On the last day of July 2010 (aka the baseball trade deadline) as the sun was setting on Winchester, California I found myself cramming the last of our possessions into a filled-to-the-brim minivan. As I was doing this, new tenants that we had just found no more than 2 weeks earlier were backing up a UHAUL into the driveway of our first house, purchased just 2 years prior, and were already moving boxes into our garage. Inside the van was my wife, her kid brother and sister, and our three daughters. We took a few pictures, said goodbye to a few of our neighbors and started the van. As we drove off some of our family members waved us good bye and we were off on the biggest adventure of our lives – a total family relocation to a city we had never been to but had only heard good things about. I had just quit my job, we had no family there, no friends, and knew virtually nobody in the area. The feeling of relief that came over me in that moment was indescribable – for the last 2 months of our lives have been filled with all the time consuming duties of making such a big life shift – fixing up the house, finding tenants, finding a house to rent, and quitting my job to name a few. We finally made it to our first big goal – and the future held something unknown, something extremely exciting. Austin, Texas – here we come!
Just 3-4 months earlier, we had never contemplated living anywhere but California other than the occasional “it would be nice to retire to Colorado someday” or “maybe when I have a lot of money we can buy a ranch in Wyoming or Montana and live there”. So the question is – what changed in the next months that would lead to us not only entertaining the possibilities but also deciding on where we wanted to live and executing the plan? Let me try to break it down…
The first set of factors that led to this life-changing decision with our growing unhappiness with living in California. When we bought our first house in June of 2008 I never dreamed the difficulty of living in California would escalate to the point it did just one year later. If you’ve never lived there, the taxes are mind blowing. In 2009 the California legislature, with support from Democrats and Republicans, passed the largest state tax hike in American history. The CA tax payer was already bleeding in the incredibly difficult economy, and our politicians had the audacity to try to make up for the budget shortfall that was initially caused by their out-of-control spending by bleeding the tax payer even further. California leads the country in four huge tax categories – the highest business tax, highest income tax, highest gas tax and highest sales tax (one of those categories is the highest in the West, not the nation, but you get the picture). All in all, it was a dismal situation – and all signs pointed to the State not being able to get their budget fixed in the following year – so how long these rates would continue to increase was anybody’s guess. The fact that even the Republicans had sold out told me that now nobody was on the side of the taxpayer, and it was sickening to me.
The next piece of this puzzle, possibly in part because of these extra taxes we were paying, is that I felt like I had to continue making $5,000+ more every year just to “keep up” with the way of life that is expected there. Life in southern california is so busy. Everyone is in their new cars that they had to borrow money to buy, speeding from place to place, never taking time to stop and chat, or wave, or strike up a conversation with a stranger or have anytime for anybody but themselves. My heart started to yearn for a place that was quieter, simpler, and place that had a lot of parks and rivers and streams and outdoors-ey things that I could take my kids to anytime we felt the itch. I didn’t feel like that was possible where we lived – everything was a long drive – whether it was the mountains, or the beach, or a body of water that didn’t cost money that you could actually swim in – it just didn’t seem very accessible to us.
The third big piece was related to my profession. I had spent the last 5 years at Outdoor Channel in Temecula, CA. I owe a ton to the company and the people there for essentially giving me a start to my career – but I was starting to feel that I had hit a wall and my professional growth was being stunted and I just needed a change of scenery and a new challenge. The thing is – I had a great job making good money in a very desirable position and a job that a lot of people wanted (this because clear after I announced my resignation), but it still wasn’t fulfilling me in the way that it has a few years earlier. To add to that – it was the only real media/tv/production job within an hour drive. So I knew that when it came time to leave OUTD (whether voluntary or involuntary) I would likely be looking at working at a place with a long Southern California commute – something that I dreaded and promised myself I would never do again. The other option is that I’d have to relocate somewhere else in the area anyway. Realizing this, I started to think that I’d like to get out ahead of that scenario and be proactive in that decision instead of reactive to a situation that was outside of my control.
It’s hard to point to an exact moment where we made the decision that “we are going to leave our home, our state, a well paying job and all of our family and friends for a city we’ve never even been to” but one moment in that decision stands out to me. I was sitting at the lunch table at Outdoor Channel sometime in May or June with a few coworkers – and my buddy John was telling the story of one of his friends that had moved to Austin, TX about 6 weeks prior. He was telling us all the glowing things that his friend was saying about Austin after being there for just over a month and while I was hearing this I heard the echoing of other stories that I had heard about Austin – it’s great tech scene, low cost of living and location in a state with no income tax, SXSW interactive festival and all the tech startups in the area and shortly it hit me – we should just move to Austin! Crazy, right? At that moment my wife called me. I picked up the phone and the first words I said were, “Honey, it’s decided – we’re moving to Austin”. Her response, after a brief pause was, “Okay!”. And that very extemporaneous conversation actually set things in serious motion.
We started to do research on Austin and the more we did the more we realized that it was almost a perfect place based on the criteria that we would soon set. In not necessarily this order, we were looking for a new place that would be better in the following categories:
1. Lower taxes.
2. Lower cost of living.
3. More job opportunities in my field (digital/social media dash tv/video production).
4. More homeschool friendly.
5. More gun friendly (I like my guns!)
6. More outdoor opportunities.
7. A better Catholic/spiritual community that we could be a part of.
8. Nicer people, slower pace of life.
Based on all the criteria we set – it was clear that Austin was the better choice. It didn’t take us too long to get over the sacrifices we’d have to make – the biggest being just leaving your comfort zone and your friends and family. It wasn’t easy – it still isn’t – but we realized that the decision is for not only us but our kids future happiness – and our kids come first, no question. Austin wasn’t the only choice – we looked at areas in the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, Colorado and a few other states – but none seemed to have ALL of these things (for example, we liked the Denver area too but the job opportunities weren’t as good).
So there came a point where we just realized we were going to do this – and started to make the preparations.
Eventually I set a date to quit my job (technically I left my job but then started contracting with them doing remote work, so that turned out well), we found tenants, found a place to live and were able to set a date to move. That date became the last day of July – July 31, 2010.
We made it to Phoenix on the first night, El Paso by the second night, and all the way to Austin at the end of the third day. Not bad considering we were traveling with a 3 year old, a 2 year old and a 5 month old, in addition to a few teenagers leaving very little room in the van. But we did make it and since arriving things have seemed to fall intro place perfectly.
I did come out here jobless – but so far I’ve been able to do enough freelance work to basically make about the same in August that I had made at my full-time job the previous month. I’ve been on a few interviews – all of which have gone very well. Because I had been at my previous job for so long and hadn’t applied to a new job in years I really had no idea how my resume and prior experience would be received. I was so glad to hear things like “we were really impressed with your resume” and “your resume looked so good we thought you were lying”. It’s a good feeling to get that professional respect form people you’re talking to. I haven’t yet taken a full time job but have been offered a part time job and am likely going to be offered a full time job from an incredible company very shortly (Will I take it? We’ll see – there is something to be said about the freedom that freelance gives you). And all throughout this process I’ve met great people – both professionally and personally, and things seem to be going extremely well. Our kids and my wife are adjusting well – and I’m starting to feel a little bit Texan. I realize it will take me some time to get my Texas cred, but I feel like I’m well on my way.
Austin is everything I thought it would be and more. The amount of jobs, the cheaper living, the better outdoor opportunities, everything is better than it was for us in California. Not only that – I’ve hooked up with the USC Alumni Club here in Austin (club of the year by the way) and now have fellow Trojans to watch games with and go to social happy hours! That’s better than the way I’d watch games in California (well, other than the games I’d go to at the Coliseum). Overall – we’re incredibly happy to be here, we’re still extremely excited at the whole “adventure” aspect of this move and we look forward to all the incredible things that are to come.
Well, that’s it for now – this is the longest post I’ve written in years. Hope you all enjoyed it! I will update you in a few months.