Big city? Big city but hotter? Or Hippieville?

I'm artistic, capable, driven ... so where should I live after I graduate?

Published August 11, 2009 10:16AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a young woman in her 20s, and I'm about to start my last year of undergraduate studies. I'm majoring in a nontraditional arts field with no set career path -- which, while a little scary, I'm happy about. I never wanted a life I could see the shape of, and graduating from college is going to give me the opportunity to go anywhere and try anything. I'm smart and a hard worker, and I have other skills that have already supported me through school, so I'm not worried about paying the bills or being perpetually unemployed.

My conundrum comes from too many choices for what to do post-graduation. At the other times in my life when I've had to make hard choices, I've had somewhat of a logical answer, a feeling, or an instinct as to what I should do. Right now, I don't have any of those.

I'm rambling. In essence, I'm a smart and capable person who is hardworking and has dealt with difficulties of health, finance and living situation for a number of years, but I have dealt with them and I'm used to taking care of myself and making those decisions. I'm as well-adjusted and emotionally healthy as the next artsy type, I'm not addicted to anything, and I know how to budget. After college, I know that the skills and education I've earned make me employable almost anywhere. I have three communities in disparate parts of the country (the Big City, the Other Big City but Hotter, and Hippieville), all of which have people who care about me deeply and will give me a hand if I need it. I know that to be a working artist takes initiative, guts and determination, which I have in spades, and does not rely on location. I suppose my question is, since I have all the assets to have a really interesting and fulfilling life, since I'm flexible about where I live and what I do for rent money, and since I know I can be happy anywhere, where do I start?

The only pull factor that puts any location above the rest is that in the Other Big City but Hotter, I find more people I connect to and am interested in dating. Would it be shallow to go to a city because of the dating scene?

I could really use another perspective on this, because each friend and family member I talk to tries to convince me to go where they are. I have a year to figure this out, but I've found that planning early for big changes makes the transition easier, and I'd hate to move out of campus housing into a cardboard box because of indecision.

I'm Thinking About Throwing a Dart at a Map

Dear Thinking About Throwing a Dart,

There is nothing shallow about being drawn to a place where you connect with people. There's nothing shallow about going to a city because of its dating scene. It's not like dating is inconsequential. Quite the opposite. Its consequences are immense and long-lasting. Also, it is a good indicator of other factors. It's not like your romantic attractions are divorced from your life goals; they are closely connected. So if you like the dating scene, it is probably because you have some affinity for the underlying culture.

So there's more to your connection with this Other City Only Hotter than just dating.

It's not shallow to move somewhere because of the dating scene. But the dating scene alone does not offer enough information. You have a sort of data stalemate. In the lack of enough information, your intuition wants to step in to break the tie. I think you need to help your intuition by providing it with a richer data pool.

I think a combination of sufficient data and clear intuition will get you what you need.

As you say, you like to plan ahead. So I suggest that over the next year you mostly gather data.

Chance occurs within a context of probability. Chance is enormously important in artistic careers. It may be true that you can do your art anywhere. But some places you are more likely to have seemingly magical coincidences occur. Probability can be made visible through research. Though you cannot see with your naked eye the forces at work shaping your future, you can chart them, or get a feel for their outline, by gathering data. So gather data on anything that interests you in these three cities. Follow your instincts, but be exhaustive about what you gather. And try to quantify. Gather actual statistics.

Say, for instance, you were a painter. Say you wanted your paintings to hang in a gallery. You might want the place with the biggest number of galleries. So it would be very useful to know which cities have the most galleries. But say, on the other hand, to get more specific, your paintings are very strange, and you wanted your paintings to hang in a very strange gallery. Say, also, that you are very sensitive and need to feel a deep personal connection with a gallery or an institution in order to thrive there. Then the place with the most galleries in sheer number might not be suitable. You might want the city with the highest number of strange galleries. That would still not be enough. The city with the highest number of strange galleries might not have a good dating scene. You might not feel happy there.

It sounds like it's getting complicated. But what I'm suggesting is that while there will be no one right answer, the more information you have, the better your intuition will work, and the greater probability there is that the things you hope will happen actually happen. You're looking for fertile soil.

So you need a combination of analytical thinking about your needs, direct experience and a collection of good, comprehensive data.

 I would look at surveys such as "Best Places to Live" and the like, because they can give you ideas and suggest the ways in which quality of place can be quantified. But they will also show you how such quantifying can lead to absurd conclusions. My guess is that you do not really want to live in Louisville, Colo. So do your own research. Investigate the things that interest you. Call them. Write them. Ask about them. Again: Just gather information. Immerse yourself in it.

Of course you also need to quantify and rank your own affinities. You need to know some more things about yourself. You are capable of doing many things but not all things you can do are equal. What you will find when you leave school is that certain jobs you could handle with ease for six months or a year will tear you apart if you try to do them for three years, or five years. You will find that though you are capable, you are not quite as tough as you think. So you do need to be careful. The world will chew you up and spit you out if it can. I'm not trying to sound like some tough, know-it-all old dude; I'm suggesting that you try to identify the possible pitfalls of some of the jobs you could do, so you can narrow them down to ones that would not wear you out over the long haul.

But basically, what I advise is that you hold off on making a clear choice, and concentrate on gathering data. Relax while you gather the data. Relax and simply accumulate it. Let it seep in. Let your unconscious clarify it. Certain things will rise to the top. Pay attention to what you keep returning to. Pay attention to what you are drawn to.

I feel sure that when you begin looking at actual stuff, you will begin to clarify your feelings. If you let it, this will happen seemingly of its own accord.

Write Your Truth.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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