IF ONE’S DEFINITION OF HAPPINESS IS LIVING IN THE MOST EXPENSIVE CITY IN THE WORLD, IS IT WORTH LIVING IN THE SAN FRANCISCO, BAY AREA?
Weighing the Important of Intangibles Such as Inspiration and Contentedness Against the Harsh Realities of a High Cost of Living and High Housing Costs
The adage “it is lonely at the top” is popular but insufficiently painful ~ having wealth does not sound like the worst possible thing in life. True loneliness happens when one is fulfilling seemingly impossible life dreams, and there should be a cutting vernacular saying about this. After two recent vacations in San Francisco, having previously lived there for many years, and after a lifetime of comparisons and observations about cities and their identities, I have a dream of moving back to San Francisco and flourishing, largely on the basis that it inspires me like no other place I have known. At midlife, a two year plan converts this dream into reality: invest in more education, broaden career opportunities, and move to the economically viable place, the San Francisco Bay Area. Stunningly surprising emotional blocks appear from family and many friends in the form of silence, criticism, and hostile ‘advice’. Once wholly supportive of the woman on anti-depressants, but now critical of the version who is rescuing of herself, this isolation is a truer definition of loneliness.
The critics are, of course, not entirely incorrect that choosing one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in provides large hurdles, and that there are likely simpler dreams to be had. It does seem to be common knowledge that the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Websites like theBOLDItalic, a company that breaks down the Bay Area rental market, states clearly in one of their Stories' opening sentence: "Apartment hunting in San Francisco SUCKS ("Where Can You Afford to Live"). If you continue onto their adjacent website LiveLovely, a precise search-website for Bay Area housing, and search for a Studio for under $2,000/month, a mere 10 apartments come up within the city of San Francisco. Listening to real stories of people who live there confirm a tight housing market based on any income, and even tighter for people who are low or middle income earners (Hunsicker, Susan).
Interestingly, however, when you visit theBOLDItalic websites' ABOUT US page is the sentence, "BoldItalic is an online magazine, shop, and events hub of San Francisco. We celebrate the free-wheeling spirit of the city” (“About Us”), and their Events page explodes with cultural events of San Francisco. They are clearly lovers of San Francisco. The reasons for wanting to live in this exciting, beautiful and vibrant city are strong enough - including the announcement by BloombergBusinessweek in 2012 that San Francisco is America's Best City (Konrad). Parallel to this San Francisco-enthusiasm are the stories from friends and family who complain about living there, yet do not want to live anywhere else (Hunsicker, Susan). The fact that on one hand, living in San Francisco is feared by those who wish it, by those who watch those who wish it, as well as by those who live there, and on the other hand, San Francisco housing is in such high demand indicates a desire for people to live there no matter what the hurdles, housing or financial.
Taking a closer look at a critic who has claimed “do not live here, my friends are struggling” (Hunsicker, Susan). It must be said that having friends who do not have professional careers, or who are professional poets, is not a sufficient argument for this graphic designer of 16 years not to move there. Simply put, it is important to compare apples to apples. Furthermore, who of us is exempt from the usually unwanted and challenging task of making our lives happy and contented ones. If the San Francisco area makes a person miserable because of financial or other reasons, is this not an invitation to look into other pathways that would secure their happiness ~ a new career, more education, a move to small town in Kansas? Misery is an invitation towards change and happiness, but a person must choose a path.
Before bounding haplessly off to live in a place where a small studio costs at least $2,000 a month, it is perhaps wise to look at the important question, which is of course the determining factor of whether or not one can afford to live in a place like San Francisco: do professional salaries match the high cost of living and housing? According to the websites ApartmentTherapy and to the professional blog site MovotoBlog, professional salaries do line up with the high cost of living and high housing costs. ApartmentTherapy cites that the renting wage and median income in San Francisco is $76,200 - $93,400 ("Living In The Most Expensive City"). According to a Blogger of Movoto, "Salaries are usually in line with the relatively high cost of living in the city” (D, Tanya. "Is San Francisco a Good Place"). High salaries do depend on what your profession is, however. I am acutely aware now that I chose the profession of graphic design 20 years ago because of its universal marketability and decent earning potential. Graphic and web design have a range of skills and with it a range of salaries. With 16 years of professional design and working experience I am adding on this Associates Degree in ‘Web Design and Interactive Media’ as a way of adding to my professional skills with the latest technology, and in doing so, aiming to make myself more marketable in a competitive place like San Francisco.
In the process of making moving to a high cost of living area like San Francisco, it is important to make well-researched and practical decisions, and not reactive ones based on other people's fears, anxieties or insecurities. Relocating an economically healthy place like the San Francisco Bay Area, where graphic design jobs and salaries are proportionately higher in number than Pennsylvania, meets this criteria. Specifically, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 there were 570 graphic design jobs available in Lancaster with an average salary of $34,970, and in 2012 San Francisco offered 2,910 graphic design jobs with an average salary of $71,650 (BLS). Looking at numbers without breaking down exact professional skill sets, this salary is approximately enough to live in a studio for $2K/month in San Francisco. This is not a guarantee for securing a job, but these are significant slices of relevant information.
A National Public Radio journalist reported on a phenomenon occurring nationwide: the philosophical question of whether it is worth living in a high cost of living area, or a small town with a low cost of living. The emphasis of her report was that the existence of intangibles such as inspiration and joy, offset the burdens of living in a high cost of living area. These intangibles are experienced in the endless ways that the Arts are expressed: music, art museums, public art murals and sculptures, innovative architecture, film, splendid restaurants, cafes, and in the case of San Francisco, even highly creative ways to combine nature within the urban setting. High cost of living cities also have a closer proximity of home, work and social events, and this combined with better public transportation systems, create the healthy benefit to be more mobile, via walking and biking (NPR). With less urgent need to own a car, as well as the option of using a wide range of car rental services, there is a potential cost savings of living in a high cost of living area. Small towns which are the lower cost of living option, offer much of the same intangibles but in much smaller proportion. Although there is a clear dependency on cars, rent is cheaper, houses have big square footage, having property gives the option of owning animals, and of giving children a private and immediate play space (NPR, and Brienza-Larsen). Realities of what kind of hours a person works, how large your 401k and disposable income is, and how secure you feel, are all variables that cannot be cleanly divided according to high cost of living or low cost of living areas.
The NPR reporter ended her story by explaining that she and her husband are perfect examples of this philosophical dichotomy: she is in favor of the high cost of living area they currently live in, and her husband wants them to move to a small town (NPR). This is a fantastically edgy conversation of how people look at happiness and inspiration, which hard questions they are willing to ask in order to achieve these intangibles, and of course the difficulty when these two opposing views happen within a marriage.
English Professor Emily Brienza-Larsen believes that intangibles like inspiration and joy have an accumulative positive affect over a lifetime, and are more important life aims than any purely financial goals such as large disposable income or big 401ks (Brienza-Larsen). The Brienza-Larsen family of so far, four, will be moving to the Santa Cruz mountains to follow their inspiration, in spite of the high cost of living. Brienza-Larsen writes that the most important factor is that a person do what they love both personally and professionally, and define their own happiness. Our generation is spoiled and we do want it all, Brienza-Larsen agrees, and the critics on that front are correct. Where the philosophy splits, however, is that there is a difference between being spoiled and finding inspiration; there is a difference between being inspired and obtaining something just for the sake of obtaining it; there is a difference between wanting to break through depression into a spiritually alive mental state, and shutting down and disengaging; and finally, there is a difference between becoming personally and professional stagnant, and pushing oneself with another terrifying challenge for the sake of living a whole-hearted, spiritually awake life – personally and professionally.
An astounding tribute towards finding beauty in boldness like embracing these inspired dreams in spite of big hurdles, is Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. Brown bases her Daring Greatly title and book’s theme on a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt at The Sorbonne, in April of 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….. “ (Brown 1).
Brown describes that when she first read this quote she immediately thought, “This is vulnerability… Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional … Our willingness to own and engage with our own vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection” (Brown 2).
This is a toast, therefore, to life’s precious intangibles: courage, not fear; vulnerably engaging in life and with each other, not shutting down; creating supportive community, not petty and pointless estrangements; sage counsel, not feckless reasoning; beauty and light, not bleak darkness; wise strength, not weak bullying; and most importantly, finding happiness, inspiration, joy, and contentedness, however we define these in our lives, for ourselves.
“Where Can You Afford To Live In The Bay Area”. theBoldItalic. Web 1 Nov. 2013.
“About Us”. theBoldItalic. Web 4 Nov. 2013.
“Home”. LiveLovely. Web 4 Nov. 2013.
Konrad, Alex. “San Francisco Is America’s Best City in 2012.” BloombergBusinessweek. 26 Sept. 2012. Web 4 Nov. 2013.
Hunsicker, Susan. Personal Interview. August 2013.
"Living In The Most Expensive Cities: How Long Can We Keep This Up?" apartmenttherapy. 20 Sept. 2012. Web 4 Nov. 2013.
D, Tanya. "Is San Francisco a Good Place to Live?” Movoto Blog. 18 April 2013. Web 4 Nov. 2013.
"Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012". Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). May 2012. Web 4 Nov. 2013.
"Broadcast on National Public Radio." NPR. July, 2013.
Brienza-Larsen, Emily. Email Interview. 27 Oct. 2013.
Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. New York: Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2012.