Romanticising The Realities Of Real Life: Moving To The Big City
A personal reflection on entering "the real world", and the battle of prioritising career or lifestyle.
Submitted by Lucy Faulkner, London
If you asked me when I left university where I’d be next, the answer would have been, “not London”. As those around me were taking part in assessment centres, stressing about interviews for the Big 4 consulting firms and getting excited about moving to the capital, I was frantically trying to find something to do anywhere but. And I succeeded for a while, moving to Italy to do a masters and prolonging the inevitability of having to get a “real” job and be a “real” adult. Yet, a year and a half later here I am: typing this from my desk, in my flat in Islington.
Since deciding to pursue a career in fashion, I have tried to push the idea of London to the back of my mind and convince myself that I can find a job elsewhere. Unfortunately, being from the Highlands of Scotland where there is next to nothing going on and severely lacking an EU passport, the UK is my only option. And, much to my despair, London is the place to be opportunity-wise. So, it's where I am, and have been for a month now, embarking upon adulthood and the whole “job” thing.
I’ve never really lived in a big city before. From a teeny village in the North of Scotland, to seaside St Andrews and even cosmopolitan Florence, I’ve always had everything and everyone I need within a twenty minute walk. I know - anyone reading this already from a city is laughing at me for my unrealistic expectations. But this is what I was used to, what I liked and what made me feel safe and comfortable. London on the other hand, with a population larger than the entire country I’m from, has always been utterly overwhelming.
I tried to be positive when I moved here, but there are just so many hateable things about London: the tube is hot and busy; everything is ridiculously expensive; it takes an hour to get to your friend’s house regardless of where they live; it doesn’t always feel safe; and you can very quickly begin to feel like a very small fish in a very large pond. In the interest of transparency, the first two weeks I spent here were some of the worst I’ve had in a long time. I felt lonely, far away from the people I love, and stressed and anxious about the fact that this is what I had signed up for.
The thing is, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who has felt like this when moving to “the big city” - whether you have positive preconceptions or not. I’m lucky to already have friends here, especially those who I can be vulnerable with, and when I’ve brought up how I have been feeling, every single one has told me they too had found it horrible at the start - some even for months.
If everyone feels it, why aren’t we speaking about it?
It feels like in our early twenties, we are encouraged to prioritise our career. On TikTok, Corporate Girlies glamorise the 9-5 grind and “how much I spend in a day in London” videos (spoiler: often quite a lot) seem to clog my FYP. But surely there’s something to be said for prioritising lifestyle over career too? Do we have to be solely career driven, especially when said career might impose on our desired way of life?
Speaking to my mum on the phone about three days into my mental breakdown - sorry, my time in London - she said something I found both reassuring and thought-provoking. When she finished her Masters degree in civil engineering, there were a million jobs calling her name in London that would have had fantastic progression, pay and benefits. But, instead, she chose to move to the middle of nowhere and pursue a less “high flying” career so that she could hike and cycle and swim in the sea every day. She believes she has, perhaps, underachieved in her professional life, but has dramatically overachieved in her expectations of the lifestyle she’d live.
It really made me think. The definition of success is different for everyone: for some it is to move to a big city, climb the corporate ladder and make six figures by the time they’re 30. If you want to do that, amazing - more power to you! But this is not the only measure of achievement. For others, the priority is family, their hobbies outside of work or living in a particular place. These can all be definitions of success and nobody should feel forced to subscribe to any in particular.
When I began applying to jobs, I definitely felt the pressure of achieving a predefined picture of success, and that I had to move to London for this to become my reality. This created a confusing dichotomy in my head because I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted, and it chipped away at my mental health. Taking a step back and realising that the way we each progress and grow is not one-size-fits-all was, honestly, very freeing.
In fact, this gave me the headspace to decide that I’m going to stick it out in London and hope I learn to love it - I can prioritise my career now and be lifestyle driven later. Or, equally likely, the way I want to live will evolve as I do, and my desired work-life balance may shift. After all, at 23 with no experience yet to brag about, it's impossible to predict where I’ll be in the future. All I can do is continue pursuing my own path and grasping the opportunities that align with my definition of success, without succumbing to any other arbitrary notion of it.