Do you belong in NYC? Take the test

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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 before you start researching movers in New York.

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

220 replies
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  1. Brandie
    Brandie says:

    Thank you once again for the honest insight, Penelope. I have come to rely on your entries for straight talk on the tougher topics in life and after ready this posting I finally have an accurate description for myself. Hi, my name is Brandie and I am an optimizer.

  2. timdellinger
    timdellinger says:

    P –
    Do you have a reference for “More than 80% of young people say they want to live in New York City”. I think it’s more like 80% of young people IN MARKETING want to live in NYC. For young people in technology, NYC is more like #9 on the list. And really, the only people who want to live in NYC are either (1) from the Northeast, or (2) are rude and want to live with rude people. You’d be hard pressed to show that 80% of young people in Chicago or LA or Seattle or Austin or SF or Portland think that NYC the place to be.

    And I’ll disagree with your point #1 about NYC people being optimizers. They want to think they’re optimizers, but in fact, they’re not. They’re just people who have money. How many Steinway pianos and Viking ranges and Trek bicycles actually get used my their owners? 10%? How many people who insist on $100+ wine could pick it out in a blind taste test vs. a $25 bottle? People with money buy the best they can afford because they can. Not because they’re optimizers.

    Tim Dellinger

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      I think you’re missing the point entirely Tim. The Optimizer bit is DEAD ON. And it has nothing to do with money. In fact, most “real” people I know in the city love a good deal, especially in this economy. They just like getting bang for the buck. I don’t think anybody chooses to be an optimizer – you’re born that way. Trust me, there are plenty of times I’ve wished I could get off the treadmill of “better, stronger, faster” – but I can’t. It’s in my DNA.

      No idea if the 80% factoid is true or not, but anecdotaly I’d say most people under 30 have a fantasy of living in NYC. It can be for any number of reasons – professional ambition, “Sex in the City-itus” or just a desire to be at a global epicenter of culture, cash and cuisine.

      As for this: “(2) are rude and want to live with rude people.”

      Such a fallacy – fostered by the media. People in NYC aren’t rude – they’re focused, individualistic and ambitious. They move insanely fast, and people used to a slower pace of life can interpret this as rude. But the truth is, we’re just people. In times of crisis we come together. If you’re lost ask anybody in the subway for directions and they’ll help. We hold doors, say excuse me and generally don’t degrade into street brawls over stealing cabs in the rain.

      • Kelli
        Kelli says:

        True! I am an LA dweller and I just visited NYC for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It was striking how helpful and friendly people were (particularly in comparison with the stereotype). Of course every time I say that to an LA person they respond “then you walk around the corner and get mugged.” Guess I didn’t get that rite of passage on my trip.

        And to add to the pot further, I am a twenty something and a very many of my pals have said they want to move to NY “just for a while”… in fact, a handful actually have made the move. The rest of us are apparently not optimizers. Personally I fear the weather. Living in moderate weather for my whole life has softened me.

      • Kamal S.
        Kamal S. says:

        Mike “As for this: “(2) are rude and want to live with rude people.”
        Such a fallacy – €“ fostered by the media. People in NYC aren’t rude – €“ they’re focused, individualistic and ambitious.”

        I once made the conclusion, not based on the media but due to my own interactions with people in New York. It is an inaccurate perception, but there is some truth to it. It is also true that many, many, New Yorkers are friendly, open and helpful. In general any city this large tends to condition you into being a bit closed to interaction with strangers which some may mistake as rudeness.

        All generalizations are partial lies, though based on demonstrable and observable truths.

        His statement was not a fallacy. It was an not accurate observation and an exaggeration. In the same manner as your statement.

        Many New Yorkers are focused, individualistic, and ambitious.
        And quite rude to boot.
        Some are focused, individualistic, and ambitious, and not quite rude.
        Some are focused, individualistic, and ambitious, and are quite polite.

        And some yet still are unfocused, individualistic, and lacking ambition – €“ and still manage to be rude.

        also recognize, extreme individualism is a sort of self-absorption – which in many cultures is equivalent to rudeness.

        Before anyone gets their pants into bundles it does bear noting that often time politeness is a social vice, it is often a strategy for distancing the other from you and it can, sometimes, be used purposefully to prevent intimacy in communication. And what some see as rudeness may sometimes be a virtue, a sort of rough honesty

    • dm
      dm says:

      “are rude and want to live with rude people”

      that is the most ignorant thing i have read in a long time.

    • Kandeezie
      Kandeezie says:

      She didn’t say 80% of young people put New York as #1, she just said that they “say they want to live in New York City” which could be at any given time.

      • Glorypromo
        Glorypromo says:

        Sadly in the past New York was the place where artist of all types could meet and make art now those artistic neighborhoods are filled with the rich and famous or Bankers. I still love it but it is not the charmed place it use to be. If you wanna make great art even Georgia O’Keefe’s Taos has been taken over by the same people. Better be a salesman first and an artist second…. or live in the off road places the rich don’t covet.

    • AshD
      AshD says:

      Not all NY’ers have money.

      You make more because on average your rent is 1200 per person in a small, old apartment… and that is in the boroughs, not Manhattan.

      After about 14% city and state income tax, 1200 rent, and the exorbitant prices that you pay on apples, gum, drinks, and basically air (they charge for EVERYTHING) I can pretty much guarantee you that those making less that 100K per year are living paycheck to paycheck if they arent getting help from their family.

      But being a New Yorker myself, I wouldn’t complain if your generalizations were true!

  3. Mike
    Mike says:

    Brilliant. Dead On. Perfect. ANYONE considering living in NYC should memorize this post. And it’s SO true – if you haven’t lived in NYC – you can’t appreciate the truthfulness of this post. It really is something you have to experience.

    FYI, I answered “yes” to all three. :)

    I am reminded of a lyric from Baz Luhrmann’s song, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”:

    “Live in NYC once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in southern California once, bu leave before it makes you soft”

    Too true. Great post P.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      Except, of course, that Baz Lurhmann didn’t write that (nor did Kurt Vonnegut, although for some time the rumor existed that he was the author). Mary Schmich wrote the essay, in a 1997 Chicago Tribune column.

  4. Erica
    Erica says:

    Who “doesn’t” think that they are these things? Or want to believe that they want interesting lives full of success and the best of everything?

    • MeredithElaine
      MeredithElaine says:

      I don’t. At least in the sense described in this post. I’ve seen how it destroys people and families.

      Full of success and the best of everything, however, does not need to mean being a top-performing CEO and a pair of Louboutins.

  5. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    So, if you did not have children and could live anywhere – assuming you could also run your business from anywhere – where would you be living Penelope?

    I’m in Madison too. But I feel like your answer would not be Madison.

    One of the previously mentioned cities? Somewhere new?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for asking :) Now that I’ve been living in Wisconsin for a while, I have a pretty good understanding of where I fit in all this.

      I am actually an optimizer and I want to be at the top of my field, and I value and interesting life over a happy life. But I cannot stand the noise and constant action in New York City.

      Each of us has quirks. Sometimes the quirks are so big that they trump other values. I am pretty sure that I have sensory integration disorder, which is an extreme version of being sensitive to (for me) noise and light. The last year of living in NYC I pretty much could not get on the subway because I was so sensitive to the noise.

      So, there are other factors, too, that go into a decision like this.

      The first year I lived in Wisconsin I thought the culture shock was too awful and I’d never last. Now I’m acclimating. And the more I move, the more I learn about myself.


      • Cheryl Morris
        Cheryl Morris says:

        You might find this book of interest: “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You” by Elaine N. Aron.
        I read it and took the two quizzes in it.
        I scored as a highly sensitive person: bright light gives me a headache, loud noise exhausts me, etc.

        I also recommend the book, “The Nine Nations of North America” by Joel Garreau.
        Even though the book was published back in 1989, I think it’s still helpful if readers want to compare the regional differences that we have here in the United States.


  6. JR
    JR says:

    If an optimizer is never happy, why would anyone want to be one? Just so you can say “I may be miserable, but at least I’m more interesting than you”?

    All happy people I know consider their own lives interesting. Who cares whether someone else does?

  7. Matt Secor
    Matt Secor says:

    I was wondering about the “eighty percent of generation Y thinks they are in the top ten percent of all workers” quote as well. If this is based off a study, I’m curious how that might compare with other generations.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Business Week reported that eighty percent of gen y thinks they are top performers. It was a more specific way of saying it than I said it. But this is what I remembered and I can’t find the link. I think it’s the issue with Deloitte on the cover. But I still can’t find it. And what am I doing with this minutia swimming in my head anyway?


      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        The obvious takeaway from that (and one that you mention, but I think downplay) is that most of them are wrong. The vast majority of people cannot, by definition, be top performers–no matter how one defines the group.

        Of course, I suspect that while the numbers may vary among generations, even when limited to how people felt when in a particular age range, that the truth is that a great many people overestimate their abilities and contributions. Yes, there are plenty who underestimate their impact. But just thinking you’re awesome doesn’t make it so.

      • susan
        susan says:

        …Except, there’s a greater likelihood that someone who thinks that they’re awesome actually is, than someone who doesn’t think so, is awesome.

  8. Matt Secor
    Matt Secor says:

    Sorry to split my comment in two, but I wanted to add this: I would guess that there is a larger percentage of people that overestimate their abilities across all generations.

  9. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    Erica-I don’t think I’m these “things”.
    That having been said, I’ve always thought I would like to live in NYC. After reading this though I think maybe I would just like to visit. SoCal upbringing might not mesh with NYC. Too laid back. Probably.

  10. Jessi
    Jessi says:

    Great post P!

    What I love about living in nyc is that it has put my happiness in perspective. Last night my boyfriend and I signed a lease on an beautiful apartment with closets and an outdoor space – €“ we currently have neither. (We store our clothes in giant tupperware containers.) We were so thrilled that we were bouncing off the walls. You would have thought we won the lottery. There are so many small luxuries like this that I used to take for granted that can really improve your life in nyc if you have them. It's a good reminder to enjoy all the things I do have… and maybe one day I’ll even have a dishwasher.

    • Missa
      Missa says:

      Did you get a good deal Jessi??? The only thing I want in my next NYC apartment is a dishwasher — I miss having one so badly. Maybe I’ll settle for a kitchen sink large enough to put 12 inch plates in and a bedroom big enough for a queen-sized bed…

      That’s the funny thing about NYC. What my fiance and I pay for rent for our small one-bedroom apartment in an Upper East Side walk-up could afford us mortgage payments on a mansion in some parts of the country.

      But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I like knowing that I can be comfortable sharing a 7×9 bedroom and a full sized bed. I like knowing that I survived sharing my apartment with mice and enormous roaches. I like not having to buy gas for a car. I like walking to the store instead of getting stuck in traffic on the way to the supermarket like my friends/family on Long Island.

      Makes me feel tougher. (And more deserving of my Louboutins.)

      • Jessi
        Jessi says:

        We did get a good deal! The price had just been reduced when we saw it. It’s in Brooklyn though – which I love. It’s my way of getting out of the city. Not sure I could live in Manhattan…

  11. Irina I
    Irina I says:

    Great insights! For a while, I really wanted to move to New York (well…move out of the Bay Area, more like it). These are some great questions to ask and I think I’m a yes on all three. Thank you for asking them!

  12. Jane Greer
    Jane Greer says:

    About being an “optimizer”–I have an acquaintance who, for all of his 50+ years, has “kept his options open.” He’s never been happy with the job or girlfriend he had; he’s always left them for that better job and better girlfriend. The result hasn’t been either happiness OR success; he’s just 50+ with not much in the way of salary, pension, retirement, OR female companionship. So I’m not sure I’d call it “optimizing.” “Perpetual dissatisfaction” is a pretty miserable way to live.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      I’m sure that there are people who progress through “optimizing.” But all too often, people are convinced that they could do better. And they can’t, because they have an inaccurate and inflated sense of who they are, and they dismiss any number of people and things based on truly trivial and meaningless criteria. The result is that they’re not really optimizing. They’re just jerks.

    • susan
      susan says:

      Trouble is, that WAY too many people in NYC are unable to tell the difference between the inevitable lifelong purgatory of addiction to The New and having High Standards/challenging yourself- especially the men- and makes things terrible here in NYC for those of us who CAN tell the difference.

  13. Brad Gutting
    Brad Gutting says:

    Fact is, if you have to rely on geography to deliver an interesting, fulfilling life, then you’re probably a dreadfully boring person in the first place.

    And when you say, “top of their fields” (i.e., “more valuable), do you mean inherently better, or just more people saying they’re better? There’s a difference. Not everyone gets that, which is why some of the best advertising agencies and law firms (both mainstays of NYC, traditionally) are in places like Boulder, Charlotte, and Austin.

    And let’s not forget–the assumption was that the “best” financial people were in NYC, and they did an amazing job of fucking shit up royally for the rest of the country.

    Not at all related: I find New Yorkers to be among the most polite people ever. It’s always a genuine experience.

  14. Carla Blumenthal
    Carla Blumenthal says:

    Penelope- I think you are right on. NYC attracts a certain breed. I grew up 2 hours from the city and visited often. I worked there for two summers during undergrad and I loved it. NYC is fast (and exhausting) and you need to have the right personality. I moved to Boston in September and initially had a difficult time adjusting to the slower pace of the city.

    Have you read NY Magazine’s “Alone Together” piece about urban loneliness in NYC? Good analysis and a piece you would probably be interested in.

  15. Mike Wilson
    Mike Wilson says:

    v. nice.

    I was born in Brooklyn and, though having grown up in the suburbs, have lived here in the city for the last 12 years. I love it to death. Food, culture, convenience, people, the raw speed of it, all of it. And I partake of it richly. It is like living a 36 hour day and a 10 day week while mainlining espresso.

    But good God I’d leave in a heartbeat if I could figure out how to do it.

    I could live without fresh pirogi from veselka at 2:00 on a Tuesday morning if I so chose. I don’t really need to be within walking distance to The Brooklyn Bridge and the best pizza on God’s Green Earth. Nor do I have to be able to walk to a local watering hole for conversation and libations. I don’t need the best of everything but I sure as hell appreciate it when I get it.

    Really, I can make my own pasta (and it’s usually better.) A glass of single-malt (neat) is just as good sitting in my living room with a couple friends. I can enjoy a Royale with Cheese just as much as a burger from Shake Shack. And frankly I’d love to go outside and worry about my shoes getting muddy rather than about them getting run over.

    But to start over, to break ALL of my habits that are tied to this style of living and actually make the switch…

    It might take more than I’ve got.

  16. Rose
    Rose says:

    I was in a Byerly’s in Minnesota yesterday and they had to stop me from rapidly unloading my groceries. ‘I’ll do that for you,’ said the cashier. ‘I’m from New York,’ I muttered. ‘How do you like New York?’ asked the handsome bagboy. ‘Uhhhhhhh….’ was my eloquent answer.

    The truth is I hate New York. And I never understood why I have lived there for years. These three answers are dead on: I’m such an optimizer, I found a great husband in New York, and I have an unhealthy obsession with living an interesting life. Great post, Penelope!!

  17. Maus
    Maus says:

    I strive for the torpor of a lizard on a warm rock. Maybe that is why I loathe NYC, a loathing that has grown with each of my three stays there. There is a reason Jed’s kinfolk told him California was the place to be, and why Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. The west is the best!

  18. Yvette @ Capsule
    Yvette @ Capsule says:

    where are these gen y stats coming from? i can honestly say i don’t know a single person of that age group who’d say they’re in the top 10% of workers. they are from an age where having a 4 year degree no longer sets them apart. they now need hours of community service, internships, MBAs etc to have a hope at being considered for any kind of job that would take them to the top ten percent, and they know it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Do commenters read comments? I say above where the stats come from…

      But I think now I’m going to change the post itself. Too many people asking.


  19. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    I live in NYC and answer no to all 3. I used to live in RI for a while but circumstances brought me back. Still trying to decide where my next city will be but I know I hate NYC, and this is from someone who was born and raised here. I’m a simple, mellow person and NYC is none of these things. All of my coworkers come from simple, mellow places and find that they love the hustle and bustle here and I find myself asking them questions about their hometown just to see if it would be a good fit for me.

  20. Erica
    Erica says:

    My point wasn’t that people actually want what Penelope described, but if you ask yourself just those three questions – you most likely are going to say “yes.” Like, reading your horoscope (why, yes – I am funny, creative and sensitive. I must be a Leo/Pisces/Aquarius/Ox!)

    I have lived in New York my whole life, and I would probably say no to at least 2/3 of these questions (that of course varies day-to-day). And yet? While eventually I would like to try living elsewhere, I love, love, love my city. I don’t go for fancy dinners, or wear designer clothing (unless Old Navy is a designer). I work hard, and while I am not the VP of anything, I make a decent living. It ain’t Sex and the City, but it’s not a hovel, eke-out-an-existence either.

    • hollifer
      hollifer says:

      i agree that you don’t need a high lifestyle to live well in NYC. it always annoys me to read blogs like this that describe NYC as a place for ultra-competitive, money-hungry, fashionistas–this applies to only specific parts of NYC, from what i understand. i think that’s false. i think you can still survive, and be ‘happy’, if you make decent money and don’t partake in luxuries. but, i say go ahead and let everyone believe this outmoded stereotype, so that it doesn’t become more populated and so those currently live there can enjoy it. and no, i don’t live there–never have, BUT i am leaving boston to live there–as soon as i get a job. it’s just one of those places where whenever i am there, i feel that i belong, it feels right and it feels good. i realize the contradiction, but whatever. of course, maybe i’ll hate it once i actually live there, but i must do it because it calls me. boston has bored me for 10 years–sick of the accents, yuppy, and difficult to meet people. and i am from new england, although not from massachusetts.

  21. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    One day, I’m going to extrapolate out my own limited experience as truth for everyone–making huge, sweeping generalizations and are pretty much wrong under the least bit of scrutiny.

    Oh… wait… it seems you’ve beaten me to the punch.

    So did you ever step outside of Manhattan–NYC has outer boroughs you know… and an uptown that stretches far past 86th street. These areas are full of people who are perfectly content and happy with their pretty normal, average lives. Take my parents– My dad was a NYC firefighter for 20 years and then started a small accounting practice out of our basement. He’s not an optimizer or at the top of his field, and values his happiness. In fact, by number, there are more people like him than there are in the winner take all, best of everything rat race that you seemed to have immerse yourself in. You should meet him… and other regular people. Just go to Bay Ridge out in Brooklyn and show up at Gino’s restaurant on a Friday night. They’ve been going there every Friday for 15 years. They’ll introduce you to more “typical” New Yorkers than you ever seemed to meet.

    Next time you come to NYC and head to a baseball game, go sit in the bleachers and not in some expensive corporate seat you were able to get from a high powered hedge fund friend. Give those people your quiz.

  22. LuckyK
    LuckyK says:

    The whole idea of the game is happiness. There is no other trophy. If you aren’t orienting your life to maximize your happiness you’re doing it wrong. People with “interesting” lives spend them in airports, and alone in hotels. If you pursue money, fame, or status you will never be happy because it will never be enough. There will always be someone with a little bit more and that will drive you crazy.

    • William Bruce
      William Bruce says:

      This critique presumes that happiness is what is solely worthwhile in life, while Ms. Trunk’s post is in no philosophical position to do so.

      I would also say that *none* of us are in a philosophical position to do so, but that is not for pragmatic reasons…

    • thatgirlinnewyork
      thatgirlinnewyork says:

      i live an “interesting” life, and i don’t spend it in airports. i did that in the earlier part of my career, but since have reveled in my everyday life here in nyc. “interesting” isn’t always about moving about–interesting comes here, in many forms, every day. all one needs to do is walk out of their apartment, and they’ll find it–and it often costs nothing but being. most of the exotic here comes from other people just being. we’re not overstocked on one type of person (though sometimes bankers would fall into that category if i was to change my mind), and that makes for a very rich life here. optimizing isn’t always about material things–we’re that way about how we’d like our schools, our politics, and other intangibles. and we optimize because we know we have the brain trust (and yes, a very cooperative people) to do it.

      some of the most magical things i’ve ever experienced have happened on this island. but no, it’s not for everyone. that’s why we have hotels and airports.

  23. Diane
    Diane says:

    How does e-commerce affect the “optimizer” thing? As an example, I used to have to drive quite some distance to get shoes that fit (I wear an odd size), or else settle for something that I could sort of “break in” so it wouldn’t hurt my feet too much. Now, with a few clicks, I can find multiple pairs in my size, buy one (or more), and they show up on my porch in a matter of days. I can order gourmet coffee and have it delivered; my clothing choices aren’t limited by geography. I would think that this applies, now, primarily to services (you can’t sell a haircut over the Internet and ship it to someone, nor can you e-mail yourself to a restaurant in a distant city). Also, there’s an assumption that more choices = better. Some smaller cities are known for being the best at “X”, and that’s their particular niche. As an example, if you like street art fairs, THE art fair to go to is the one in Ann Arbor, MI. Some cities have small restaurants that, while not widely known, are amazingly good (and not very crowded!).

  24. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez
    Guy LeCharles Gonzalez says:

    I was born and raised here and I’ve left for good three different times and came back in less than a year twice; the other time, I joined the Army, so it took 2.5 years before I came back, because that’s what I signed up for. For me, optimization has always played a small part, but it’s really the interesting:happy ratio that does it for me; the unpredictability of it all and the ability to reinvent one’s self on a dime. I probably spend as much time hating living here as I do loving it, but it works for me.

    Dellinger’s comment (#2) betrays a stereotypical view of NYers picked up from TV and movies, not reality. Most NYers are neither rich nor rude; ambitious, hard-working and harried are truer stereotypes, but ultimately, the beauty of NY is that it takes a variety of personalities from a variety of places to make this place what it is. Love it, or leave it, I say!

    • AshD
      AshD says:

      And people that do not appreciate New York for what it is (a melting pot of people from all different walks of life who are following their dreams) do not belong in NYC to begin with…

      I am currently in Miami attending grad school and there is not one day that I don’t miss NYC. Born and Bred as well, it is hard to leave when you have been raised having the world at your fingertips, accustomed to the best of everything… Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera, Wall Street, Chinatown, K-Town, Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Statue of Liberty, the United Nations, countless museums and endless types of cuisine… Leaving makes you see and appreciate it all more.

      But I also find it unhealthy to live in the same city your whole life, and different perspectives are what make us as individuals interesting, well rounded, and relatable people.

      However, I feel that with the economy crashing as it is, corporations take advantage with young people who are driven and motivated, and work them to the ground (15 hour days) and spit them out when budget cuts arise…

  25. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think there’s good information in this post and the Time Out New York quiz on the NYC living and lifestyle and whether or not a person may be a good fit. I wonder how many people would be truly be honest with themselves with this information in making a decision on whether or not to live in NYC. People will want to move there and experience it for themselves and try to make NYC a fit for them. Personally I don’t mind visiting NYC but not interested in living there. I did live in LA and my car was my home away from home so that wasn’t a picnic either.
    Thank you for specifying NYC in the title and within the post itself. New York is also a state and a pretty one at that.

  26. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a pompous psycho, but I don’t want to be at the top in my field. I want to create my own field and be the only one standing in it. That is how I want my contribution to the world to be. God and Seth G. said there was noone like me. It must be true. hahaha. I am an optimizer who puts a high premium on life without viccisstudes, so interesting is out for me since more often than not means ups and downs. One out of three is bad, so I’ll ride this Oklahoma thing out a little while longer. hahahahahaha! Great post, and yes, nobody reads the comments. They’re too fascinated by what they have to say to listen to anyone else who isn’t famous.

  27. Dan Klamm
    Dan Klamm says:

    I think that there is a misconception about what living in NYC can do for one’s career, especially for new grads coming out of college. A lot of students that I work with seem to think that top-notch professional opportunities will come their way if they move to a bustling place like NYC, when in fact, staying in a smaller city may provide them with more chances to take on meaningful, hands-on entry level work. For their first jobs, I frequently encourage students to consider working in places other than NYC to gain a base of professional experience.

  28. Gerty
    Gerty says:

    What a timely post. I am about to travel to NYC next week for work and will visit a friend who has moved there. She is on her way to being one of the top in her field. Due to that, she gets paid a decent salary, can afford to live in a nice apartment the city. She can afford to experience most of what NYC has to offer.

    She prefers interesting over happy and she is an optimizer. Most importantly she embraces the fast pace and energy of the city. She was never one to sit down and take it easy. NYC suits her personality.

    As Penelope suggests in the comment section if you are sensitive to loud noises, bright lights, etc then NYC of course wouldn’t be the best fit. Made me think about my friend, its like she’s immune from the stress of lights, noise and general busyness. She doesn’t even notice it.

  29. Marina Martin
    Marina Martin says:

    This article made me want to pack a bag and leave for Manhattan right now.

    I always expected to end up in NYC (especially after CT boarding school life), and every time I moved to a new city (Denver, SF, LA, SLC, PDX) I expected NYC was just one move away. Yet, here I am in Seattle, totally satisfied, except for the fact that Seattle is not NYC. As an optimizer, “settling” for a city that is never mentioned in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is something I will have to come to terms with in time. (But when I do, I will come to terms with it better than anyone!)

  30. Mark F.
    Mark F. says:

    I am an optimizer who has gotten near the top of the optimization scale. The “trick” is to optimize by being in the suburbs of NYC and eventually working in the suburbs of NYC- at a city salary. You get to enjoy all the city culture, sports, shopping and restaurants wthout giving up a backyard with a pool, great schools (my school district is top 20 in the entire USA), plus I get great beaches in under 30 minutes….you might say the suburbs don’t count…you also talked about trade offs…so maybe it is/
    I got to work for two fortune 200 corps. in NYC before making the leap to a great company on LI….
    My best friend has traded these things for the city lifestyle and he won’t go back…so its really a matter of preference….but it is an option that many Gen-y should consider…Same goes for suburbs of Chicago, L.A., Miami, etc…All have great trade offs…
    Food for thought…
    Also, I don’t know that all optimizers trade off happyness…I don’t…

  31. NYCMemories
    NYCMemories says:

    I actually think people who are true optimizers really hate New York, because New York will drive them crazy. This city will make any optimizer realize that they are NEVER enough, no matter how hard you try.

    It doesn’t matter how much money one makes in this city, there’s always someone two years younger and making twice as much. It doesn’t matter how good looking one is, there is another person more good looking and younger in age. It’s a cruel crule world for an optimizer, because it’ll be extremely difficult to “optimize” here.

    A lot of people get wrapped up in the never ending search of a better job, a better apartment, or a better boyfriend/girlfriend, because let’s face it there will always be a better one out there in the city. Optimizers are the ones who eventually move out to suburbs because out there, it’s easy to optimize…

    People who actually choose to remain in the city for hte long haul are those who appreciate the diversity of experiences this city has to offier. But I don’t think they are necessarily optimizers, because at some point they have to accept and be content with what they have (or don’t have) and feel good about it all, NOT because you are the best (you never will be) but because you are who you are.

    • arielle
      arielle says:

      This is so right on.

      And another note on optimizing:
      I actually don’t think that a lot of people are natural-born optimizers in this city. I think a lot of people become addicted to the act of optimizing; to continuing to search and seek out and not be satisfied with less than exactly what they are looking for. Even as the city requires ridiculous compromises.

      I think this is why a lot of born-here New Yorkers find it hard to leave…optimization addiction.=)

  32. Funkright
    Funkright says:

    Where you are is the best place to be.. A place doesn’t define your reality, you do. Defining yourself by locale or specific lifestyle situations is a self limiting behavior. No one ever changed the world for the better by living in a specific place.

  33. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    You could replace NYC with London or Mumbai or San Francisco or Shanghai or Bangalore, and the article would still hold good. Happiness is highly subjective anyway.

    My working hypothesis is that in these cities, people are so glad for their professional and other personal opportunities, and a full life of the kind they like, that they compensate by saying that they are unhappy even when they are not. They don’t want others to feel bad about themselves ;-)

  34. dips
    dips says:

    Wow. Did you just write about Mumbai?

    I took the test, and even by missing all the particular questions about NYC, i scored a pretty decent ‘temporary NYCer’.
    Which makes me think that all these things are common to any part of the world. Every country has a financial capital. And they are all the same.

    Though Im yet to meet the Mice in Bbay.

  35. Steve Levy
    Steve Levy says:

    Penelope, commentors have no need to read others’ comments; far too many would rather live inside their own insular world than open it up to the a rainbow of different perspectives. Safety over reality.

    Optimizers? The best of everything according to whom?

    The top of one’s field? You mean the top of the fields that were the leaders in the financial meltdown? Yep, I wanna be like them.

    Interesting or happy life? And I thought you can have both; silly me…

    Native New Yorkers – talk about a skewed phrase – have been programmed to speak of our lives (I’m NY born even though I lived in CT for 20 years – lol, Fairfield County is now as much a borough of NYC as is Miami-Dade – and now live back on Lawn Guyland) in grandiose terms: If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Our nation’s first capital – uh, practically in a bar which in itself speaks volumes – NYC became the media capital only because of geography – NYC is closer to Europe than LA – and all the papers had to write something. So they wrote about themselves being the center of the world. Attaboys for everyone and dreams for everyone else.

    Those who came here believed the hype and like the game of Post Office, re-told their own experiences using personal embellishments. And the legend grew.

    So NYC became the center of the financial and “high society” universes (others too but somehow lumping fashion into the mix makes me conclude that most New Yorkers’ choices of fashion are made without mirrors) and pretty soon others wanted to be like New York; dirty politics were practically invented here (not one of our proudest exports). We also became a target: 9/11 changed everything for many of us.

    We make act tough but when a Presidential plane flies overhead and not even the New York Post knows about it, once tough New Yawkahs stain their wears and run around like chickens with their heads cut off; I’m reasonably certain this doesn’t happen in CheeseLand or pretty much anywhere else. We walk past firehouses and police officers and finally realize (again, some but not all) that if nothing else, New York is a tough city with tough people willing to risk their lives for others (of course this happens elsewhere but we have more media outlets who write about it). No, we’re not the same as others, we’re better…sure. I think many are simply followers afraid to make their own path – it’s safer to try the well worn roads that others before have taken. And I’d offer, boring as well. But how would one know when all they’ve known is the same dream as others?

    It’s not that New York is faster than other places but people and global media have come to believe that it is fast. The inherent problem with a city so large – and especially for NYC – is that for many, it’s lonely going it alone; so you create a life that is fantasy full.

    As others here have noted, happiness IS relative and has little to do with the Barbarians guarding the gate.

    It’s time to stop being afraid of yourself…

  36. Gina Lincoln
    Gina Lincoln says:


    This is such a great article for so many reasons. And I wanted to elaborate on the distinction, that I believe you are pointing to, between “happiness” and “fulfillment.” Happiness is overrated – I’d even go so far as to say our society is addicted to happiness. What I mean is that we can’t even bear to be with normal discomfort, failure, or anything that happens to be REAL in the present moment (negative emotions, situations, etc). We automatically think that something is wrong when we aren’t happy. And when we can’t be with what is – we’re essentially cheating ourselves out of living a full life and being fully human.

    Back to the distinction between “happiness” and fulfillment.” Say for example, I want to speak at my father’s funeral. I hate public speaking, I don’t want to cry in front of people, and my dad just died! I don’t want to do it, but I need to do it: Speaking at the funeral wouldn’t make me “HAPPY,” but it would bring a sense of fulfillment because I’m honoring my father. So we’re talking about honoring our personal values here – not aiming for positive, comfortable, yummy, happy feelings.

    Maybe “optimizers” just understand this distinction better than others? Values and fulfillment are so incredibly personal – there are people who want to work 80 hours a week, not because they are addicted to work (though many are), but because their work is their calling (as opposed to just a job). It fulfills them. It might look “wrong” to others, but for them it’s absolutely right!

    I also love that you are pointing to conscious choice. All commitments include saying “yes” to certain things and “no” to others to make them happen. Helping people be really conscious about this choice is key.

    I also wonder about your thoughts on failure. My philosophy is that we can’t learn without failing. So much of our choices are based on “fear of failure” and they keep us playing small. I say – if you want to move to NY, do it! Just know that it might not work and you’ll figure out what works for you and what doesn’t faster if you just take SOME kind of action.

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts!


  37. darlene
    darlene says:

    LOVED this post, Penolope! I think you may have also save me a billion dollars in therapy by explaining why I am never happy. I am a born and bred New Yorker and am living in L.A. and am a phenomenal optimizer. Hats off! It’s this type of post that keeps me coming back for more.

    • funkright
      funkright says:

      oh.. come on.. what’s with this ‘optimizer’ title..

      It’s a load of crap.. You aren’t ‘happy’ because you chose not to be. You tell yourself will be happy ‘when X happens’ or ‘when I get X’..

      That’s a cop-out, that your an ‘optimizer’, so you can’t be in a better place, more at peace, live in the flow, enjoy the journey, don’t tie your perceived happiness or fulfillment to an end result..

      ‘Optimizers’ as has been defined, or inferred to, in this article and the subsequent comments is truly an excuse metaphor.

  38. Kim Chambers
    Kim Chambers says:

    Your post couldn’t have come at a better time. Every single day I grapple with whether I am indeed happy living and working in Boston. I have great friends, I work at a great agency, I have a fabulous boyfriend, I live downtown in not the best apartment, but the location is great–yet I’m always in search of the intangible “better option”. I tend to vent the most to my mother and boyfriend who are both fabulous listeners. They constantly listen, nod their heads and simply say “Kim, take a breath. Rome wasn’t built in a day”. In one instance, my mom even told me I was “too ambitious for my own good”. After reading this post and all of the comments, it’s good to know that I’m not alone.

    So how do optimizers achieve small victories to fulfill this insatiable career/life goals? I for one, try to network as much as possible. I think of every person I talk to as value that they can somehow add to my life. Where it is meeting a recent grad just trying to get a foot in the door at my agency, or talking with a senior level executive with years of experience under their belt over wine at an industry function. The recent grad often times helps remind me why I got into my industry, and the senior level person reminds me to keep working hard, and where I someday could end up. Every time I meet someone I like to think of it as “career karma”, if I keep paying it forward then eventually this intangible will someday materialize. I try to focus on these small scale interactions in order to make up for my optimizer tendencies as well as the dim morale that is facing nearly every single industry in the job market at the present time. While I will always strive to achieve the elusive goal, I also try to focus on small daily goals in order to not drive myself completely batty with my ambitious nature.

    Thanks again for a great post. Your blog always has an amazing way of bringing me back to earth and keeping me grounded.

    • funkright
      funkright says:

      “I think of every person I talk to as value that they can somehow add to my life…” heh?? and “Every time I meet someone I like to think of it as “career karma”, if I keep paying it forward then eventually this intangible will someday materialize.”

      Hmmm… No images of self-grandiosity there.. Sheesh.. You do ‘good things’ because they are good things, not because there’s some cosmic return at the end of the day.

      But another comment summed up the blog and a large portion of its readership, “I see this attitude reflected throughout your blog- that to be at the top of your field you have to be complicated and unhappy and generally messed up. It’s codswallop.”

      Well, same here, you don’t have to be f*cked up to be successful, nor do you have to be unhappy.

      Go see a psychotherapist and deal with it, but it definitely doesn’t make you an optimizer (you are just, and I hate to use this phrase, ‘jones-ing’, because there’s always someone ahead of you and there’s always something perceived as being better or the best).

      This optimizer-type you reference is more properly labeled as an individual with some pretty serious OCD issues and that can be treated.

      All that said, I find this blog entertaining, it provides an alternative view and occasionally it creates a good discussion.

      At the end of the day all we really have, because everything is truly impermanent, are the relationships and interactions with those around us. Not the bigger house, the nicer apartment, the better job, the new wife, the better SO, or the new car.

      There is no singular leap forward by any one individual, or city or personality type, in human history that brought us to where we are at, good or bad, we got here together.

      • Swimmykimy
        Swimmykimy says:

        To clarify, I do good things because they are good things. Everyone that knows me describes me as someone who is selfless and genuine. I don’t need to meet with every single recent college graduate over coffee or lunch, but I do. I’m just trying to help people out, so they might be lucky to experience the same break that I did.

      • Paul
        Paul says:

        “There is no singular leap forward by any one individual, or city or personality type, in human history that brought us to where we are at, good or bad, we got here together.”

        It must be acknowledged, however, that the city of New York and the personality type of “the New Yorker” have probably contributed more than any other to American civilization. Good and bad. And as New Yorkers know instinctively, you can’t have good without bad, and the more good, the more bad.

  39. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Most happy people are complacent? What a load of crap.
    I see this attitude reflected throughout your blog- that to be at the top of your field you have to be complicated and unhappy and generally messed up. It’s codswallop. I’ve risen fairly quickly to the top of my field and I’m happy. I have lots of friends who are the same.

    Otherwise, everything you wrote about NYC is true.

  40. DT
    DT says:

    My mother always says “when you leave New York City, you ain’t going nowhere.” Of course, she lives in the suburbs now.

  41. Bill
    Bill says:

    Maybe if “optimizers” spent a little less time obsessing over their next big score, and a little more time thinking about how they could help someone ELSE, they’d be happier.

  42. avant garde designer
    avant garde designer says:

    Penelope’s definition of optimizer is an optimistic way of defining the insatiable.

    While it’s good to always move forward, there are some people who are chronically dissatisfied. They’re always looking but never finding. They always want more, and usually it’s at the expense of those in their lives.

    There’s something to be said for the hard-working, goal-oriented, yet complacent person who has the ability to be happy with life no matter what it brings. Because, in the end, no matter how hard we work or what goals we set, we’re still at the mercy of the plan God set for us.

    • Kelli
      Kelli says:

      spoken like a true non-optimizer! I am not an optimizer either, it’s alright.

      My best friend is and I am often annoyed at her constant disatisfaction with her current standings. Lucky to have found an equally great (monetarily equal and creatively satisfying) job literally a day after being laid off (in the 3-months-ago environment) and not a week passes before she needs to be making more money or is looking for something better. I thought, how inappropriate. When I read this article I started laughing. She is an optimizer to the core, and I will say that she does have a great, exciting life. And is completely unhappy.

  43. Tim
    Tim says:

    Wow, this post arrived the exact same time that I found out I have an opportunity to move to New York. As a young twentysomething, who is currently “funemployed” I appreciate this and other posts like it. I don’t follow them blindly, but use them as a way to analyze my situations. Thanks!

  44. NK
    NK says:

    I really wish I took this quiz before i moved to NYC from the Midwest. Even better, they should have this quiz available for everybody at LGA and JFK, and i wonder how many people would be taking their cabs into the city.

    After living here (in the area, actually), I hate NYC and the whole tri-state area with conviction. Even more so, I hate Brooklyn. It is probably the ugliest place on Earth. And i know what i am talking about – i’ve been to other 35 states and was born and raised in a foreign country. This place makes me miserable. Actually, i am finally leaving in a couple of months.

    NYC-ers are a bunch of sorry weirdos that don’t fit anywhere else in this country.

    • elle
      elle says:

      Wish I could leave too—AND live in another country like Spain or Italy–the crowds, pollution, rudeness, and impatience of New Yorkers makes living on this super-expensive city completely miserable…and yes, most people are NEVER content either–they are always looking for the “next best thing”..-to make them smile–yet look around – and most people have permanent scowls on their faces! I don’t blame you for regretting your move to NYC. I am a native here–and wish i could leave overnight!!

      • Susan
        Susan says:

        *Also* a native, and 100% agree. I blame this place for almost everything that has went wrong in my life – with good reason. Everyone is just spending their time climbing the career ladder, gaining material wealth, trying to cheat death, never stopping to think or grab onto anything solid or internal. There isn’t any time for that.

        Everyone is miserable here, yes – but will NEVER admit it. The NYC pr machine- watch out for it, it’s a bitch- will point and laugh at you if you do- tell you there is something wrong with *you* for not “making it”. Maybe some of us don’t *want* to “make it”(whatever that means) here- and especially not now. Just watch the new show “Girls” for evidence of why.

  45. Jeff T.
    Jeff T. says:

    Why would anyone live in New York when they could live in San Francisco or Seattle? All the positives but cut the negatives in half. Should I expect a wave of optimizers to start a mass migration when they realize this.

    Oh wait ….. that already happened!


    • Jack
      Jack says:

      Good question! I was thinking of exactly the same thing. PT, have you changed your ‘accept money, but don’t tell’ philosophy to reflect reality, or have you taken moolah from the city of NYC and Time Out New York.

      From your earlier blog post, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had been paid, and had refused to disclose this.

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