More than 80% of young people say they want to live in New York City, according to Time Out New York. I can understand that. I lived there for seven years. Of course, NYC is amazing. But I have also lived for about ten years each in Chicago, LA, and Boston. And now I live in Madison, WI. And I can tell you with certainty that anywhere you live requires you to give up some things.
NYC has the most extreme benefits to it, but it also requires the most extreme concessions in order to get those benefits. This makes sense. It's how most of life is. So in order to understand how good a fit you'd be in NYC, you don't need to look at the benefits — we all want the benefits of NYC. What you need to look at is what you give up.
Here are three questions to ask yourself. You need to answer yes to at least two in order to be a good fit in NYC.
1. Are you a maximizer?
Optimizers are people who are always looking for the best of everything. You know if you are this kind of person because you are never complacent. You are always trying to find if there is something better. It could be a someone who cuts bangs better, a better pickup basketball game, you keep trading up boyfriends, maximizers are always looking for something better, and they usually get greatness in their lives in many aspects. Non-maximizers can be satisfied with what they have. Each of us falls somewhere on this spectrum. New Yorkers skew heavily to strong maximizers.
This is because you can find pretty much the best of everything in NYC. (Yes, maybe there are some things, like the best ski slope, that you cannot find there, but if that's what you want most, you probably shouldn't be in NYC.)
I know you have heard that NYC is expensive. But you will never really know how insanely expensive it is until you live there.It's like having children. Everyone will tell you having kids is really, really hard. Harder than anything they've ever done. And everyone will also say that after all those warnings, they still were not prepared for how hard it was when the baby came. This is what money is like in NYC — you absolutely cannot imagine how expensive it is there until you are there, living day to day.
So New Yorkers constantly have to ask themselves: What am I paying so much for? What am I suffering so much for? Life in NYC is very hard (here’s funny commentary on that), and if you go to any city in the US, there is a bond that ex-New Yorkers have because they know they each understand how hard life was.
I say this to tell you that the only way to justify the cost and hardship of NYC is because you're an optimizer. You appreciate having access to the best of things. Not everything — you probably have a few things that are really important to you. And you're willing to trade off a lot of comforts to get it.
2. Do you want to be at the top of your field (or marry someone like that)?
In many cases, people have to work in NYC in order to rise to the top in their field. (Or, they want to marry someone like this — NYC is a very competitive place to find a husband but only because women recognize that the pickings are superior: Maximizing knows no bounds.)
Wanting to be at the top of your field is not for everyone. Business Week reports that eighty percent of generation Y thinks they are in the top ten percent of all workers. So a bunch of you are overestimating your capabilities, right? But the truth is that NYC is very, very competitive, because it’s a magnet for ambitious, strong performers, and if you are not in the top, you will probably not do very well there. So if you do not go to NYC thinking you will work your way to the top of your field, you probably don't need to be going there for your work.
And, of course, you do not necessarily have to live in NYC to work in NYC, but in order to get a substantially lower cost of living, you would have to move pretty far from the city. This is why New York has the longest commute times of anywhere in the country. This is a fine line to walk, though, because long commutes do a lot of damage to one's ability to be happy. So you are probably better off paying to high price to live closer to work if you want to get to the top of your field.
3. Do you value an interesting life over happy life?
New Yorkers are not known for being happy. In fact, they are known for being unhappy, and they don't care.
On balance, New Yorkers understand that most people who are happy are complacent — they like the status quo. And people who like what they have do not do innovative things to change the world. They like the world just fine how it is. This is probably why 95% of New Yorkers voted democrat in the last presidential election. Republicans are typically happier with their lives than democrats. And most New Yorkers are maximizers, and maximizers are almost never happy.
New Yorkers think an interesting life is more important than a happy life. What you really pay for with the exorbitant cost of living and the hard lifestyle is to be surrounded by strong performers, huge ambitions, and constant need for change and innovation. To live in New York City, you have to trade happiness for this. To most New Yorkers, it's a no-brainer. They would take that trade any day. To most people outside of New York City the trade-off is crazy.
Hat tip: Time Out New York