Up until my freshman year of college, my career plan was simple: I was going to be on Broadway. Believe me, I roll my eyes at the mere thought of it now. But, in my naïve and optimistic adolescence, this goal seemed as rational and logical as saying I was going to be an accountant. It was a sure thing. I was already picturing my life in New York City—my stylish apartment, my days spent auditioning, and my inevitable big break.
Needless to say, I’m obviously not on Broadway now. So, what happened? Well, to put it simply, I got to college and became completely intimidated by how much immense talent there was at my school. I was no longer a big fish in a small pond. And, I figured if there were this many amazing performers just at my university alone, the world had to be absolutely filled with people who were way more deserving of that starring role than I was.
I didn’t want to resign myself to waiting tables for a living, so I switched my major to communication and journalism. To some, that seems like a big change. However, I think that the career paths of musical theatre and editorial actually have a few major things in common. First, most people look at your goal as a pipe dream—you’ll end up a starving artist for the rest of your life. And, secondly, people assume that both of those occupations require you to live in a big city to truly reach success. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or even Chicago—if you want to really make a name for yourself, you need to be where the action is.
I can understand why people have these perceptions, and pop culture definitely plays a role. When I utter the words “writer” or “editorial,” I know people immediately picture the hustle and bustle of The Devil Wears Prada or Carrie Bradshaw scribbling away in her NYC brownstone. I too fell victim to the trap of thinking that if I wanted to be a successful writer myself, I’d have to live in a booming metropolis and search my couch cushions in order to make rent each month.
There was only one problem with that idea: I no longer wanted to move to a big city. Once I had kissed my Broadway dream goodbye, I grew into much more of a homebody. I live in a small town in Northeastern Wisconsin. You know the kind—your mailman knows you by name and the whole city is up in arms when your one family restaurant changes ownership.
To most people, I know that life sounds predictable and torturously boring. But, to me, it’s comforting. I love it, and I don’t want to leave if I can help it.
So, I found myself stuck in this catch-22. I wanted to be a successful writer while staying exactly where I was. But, according to everybody else, I’d need to move in order to ever reach success. What was I supposed to do? How could I choose between a career I desperately wanted and a location I adored? Why couldn’t I have both?
Well, I can. Actually, I do—and you can too. That’s right, I’m living proof that you don’t have to move to a big city in order to pursue your dreams. In fact, I’ve found that my geographical location really has very little to do with it. They key is to place more of your emphasis on what you want to do, rather than where you want to do it.
You should set your goals based on specific skills, milestones, and achievements—not on that elusive holy grail city you’ve heard so much about. Aim to be a top-notch software engineer—not the greatest engineer in all of Silicon Valley. Set your sights on being a trusted and respected financial advisor—not the most prestigious and well-known one on Wall Street. Of course, this concept can obviously become more difficult if you live in an area where your chosen field is especially inadequate. However, I still encourage you to think outside the box and not restrict your definition of success to one specific city.
Why? Well, when you limit your career goals based on location alone, you’re really doing just that—limiting yourself. You could pass on amazing opportunities, simply because they don’t afford you the chance to move to your industry’s hotbed. However success doesn’t live in just one place. It isn’t defined by your city. Instead, it’s defined by your professional reputation, your personal growth, and—most importantly—your happiness.
So, think about it this way: If you finally land that job of your dreams, but are stuck in a city that makes you positively miserable (as I likely would’ve been in New York), are you truly that successful? Probably not. It’s a balancing act, but you can definitely find a career that makes you feel fulfilled in a city that you love. If you’re a nomad who loves to move around and chase that next big opportunity? More power to you! But, if you’re someone who likes to stay put and would like to find success and happiness right where you are? It’s totally possible.
Remember, success doesn’t recognize state lines. Take that from a girl who wrote this very article—but lives in a town with one stoplight.
Did you move to a big city to score that gig of your dreams? Or, have you put down roots and founda job you love right where you are? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter!
Photo of computer courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author