I live my life – both professionally and personally – largely in the open. As a social media and community-building professional, it comes with the territory. And, as anyone who works in the industry can attest to, the best way to establish and foster trust with the community you are building is to be transparent. Almost every facet of your life is open. You live by Facebook likes, comments, shares and Retweets. You have to.
To say that I moved to California in 2012 for my professional life would be true, and would be an understatement. Yes, I moved to California for an incredible opportunity to advance my career on one of media’s biggest stages – Silicon Valley. But there’s more to the story.
I moved to California with complete disregard for my personal life. To put it all behind me. Far, far behind me. I was so entirely unhappy with who I had become and who I was becoming. I packed my car to the brim just so my rearview mirror was blocked.
I had no intention of looking back.
So I didn’t. I ran. I ran as fast as I possibly could and (quite literally) as far as I possibly could. If I were to today go 50 yards further away, I’d fall off the face of the Earth into the Pacific Ocean.
I felt stuck in my job in my small city in my small state. I felt stuck in my personal life of the same bars and backyards, the same revolving door of familiar and unchanging faces. I was stuck – so uncomfortably, suffocatingly stuck.
I had grown frustrated and restless. I had lost all perspective on life and what was important to me. I needed a change.
I couldn’t get out fast enough. I wanted a bigger market, a bigger stage, a bigger opportunity for myself. I wanted new sights, new sounds, new faces, new experiences.
I didn’t care where, it just couldn’t be here.
I began applying to jobs in New York City and Boston. Over 50 applications between the two markets, easily.
A few in Chicago. A couple in D.C.
One in California.
In the nearly two years I’ve spent at the Silicon Valley Business Journal as our social media manager, content strategist and editor, we have met and exceeded even our wildest goals and expectations we set on my first day.
It has been one hell of a ride.
I joined the Business Journals, a part of Condé Nast, as they were reimagining, rebranding and preparing to relaunch all their publications across the country. I became their first full-time Social Engagement Manager in December 2012.
The last 20 months have been incredibly rewarding. I worked with our market to create a content and social strategy, theorized and then executed on our “themed issue” concept while helping other markets bring in SEMs who would then be responsible to weave social media into the very DNA of their market’s products and presence just as I had done for the SVBJ.
In the time I’ve been in Silicon Valley, we’ve set the precedent for digital and social evolution. Our social audience has grown from the bastard step-sister of the chain – 31st of the 40 chains in size of social audience – to the second largest and the most engaged community of Business Journals in the entire country.
There are three specific projects I’d like to highlight. The first is a cover package I began putting together less than a month on the job. The #Women140 project stretched what we were able to do with content in print, online and socially. The hard work and keen execution by our team, most notably our Lead Designer Ryan Lambert, was manifested by world-renowned media consultant Mario Garcia showing off our work in Europe and across the world. We also won a handful of awards for the project.
The second is the first cover story I served as the editor on, about a year into my tenure. Lauren Hepler, our economic development reporter, my roommate and one of the very first friends I made in California, was taking on the biggest issue facing Silicon Valley: Affordable housing. It’s quite easy (too easy) for Silicon Valley blogs to focus on the next cool app, a successful IPO or some other fluffy storyline that drives clicks. It’s challenging, entirely difficult and frustrating, to take on a topic that is not light, nor popular and sexy.
But that’s exactly what she set out to do. And though I cannot take any – and deserve none – of the credit for how the story came out, I can be proud knowing that I played a role in it: A role in how the story was structured, who we spoke to, how we wove anecdotes into the copy, what data we used, how we displayed that data, what photos we used and how the story was designed online, in print and on our Tumblr. It is and will always be the finest piece of journalism I ever touched.
The last project I want to draw attention to is the epitome of what I believe to be my core mission as a professional. The goal of this project was to turn the audience we had built as an online publication into a real-life community. Focused on San Jose tech workers, we have been able to bring together an estranged community with our Happy Hour as a Service (#HHaaS) initiative.
This project has been coupled with an editorial mission: Twenty-something in Silicon Valley, a project I had been thinking about for a long time.
Our readers are typically older, white, male executives. I found myself looking at that reality and asking myself, “where is my voice?” Where is our voice?
There has been and continues to be a need in business journalism for the voice of the not-yet executives. The not-quite-there-yet entrepreneurs. The hustlers. The grinders. The women and men working four jobs so that she or he could be afforded the opportunity to build something she or he is passionate about.
This content initiative, fueled by the very talented María Gabriela, will continue to thrive and give voice to this community. And in doing so, give the Business Journal a demographic and audience they were unable to reach before.
That being said, here is the lede I’ve intentionally buried.
I gave my two-weeks’ notice last Friday. My last day at the Silicon Valley Business Journal is next Friday. The following Friday I will be back in my car, driving away from the Pacific Ocean.
I’m coming home.
One thing no one in my industry will tell you is that in living your life wide open, the crowd’s opinion affects you in more ways than you care to admit. It affects your thoughts, your values, your goals and your perspective.
It corrupted mine.
If I was to say that my move to California was to invest in my career and professional life (and without a doubt, it unmistakably was), my decision to move back home is to make an even larger investment in my personal life – in my friends, in my family, in my community, in myself and in my future.
I’m investing in the little things in life that don’t translate to Facebook likes, comments, shares and Retweets.
I’m making a conscious decision to be the man I always said I would be, the man I always said I could be, the man I know I can be. The man I know I am.
The most endearing, most rewarding part of my job is having the opportunity to build and engage a community around content, a shared passion or an event. But it took driving 3000 miles away to realize that that is exactly what I once loved outside of work.
The very same values and virtues I extend in my professional life are the ones I cherish in my personal life. I want to bring people together around a common passion, a shared joy, an event, a moment. I want to facilitate conversations, laughs, memories. I want to be the one whose home is a gathering place for friends and family on holidays, weekdays, Saturdays, Sundays.
And I just can’t do that 3000 miles away.
I began thinking about my next move earlier this year, around February. I looked at Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles. I looked at Nashville and Memphis. Austin. Miami. New York.
As the months went by and summer was upon me, I narrowed my search. San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles. New York.
I went home at the end of July for Cam’s wedding. Justin picked me up from the airport and we went to James’ apartment. I drove around Connecticut, seeing old friends, sharing smiles and laughs. I caught up with Chaz and Chris. I stood with Patsy, Glenn and Jay next to Cam at his wedding. I saw Mitchell, his amazing wife Shannon and beautiful son Jake. I saw Randall, Rob, John and Dave.
I visited UConn. I took an incredible trip through my past and shared what I have learned in the past 2 years with my best friend.
I visited Boston.
I came back to California.
It all became so very clear to me. The next place I moved would be long-term. I knew that my next job, my next career move, would be long-term. And I knew that if I were to make a long-term investment in a company, it had to be one closer to home. I couldn’t, and can’t, bare much more time away from the place and the people whom I love so much.
I’ve been able to, in the two years I’ve been in California, make it home for a couple weddings, but I’ve missed twice as many. I’ve missed children being born, and, so devastatingly, wakes and funerals for my loved ones.
I’ve missed the people I love take large and confident steps forward in their lives.
I’ve missed my own life.
So I’m coming home.
I’m coming home for Yankee games and Knicks games, UConn football and basketball games, for tailgates and barbecues, for early Saturday mornings and late Friday nights.
I’m coming home to stand next to my friends on their wedding days so that when I tie the knot they will return the favor.
I’m coming home for the same bars and backyards, the same revolving door of familiar and unchanging faces.
I’m coming home to be a bigger part of the lives of the children I love so much so that when I have children of my own I can count on them having a family to grow up with.
I’m coming home for Xander and Ryder, the most amazing pair of brothers I know.
I’m coming home for William, Delilah and Tyler to be their cousin, just like their parents were to me when I was growing up.
I’m coming home for Little Homie Jake Ryan to be his uncle and a constant part of his life.
I’m coming home for Jordan and Jillian to be best big brother they could ever ask for because their Dad was that to me.
I’m coming home for Mielle, the most beautiful little princess whom I haven’t even met yet.
I’m coming home so that my life is more stable and I can finally engulf myself in Big Brothers Big Sisters – an organization that changed my life, hoping that I can change the life of a young man in the same way.
I’m coming home for everyone on this thread who threw so much love and support at me two years ago.
I’m coming home for the Edgar family so that when I start one of my own, we can lean on the most loving family I’ve ever met.
I’m coming home for my Aunt Mar and Uncle Bob who, through just being who they are, have instilled in me the very sense of community and family that I want to foster in my own life.
I’m coming home for my mother, a woman who has raised three children on her own, whom I admire so deeply and love so very much.
I’m coming home to spend a holiday with my family for the first time in three years and taste my aunt’s fettucine alfredo.
I’m coming home for the people that have called me AJ my entire life.
I’m coming home for my best friend, the person whom I’ve missed more than anyone and anything in the years I’ve been running.
I’m coming home for trips to New York City, Cape Cod, Atlantic City and Maine. I’m coming home for day-trips and nights on the town. I’m coming home for fall, for leaves changing colors, for New England in all its brisk, autumn glory.
I’m coming home for glasses of wine and glasses of whiskey.
I’m coming home for country concerts, nights of dancing and home-cooked meals.
I’m coming home for long-term goals over short-term fixes.
I’m coming home because my legs are tired. I’m done running.
I’m not coming home because I think this next chapter of my life will be easy, straight, without challenge or painless.
I’m coming home because I know it will be worth it.
I’m coming home.
I will be taking essentially the very same route across the country that I took on the way out here, but in reverse – not to undo what has been done, but to relive it and redo it with a different perspective.
Perspective: That was the one word that came up in all my conversations about the move. Perspective was something I had lost when I was home. Perspective is what I’ve gained being this far away from the friends and family I love. Perspective is a deep understanding of what’s important gained only from looking at things from a different angle, from a different place, through a different lens.
When I was back home, I was frustrated. Upset, angry and unhappy about what I was doing, who I had become, who I was becoming. My selfishness at the time cost me an awful lot, more than I could ever express with mere words. I wasn’t the person, the man, I knew I should be, could be, can be.
The man I am today.
People have asked me, “Aren’t you going to miss it out here?”
And I respond to them very honestly.
“Yes. Yes I will.”
But what is a beautiful sunset without the people you love by your side?
What is a gorgeous, sunny day when you’re not witnessing it, experiencing it with someone you care about?
What is success in your career, in your professional life, when you’re only half as good as you can be?
What good is running when you’re not running towards what you know you ultimately wish to find?
What good is a magnificent blue sky, a breath-taking turquoise sea, a stunning pink, purple, red and orange sunset, a pitch black sky illuminated with tiny white crystals, without the most beautiful color of all by your side?
These past 20 months have been an exercise in cataloguing and indexing the previous 25 years of my life. Trying to figure out who I am, trying to determine what has made me this way or that way, trying to decipher and answer all the questions I had when I packed up my car and left in December 2012 with Jay in the passenger seat, my rear view mirror blocked, a tank full of gas and a lead foot on the pedal.
This last month in California, however, has been an exercise in cataloguing and indexing the time I’ve spent here. The friends I’ve met, the experiences I’ve had, what I’ve learned – about the world, about life and about myself. The perspective I am so fortunate to have gained through this journey.
Writing this here today I recall certain conversations I’ve had that have helped me get to this very inflection point in my life:
A conversation with Mike on Big Rock late one night after several glasses of whiskey.
A conversation with Kheifer around New Year’s Eve 2013 on my porch, when he so graciously came to visit me from Portland.
A conversation with Jason on my porch, downing American Spirits and getting in-touch with our inner-most souls.
Two conversations with Adam in the days before I gave my two-weeks’ notice, over-the-phone in my car parked in the garage at work. The same parking garage I parked the same car full of all my possessions on my first day on the job.
A conversation with Kaitlin on her porch in Louisville the first night of my trip across the country.
A conversation with Rachel outside her apartment in Redwood City, the same apartment she let me crash at the first 10 days – through Christmas 2012 – when I arrived in California and had no where to go.
A conversation with my best friend the night we spent at UConn.
A conversation with Andrew walking back from the bar in Santa Barbara on Christmas Eve 2013, a conversation that continued on to the beach at 3 a.m.
A conversation with Justin outside his home in West Hartford the night I got back from Boston, the day before I came back to California for what would be the last time.
I don’t for one second consider this excursion a failure because I’m turning back around. No, quite the opposite. I get to go back to the home I know and love on my own terms. Not because I am stuck there, but because I choose to live my life there.
To anyone out there that has felt or is feeling as I did two years ago, Go.
Go and leave it all behind. Go all-in on yourself. If you aren’t willing to make that bet than you can’t expect anyone else to.
Like my mother said that night, two years ago, when I was offered the job:
“If you don’t like it in two years, you can always come back. And you’ll be 26 with your entire life ahead of you.”
It hasn’t quite been two years, but I have absolutely no regrets. I’ve gained an incalculable amount of wisdom from just going for it. Though there are a few decisions I made before the move that I would – in hindsight – do differently, given the reality of it all, my move to California was exactly what I could have asked for and more, and exactly what I needed.
Santa Cruz will always have a special part of my heart. It was here, looking out onto this vastly endless ocean, that I finally found myself and came to peace with who that was. It was here, in all its beauty, that I realized that the most beautiful thing in the entire world was 3000 miles behind me.
The most amazing two days I’ve had in California have been these past two days. My mother came out to visit me for the first time. In her 55 years of life, she had never been to California. I have been able to give that to her before I leave. I was able to be with her when she saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time and saw her grin with childlike wonder at its magnificent power. And here I was, living 50 yards away from it for all this time.
It’s easy to take things for granted. It’s easy to lose perspective.
Growing up, I remember my mother always saying that one day she wanted a home where she could fall asleep to the sound of waves crashing. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to give that to her for a few nights while she visits California.
I brought her to lunch yesterday to see a college friend she hadn’t seen in 30 years. Thirty years. I haven’t even been alive for thirty years, and here they were, like no time had passed at all. The indescribable joy on my mother’s and Sven’s face when they saw each other again outside the restaurant in Saratoga could have knocked me out.
If for nothing else, my move to California was all worth it in that very moment.
I’ve been able to reacquaint myself with Santa Cruz through the eyes of my mother these past few days and will do so for the next week. Talk about perspective.
Life seems complicated, dense, overwhelming, and can be entirely too much to handle at times. But it’s not. It’s actually quite simple.
Find happiness in what you can do for others. Pay people back for what they have been able to give you. Pay it forward.
Take a deep breath. Smile at the little things that make life so very beautiful.
On the phone with Adam a couple weeks ago, he asked me point blank, “if nothing goes the way you hope it will, would you still want to come back?”
I paused for a minute. I hadn’t yet given my notice, so this was a proposition I had to entertain. I answered yes, and I felt like I meant it.
I had, in black and white, determined what I wanted and how I was to accomplish it. The notion of it not going the way I was hoping had crossed my mind but, being as stubborn as I am, I never gave it much thought. It had to work that way. That was the way it was meant to be. Here I was, second-guessing it all, my mind racing as I pushed myself through a completely uninspired workout.
My heart and mind had been 3000 miles away for 2 years.
I woke up in the middle of the night with an indescribable clarity. Perspective.
Even if nothing worked out the way I wanted it to, I thought to myself, I knew I wanted to be home. Life is complicated, relationships are complicated, careers are complicated. Life throws a ton of hurdles in your way and you won’t know when they’ll appear. One would be a fool to write his plan in ink.
So I won’t do that anymore.
What you should write in ink are your values and what you’re willing to do to make your dreams come true. Let that be your compass. If you are – and I am – focused and sure of who you are and what you want, you’ll be just fine.
At the time I’m writing this, I don’t know exactly what I will be doing when I get back, where exactly I’ll be living or how I will pay for it, but I’m not worried. I have had my fire going for months and there have been several irons in it. I’ve had to take a couple out, a couple have burnt out, and a few still remain. Some hotter than others, but the fire is good. I’m not worried.
I know what I want the picture to look like – what I’m doing, where I’m living, who’s there with me – and it’s so simply beautiful. I’m content with the pursuit, the little things that will ultimately make all the difference in my life. I’m content with letting what will be, be. I’m content with being patient, in taking things in stride and living day by day. I know in my heart that although I don’t know exactly where I’m heading, I’m going where I belong.
I’ve used a lot of words here today, and I’ve used thousands upon thousands of words before this. As beautiful as words can be, and as wonderful a picture as they can paint, they’re cheap. I’ve been peddling beautiful cheap words, phrases and promises for years, hiding behind them and running as fast as I could. But not anymore.
I’m not coming home for more words. I’m coming home to take action.
My mind is clear, my eyes forward. I’m in the best shape of my life – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I’m ready to build something special.
My life is quite busy at the moment – absorbed and involved round-the-clock with different logistical necessities. You would think that having made this cross-country move once before would have made it all easier. It has not. I still feel many of the same emotions I felt two years ago in the weeks, days approaching my move. I still get sick to my stomach. It’s gut-wrenching shit, all things considered.
When I begin feeling that way again, my mind goes back to a picnic table outside the home of one of the greatest men I know. We sat outside his now-newish home in suburban Connecticut, a home that has, by his and his wife-to-be’s good graces, become my own any time I needed it.
We talked for hours – about my visit home, about the wedding, about California, about Waterbury, about life, values, ethics, morals and what makes a man a man – crushing a .375L of Gentlemen’s and a box of Al Capones in the process.
He turned to me, about three-quarters of the way through our poisons, and said:
“Alex, just do what makes you happy.”
It’s that simple. It really is that simple.
Now, just a couple weeks away from my move, I’m boiling over with hot emotion. I’m excited and anxious, exhausted but blessed, fearful but fortunate, helpless but hopeful, stressed and worn.
But, above all else, I am happy. So unbelievably happy. And it feels so good to feel that way again.
See you soon,
PS: I love you.