California is, in many ways, the perfect place on the face of the planet. It’s got it all. There’s the never ending sun for days on end; the climate that makes the Mediterranean Sea seam mediocre at best; and there’s the fantastic people with ridiculous ambitions. I think that’s what I miss the most about California — the people and the dreams they chase after. To me, at least, they seemed so detached from reality, I always had to do a double take during all my interactions in the area. Regardless of who I talked to, be it the CEO of the next tech unicorn, or just the next aspiring actor auditioning for a 30 second role in some obsolete YouTube series, everyone seemed to underestimate, quite dramatically, the reality that they were in.
Marco Rubio is known, rather infamously, for saying America is a nation of haves and soon-to-haves. This, of course, makes no sense. The notion of “have”, a euphemism for wealth and prosperity, is a very relative thing. But, ignoring that, this claim of being a nation of haves and soon-to-haves underlines a fundamental truth about the American mentality that California seems to portray particularly well — incessant optimism when concerning oneself; the overconfidence in one’s abilities, and the underestimation in others’.
Los Angeles and San Francisco seem to be very different places on the surface, but they’re the epitomes when it comes to this spirit of overconfidence. When you stop a random stranger on the street, you’ll find, with the exception of those in extremely dire situations, they are hopelessly optimistic about their abilities and the outcomes they expect. Any aspiring actor in Los Angeles will tell you they’re only doing small parts now, but they know they can book the next, big role in a Hollywood blockbuster. Any Silicon Valley entrepreneur will tell you they may be just an idea now, but once they have an investor, they’ll be able to scale in no time. Heck, even a simple waiter or waitress in any of these two cities will tell you something that will make you rethink your decisions in your life that have led to this conversation Even New York, the city that never sleeps, doesn’t have a population that is so disjointed from the reality that surrounds them.
Unfortunately, their optimism is, almost always, their Shakespearean flaw. It is the spelling of their downfall. This optimism is what leads them to eventually beckon on reality to do its worst. And its worst, reality does deliver. Unfortunately, not many are ready for the wrath of reality in its full on glory. Reality is a wretch, seeking to wreak havoc at any opportunity. Beckoning her to do so is never a bright idea.
But even in these situations, they remain optimistic, taking the remains of the rubble, framing it, and putting it upon a pedestal, calling it experience. Connoisseurs of the art form look at these displays and admire them with open arms. And the artists go on to create other art forms of the same medium.
I think that’s what I found so particular about California. An aspiring actor can be admired just by the very fact they put themselves out there, and went to countless auditions. It doesn’t matter how many roles they may or may not have successfully booked, but the fact they tried automatically, somehow, makes them better than those who have never tried. And it’s the same thing for entrepreneurship. Even fields as mundane and boring as software engineering, it’s all the same thing. It’s a fractal, microcosm that perfectly embodies California in its entirety. Perhaps it’s a remnant of the culture from the days of the wild west, but it’s what makes the area so unique, and so conducive to bringing in talent from all across the world. It’s also conducive to bring on failures and praising it as experience. It’s a dichotomy, contradictory, down right anarchic mess.
But I long for that with every passing day. Every day, I long more and more for the people I met in that most beautiful of states. But, at the same time, I know I’ll loathe my experience there, and will just resort back to looking for opportunities to leave, leave to somewhere else. There’s a fundamental mismatch of what I value, and the values California gives off. To be fair, Los Angeles and San Francisco have more nuance to them that make them more different than alike. Which is why, I prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco any day. But, overall, if I was offered a chance to live in any city in America, I would think twice before settling on anywhere in California.
I like to say I had three major growth spurts. One was back in middle school, when I grew to my final adult height of 6 foot 1. The second was in college, when I finally learnt to live and fend for myself. The final, third, was in California, the place I spend a bulk of my early professional career. Toronto, New York, California. To these three places, I owe a special thanks. They made me who I am today. But, they weren’t the places I needed to be in. They never welcomed me with open arms, and I never found myself at home in any of these places.
Perhaps, it was time for me to look outside North America.