Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?
May 18, 2007 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Should I leave the city I've spent my whole life in when it seems like things are starting to go my way? [apologies in advance. more information than is probably necessary/confused word vomit follows]

I'm 24. In my whole life I haven't spent more than three consecutive weeks outside of Chicago. I love this city with all my heart and soul, but I feel like I should see more of what's out there. It seems stupid not to.

I don't know if I should move or just travel. I don't really have any responsibilities right now. I'm not on the lease at my apartment and all of my income comes from temp jobs and gigs. I'm in love, but she's thinking about leaving soon too. I don't want to be one of those idiots who leaves town because of a girl only to have everything fall apart, of course if nothing falls apart, then I guess I won't be an idiot.

If I'm just traveling, and not moving altogether, I don't have a lot of money, and will probably be running the squatter/punk house/friends'-and-family's-couches route across the country. I could see this as a good thing, I'm kind of sick of being tied to all this stuff. I'm kind of sick of trying to live this lower-middle class-with-an-upper-middle class-safety-net artschool brat life that I understand on what is usually a poverty level income.

The problem: All of my art school fantasies are coming true little by little. I'm starting to get published in the free papers and the Chicago websites and making some inroads on the real papers. I'm getting paid good money just to DJ, and people are starting to come to me about doing shows and collaborations and such without me asking them first. I've got a lot of good friends, and a lifetime's worth of connections built up. I'm creating things and getting things off the ground and a part of some things that I think are truly special. I don't know if any of this will carry over to a new place, or if stopping the momentum would be a terrible idea.

Besides, for all my life's worth of good people, fun places and secret routes to get from here to there, I've also built up a lifetime's worth of people's perceptions about who or what I am and how I act, a lifetime's worth of hate and cynicism about the city and the scenes within it. I feel like if I went to a new place, and really put my heart into it, I'd have that same wide-eyed Everything is awesome look I see on the people who show up here.

If I go... where should I go? Where's a place where I'll be able to peddle zines and DJ and make awesome weirdo friends and get a decent job if I need one and a good job if I want one?
posted by elr to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
That last bit may be a bit too much and should probably just read: where can I go to have some intense/joyous life experiences on no budget?

posted by elr at 9:25 AM on May 18, 2007

I would always recommend to anyone under any circumstances that if they've spent their whole life in X, that they should leave X. No matter how great X is, seeing how other people live is a very important thing to do for one's personal growth.
posted by jellicle at 9:39 AM on May 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you need someone or something to push you to leave. Maybe you're hoping an answer here will set out a crystal clear path for you. And maybe it will! But it's also important to realize that sometimes decisions like this will have pros and cons and even good choices may seem a little uncomfortable at first. In fact, those can be the BEST choices.

I love Chicago, too. But I and everybody I know there love it even more when we can spend time away from it. (In a week, I'm going back there for four months after eight months away.)

You're young enough where you can hit the pause button on your life for a while -- a year or two -- and travel or move somewhere pretty easily. It's probably only going to get harder as time goes on.

So many questions like this just come down to making the move you expect to regret the least. Of course there are no certainties, but do you imagine yourself in five years wishing you had stayed in Chicago or wishing you had gone away for a while?

You can always go back later.
posted by veggieboy at 9:47 AM on May 18, 2007

elr - my heart goes out to you in part because I have been you. Granted, I was six years older when I faced that, but I've been you.

I could go on at length about my experience, but I'll just hit on some points from your post.

1. I left for a girl and it did fall apart. Rather impressively. Even with that in mind I wouldn't change that experience for anything. She's still one of my absolutely favorite people in the world and I wouldn't have her in my life today had I not followed her seven years ago.

2. Momentum is hard to stop and hard to start.

3. People are not the same all over the country, let alone the world. Chicago has an amazingly collaborative arts scene. That's not the case in any other city I've spent real time in. San Francisco and Portland, OR might be exceptions, but I've not spent enough time in either to know for sure.

4. Everyone who can should travel some.

5. You can never go home again. I tried, but everything was different. My friends, haunts, everything. I wasn't prepared for the amount of different. Note: not bad, just different.

In summary, if I were you:

IF the girl has "the one" written all over her, seriously consider it, but if she's not "the one" or if you really know that you want to be an artist, etc. I would recommend staying put a little bit. You can (and should) pick up and move in a year or two when you've got some amazing connections and stuff to show for your efforts. That is the kind of stuff you can parlay in new cities. The more people you meet and befriend in Chicago, the more they'll be able to hook you up with people in other cities.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:48 AM on May 18, 2007

If I go... where should I go? Where's a place where I'll be able to peddle zines and DJ and make awesome weirdo friends and get a decent job if I need one and a good job if I want one?

New York, of course.
posted by milarepa at 9:50 AM on May 18, 2007

I've never lived in Chicago (though I can vouch that NYC and Portland are cool & creative places, though in different ways and different standards of affordability). I've had a few times in my life when I've just up and moved to a new town with no job prospects, stayed on a friend's couch, and got a job and new life pretty quickly -- though in both cases I had a small cushion of cash saved up. I moved to NYC at 23 and it was awesome and life-changing. I'd recommend an NYC move to anyone who's young, ambitious, creative and looking for new challenges.

On the other hand, it does sound like things are going well for you in Chicago, and that city's got a much better affordability than NYC. So I'll offer you two options:

1.) Stay in Chicago with your cheap rent and connections. Appreciate the fact that you can do this without a full-time job. Work on your art and your DJing -- really work on them, and treat them like your full-time jobs, both in terms of making art and finding new avenues to get your art out there. Submit your illustrations to publications and galleries outside of Chicago. Do temp work when you have to. And -- since you don't have a full-time job -- every couple of months take a cheap roadtrip to visit your friends in other cities, to have new experiences and get new inspiration. Keep drawing on your trips, and visit all the little old used-vinyl stores you'll find along the way. Find records that none of your other DJ friends have.

2.) Move to New York. You've got to have some art-school pals there, right? You'll have to find an apartment with roommates, likely in Brooklyn or Queens. (Queens is underrated -- not so hip, but stay close to the 7 line and you'll have a decent place for less cash than the hipster parts of Brooklyn, and a quick trip into Manhattan.) You'll also need to do more office work -- either lots of temping or a full-time job. There are lots of somewhat entry-level office jobs you can get if you're smart, which it seems you are. But you'll still have some time to work on your art and your DJing, and you'll have lots of inspiration from all the artists there, and can likely find some new creative collaborators really quickly. It'll be hard at first, but you can do it.

Either of these options would be awesome. Good luck.
posted by Sterling Hoyt at 10:19 AM on May 18, 2007

Personally, I think there's something to be said for really really getting to know a place. Living in Chicago, I'm sure there are plenty of places you've never been to that are amazing.

Some people need to uproot themselves to a new place entirely to grow, but it's not always the best way for everyone. You could easily start traveling to other places to see what they're like, and enjoy Chicago more when you get home.

Then again, this is coming from someone who has lived their entire life in the same county.
posted by drezdn at 10:30 AM on May 18, 2007

You don't have to uproot yourself completely. Why don't you save up some cash and go on a cross-country roadtrip? Backpack in Europe? Maybe all you're looking for is a new experience and landscape. There's nothing stopping you from exploring new lands for a few months and then returning to Chicago.
posted by Menomena at 10:56 AM on May 18, 2007

If things are really going that well for you locally, I think it would be pretty foolish to leave right now. Give yourself, say, 18 months. In that time you'll either be more established and have some money saved up to visit these places before moving there or things won't work out and you'll just couch-surf your way to SF or NYC.

I'm a little worried that all this work you've put in on the local level will not translate over to another city and you're going to seriously regret losing the network of connections you've created. If you can wait that 18 months I think you should.

I dont think moving sight unseen is ever a good idea, although its a romantic idea. Also, someone mentioned the affordability of living in NYC. Christ its expensive there and for the same money you'll be living in a space thats 1/2 the size. That's something to consider. Do you really want to work more and harder, thus having less time for your creative pursuits just for a change of scenery? Do you have the real estate savvy in these other towns to find a decent low-rent place like the one you currently have?

Lastly, there's no guarantee that the scenes you hate here won't be the scenes you hate there. The more I travel and the older I get, the more I realize that human nature is the same everywhere. I would also be concerned that if you went to a more hip locale you might suffer from all the added competition for your DJ gigs.

The downside here is that once you truly believe you'll be happier somewhere else, well, you might as well go there. Once your thought patterns turn to "If only I was in NYC, things would be better" all the time, then you'll be mentally torturing yourself every day. If you've reached that point you should consider saving up enough to get by there for a couple of months and feeling it out, without giving up too much on your current situation. If you dont like it and the money runs out you can always come back.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:07 AM on May 18, 2007

is it possible to maintain some of your connections in chicago while you're away? for example, you can probably still pitch stories to the free zines, as long as there's a chicago connection (interview artists who will be showing in chitown, etc).

i think new york is always a great experience. it can be overrated--i don't think it's mandatory to a fulfilling artistic life--but definitely something worth doing if you have the opportunity. austin could be fruitful, as could portland, seattle, atlanta, miami, boston, philly, los angeles, sanfran... if you feel like pioneering, omaha, pittsburgh, and nashville are starting to pick up artistic steam.

i definitely think going away is a huge step toward adulthood. this isn't a judgment--but i think generations x and y are far more attached to their parents than the generation before, and breaking the physical proximity is probably more necessary to develop independence.

i say follow the girl. it's hard to pick a place to live--you might as well go somewhere with someone. if you break up, you might find yourself single in a town that you like, or you might go back to chicago older and wiser. i don't think either would be a disaster.

but, i would say move, rather than travel. i think unless you're going abroad, you're not going to develop the kind of independence you want in less than a year.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:08 AM on May 18, 2007

I'm 24 too. I've been lucky enough to have a career that lets me be a wandering vagabond, so to speak: I teach English overseas. I've lived in three countries and have visited 25.

In lots of ways, of course, it's the most awesome job I can really imagine for myself, there are pathways to advancement and more stability later, and I've got a lot of independence, both at work when I'm teaching and in my free time when I'm exploring a new place.

But it's not so nice sometimes, all this moving around. I've never seen Lake Tahoe or the Colorado River, and I'm from California. I haven't been in a stable, meaningful relationship in three years because I've been moving around so much. I don't make enough money most years to even have to file a tax return (though I choose to live in not-very-expensive places). Visa issues have hampered my ability to freelance or do my own thing while abroad.

I think you've got what's on the cusp of turning into a great thing in Chicago - you've got a lot of freedom to create new links and build new connections. But I think you have to be brave enough to embrace it, fully, as Sterling Hoyt advises. In a year, or six months, or two weeks, with a little luck and a lot of effort, you might find a more stable, not-poverty-wage-level gig doing what you love in a field you might not have imagined before.

So should you do the cross-country punk-rock couch-surf? Yes - but with your work. It's not like you'd be losing much if you found a new place to set up camp if that new place gave you the same chance to begin to thrive as Chicago does, and if nothing works out, hey, Chicago's there to welcome you back to a life that needed a break and got one.

Feel free to e-mail!
posted by mdonley at 11:16 AM on May 18, 2007

If your art career is really starting to perk now I'd say you should stay. The best choices you can make in life, I think, are the ones that provide you with more choices. Your relationship with this woman MIGHT work out if you go but your current success momentum will DEFINITELY be derailed. Plus, your talk about leaving doesn't say anything about where she'd go - is that up in the air for her too, or just a deal where she's going to leave for sure but just unsure of where?

If it was just some lame-ass job and you might have a 6 month setback in a climb up the corporate ladder I'd say follow love, no doubt. But the road you want to walk work-wise is way more unpredictable and also way more gratifying.
posted by phearlez at 11:26 AM on May 18, 2007

I don't think anyone else can really know the answer to this one, but I'd stay for at least a bit longer. Leaving just to leave is a bit overhyped in my opinion. For all the thrill and excitement, there's also a lot of stress and you lose your community. I lived in the same place for a long time, nowhere near as exciting as Chicago, and it has been three years since I left and the sense of community I lost hasn't even begun to be replaced. If you want to leave, go somewhere to do something specific. If you're there to do something (get an internship, go to school, work a job), you'll have a conduit to meeting new people. If you just want to replace your chicago existence in a new surroundings, it doesn't work that way and you'll be starting all over. Beware the sirens' sing of Everything is Awesome, because that look fades.

My two cents:
1) sell some of your anchors, and
2) Work your life for another year or so (pick a date) and reexamine the question then, and
3) Sublet your apartment for a month and move somewhere for a solid month (like sublet someone else's apartment there for a month). Then, if you come back and you feel like Chicago ain't doing it, come up with a plan to work instead of running blind on your running shoes.
posted by history is a weapon at 11:27 AM on May 18, 2007

I really don't think now is the time to totally up-and-leave. It sounds like years or work are finally starting to pay off. If you leave totally, the momentum will be gone and it won't come back.

Chicago is one of the best cities anywhere. Don't feel like you have to live someplace else.

But there is nothing wrong with making a plan to leave. Or concocting a dream that involves leaving.

Give yourself a deadline of a year, and then revisit. Heck, give it 6 months. Lay groundwork, do research.

Or try to build leaving town more into your life. Go camping. If you have friends that moved to Iowa City, go visit them. See how far you can drive in a day and still make it home to sleep [I call these one day road trips, they keep me sane in LA]. If you make money now as a DJ, put it out there that you'd like to DJ in other places. You can DJ a lot of places in the world for a month or so and still come back. I'm not saying that it's easy. Start small, start with trying to get a gig in Columbus. There's no reason for someone who does what you do to feel like they can't leave town. Start talking to your connections. I'm positive you'll find someone who is taking a trip, or knows someone who DJ's in Park City for Sundance, or something. Just decide what you want and make it known to your circle.

I don't know what to tell you about the girl. If you leave and it doesn't work out you'll always regret it. But if you just stay and let the girl go... that sucks too. I'm not sure I'd want to follow a girl who wasn't in love with me enough to want to stay... or maybe that's not the case here. Love is important. Having a partner in life is the most amazing this in the world. But it is also another limitation, another anchor.

If you do go someplace else, go to a city with a low cost of living. I know lots of people who have built really great lives for themselves in artistic professions because they moved to Colorado or Montana. Those places tend to have small, supportive arts communities and people can make an actual living. NYC is great but it is so expensive, you may think that Chicago is a big city, any other big city must be about the same to live in. It isn't. LA, SF, and New York are all much more expensive than Chicago.
posted by Mozzie at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2007

Stay for now. In five years, when your career is more established, you'll be able to make a move somewhere else more easily. In the mean time, take lots of time off to travel. Figure out the kind of seasonal, high-paying jobs you can do that will allow you to take off 2-3 months at a time.
posted by footnote at 12:11 PM on May 18, 2007

I moved at 24 from nyc to chicago. without too much of a reason; it worked for me, but in your situation I'd stay. There are some connections I lost that I regret. (Note: NYC if you're interested requires a tremendous amt of energy, so I would try it while you're young and inexhaustible. Also, if you go and the girl thing doesn't work out, might make sense to stick around & not lose all the connections you had through her.)

I'd consider taking a month or summer off from Chciago. I think a month/summer is usually short enough that you can keep in touch with connections here. (e.g., look for a housesitting gig + dj in some other city possible). or an internship. (Note: I did a summer internship in austin & secondhand it seemed to have a pretty collaborative music scene & does have cheap summer housing in UT co-ops where people are usually pretty friendly).
posted by ejaned8 at 12:29 PM on May 18, 2007

Pick any Midwestern university town--Ann Arbor, Lawrence, Champaign-Urbana, Iowa City, Madison are my favs, but there are others. Lots of people from Chicago in all of them, and pretty easy to get back. Very hip. Art communities. Music. And you can live very inexpensively. I'm talkin' very.
posted by MarshallPoe at 12:57 PM on May 18, 2007

ordinarily, i'd tell you to go.

but getting started and recognised doing something that's your life's passion is a unique combination of hard luck and good fortune - the kind of thing that you can't always replicate.

so stay. make some money. take a week's vacation here and there to check out NYC, San Fran, Santa Fe, Austin, etc... and decide where your heart and art really belong.

the rest of the world isn't going anywhere any time soon.
posted by wayward vagabond at 1:39 PM on May 18, 2007

Honestly, it sounds like you've got a good thing going where you are.

Everyone has wanderlust from time to time. That's what travel is for.

I moved over twenty times before I even reached the age of majority so I'm probably biased, but having roots and community and people who've known you since second grade is way underrated. I've never had those things and I feel like I've missed out on a lot because of it. (I also think the transitory nature of our society is the cause of a lot of our societal ills but that's not really your fault since you've never left the place you were born.)

Also, new friends can be hard to make unless you're unusually charming and outgoing, which you may very well be.

And certainly you're blessed in that your home is Chicago, a place where it's not easy to get bored.

All in all, I think moving to a new city is like switching romantic partners. It'll always be exciting at first but you may or may not find yourself wishing you'd never left the old one.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:35 PM on May 18, 2007

I hated leaving Chicago. Lived there my whole live, left in my late 20s. HATED leaving; did it for my bride-to-be, who wanted to live in LA. HATED the idea of living in LA, and it took me years to make the decision to go.

Six years later, I don't love it here, but (thanks to the weather) I will *never* move back to Chicago. I miss lots of things about it, but with the perspective of living out here, there are lots of things I thought weren't so bad back in Chicago that I now know were f'd up (parking, for instance -- there's TONS of it here, and I haven't gotten an undeserved parking ticket since I moved out here!)

Travel is good, change is good, and you should probably move. However, do it for the following reasons:

1. You have a place you'd much rather live; and/or
2. You have an opportunity to do something in the new place that you can't do in the old.

Otherwise, travel and network first until one of the two things above comes true -- after all it's much easier to move somewhere if you want to go, or if you have something waiting for you when you arrive.

In my case I didn't want to go, but my wife had a specific reason to want to be here, and I landed a job here first. In the intervening years, lots of our friends have moved out here as well, and live near us, but we've also got lots of close friends who we met out here.

Note, thought, that it took about two years for my attitude about leaving Chicago to change -- for the first two years I would have gone back in a heartbeat. Nevertheless, I'm better off for having moved, personally and professionally.
posted by davejay at 4:55 PM on May 18, 2007

Three words for you, baby: home court advantage
posted by amtho at 7:11 PM on May 18, 2007

I'm from Calgary. I left honestly, the world pushed me to a new place, but I've seen many people facing the same thing.

I have a good friend who decided to stay and "make" Calgary when he was quite young. He's published a novel, is in a great band, was "the" DJ at "the" hip night, is in the scene and really influential. His career is taking off because he chose to stay, and to work with what he loved.

I have many friends who left because it was Calgary, and somewhere else was more glamorous and "better". They aren't influential, or doing too much, they are just trying to make it. Only the painter and the wanker-artist are really thriving elsewhere.

Unless your field won't happen in Chicago, I vote for stay. It is your town, you love it, keep this going. Everyone else goes looking for better things, be the guy who knows where he is and loves it. It works.

And that old saying I heard once, that may or may not be old:
"There are two ways to know yourself: to travel the world or to stay where you are." You seem to be making it where you are, stay. You can still travel and see the world. Your work will take you there anyway.
posted by dr. moot at 11:58 PM on May 18, 2007

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