A Spontaneous Cross-Country Move, Life-Changing Decisions, and the Realities of Adulting

My mom was speechless from the news. It was an “Oh… that’s… great…” type of silence. She managed an “Are you sure?”

It was the evening of April 7th, 2015 and I was home in Long Beach, California, getting ready for a run. I was stressed out and my perfectly-timed run along the beach at sunset was my no-stress zone.

I was let go from my first salaried job a month before and had spent the last few weeks applying for marketing jobs at tech companies. You would think that fast-growing startups would move quickly to hire, but they didn’t and it often took more than a week to hear back. I was lucky because in the time it took those companies to respond to me once, I had already interviewed with another company multiple times.

At 6:07pm that night, I got off the phone with a recruiter at HubSpot. The conversation began with, “We’d like to extend an offer…”

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I remember shaking with the rush of adrenaline and running upstairs to tell my mom the news.

“Mommm!! I just accepted a job offer in Boston. I start May 4th! 😀 😀 😀 ”

Silence. Her face showed dismay. It was the look you get when someone wants to be happy for you but is upset at the same time.

“You’re going to move there? Are you sure?”

“Yeah! It’s a really good company! It’ll be really good for my growth! And they’ll pay more than the last job I had! And I’d work with really smart people! And I’ll grow my network in a new city! I have to do it.”

At least that’s what I told everyone.

I was about to make a cross-country move, away from my family, to a city where I didn’t know anyone. It sounded like a silly dream that recent college grads with a case of wanderlust hope for. I was scared.

In an attempt to drown my fear with excitement, I created a narrative for myself. I imagined a story of striking out on my own, of hustling, of finally getting my big break to become someone significant. It was a narrative that kept me moving forward.

I bought my one-way ticket to Boston and in three weeks I spent time with family, said goodbye to friends, and agreed with my then girlfriend that we’d try to make long distance work.

On May 1st, 2015, I hopped on a plane headed 3,000 miles away from home with no idea when I’d return. This was it. I was adulting.

loneliness-davidlykhim

I learned my first lesson in adulting less than a month after moving. Long distance didn’t work out with my girlfriend and the break-up made me doubt my decision to move. Call it an existential crisis.

Why did I leave my family and friends and my girlfriend – my home – for this job? I don’t know anyone. When am I actually going to feel at home? Was this job worth it? What’s this all for? Was there really a point for me to move? I miss my dog. 

I had trouble sleeping and often found myself wide awake at 2am. I’d lay in bed, scroll through Facebook, swipe through Tinder, and compare my life to everyone else’s picture perfect, friend-filled, nothing-but-smiles lives on Instagram.

Instagram showed me everything that my life was not.

Moments like that made me realize that no matter how connected we are, we likely spend a lot of time alone. Whether it’s on public transit, cooking at home, working out at the gym, or in bed trying to fall asleep, loneliness is unavoidable. The feeling of loneliness is a normal part of being human. We’re always so connected that we freak out at the slightest feeling of loneliness and the problem is people don’t talk about it.

Loneliness is unavoidable so it’s important to not fight it and, instead, get comfortable and learn to embrace it.

There are two ways to be alone:

  1. You have the option of hanging out with someone which sounds like this, “I feel like being alone today. I think I’ll binge watch Netflix and eat a pint (or two) of mint chocolate chip ice cream because I love myself. Maybe I’ll hang out with Kendrick later, but we’ll see how I feel.”
  2. You’re straight up alone and don’t know anyone to hang out which sounds like this, “I’m just going to binge watch Netflix solo because, well shit, I have no one else to do it with.” (This was me.)

I got comfortable with being alone by asking myself “why?” and being completely honest with myself. This is often referred as the five whys method that Sakichi Toyoda, founder of Toyota, used to find and solve the root of industrial problems. Asking “why?” helped me understand myself better.

Take for example this (insanely personal) thought process:

Why do I feel lonely? I miss my family and friends. I don’t have a girlfriend anymore.

Why do you miss them? I had someone to talk to. They made me feel secure. They supported me.

Why don’t you feel secure without them? There are things about myself I don’t like and decisions I’ve made that I haven’t forgiven myself for. I don’t actually love myself.

Why don’t you love yourself? I hate that I haven’t spent as much time with family as I should have and now I’ve moved. I’ve hurt people I was intimate with and it’s too late to fix those relationships.

As fluffy as the process sounds, my root problem was a lack of self-love (talk about millennial problems).

To improved these things, I meditated and took up practices like saying “I love myself” when any negative thoughts came up (a technique from Kamal Ravikant’s book, Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It). I gave myself more credit for my work and achievements instead of downplaying my efforts.

turn up david ly khim

During my first few months at work, I went to every party, every team dinner, and every outing I was invited to. I turned up every weekend – sometimes two or three times a week because that’s how people make friends, right?

As I walked home intoxicated one night and called my sister to catch up and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid (like call my ex). I asked how mom was, how school was going, told her about work and the parties I was going to, and so on.

The next morning, I realized that of the people I met at those parties, I called my sister to talk. I didn’t create the type of friendships I wanted from going to parties. All I had to show for those drunken activities was the weight I gained. Since turning up wasn’t conducive to creating genuine friendships, I spent more time alone.

From that difficulty of forming new, meaningful relationships, I realized I needed to make the extra effort to keep old friends.

Like many of us, people who I thought would be lifelong friends are no longer present in my life. While some friendships slowly faded, others ended because I moved. It made me wonder how important my friendship was to them if they sacrificed my friendship as soon as I left. It’s a horrible feeling, but I still hope they’re doing well.

On the other hand, my existing tier 1 friendships have strengthened even after moving thousands of miles away.

However, because of those previous losses, I don’t take any of my friends for granted, and I make the extra effort to let each of them know when I’m thinking of them.

I’ve learned that it’s the small gestures that keep friendships alive. A random text asking, “How are you?” A simple phone call to say “Hey, what are you up to?” A scheduled Facetime session once a month to ask how grad school is going. Something as simple as commenting on their Instagram photos of their trip to Spain or sending them articles that remind you of them. I have my friends’ addresses and like to send handwritten letters or postcards every 1-2 months.

Maintaining my friendships is a priority.

That’s how it goes kids. The friends, neighbors, drinking buddies, and partners in crime you love so much when you’re young, as the years go by, you just lose touch. You will be shocked, kids, when you discover how easy it is in life to part ways with people forever. That’s why, when you find someone you want to keep around, you do something about it.” Ted Mosby, How I Met Your Mother

bboy-davidlykhim

As I spent more time alone and delved deeper into my work, I realized that I worked between 45 and 55 hours every week and, because of the move, I stopped running, lifting weights, dancing, and eating healthy. Things wouldn’t turn out well if I continued on that path.

From my past experiences of work, work, work, work, work, and getting burnt out, I knew I shouldn’t make work the main thing in my life. I had to find something to do outside of work.

A new friend invited me to go rock climbing so, in need of friends, I took him up on the offer. Turns out the climbing gym, Brooklyn Boulders, has free weights and a squat rack. Rock climbing became my new hobby, I picked up weight lifting again, and Brooklyn Boulders became my new sanctuary (if you’re in Boston, let me know if you want to go climbing!).

I made reading a priority and would go to a nearby Starbucks and read for hours. I read 21 books in 2015 and my goal is to read 30 in 2016.

All of these activities were me-time and I made time to do at least one of them every day.

You’ll often get advice telling you to find an outlet to relieve stress. I’ll take it two steps further:

  1. Find something to do during your time outside of work even if you aren’t stressed out. Make it your me-time activity.
  2. Just like you prioritize your health, family, friends, and finances. Make me-time a priority.

Whether it’s lifting weights, dancing, writing, producing music, sewing, or coding, just make sure to do something for yourself.

Hobbies give you something to focus your energy on so you aren’t always focused on work. They teach you new ways to think and exercise your brain different than work does.

Rock climbing gets me thinking critically about how I maneuver my body and forces me to solve problems quickly. If I can’t figure out how to get to the next hold, I’m going to fall.

I’ll say it again, make your hobbies a priority.

focus-davidlykhim

I had a simple one-on-one conversation with one of my managers, Brian Balfour, that drastically shaped my thinking. I wish someone had given me the advice sooner.

“I’m concerned about what I should do to develop my career. I want to learn more data analytics, web development, and conversion rate optimization, but I don’t want to spread myself thin. I don’t know what the next step is.”

“You think about this a lot, don’t you? You think about it more than I did at your age.”

“I like to know where I’m going and what my next step is. Right now, I feel like I’m not progressing and it’s frustrating.”

Then he dropped a knowledge bomb on me.

“Look, if you look for progress every day, you’re going to get frustrated because it’s not enough time to see change. Try being intensely focused on the work for 3-6 months, then when that time frame has passed, you can reflect and look for progress. Otherwise, you’re going to spend more time stressed out about it than you need to.”

In two words, focus wins.

By thinking about the future so much and looking for progress, I wasn’t focused on the day-to-day. And it’s in the day-to-day activities that growth happens.

But it applied to more than just work.

I moved to take a job that I knew would put my growth on an exponential trajectory, but work isn’t the center of my world. It was the initial value I saw in making the move but it became the only thing I thought about.

I learned to focus on what gave value to my life.

Value wasn’t the next step in my career or just being good at my job, it was a general idea of what would make my life better, which included work. Being great at my job would make my life better. Finding time for my hobbies would make my life better. Spending time with people who pushed me to be better and made me happier would made my life better.

Focus on the things and people that give value to your life.

take the risk davidlykhim

There’s glamour around the idea of leaving everything behind and starting a new life and I understand why. There’s a heroic narrative built into that decision, a narrative of being faced with difficulties and overcoming hardship. It’s a really attractive narrative. It makes life seem more interesting and adventurous.

That glamour wears off quickly.

A friend of mine posed a question recently, “Did you really have to move to Boston? Could you really not have found a similar opportunity in California, closer to home?”

I probably could have found a job on the west coast, but I chose to move because HubSpot is unique in it’s culture, it’s mission, and the people it employs. I could have found great opportunities on the west coast, but I wouldn’t have found a HubSpot opportunity.

And with that opportunity came a sacrifice: time with family.

Earlier I mentioned a call I had with my sister as I walked home from a party. During that conversation, she mentioned that my parents had bought my grandma a wheelchair.

“Wait, what!? What happened to grandma? Is she okay? Why does she need a wheelchair?”

“No calm down. She’s fine. It’s just in case anything happens.”

“Just in case what happens? Is she at risk for something? Why do we even need to worry about that? Isn’t she healthy?”

I started crying to my little sister. Again, I ask myself why I was 3,000 miles away from my family.

I’m at the tail end– the last 10% of time – that I get to spend with the people I love. Yet I’m in Boston not spending that time with them. That sacrifice is far from easy and that phone call with my sister wasn’t the only time I’ve broken down thinking about my family.

The big question I’ve asked myself is, “If I went back in time and faced the decision to move again, would I still do it?”

Yes, I wouldn’t do it any differently.

My family supported me, even though they knew it’d be difficult for all of us. Despite the difficulties and the time away from home, I encourage you to make difficult decisions and take risks. It’s better than looking back and wondering, “what if.”

Just remember that the glamour doesn’t last. It isn’t all fun. Be aware of the sacrifices you’re going to make, especially the time you’ll spend away from the people you love. And once you’ve considered those things, go forward.

Don’t wait to feel ready. You won’t ever really be ready for a move like this.

I’d love to hear about your moving experience the lessons you learn once you make your move.

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!Nietzsche

Thanks to Andrea David, Kendrick Wang, Dahe Jun, Celina Chau, and Robin Yip for reviewing previous drafts of this post.

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Comments 9

  1. Dara

    I recently moved across the country as well: New York to San Francisco. I felt that I “fit in” better on the west coast. Leaving my family was – and still is – the hardest decision I’ve ever made. But I absolutely agree with you that I would always wonder “what if”. I have only been on the west coast for a month, and while some days are really hard, I am trying to stay positive! Thank you for this great article :)

    1. Andrew

      Hi Dara, My name Is Andrew.

      I am planning a move from CT to LA, may I ask, how its been making nearly the same move that I am thinking about?

      Its one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make deciding if I move away from all my family.

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        David Ly Khim

        Hey Andrew,

        Hopefully Dara will respond too, but I’ll chime in for now. Moving is tough in the beginning. I felt lonely a lot of the time. It helps if you know someone in LA, but even if you don’t, I’d highly recommend you make the move. Moving away from what’s familiar gives you a huge opportunity to grow personally and professionally. It gets you out of your comfort zone and willing to try new things, talk to new people. What’s the worst thing that happens? You move back home? Think about what’s the worse that can happen — it’s probably not that bad.

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      1. Dara

        David,

        While I loved Northern California, I did end up coming back to NY for a variety of reasons. The biggest one, I think, was the sheer distance from friends and family. This move taught me that, I while I may love a location, having the support of family and life-long friends is more substantial.

        HOWEVER, I don’t regret it for one second. As I said in my last comment, I would always wonder ‘what if.’ I won’t rule out coming back to the west coast one day – if life’s taught me anything, it’s that you never know what the future will hold. But that’s a good thing. Makes things a little bit more interesting.

        Andrew – while I can’t make the decision for you, I think you should consider the ‘what if’s’ of life. Like David said, the worst that can happen is you move back. I did and I’m doing just fine ;) Good luck!

  2. Stephanie

    I enjoy your blog, passion for life and courage to live out loud. Thank you for being you and sharing your journey. I’m encouraged.

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  3. Brett

    I couldn’t have found this article at a better time. Thank you David, I’ve taken a lot of notes and am going to apply this to my current situation asap. I wish you the best of luck David, enjoy Boston!

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