New York vs. California

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After a year and a half of living in San Francisco, I recently moved back to the only place I call home—New York City. It’s been almost four months since I quit my job at Apple, and left the branding/advertising world behind. I like to romanticize my newfound self-employment as if I’m a professional basketball player who’s on strike from the league, playing ball in the neighborhood court, just the way it was played when we were kids: no refs, no fans, and no shot clock. I need to practice on my jump shot, and I’ll stay a free agent until the right team comes along.

People ask why I’d leave a place so beautiful and serene like San Francisco? And even more so, why I’d quit a job so plush as Apple after only a year and a half? While California’s culture is just as predominant as NYC’s, neither could be more opposite. The energy of NYC is unprecedented, and the decision to move back East made me think a lot about what makes California feel so different. Besides the weather, and the slower pace—or the fact that people strangely wait for the street lights to change before crossing the street—there’s a collective essence that is inherently different than the East Coast. But what is that exactly?

In mythology, once an adventure is over and the reward has been sufficed, the hero usually leaves the ‘special world’ to go back to the world where he/she first began. The final test for the hero is to realize what they’re bringing back to the old world, literally or metaphorically. When Jack steals the magic harp to help support his mother—where he climbs and climbs and climbs down the beanstalk away from the giant—he is not just running away from the giant, he’s running towards his position in society, towards the right for the life he deserves. Ultimately, I knew my adventure was over; I achieved the goal of the quest, and no amount of money, stock, benefits, or nice weather could change that.

As I wrote in a previous post, An Open Letter to Graphic Design Students, I believe we should all follow our hearts, despite the trends or fears, and to do so without regret. I’m grateful for the hundreds of people who responded positively, as I am now a walking example of what I preached. As a young designer, I believe there’s no better way to excel at my craft but to throw myself in the path of the unknown. But how do I know when that time is? How do I gather the courage to do so? And how can I see that vision clearly, without seeing the road ahead?

In 1939, a young saxophonist named Charlie Parker left a vibrant jazz scene in Kansas City to head for NYC. He wanted to do what he loved, with the people he admired most, in a city that had a capacity for it all. That’s why I moved here nine years ago, and that’s exactly why I moved back. The way I see it right now, being a designer is a duty, not a career choice. And for me, there’s no better place to honor that than in New York.

NOTE: As I mentioned here on my website back in December, I was discussing this topic with my neighborhood barista and he explained an old comic he once saw that perfectly articulated everything I felt about the two cultures. I rushed home and Googled said comic. After a long search, I unfortunately came up unsuccessful. So I did the only thing I could do. I tried to recapture the spirit of that insightful cartoon with the illustration up top. Although I still can’t find it, Joe Ollmann told be that it was done by the late John Callahan.

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