Frank Sinatra and “New York, New York” have a lot to answer for, if you ask me. He seems to have single-handedly inserted this idea into the national consciousness that you have to make it in the big, bad city before you can live with yourself. If you don’t make it there, you won’t make it anywhere—that’s how the thinking seems to go. And boy howdy do lawyers buy into this idea in droves.
The corollary to “make it there”-think is that you can’t leave, or you’re giving up everything that makes life fun and civilized in the 2.75 hours you might have weekly to enjoy your big city life.
I get it. I grew up in a town of 27,000 in the armpit of Eastern Kentucky. I wanted the hell away from the small minds and small opportunities and rednecks. I wanted it all—culture, sophisticated thinking, better shopping. Excitement! People who thought being smart was a good thing!
Then I spent 15 years in Washington. (yes, I hear all the sniffs of superiority from the New Yorkers, Chicagoans, Angelenos, etc.) living that big city life. And I found out what living with gridlock, expensive real estate, and among a lot of Type Assholes is really like. It grinds you down.
When you start looking at alternative legal careers and are determined to stay in the big city, life can look tough. Many of the jobs you’d really love and thrive in don’t pay like law—and champagne tastes can be very hard to give up. (It’s worth it—but that’s another post.) But if you switch locales, you might not have to start drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, unless you just like it. I hear there are people who do.
So I’ve developed a little list of what makes living in smaller cities kind of awesome. Just to help you get over yourself a bit.
Parking is cheap or free. In my little town, a suburb of Nashville, there are (get this) two 4-story parking garages that are FREE, even during the festivals when we’re swamped with tourists. Can you believe the city leaders forego this easy source of revenue? And that they haven’t turned the garages over to private industry to make money off the tourists? There aren’t even parking meters, just pesky 4-hour limits that one enforcement officer polices with an electric mini-car. What is wrong with these people? They do resident-friendly things, for crying out loud.
The percentage of people who drive like Type Asshole maniacs is much, much lower in smaller cities. I’m still working on getting rid of my DC-perfected triple over-the-shoulder check when merging or changing lanes; now I only check twice. Almost never does anyone fly out of nowhere at 85 mph, passing on the right side. In fact, drivers often move to the next lane to let in merging traffic. And at 4-way stops in my town, drivers often wave you on, when they were there first. This was highly disconcerting when I first moved here, let me tell you. But I somehow have adjusted.
You run into people you know in stores and around town, frequently. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I live in Mayberry. I know what time the priest at my church takes his dog on their daily walk through downtown. I see friends’ cars driving down Main St. and have chats with them while they’re at a stoplight and I’m on the sidewalk. I have not had to give up famous people sightings, either—I’ve seen Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman at my local Starbucks, and my friends have run into Ben Folds there as well. What is different is that everyone is very blasé about it, and gives them their space. Though usually a few teenagers ask for pictures, which the stars graciously oblige them with.
What people call gridlock in smaller cities is hilarious. They get upset that it takes them 20 minutes to get 7 miles on the interstate during rush hour. I remember many times in downtown DC it would take me 20 minutes to get 5 blocks. And rush hour? Lasts just a bit over an hour, rather than say 4 hours.
People have the time and inclination to be nice to perfect strangers. Now, this may be a Nashville thing, since we consistently get ranked as a very friendly place. All I know is that living and running errands among people who generally put a priority on being nice and considerate is a much better way to live, for my money. The cashiers laugh and joke with you, and not because they’re forced to by corporate policy. There’s so much less friction when you’re not constantly having to fight your way through aisles or into parking spaces. Um, what, you think I’m a little obsessed about parking and driving issues?
There’s space to breathe! You can get a 2,500 sq. ft. house with a yard in a nice neighborhood for under $350,000. I can send my kid outside when he’s driving me nuts and the only things I worry about are whether he turns on the hose or tramples the lettuce patch. And the aisles in the stores are actually wide enough for two shopping carts to maneuver simultaneously. It rocks.
There is intelligent life out here. Sure, there’s a lot of Red State-ness, but if you look just a little, you’ll find a fun intelligentsia in every city. I’ve had Harley riders compliment my Abbie Hoffman bumper sticker that says “You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.” There are nonconformists and free thinkers everywhere, not just the big cities.
So, what’s holding you back from thinking outside the city? I’d be curious to know.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches attorneys on making big, meaningful changes in their lives. She offers free sample sessions so you can see if coaching is for you. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your session.