Why I Left New York City

June 6, 2017
NYC skyline view from 50 Bowery

For the last year or so, whenever I meet someone for the first time there’s inevitably one question that gets asked: “So, why did you leave New York City?”

Although there are many different things that went into my decision to move out of NYC, ultimately it boils down to one idea: I needed to start embracing the unknown.

The Unremarkable Decision to Move to New York City

Being born, growing up, and going to college in and around New York City, meant that “the City” was always an exciting place, but also something attainable and even familiar. For me, moving to New York was never a big leap of faith. In fact, it was a pretty safe path for me to take. My move into my first NYC apartment was a pretty pedestrian affair – one weekend I packed up a U-Haul van, drove it 45 minutes from my mom’s house on Long Island into Manhattan, and bam – I was an official New York City resident.

It never felt like I was making a courageous decision like so others who move to New York from someplace else. I moved to Manhattan because that’s just what girls from Long Island do.

Seeds of Doubt Sowed

Granted, if you’re just going to move to the biggest city near your hometown, NYC is probably THE GREATEST place to move to.  Living in New York City as a young person IS awesome*. You brush shoulders with all sorts of interesting, brilliant, ambitious, awe-inspiring people in the world. You get access to the best in music, art, culture, and food anytime you want it!  There were definitely times when I felt like the coolest person in the world, living it up like post-makeover Andy from The Devil Wears Prada,  jauntily whipping my hair back as I dashed around the city hopping from work to dinner, then off to some neat event.

That said, because New York is such a fun place to be, it’s really very easy to overlook all the bad that comes with living there. A LOT of NYC living is just a complete struggle. Day-to-day life is filled with a neverending string of tiny rage moments: pushing through a wall of bodies to get onto a subway car on your way to work, hauling groceries up to your sixth-floor walk-up apartment (which, by the way, is an overpriced shoebox), trying not to get hit by a super-aggressive cab driver while you merge into traffic for the umpteenth time because another car is double parked in the bike lane. Live in there long enough, and you’ll understand why Pizza Rat is any real New Yorker’s spirit animal.

One day, probably after having been stuck on F train with “signal issues” for 20 minutes in a non-air conditioned car, a little part in the back of my brain quietly started to ask, “Is this what the rest of my life looks like?”

Watching Others Make the Leap

For a long time, “I guess so” was the answer to that question. I couldn’t even fathom the idea of living anywhere else. It was far too scary of a proposition. Being a New Yorker was a part of my identity. It was what I knew, what I could understand, and what felt safe.

But over time I watched a handful of friends start moving away — some headed West, others dared to move to far-flung foreign countries. I went green-eyed watching their new lives unfold via social media updates providing the details of their brand new life full of cute apartments and houses, the outdoors, and a renewed sense of purpose and freedom. In person, they seemed happier, more relaxed.  In my eyes, these brave souls were living The Dream. They did it. They had escaped New York! Good riddance, (Pizza) rat race.

“Lucky them, but that could never be me,” I thought.

Can I Really Do This?

It wasn’t until I got married and my husband and I started thinking about the type of life we wanted to build for ourselves that I was able to conceptualize the idea of living somewhere else. When he first brought up the idea of moving, I was kind skeptical. “Really, me leave New York?” I questioned.

To ease me into this idea, we created a matrix of a bunch of criteria of what was important to us in a place to live and ranked a bunch of U.S. cities we liked against each item on the list. Although there were many things we were looking for, access to the outdoors, nice weather, and affordable cost of living were at the top of our lists.

After looking at the cold hard facts I realized that New York City didn’t match up with our long term priorities, but a place like Denver, Colorado did.  Still, even after going through a pretty analytical, measured process and coming to a decision, I was racked with doubts and worries. Even though it made sense on paper, I wasn’t completely convinced that moving out of New York was a good idea.

On one hand, moving somewhere else felt really exciting. A brand new start! A new adventure for the two of us to experience together!  But on the other hand, it was something completely unknown to me.  New York was pretty much where I’d lived my whole life. How would I handle living somewhere else? Would I be able to adapt to a slower pace of life? What if I hated this new city? I cringed at the idea of having to make new friends — seriously, too old for that kind of thing! Maybe we’d be making a big mistake and we should just stay.

Doing the Scary Thing

But then I started asking myself if I didn’t start taking chances now, when would I?  After a while, the fear of NOT taking a chance was scarier than actually doing the thing that scared me. I started to worry that I would look back on my life and regret never having the courage to do anything remotely risky.  One day I decided even though I couldn’t predict the outcome, and I wasn’t sure what would happen, we should at least give it a go.  I told my husband.  The next day we called our landlord and told him we wanted to break our lease — which he agreed to.  GULP!  Now we had no choice but to move!

When I told my family and longtime friends, most of which still lived in New York or Long Island, the majority were shocked and surprised. After all, I’d been a pretty hard-core New Yorker nearly all of my life and this was where my roots where. But the wheels were already set in motion, and we were headed to Denver or bust. Our move happened pretty quickly, and before I knew it, all our worldly belongings were packed up in boxes and piled on a moving truck headed West and I was on a plane with a one-way ticket from JFK > DEN. I was really doing this!

Happier for Having Tried

Looking back on that decision so many months ago, I now know that it was the right one for me.  I love my new life in Denver. I love all the friends I’ve made here and exploring a brand new city. Moving somewhere new hasn’t turned out to be as scary or difficult as I thought it would be.  Leaving New York hasn’t burdened me with some deep down longing that haunts me day and night. Pulling myself out of the NYC-bubble has made me realize there are so many great places to live that might not be the same as New York but have different things to offer that are just as good (and sometimes better) than my hometown.

I think of all that time I spent fretting and debating over the decision to leave New York and I can’t believe how worried I was — it’s probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because on a personal level it forced me to face some of my fears and has made me much more willing to take chances.

For anyone contemplating moving to a new city (may I suggest Denver?), or worried about doing something that scares them, I say DO IT!  Even if things don’t work out perfectly, you know you at least tried and you will probably learn a lot about yourself in the process!

Have you ever struggled with self-doubt when debating whether to do something that scared you? What did YOU end up doing? Leave your story in the comments!


* Some of my youthful indiscretions as a music blogger were officially documented Lizzy Goodman’s amazing new book Meet Me In the Bathroom about the New York music scene between 2001-2011. Be sure to check it out!

  1. I love this post! As someone who lives in New York City now and thinks about leaving frequently, this is so helpful. So good to know that there are others who feel/felt the same.

    1. Thanks for your comment Melissa. If opportunity allows, take the plunge. Yes, there’s life outside of NYC. If you need any advice on moving to Denver, let me know! 😉

  2. I agree! Why struggle when you could live a better life? The only thing I get nervous about when pondering my escape is my career. Did you happen to be working at a company that had an office in Denver and you just transferred?

    1. Hey Julia! I was lucky enough to arrange to continue working at the same job but do it remotely from home. However, if I wasn’t able to work something out with my company, I was willing to start all over and find a new job.

      I have friends who have moved to Colorado without any work lined up, and just made it work. I also know people where if they were in a couple/married and one person already had a job lined up, then the other found work later. Doing it that way certainly eases the burden if you have the good fortune of being in that situation.

  3. Hi Laura! Similar to you I am a LI girl and (former) life-long New Yorker until I moved to Denver in Dec. 2014. Even though I absolutely loved it there, I had my struggles as well, and made the decision to move back to NY 2 months ago to be closer to my family. But I think I made a huge mistake! There are a lot of details that I will spare here, but I’m back commuting into the city and just hating everything about NY. It’s hard to find someone with a NY perspective in Denver, so what I’m getting at is, do you think it’s worth being so far from your family and friends for the better quality of life that you have in Colorado? Or any advice in general about the pros/cons of NY versus Denver!

    1. Hi Nicole, wow! Crazy how similar our stories are. When it comes to moving to be close to family it is a very personal decision and I’m sure you weighed all the different factors carefully.

      I think NYC and Denver are very different places. I generally don’t even try to make comparisons, that’s how different I think they are.

      The one thing I have noticed recently is whereas in places like NYC and San Francisco there is a major class and status undercurrent, in Denver I feel like that isn’t there. People really don’t seem to care where you live or how much “stuff” you have here. It’s much more down-to-earth, which I like.

      In general, I think it’s a lot easier to be a newbie in Denver than in a city like NYC. Since it’s a city of transplants, people are very welcoming. Also what I find is that most people move to Denver because they WANT to be here, not because they HAVE to be here and with that brings a freedom to do things not out of obligation, but because you like them and want to do them.

      NYC can be a very rewarding place to live (and I think everyone who is able to should live there at least once in their life), but it definitely takes a certain level of energy, commitment, and tolerance for pain (seriously). However, NYC can be downright depressing if you don’t want to be there.

      The best advice I can give you is to evaluate what are the most important priorities in your life to be right now and figure out how your current lifestyle does or does not fit into that vision you have for yourself. It’s very rare you can get everything you want – there will be sacrifices and compromises, but you can always look for ways to supplement the things you feel you’re missing or mitigate the things that are bothering you.

      All the best!

  4. Laura, thank you so much for this! You have an awesome perspective. I absolutely agree that generally speaking, people are less materialistic, less superficial, and more down-to-earth in Denver. One of the many things I loved about it that was so refreshing. I’m going through a huge career crisis as well, so I’m trying to take how I feel about NY right now with a grain of salt, since I’m still only back here a few months.

    However, if I can get into a good place in my career and still have the same feelings about NY, I’m going to seriously consider going back. Like you said, there are sacrifices both ways, and eventually I’m going to have to accept certain things in whatever place I end up in. It’s tough because in Denver I felt so different (apparently there are very few loud, NY Italians out there? haha), but also felt very at home. And in NY, I feel so out of place sometimes and yet this is where I’m from and most of the people I know and love are here. What I’m really struggling with at the moment is the quality-of-life aspect…again, I didn’t have the best jobs in Denver, but once you experience the quality-of-life in Colorado, it’s SO hard to come back to the East Coast. It’s been pretty jarring.

    Long story short, I have a lot of things to figure out! The only thing that’s making me feel better at the moment is the knowledge that the door is not closed for me on Denver. Thanks so much for your response, I really appreciate it!

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