Why Moving to San Francisco Won’t Save You
“…I’ve been rock ‘n roll and disco,
Won’t you save me San Francisco?” — Save Me San Francisco
That song came out in the spring of 2011, shortly before I deployed to Afghanistan. I was about to embark on my second deployment, having already deployed to Iraq for 15-months in 2008. I remember hearing those lyrics right before I took off for Afghanistan and wished I was heading for San Francisco instead.
I got out of the Army in 2013 following seven and half years of service. I took a job working non-profit and had the choice to live anywhere I wanted. I couldn’t wait to get back to the West Coast, and it was a no-brainer to move to San Francisco. I grew up on the West Coast, but always found myself stationed in places in the South or the East Coast when I was in the Army.
The West Coast and San Francisco have always held a special place in my heart. I spent part of my childhood in southern California, and when was I was five years old, we moved to the Bay for my dad’s time at Stanford. I have vivid memories of the green hills and fog, hiking and camping trips, the Golden Gate Bridge, and beautiful redwood trees.
I moved to San Francisco on September 1st, 2013. I drove 3,000 miles across the country from Upstate NY, hardly stopping along the way because of my excitement.
I loved my time in the Army — I signed up for West Point after the 9/11 terrorist attacks so I could serve my country and give back. The Army gave me purpose and identity, and a chance to serve others. But I also felt I wasn’t achieving my full potential in the Army. The Army is big and can be bureaucratic at times, and new ideas and creative thinking aren’t always the most welcome. Discipline and standardization and repetition are the law of the land — all good things when you’re trying to win wars. But I wanted something different. I wanted to feel like I was achieving my full potential, and that I wasn’t missing out on the new and exciting things I’d been hearing about. San Francisco was full of companies I’d been reading about in magazines and seeing on TV, companies full of amazing talented people doing awesome things, and I wanted to be a part of it. Moving to San Francisco was going to finally help me achieve my true potential, and remove the feeling that I was somehow missing out on things and everyone else was passing me by.
My last few years in the Army I’d started struggling with depression. Maybe the Army just wasn’t the right fit, or maybe it was because of getting stationed in places in the middle of nowhere in Missouri and Georgia and North Carolina. I wanted to be in a big city where things were happening. Back to a place with people who I could run and bike with in hills and swim with in the Ocean. A place where I could be with people who loved to go camping in the mountains. I thought my depression was because I was in the wrong place doing the wrong thing — I thought for sure that if any city could save me from my depression; it was San Francisco.
The last half a dozen years here in San Francisco have been full of growth and change. Going from the Army to non-profit to tech like I’ve done is certainly a big change — but the biggest change has been how I’ve grown as a person, and the mindset change that has happened.
Now that I’ve been here for 6 years, I realize that no city — not even San Francisco — can save you from the struggles you’re dealing with. The only thing that can save you is addressing them head on. Only you have the power to save yourself.
For my depression, I realized that it’s not tied to where I live or what I’m doing for work — it’s something much more complex than that — and something I’m still working to understand. I’ve started to tackle it by embracing and owning it. I’ve started going to therapy. I’ve started taking medication. And I’ve started letting myself cry when it’s especially bad. I’m not afraid to talk about it with family and friends now, and there has been a lot of healing in that. For the boy who was taught to never cry, for the young teenager who signed up for West Point after 9/11, and the young officer who served in the Army and went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan — facing depression has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But instead of running from it or thinking this city would magically save me, I’ve leaned into it and taken deliberate steps to better manage it.
When it comes to feeling like you’re missing out and not achieving your potential, the grass will always seem greener on the other side. If I thought I was missing out before or somehow not achieving my full potential — well, that feeling just got worse in San Francisco — not better. To address this, it’s required taking a hard look at who I am and what I want, and being grateful and content with that. There will always be people who are younger, more successful, and seem like they’re always in the right place for the next hot new opportunity. And that may be the case. But I no longer feel the need to chase shiny new things or compare myself to others.
When I moved here, I thought that this city would save me from some of the things I was struggling with — things like depression and the feeling that I was somehow missing out and everything was passing me by. But San Francisco, just like any other city, can’t save you. Saving yourself requires taking a hard look at yourself, being honest and vulnerable, and confronting your demons head on.