I received this email from a reader the other day and I felt compelled to write up a response publicly in case there are other’s who have asked the same questions:
“I typed in ‘unhappy with city life’ into google and I found your site and read everything you had to say and it’s the first time that I have found relief that someone else actually feels what I feel about London. I am so unhappy living here it is stifling and numbing every part of my life.
But no one else seems to know what I mean. And when people quote that ‘when you’ve had enough of London you’ve had enough of life’ thing at me I just wanna give them a punch! Because that’s just not true!
Before I moved to London I loved it, but now I’m a resident, well, all has changed. It depends on what the goal is, you have found that travelling like a nomad suits you, but for me, I decided on the strength of my skills to try to penetrate the acting industry and for that you need to be near a city because that’s where the industry is. So I’m stuck here!
Oh dear, eh. I don’t know what to do or how to tackle life as it stands, but that was not the point of my writing to you, for the mostpart, what you wrote spoke to me and I wanted to tell you so! I want to live near grass and trees and simple life and I have no interest in the rat race nor designer labels nor things that are contrived, do you know what I mean? I tried to make life simple by asking myself some simple questions, what am I good at? what do I love? and based on the answers I followed. But that has brought me to London and opened up a whole new snake pit. What a shame.”
Man, I’ve had extensive discussions and have come full circle on my thoughts about city life and how it can effect your pshyche, drive and overall happiness since writing that post nearly a year ago. Reading it again, and after analyzing this email from a reader, I realize that I was kind of vague with the key points I was trying to put across:
1) Admit that you are unhappy and decide to do something about it…
2) Set goals and don’t let anything distract you from reaching them…
3) Keep going
Reading these points in succession makes me slap my forehead and shout “doh” like Homer Simpson, I might as well have written “figure out a path and stick to it… or something” – the kind of wishy-washy generic advice that faux self-help micro-industries are built off of.
So in answer to the readers question, and for those trying to figure out an alternative or way out of the unhappy city life they’ve zombie walked in to, here’s uncle Lew’s advice:
1) Give it a proper shot! I left London a year ago with an outbound ticket for Bali and no real plan as to what I was doing. I just knew that I had tried (or so I thought) to make the most of my situation but it wasn’t working out, I needed a change. After traveling around a bit, calling quiet seaside towns my home as well as SE Asian super-citys (Pasig city in Manila – that was an experience), I realize that there are things I really like about city life and that if I had tried harder I could have easily lifted my gloomy outlook without too much effort.
I realize that one thing big, multi-cultural cities offer is options! In a lot of SE Asia my Friday night options consist of staying in, drinking or… drinking. A lot of value is placed on family and friends in Thailand and most of SE Asia, so drinking can be a spirited and awesome affair, don’t get me wrong. But compare that to London where I can head to some crazy lesson for something or other every evening (languages, art, food, fitness, dance, whatever), and then follow it up with food choices from a zillion different countries and head to one of the hundreds of social events made for lonely souls to meet others (hop on meetup.com if you haven’t all ready), there is so much to do! Once I left, I really began to appreciate this ‘culture’ thing that people kept labeling my home city with – it simply means options.
2) Get Out! If you have had enough and there is no chance of your love for city life coming back, stop dithering, pack your bags and move! If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this whole living on the other side of the world gig, it’s the lack of movie like moments when big things happen.
I’ll explain: in movies there always seems to be big deals made about pivotal moments in the plot – someone leaves for a 2 month trip and there’s all sorts of theatrics, from love scenes played out in airport lounges to tear inducing flashbacks accompanied by dramatic music. In real life, you decide to do something big like move abroad or live a contrarion life, and nothing really changes. Sure, you might have a few farewell beers with your friends and family, but a couple of days later everyone’s back to what they normally do every day and you still chat on facebook with everyone like you used to. That is, nothing changes apart from the removal of the frustration that comes form living a life that you know you shouldn’t be.
People I meet from the states have often moved at least 3 or 4 times in their lifetime within the US, it’s just part of finding the ‘right place’ that matches you as a person. Moving on is not such a big deal, especially if you don’t have many family ties in a certain location (kids, spouses, brothers and sisters). With plane tickets available for the price of 1 week of office lunches, and the option to come back always available, there really are no excuses.
3) Realize that your place of residence, in a similar way to lifelong careers, no longer has to be defined by the life scripts of old.
Remember when people used to work, usually for a single company, diligently saving their cash, getting a mortgage that they paid off in 20-35 years and lived in for most of their adult lives? Yeah that script has taken on new forms lately. Recessions, reckless abuse of credit and a lack of space in modern cities means that many people have become lifelong renters.
Similarly, I’ve known people who travel from their country side home at the end of every weekend to their box city apartment around the corner from their office. Hell, I read that Rasmus from my4hours works a job for 6 months of every year and lives in a baller place in Thailand for the other 6.
If you put some real thought into your situation, I’m sure you can hack your way to happiness, and get the best of all worlds. For example, the reader who emailed in could arrange an acting tour, taking classes and meeting actors in different places around the world/her home country and combine it with auditions and some industry networking. If living in London is bogging you down, try combining a great escape with career progression.
Personally, I would move to a place like Bath, Cornwall or Bristol (can you tell I’m a fan of the UK west country) and take the 1-2 hour train trip into London whenever I had an audition/class/cool people party/networking opportunity. But that’s just me 😉