Why NOT Living In NYC Is The Secret To My Career Success

Photo courtesy of Megan Tan.
Recently, I was at a birthday party in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and someone asked me, “Why do you live in Maine?” As we looked out over the park, green and lush in the summer sun, I leaned in and confessed, “Living in Maine is like being in Prospect Park…but with no people.” This friend of a friend countered, “But isn’t it cold up there? Aren’t the winters awful?” Again, I gestured toward the park, its grass nearly impossible to see under the picnic blankets and sunbathers, and said, “Imagine Prospect Park, snow everywhere but…no people.” I still don’t think he got it. I live in Maine because it’s not New York City. But I get it: that’s not the easiest concept to grasp. Like a fisherman gravitates to the ocean, a media maker’s destiny is usually a metropolitan area. When I graduated from college with my photojournalism degree, I applied for jobs in the predictable cities: Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and New York City. But I lucked out. I was rejected from those jobs and continued to live and waitress in Portland, ME, population 65,000. I slowly began to fall in love with this smaller, northern city. Once my podcast Millennial joined PRX’s Radiotopia network, it gave me complete freedom to be nomadic, with no zip code attached. I could have left Portland if I wanted to — but at that point, I didn’t want to leave the city I’d come to love. There are many reasons why I chose to build the foundation for my career and my business here, rather than Manhattan.

When I shut down my laptop, I don’t want to walk outside and feel like I’m living in a computer. I’ve felt that way in New York City.

First off, there’s balance. When I work, I work like I live in New York City: I wake up at 4:45 a.m., start work at 7:30, and don’t stop until 5 or 6 p.m. I work on the weekends, holidays, and, depending on what my deadlines look like, sometimes a 15-hour day. When I shut down my laptop, I don’t want to walk outside and feel like I’m living in a computer. I’ve felt that way in New York City. In Maine, I walk outside and overlook the ocean. I see land with no people, and I have access to spaces where I can escape from the daily grind, zoom out from where I am, and reboot my brain. I need that. In a smaller city, I also have access to luxuries. Rent (knock on wood) is affordable. I live four blocks from the ocean in a two-bedroom apartment with a washer and dryer, six-figure salary not required. I also pay for an office space, in the heart of downtown, with wi-fi, heat, and electricity included. Because my rent (again, knock on wood) doesn’t consume 90% of my income, I can work on the podcast full-time, re-invest in Millennial, hire freelancers to help make and grow the show and company, and save money every month for retirement and trips abroad. If that’s not luxury in this day and age, for a 26-year-old living off of a podcast, I don’t know what is. Another perk is community. Because Portland is a city of 65,000, I’ve easily befriended Jim, who doles out parking tickets downtown. The other night, I went to a restaurant and learned the hostess is my boyfriend’s childhood friend. She brought us a complimentary beet salad and we exchanged phone numbers. At parties, conversations are more about what you love and less about what you do. As I’m carving out my career 900 miles from my family in Ohio, it’s comforting to walk down the street on a Friday night, and meet new people while bumping into familiar faces. Here, the degrees of separation are two or three.

For me, it’s easier to resist my temptation to procrastinate when I don’t have too many obligations.

Because there are fewer people, there are also fewer distractions. I like reminding myself that Stephen King, one of our most prolific writers, lives in a town 30 minutes from me. I think he would agree that in order to build a solid foundation for a career in a creative industry, you have to focus your energy on your craft. If I lived in a big city, I know I would spend more time commuting, visiting far-flung friends, and attending a wide variety of events, and less time in my closet working on an audio story. For me, it’s easier to resist my temptation to procrastinate when I don’t have too many obligations. I started making Millennial in my Portland closet. When the show received its first big-time review, I remember heading into my waitressing job the following day like everything was normal. I like that I can’t feel the high stakes or my immediate competition. When I was choosing a network, I instinctively decided not to join one in New York City because I feared the tone of the show would change. I thought it would be harder for me to make something honest and sincere if I was removed from my DIY studio. I was afraid of feeling pressure to be something I’m not. But I love visiting cities like NYC. Short visits are essential. They remind me where I am in this podcast boom, and how far I still need to go. Once I’ve had coffee with my radio heroes, taken my notes, and gone out salsa dancing — there isn’t much salsa in Maine — I jump on a plane and head back to Portland. When I hit that Maine border, I look out across the state and exhale. It reminds me of Brooklyn's Prospect Park — but with no people — and it feels like home. Subscribe to Millennial in iTunes and get new episodes every other week.

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