As many of you know, I'm leaving Chicago "permanently" this Wednesday. As the Windy City was my first home as a true adult post-college and my first real city life experience, I thought that it deserved at least 3 blog posts the reflect my thoughts and feelings. Over the course of the next three days, I'll be discussing:
Things to do and eat
My thoughts on Chicago as a young professional
Note that while the posts are to serve as a funnel from "objective" to personal, it'll be difficult to detach my subjective opinions from all of the topics mentioned. As a means of background for those of you unaware, I've lived in Chicago full time since June of 2019 following a summer internship the year prior. As the world flipped itself upside down in March 2020, I have gone back and forth between the Second City and Irvine, CA (where my family resides), but I'd identify Chicago as my "home" for the past two years.
Even amidst our rapid transition into the metaverse, beyond it being a buzzword for Facebook to get back on its feet, it's hard to detach the immense influence one's physical environment has on his views and lifestyle. As a Korean American immigrant who grew up in Southern California and went to college in rural Virginia, I have no doubt that Chicago served as a pivotal catalyst in who I am today. While it would be a cringey overstatement to say that the place has revolutionized who I am or what I think - in fact I think I simply became more of myself during my two years here - it's also difficult to refute the reality that I am in great debt to the Windy City for my personal growth and continued successes. I'm hoping that this post doesn't serve as some overly optimistic reflection of what has been a rather bumpy road nor a projection of my current state of being that undermines all that has occured here for me for me to be what I am today. I also encourage everyone to note that while much of this post will emphasize the importance of where one is, I firmly believe that the core of your life primarily depends on your internal strengths and motivations and your personal relationship with God.
I will be splitting this post into two sections - Looking Back covering the accumulation of what I've personally gained and lost through my time in Chicago and Looking Forward discussing the hopes and fears I have regarding the time I'll be having in Southern California.
As I noted in my previous post, I almost don't consider the first nine months of my Chicago career to be "real." In reflection, it doesn't even feel like I recognized my studio apartment in the Loop as a home, but more of a summer camp or a school year that I got paid for instead of paying. It could have been due to my previous summer experience doing basically the same thing with lower intensity or the fact that I was jumping into work after having six months of complete control over whatever I wanted to do (I was an early graduate and wasted away six months after December 2018 leading up to banking, more on that in another post). Ironically, I'd argue that Chicago truly felt like home starting in March of 2020, when I left this new home for my old one to devolve back into my high school self. I felt this live and feel it even more in reflection, but that period felt awfully like trying to squeeze into pants you know for a fact don't fit anymore. And unlike previous times I've felt that during college, I no longer wanted to fit in those pants and was hyper aware that I had better pants now - will conclude this pointless analogy here. The previous nine months as a "real adult," only expedited by the intensity surrounding investment banking had turned me into something different and although everyone was stripped away into their bare bones during this time of chaos and the unknown, it was hard to relate to those back home that simply did not understand what was beyond their bubble. I'm sure that I was perceived the same way from their end or they simply don't think this far introspectively (my arrogant self points to the latter) - regardless, it was at this point as I left Chicago that I subconsciously started identifying it as home.
As much as I make the comparison between Chicago and New York and the former's relative lower emphasis on the "hustle," at the end of the day Chicago is still a city of 3 million people, composed of a wide array of socioeconomic classes all contributing to the GDP in one way or another (I had to make this douchey business major comment, apologies.) While you could argue that anyone who partakes in working or buying falls under this category, it's one thing to engage with others outside of their participation with leisure (what is often experienced "back home" where you grew up before you recognized any of these concepts) and another to be an active participant amongst those that are also in the same boat. Much of these aspects could simply be a byproduct of living alone with no family or college infrastructure, amplified through the medium we know as a "city." Although this was no daily exercise of reflection, it goes without saying that this inevitable part of the young professional life progression can't be avoided once you begin the rat race.
I think for a rather long time, even until recently, I resented the rat race and embraced thoughts like "this is all meaningless" and "the people in this city are so lost," with a weird emphasis on how detaching myself from what exists around me somehow put me above their lifestyles. As an active participant, at least on the surface, in what is known as one of the most career-oriented careers out there, the hypocrisy was hard to dismiss. I kept striving for various excuses to either excuse my own behavior or subscribe to the mentality that this too was just a phase in my life. Like many reflections that focuses on oneself, I could say that I was too busy "living by others' standards that I was never satisfied" or "was never internally motivated to do anything because I've been told what to do my entire life by society," but both statements wouldn't do anyone justice as I've also recently concluded that my life has largely been filled with very selfish decisions, often overriding the sound advice of those that cared for me the most. For the first six months of my professional life I didn't have the time or mental capacity to even consider these things and for the following year, my mind was solely filled with pointless regrets and a continuous question of why I do the things I do. Note that (in fear of frustration for those that made it this far), I don't have some cool conclusion for any of these wordy rhetoricals nor do I feel fully resolved in any of these concerns.
To stay true to the prompt at hand, I'm not sure if Chicago specifically contributed to these internal struggles nor do I know for a fact that investment banking was the root cause. In fact, now that I know myself more than ever, I'm rather certain that I'd be writing a very similar post today regardless of the career path and location I chose post college. It's this realization that has prompted me to be harder on myself for my unending desire to reflect on the "what if's" and the internal belittling of the society at large. If anything, I could now confidently say that while investment banking allowed the bandaid to be ripped immediately (although it hurt, it was necessary and I'd rather have now than later) Chicago probably eased the pain that followed by not continuously poking where the bare skin showed (I really should stop with these metaphors). I think I do enough investment banking recommendation on my Youtube Channel so I'll stick to Chicago here, but this is the ultimate reason why I recommend the Second City as a starting point after college to everyone reading - the place allows you to build your career and be introspective during what I think is the most important time of one's life.
I'll be boarding a plane in less than 12 hours for the first time in six years to be permanently (for now) be back in what I always preached to be the "best place in America." I'm a firm believer that those who fire back at me with "at least we have seasons where I live" simply don't understand what it feels like to have perfect weather 365 days a year and those that taunt with "at least we have water and no forest fires" are the same people that post "donate to California wildlife preservation" on Instagram. As much as I talked about Chicago being pivotal in who I am today, just by sheer mass of my lifetime spent there, it's evident that Southern California plays the largest role (so far) in who I am and who I am going to be. My return feels like it's been a long time coming and as a firm believer in no coincidences, I'm certain this next step of my life is no exception. I truly thank the Lord in using the opportunities around me to guide me back home for the time being.
With complete open arrogance, I am fearful of the possible personal setbacks I will experience by going back due to the population makeup of Orange County, California, especially compared to Chicago. To no one's fault, and to confirm - I don't think one lifestyle is better than the other (well I do, but I don't think the other side is unwarranted) - Irvine is not exactly known for its hustle. And in some ways, rightfully so. The city was recently picked (by some somewhat reliable list) as the third best city in America to raise a family in, has a decades long history of some of the lowest crime rates in the US and filled with immigrants who (and this somewhat concerns and confuses me) come here to live basically the exact same life they had back home. They engage with people who speak their own language, do the activities they did back home and eat the food they're used to. Human beings innately enjoy comfort, I am no exception, but as I thoroughly mention in all my platforms, there's no growth without discomfort. It's also hard to not see past the self-selection that occurs in people of my age group that remain in Irvine (here's where I think the harshness unfortunately has to come in) - largely composed of those who couldn't make it out, don't want to make it out, or both. Whether they recognize it or not is a different matter, but there simply is no growth beyond one's age and maybe the age difference you're willing to allow between you and your significant other (I have a rather strong guesstimate that the age differences amongst couples that begin their relationships in the suburbs as a product of both of them being there their entire life is significantly wider than other regions). It's hard to see change in your life when there's no change that you experience, and the people and experience you encounter are artificially and organically limited by the city lines you've grown up in. I do want to note that if you grew up in Chicago and live here your whole life, a similar argument could be made, however the import pool of talent that enters a city like Chicago is probably different than what is available in the suburbs of Southern California.
As much as the physical environment could have a significant impact on one's life, the true source of influence comes from the people that make up and fill that environment. The liberal arts education that I had at Washington and Lee would be nothing without my talented peers and brilliant professors and their active and passive enablement of my efforts at fulfillment and success. This too was a self-selected pool of individuals (but in reverse) and environments like this don't really exist beyond the college setting. The same goes for what was available in Chicago, as similar minded people enter a city to not only benefit monetarily, but to embed themselves in the culture that only booming cities can provide. My fear is that this is not existent in where I'm headed, as I know for a fact that is not the case having lived there both as a child as an older child (right now).
The optimist in me does understand that there are benefits to living the comfortable lifestyle and in some ways look forward to having this transition "mellow me down a bit" as it feels like I've been sprinting for the past two years. Not having the desire to use every single minute towards something productive and reconnecting with friends from the past are known to be good things. The pandemic paired with work from home has allowed me to get a flavor of this over the past two years, but I'm sure the dynamic is different once my mindset and others perception of me goes from "Bryan from Chicago is in town for a bit" to just "Bryan." As with all things and thoughts I provide here, there's a great chance that none of this will matter, I'll end up loving playing golf with my dad and eating Korean BBQ with my Korean American friends after Korean Church speaking in Konglish (high chance to be honest).
I couldn't have asked more from Chicago and like I am with all aspects of my life, I wish I was more grateful during the time spent here rather than in reflection. It seems unlikely that today is the last time I'm here as I'm always one for a charismatic return.
I'll be taking a week break from blogging as I go on a family vacation and see if I can enjoy relaxing - probably not though.