The Changes We Choose

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When I moved to San Francisco in 2012, I didn’t have a plan. I’d been living in Dublin, Ireland for a few years, and my Irish visa was running out. I had to return to the states. For reasons too silly to mention, I considered only New York and San Francisco, ignoring my home state of Texas and all the others in between. In the end, San Francisco beat New York due to cold weather blues and a glitch on when I went to book my flight. The promise of a job in tech lent some vague credence to the idea, but I had no clue what I was doing. I mustered just enough hope to get me there. Luck took care of the rest.

With this move, I wanted to make a home in a place with possibility because I felt trapped living in sleepy Dublin. In truth, I was in a rut because most of my friends lived in other countries. I hadn’t made much of an effort to create a social life in Dublin, but I blamed my boredom on external factors. Something had to change. Why not the city? We all have blind spots. I told myself could DO ALL THE THINGS in San Francisco. New city, new life, right?

In a few short months, I’d immersed myself in the Bay Area. I treated it like a sport, trying everything. The food. The land. The men. There was a new job followed by new friends and eventually a new (read: rundown but in a great location!) studio that was too small and too expensive and all mine. I was building a life. That’s what one does in the Bay Area. You build things. Apps. Burning Man floats. Startups and supper clubs and social media followings. I was in awe of the builders. The people who did things. At every coffee shop, I met another artist/entrepreneur with three side gigs and a successful blog and the perfect haircut, proof that one could never be too busy. The world was at peak #fomo, and I was in the thick of it.

As the months passed, I plowed through my bucket list, simultaneously adding brand names to my resume while nurturing my passions. I worked for a tech company and then joined a nonprofit. Both called themselves startups. I ran Bay to Breakers. (Of course, we wore tutus.) I lived in the Mission and Alamo Square and Lower Pac Heights. I became a bit of a food snob. In other words, I waited almost two hours for brunch more often than I’d like to admit. I experienced the highs and lows of both being on Tinder and varied approaches to “personal growth.” I danced at Daybreaker. I held my breath on MUNI and slept on the 6am Google bus to Mountain View. There were weekend trips to Yosemite and Pinnacles and Calistoga, complete with a mud bath.

Life was fun and funny and unexpected and sometimes really weird (read: that Craigslist furniture story and the unclaimed couchsurfer who crashed with us for almost a week, leaving a spaghetti squash as a thank you when she disappeared). My friends in Dallas were Instagramming their new homes and new babies, but my feed was all vacations and misadventures. I was a bit worn out by the busy life I had created, but I was also happier than I’d ever been. This is probably the appropriate place for ‪#‎grateful‬.

My health was tenuous and my home was ⅕ of the size of my college apartment, but it didn’t seem to matter. Until one day, it did. One day last year, I don’t remember when, I realized that something wasn’t right. My health was a big indicator, as was my mood. Neither were subtle. I’d developed a stomach condition that made it difficult to eat, resulting in chronic pain and low energy. I also cried about my job more often than I’d like to admit. When I thought about the future, I was afraid, realizing that my life of change and the sacrifices that I was making to maintain it weren’t sustainable. My dreams and activities seem to have diverged. I felt like a ship that meant to go north, but overcorrected and was veering west at an alarming rate. I wanted to slow down, turn around, but San Francisco was pulling me toward the future, changing as quickly as it always has.

Amanda Petrusich sums it up well in her article for the New Yorker:

“California is, of course, where a person goes to change. The state is a haven in which to unfurl whatever latent identity has been lurking in your bones. Those impulses are reflected in—perhaps dictated by—the geography: the San Andreas Fault, the eight-hundred-and-ten-mile boundary between two tectonic plates, requires the landscape to periodically rethink itself, reconfigure. Then there’s the ocean, slapping against the cliffs of Big Sur, rolling gently toward Santa Monica—as if to say, loudly, convincingly, “Last stop! Now or never!” In his essay “Fifteen Takes on California,” the critic David L. Ulin writes of ‘our sense of this place as final landscape, last territory on the continent, where we face ourselves because there is nowhere to turn’.”

At this point, I’d faced myself. Doing “all the things” helped me to explore my own edges, changing in ways that I couldn’t seem to understand in Dublin. I also had to face facts. The environment that had helped me grow was now causing more harm than good. The rent alone was unbearable, not to the mention the effort required to keep up with the city. I’d lived at one extreme in Dublin, and California was pulling me too far in the other direction. If I was too lonely and bored before, maybe now I was too connected? Too productive? Whatever the case, I was becoming too much of something that wasn’t me.

Alas, I never made it to Burning Man, but I realize that I no longer want to go. Perhaps I never did. Nor do I want to live in a rat-infested studio with a landlord who refuses to deal with heating and mold problems just so I can afford to live in San Francisco. Life doesn’t have to be that hard. Or maybe life is always hard in one way or another, but we’re willing to deal with different challenges at different times of our lives. It’s simply a choice.

I said that I didn’t have a plan when I moved to California, but I realize now that change was the plan, and the move was the catalyst. It’s what I needed then, so I could face those blind spots that were holding me back. Now it’s time to shift focus, to allow change in other areas and to reach toward the future. That’s why I moved back to Texas last month. I feel lucky to have lived in San Francisco, and I feel lucky to be here now, but I’m not leaving this particular change to chance. I don’t need or want to do all the things. I want to build a home.


Kathleen recently moved to Austin. She is diligently exploring local coffee shops, and she has a new kitten named Honeybee.

Image: “Cupid’s Span” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, photo by the author.


  1. Meredith Watts

    Very interesting POV. When we came to San Francisco in 1974, it was definitely hopping, although in a different way than now. We dove in, and our roots are very firmly planted after 40 years. Ah yes, San Francisco — “that place where new ideas encounter the least resistance.” Everyone should live in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for a period of time. Of course I’m speaking as one who has done that. (smile) I wish you the best of luck in making a home in Austin, Kathleen. My dad used to say “bloom where you’re planted.” I think it’s good advice.

  2. Very interesting! I live in SF now (also moved here in 2012, totally agree with your peak FOMO line) and wonder how long is too long to live here. Good luck in Austin!

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