Is my life better now?
Some of you guys write me from time to time. I like it.
Occasionally through this correspondence the question is put to me: do I think my life is empirically better in the United States than it was in New Zealand?
It's the multimillion-dollar question. I always find it pretty hard to assess two sets of living situations.
I've found throughout my life that once I get used to the city I am in and become comfortable, life feels more or less the same, adjusted here and there for differences in weather and the change in faces.
It's funny to try to break life down into its components.
There are a tremendous number of things that I adore and appreciate in America that didn't exist for me in New Zealand.
It's hard once you've lived for over two years with cheap, unlimited broadband to think about getting those emails from TelstraClear halfway through the month to let you know that you've gone over your bandwidth cap and your bill for the month is going to be about a million dollars. The lack of broadband cap in America allows for a lot more online service and delivery and I've become spoilt living with Spotify running on my phone constantly when I'm out and about, catching television shows on Hulu and movies on demand on Netflix.
I like Apple stores, Taco Bell, living near large and glorious metropolitan cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the physical version of the New York Times - a newspaper not bested across the world - the preponderance of great independent bookstores in San Francisco, being able to see movies as soon as they are released, better access to excellent concerts and culture all through the year, free shipping on Amazon, Trader Joe's and In'N'Out. I'm a big fan of the NBA. Petrol is cheaper.
This is all particularly superficial detail, however. I'm not comfortable using it as hard evidence that by moving to America I have upgraded my life. America is a bigger country than New Zealand. It has larger infrastructure with more products on offer and it is closer to the centre of the world, which means simply that more stuff happens here. It is a country full of wonderful distractions, none of which you can or should base an assessment of quality of life on.
To judge my life off these things feels too much like putting a values statement on top of a more mechanical reality.
America has more of a genuinely aspirational culture than New Zealand. We touched on this briefly last week when we were talking about work ethic. It is hard to compare sheer levels of innovation between two countries of similar sizes, but Americans don't run from overreaching and aren't embarrassed by big goals. I think that this has had a positive effect on me. For over a year now, I've been sustaining myself through self-employment and sometimes that terrifies me and I'm not sure if I would have had the guts to do this if I was still living in Wellington.
This is a win for America. It is something about this country that I respect deeply.
There's a tremendous amount of opportunity in America. I feel las though the ceiling is higher here. It is liberating.
But then, I was professionally frustrated in New Zealand and looking back it wasn't entirely New Zealand's fault (bad bosses are everywhere, I'd bet). I then made a huge life move and it stuck relatively well for me. Independence and finding some evidence to warrant believing in yourself can change your personal perspective wherever you are. America is, again, bigger so it stands to reason that there is more opportunity in sum, right?
(And America, I'd claim, is an opportunity for some, not all, society. I'm lucky to be white and middle class and not have a criminal record.)
I live in a bigger country now and it makes a lot of things about my life different. But it is a logical fallacy of sorts to argue that that makes my life better.
I'm glad that I've lived an extended spell in another country. But I think living anywhere outside of the place that you were born (be it another city in New Zealand or, say, Tokyo) rounds out your perspective, makes you grow and change and re-examine yourself.
And America has its many dark flipsides: I'm terrified of getting sick and I'm already developing an argument in my head to persuade my currently fictional children to go to university in New Zealand.
You also can't ignore the weight of living somewhere that is not naturally home, the feeling of being 13 hours' flight away from your friends and family, missing out on watching nieces and nephews grow up, missing friends' weddings, and so on. It hangs heavy on me sometimes.
It's a tough decision with big consequences.
These letters to me invariably end with how do I know if it is the right move for me or more often us, since it is mostly one half of a couple contemplating the weight of leaving.
The answer is that you can't know. You need a motivation and a sense of purpose to be able to make the jump and navigate its pitfalls.
Two-and-a-half years into this change in my life I have many more good days than bad days but I still have a lot of days where I wonder just how in hell I came to end up this far away from home.
But then maybe I'm wrong and there is a quantifiable metric in which quality of life in America and New Zealand, or any two places for that matter, can be measured.
I don't know. You tell me?