You've graduated: Now decide where to live the rest of your life

Welcome to WalletPop's series You've graduated: Now what? Our bloggers have a wealth of suggestions to help you find you way through that time of amazing transformation, from student to working stiff.
Years ago, when I lived out west, there was this giant tree stump in my yard. For what must have been months, I wanted to get rid of it, and I kept trying. I had an axe, and I'd chop and chop, but I could never finish off the stump or pull the roots out -- well, not until this gunslinger came along and helped me...

Oh, sorry. I just described a famous scene from the western Shane, and not an actual life experience that I had. Boy, sometimes I really do watch too much TV...

But the point I was going to make was that trees have roots, and once they're planted, boy, are they difficult to remove.

If you've graduated recently, I'd like to give you some advice. If you want to live somewhere other than your college or home town, make the move now. Not later, now. Now. Well, wait a second -- if you're utterly broke, I don't want you to be homeless in Seattle or New Orleans or Des Moines, or wherever you want to go. If you have nothing saved up, move in with your parents, or your grandparents or someone who cares about you and will let you have free room and board, get a job and save up every dollar and dime you make, and then within a year, move.
When I graduated from Indiana University in 1992, probably the smartest thing I ever did was to move to Los Angeles. Not that I was brilliant in my execution. I left a few days after graduation and really could have spent some a week or two visiting my parents in Ohio. Even though they knew my plans well in advance, I know they were a little shocked to have me come home, camp out in my old bedroom for three nights and then shove off. Still, I'm glad I didn't, say, live with my parents, find a part-time job, and save up some more money than I already had (about $3,000, which wasn't enough) and then go. Where's the adventure in that?

My move to Los Angeles wasn't smooth. I drove in a car that had no business going a block or two, let alone across an entire country. I had a job interview lined up, but not an actual job. I had no friends or family in Los Angeles. I did take a friend who helped me find an apartment, one that I couldn't afford and wound up moving out of, two weeks later. Anyway, I made a lot of mistakes.

But I survived and carved out a healthy freelance writing career while I was there, instead of becoming a screenwriter as I had planned. I only came back to Ohio five years later when I decided that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life, visiting my parents and brother a few times a year.

But I'm so glad I moved out to Los Angeles and had that experience there, because I know if I had stuck around in Ohio, I would have eventually felt stuck. Because when you plant yourself in a town, you generally get an apartment and later a house, you make friends, you get a job... even if you don't feel entirely comfortable where you live, the community you've been living in is home. And it's difficult to imagine suddenly transplanting yourself to another city after awhile. In fact, the moving company Mayflower has statistics that show moving is the third most stressful life experience, after death and divorce.

If I had stayed in Ohio, I suspect it would have been for good -- and for the rest of my life, I would have kept thinking, "What would my life have been like if I had just moved, like I had always wanted to?"

When I took myself and most of my belongings to Los Angeles, it was pretty easy in one sense. I knew if I failed, if I bombed out, I'd just come back to Ohio. However, when I moved back to Ohio after five years in Los Angeles, it was actually very difficult. I was mostly an entertainment writer, doing occasional reporting for magazines like Entertainment Weekly and features for A&E's Biography magazine. I knew that in Cincinnati, where I was headed, I wasn't likely to land a lot of celebrity interviews. In other words, I was going to have to rebuild much of my career from scratch. But in a twist from the last move, I at least was returning to a place where I had family and friends.

When you live somewhere for awhile, you develop roots, just like a giant old tree. And roots, as I learned when I was just a simple farmer in the Old West, are very difficult to remove.

Geoff Williams is mostly a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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