving away would. I was blessed with a mother who is smart and is always teaching me how I can be successful and helps me focus. And my father – who never puts himself first. Always others. Always puts me first. And is always teaching me too. (This girl assembled furniture that stands all by herself. And made her first trip to the Home Depot for tools all by herself!) My little brother, who is pretty wise, but also listens to me. How could I not be near them everyday?

My heart was curious and excited about living somewhere else, but my head was trying to be logical and talk me out of it.  I didn’t want to runaway from my life, I wanted something new to explore. And I wanted a bit of my safety net removed and my comfort zone a little further out of reach than New Jersey. I wanted to be brave and force myself to meet new people, make new friends and (though I love to read) break away from finding ways to occupy myself alone.

In the Fall of 2015, I had briefly discussed a possible job in St. Petersburg, FL. And though I had never considered a job with a move before, I knew I would be extremely happy with this company and thus took the job discussion seriously. I found myself daydreaming about living in Florida, in the warmth and the sun, where it doesn’t cost a ton to live. I was picturing how cool it would be to have a life someplace different.

In January of 2016, New Year’s Day to be exact – I went to visit my second cousin in San Francisco, CA. Erik lived in Maryland his whole life and after graduating took a prestigious job in the Silicon Valley. Erik shared with me that he actually didn’t have to move his life for his job. And things didn’t turn out the way he wanted them to – but he had a duty to make the most of it, and that’s what he did, and Erik is beyond happy in California too.

I was in a unique position in my life. I don’t have kids, I wasn’t in a relationship and I managed to be in a completely remote career that allowed me to move anywhere and keep doing what I love.

It kind of sealed the deal for me. It would be extremely hard, and I might fail, but I had a duty to make the most of this and out of my new life, and so I decided to move someplace new. I wanted to know what it felt to come home. The next question to address, was WHERE?

I thought about a few things like, where is the cost of LIVING cheaper than good ol’ expensive NJ? What about the quality of life? Where is there a lot of the things that I love? Is there someplace more spread out than NJ?  What about scenery and weather?

Then there were my career aspirations. If I failed as a freelancer and had to go back to a desk job, where would my experience be most valuable? Where can I find companies I love?

California had all of that for me – minus the change in cost of living, which I didn’t mind being equal to that of NJ. Phoenix was a close second – falling to two for lack of beaches (which I then realized was pivotal to my existence. I can’t make a river between two rocks work for me. I need the sand and endless ocean).

Southern California had beautiful hiking spots. Beautiful weather and more to explore than I may be able to ever do. Tacos on every corner (at least where I live!). It had opportunities for me to be outside almost year-round (which I love) and be around more people. Most people I met were kind and outgoing, and many were not from California originally either. SO MANY transplants.

California is also a hot bed of health and wellness companies and start-ups – my career niche and passion. I knew it would create more opportunities for me to do more of what I loved.

And last – and most importantly every Uber ride back to LAX, I felt like I didn’t want to leave. Though I’ve been to some beautiful places, I always miss my bed and am ready to be home. California has been the only place to make me forget about my bed and being home.

I settled into my apartment last week, expecting to come home to NJ to finish packing and ship my car. I didn’t expect that when I came home, it wouldn’t feel like my home anymore. After one week, how could it? But it did. Within one week, I had found my local park, began setting up my apartment and already started to feel like California was my home. I was also offered two exciting opportunities in LA for my career the first Monday I was in my apartment and am excited to physically meet with some of my West Coast clients.

Then there are the silly things I tell myself. Like that time my parents bought me a karaoke machine when I was 8 and I learned all the lyrics to “California Girls” by the Beach Boys. Or that time I was 12 and had my own personal website/blog hosted by a girl from Bakersfield, who was also my online best-friend teaching me how to be #WestCoast. Or that period of my life I refused to wear any shoes but Vans and all my clothes had to be from Pac Sun because I was “so West Coast” (when really I was just a Jersey girl wishing it was endless summer). The only DVD box set I own all seasons of was “The OC” because Ryan & Marissa 4ever (also ps. These were my thoughts the first time I drove through Chino.)  Or the friendships I’ve made with people who live in California. The kind of things that I tell myself to convince myself that this was meant to be for me, that this was my dream for longer than the last year or so.

There’s also a piece of me starting to own my home more so than I ever would if I stayed. I’ll always crave weekends at the beach like a Jersey Shore girl would. I won’t mind telling people the differences between NJ Shore Residents and Snooki. I’ll always say certain words funny and my friends will laugh at me when I order a coffee or water. I’ll be a little extra excited about hearing Bruce Springsteen from a state that is not NJ. And you should see me walk into a Jersey Mike’s in CA and feel all warm when I see Pt. Pleasant photos on the wall. I will call it both Pork Roll and Taylor Ham because I lived in both North and South NJ. But I always call it a sub sandwich because the word hoagie is still non-sensical and weird to me. And at my wedding Tom Waits will definitely be singing, “Shalalala I’m in LOVE with a Jersey Girl.” (Future husband beware.)

I’ll call home more. I’ll FaceTime more. I am eager for visitors to come see me and explore my new home too. I wasn’t leaving forever and technology has certainly made it easier than ever for me to stay close with my family and friends while I’m on the complete opposite side of the country. And I will always, ALWAYS come home.

This scares me, and I may fail. But I’m going to fail knowing I followed my heart for once and that’ll be a great story for the kids.