You become the people you surrounded yourself with. Once you accept this, it's much easier to answer tough questions like “Where should I live?” or “What job's right for me?” or “Who should I marry?” I think the biggest barrier to making decisions based on how we become the people we hang out with is that we live in denial.
1. Geographic stereotypes are true.
When I moved from LA to NYC, I was horrified at the lack of yoga studios in NY. Yoga was already huge in LA, but not yet in NY. I was also scared that New Yorkers were always a little bedraggled, and I had just spent ten years learning how to look perfect everywhere I went in LA. It's fun. It's fun to have no weather and no fat and no rushing in LA. It's fun to get a day off from work to prepare for watching the Oscars. I grew up in Illinois, but I got used to living in LA.
The panic about New York was unnecessary, though. After ten years of living in NYC, when I imagined leaving, I thought I could never leave because the cultural opportunities are so amazing. The expertise people have in NYC is so vast and varied and I thought I'd never get that anywhere else.
When I left NYC I didn't care about looking perfect everywhere I went. I didn't care about the kind of car I drove. I was a New Yorker.
2. Never say never.
When I moved to Madison, WI, there were some things that were just plain shocking. There are no foreign cars here. I mean, maybe there are. Maybe ten percent of all people drive a foreign car. It's usually someone from out of state. Recently moved here. Because after you live here for a while, you get so used to the idea of driving a Ford that it doesn't seem weird.
You know the pictures of Midwesterners in NYC? I spent ten years learning how to spot a Midwesterner in NYC but really, it only takes ten minutes. Because people in the Midwest have no style. It's plain top, plain pants, plain shoes. You can rarely peg the decade their outfit comes from because it is tied to no particular style. I have made fun of this for years. And now I’m pretty sure it’s what I look like.
3. It's not about genes.
If your friends are fat, you'll be fat. This is true irrelevant of class, education, race, etc. The Framingham Heart Study goes a good distance to show who you hang out with is who you become. Not just for fat. For drinking and smoking and dying early. (Interesting tidbit from the Framingham Study: You are likely to drink the amount the women in your life drink. Men don’t like drinking without women.)
4. It's not about values.
How many people go to law school thinking they are going to represent the underdog and save the world? Thousands. And how many people can pay off law school loans and support a family and save the world? None. You have to marry someone who makes more money.
This is so common that people are making parodies about the save-the-world-types who apply to law school.
Once you get to corporate law, you don't want to leave. This is what you tell yourself: You will just stay there to pay off your loans. Then you'll stay there and do pro bono work. Then you tell yourself it's silly to go to nonprofit law when you can earn so much in a big law firm and just donate the money.
It happens to everyone. It's arrogant and delusional to think you'll be the exception.
And that is true for everything. When you are deciding what you want to do with your life, look at peoples' lifestyles. Ask yourself if you want that lifestyle. Don't tell yourself you'll be different. Statistically, that is absurd. And why put yourself in a situation where you have to be different than all the people you choose to be around every day?
5. Emotions are contagious.
If you have a happy person close to you, you’ll increase your own happiness by 9%. I have announced, of course, that I am done looking for happiness in my life. I think it’s overrated. Which means reading this blog is not going to boost your happiness by 9%. But I am hoping that interesting lives are also contagious and your life is much more interesting from spending time with me.