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Happy One-Year Anniversary, San Francisco

Happy One-Year Anniversary, San Francisco

Man with long black hair in a pastel floral dress standing in front of a "California Dreaming" mural
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As of today, I have officially been living in San Francisco for one year.

Coincidentally, I was recently in Sarasota, my college city, to see my friends who were graduating this year. I flew into San Francisco from Florida a few days ago, in the exact same fashion as I did this time last year. Thus, the memory of Sarasota is fresh in my mind, as is the bittersweet feeling of leaving all of its seaside beauty and warmth for the foggy, hilly streets of San Francisco.

It’s funny how things can come full circle.

In the post I wrote one year ago today, I sound breathlessly excited and ready to Fucking Crush It™, but I wasn’t telling the whole story. In fact, I’d been secretly dreading coming to San Francisco in the weeks leading up to my move.

To the casual observer, I had finally made it. I had a college degree, a senior thesis I was proud of, a job lined up in Silicon Valley, and a blog where I was finally starting to speak on the things I actually gave a fuck about. But those things came with a cost. I’d lost both my close friends and my partner because I constantly prioritized work over relationships. My mental health was shot after all of those intense days and sleepless nights. On top of it all, I felt like I was losing touch with the very principles that had sustained my ambition in college — namely, the idea that success was material and a goal to constantly sacrifice happiness for, rather than a sustained state of being that required constant investments in my physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

I was desperately in need of some time off. I was confident that this particular bout of burnout was something that just needed a little time to sort itself out. I envisioned myself relaxing by the beach for the rest of the summer — reading, blogging, taking photos, and rebuilding those relationships that I had so carelessly fucked up. I wanted to see what it would be like to not be stressed about my career and future 24/7.

Unfortunately, the startup that I was to work at needed all hands on deck right away. They made it clear that they wouldn’t be able to push my start date any further than the beginning of June. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to perform my best after everything, but I was even less sure that I’d be able to undergo another period of intense software engineering interviews in my current mental state, so I ignored the warning feeling in the back of my mind and started preparing to move across the country.

I arrived in San Francisco in the dead of night with two large brown boxes that had barely fit within the airline’s carry-on weight limit, along with a feeling of mild apprehension. The next day, I got up early — I hadn’t yet adjusted to the three-hour time difference between the East and West coasts — and banged out this post in under an hour. I focused on what I was excited about going forward rather than the questions that had already started swirling around in my head: how would I make friends here? How would I express myself if it was too cold to wear dresses? Was I really ready for the 24/7 grind of startup life?

And, the biggest question of all: did I even really want to be in San Francisco, or was I just living out the dream that I’d concocted as a naive nineteen-year-old?

I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions, so I simply let life go on and tried to pretend that I was still completely on-track with everything.

The next few months were some of the hardest I’ve experienced. Surprisingly, this wasn’t from the workload or the technical challenges I encountered — I was used to intellectual masochism — but because I was challenging everything about the things that had once driven me, I had a notable lack of enthusiasm for anything. I ended up leaving my job and spending the next few months in a lost daze. [1]

Ironically, everyone seemed to think that I was “living my best life” at this time. My Instagram feed depicted colorful pictures of me posing in beautiful locations all over the city. In truth, I felt as though nothing in my life was absolute anymore. I’d started focusing my efforts on photography because it produced something concrete and going on photoshoots would ease my mind from its constant questions for a few hours.

Fortunately, things would get better. A conversation with a friend who also worked in tech led to a few meetings with other industry professionals, which led me to question how happy I’d been as a software engineer in the first place. I decided that I would be happier in a closely-related role that involved working with code, but not on production code itself, and was able to successfully transition into a role in that field. [2]

One year later, I’m writing this under a canopy of palm trees. The air is sweet, birds are chirping, and I’ve just had several great conversations with new friends. I feel like I’ve finally gotten to where I wanted to be at this time last year. I’m happy with my career trajectory, my place in life, my relationships with others, and who I am as a person.

It’s taken a whole year for me to get here. Though that is considerably longer than I’d like to have spent in a state of existential confusion, I look at the last year as one of the most important experiences of my life. I learned the hard way that everything — friendship, job security, mental health, “success” — is temporary, and that it’s important to make sacrifices for the right reasons.

I am a considerably different person one year later (you can read here and here about the particular shifts in belief that I’ve had). I laugh a little when I think about how career-obsessed I used to be — the old me would have sacrificed everything for that title, that salary, those responsibilities. I still spend a good amount of time working, but I also hold my art, my friendships, and my sense of well-being to be of equal regard.

Last year, I wrote:

I hope I never become jaded. I hope that each and every one of these candy-colored houses continues to take my breath away. I hope that I’ll always appreciate the fact that I can get authentic Asian food and legal recreational marijuana delivered straight to my doorstep after touching some buttons on a glass screen. I especially hope that I never lose my love for talking business, shooting dreamy photos, or venturing down deep-ass technical rabbit holes.

I’m a little jaded, but those pastel Victorians still hold the same charm as they did the very first day I laid eyes on them. I enjoy that authentic Asian food (and legal marijuana delivery) at least once a week. I talk less business, but I believe that when I do, it’s about operations that actually interest me, rather than being a Silicon Valley fanboy for the sake of it. My photos have only gotten dreamier, and I’ve gained an entirely new appreciation for technical subjects.

San Francisco has taught me a lot and changed me in ways that even I couldn’t have anticipated. A lot of those lessons were painful but necessary, and every day that I’m still here, I feel more grateful about where I am in life.

Happy one year, SF. You try my patience a lot and I’ll never like how chilly you are, but you still feel like home and I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live. ♚


[1] I’m not sure if I can coherently about that time period yet. I’ll cover it in another post when I can make sense of the whole thing. For now, just know that shit got really dark, and it took considerable effort to pull myself out of that hole of existential confusion.

[2] This is vague-blogging, sorry! I want to give myself some more time before I talk about anything career-related. You’ll get the full update soon 🙂

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