7 Ways To Build A Life In A New City


Hint: it doesn’t involve Netflix marathons.

When you’re young and looking for a job, it’s easy to lose perspective. Write enough cover letters, submit enough resumes, complete enough fruitless interviews, and The Job Search becomes a job on its own. But I’m here to give you some good news: that long, repetitive, occasionally thrilling job search will end (eventually,) and it’ll end with a job offer. And that job may be in someplace completely, utterly new.

You take the job. Congratulations! But here’s the catch: a paycheck isn’t a life, and even if you love the organization that hires you, you can’t let your work define every aspect of your world. You know what it’s like to have a community (and you know you want one in your new home) but it’s hard to know where to start.

When it comes to building a life in your new city, here are seven simple, straightforward places to start:

1. Use your networks.

Can’t think of anyone you know in your new town? That doesn’t mean you don’t have connections. Use the networks you already have— post on Facebook and ask if any of your friends have buddies in the area. Are you a Couchsurfer? Reach out to interesting people who might make good tour guides. Have you served in the Peace Corps or volunteered with a national organization? Find the local chapter of your group and drop them an email. Ask honest, interesting questions, and someone will step up to the plate with some equally enthusiastic answers.

2. Be a sinvergüenza.

When I was living in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, I shared my tin-roofed top floor apartment with a girl named Dora.  We moved to the capital at the same time, but while I stayed home reading books in my pajamas, Dora was always off somewhere, to rockclimb by the mirador with Julia, or to go see a reggae band play in the Colonial Zone with Pedro.

Pedro and Julia weren’t old friends, or people Dora was introduced to. They were coworkers, or people she chatted up at bars, or someone she ran into while she was out for a jog in the park. Dora was a social sinvergüenza (Spanish for shameless)— never afraid to ask someone who seemed interesting if she wanted to meet up later. It’s an attitude that pays off instantly; all it takes is one moment of social bravery, and you’ve got a cool potential friend to check out that gallery opening with on Thursday. Put on your most genuine smile, tuck your awkwardness in your back pocket, and channel your inner sinvergüenza. You’ve got nothing to lose.

3. Leave your wallet at home.

Without a packed social schedule, sometimes you’ll find yourself substituting spending for living— and while there’s some satisfaction in building up that business casual wardrobe, financial excess should not replace real activity.

So leave your house, but leave your wallet at home. You’ll never regret going outside, even if it’s just to walk around the block or go for a run. Find the free events calendar for your town and start attending whatever sparks your interest—movie screenings at the local college, presentations at the public library, gallery strolls. Find something that looks cool, put it on your calendar, and stick to it.

4. Don’t camp.

This is your life, and you’re an adult now— go get yourself some nice things. If you treat your apartment as temporary, you’re setting a precedent for how you’ll interact with the whole life that you’re building. You’re not camping; you’re creating a new home! Find a real mattress, some actual dishes, and some decent furniture. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it’ll make all the difference. Your home should be pleasant, it should be real, and it should be a place you’re happy to come back to at the end of the day.

5. Do things alone.

A few weeks after moving to North Carolina, I found out a bluegrass fiddler was playing at the Arts Center downtown. I called a day ahead and reserved myself a ticket, so I’d have a reason to go.  On Saturday evening, I showered, put on an outfit, and I went to the concert. I was the youngest person in the room by at least 40 years, but you know what? The music was great, it was an excuse to put on some fancy clothes, and it only cost me five bucks. Doing things alone is satisfying, empowering, and totally underrated. Bring a book, or don’t. Just go for it.

 6. Learn.

Just because you finished school doesn’t mean you should stop learning. Jeff, a friend of mine who moved for a job, heard about free blacksmithing classes from one of his coworkers. Once a month, he’d drive to the edge of town and spend an afternoon eating potluck casserole, telling bad jokes, and learning blacksmithing from a 70-year-old. Keep an open mind and track down programming through community colleges, local religious organizations, or the public library. If nothing strikes your fancy, try an online course through edX or Coursera. Web-based learning is less social, but you’ll still be stretching your brain.

7. Always say yes.

An old friend of mine who practiced improv called this saying yes to your scene partner. If your scene partner says, “We’re on a boat! And it’s sinking!” you don’t say, “Actually, we’re at high tea with the Queen of England,” you say, “Pass me the life vests!” Everyone you meet, every opportunity that’s extended to you, that’s your scene partner. Say yes!