Essays

Not being in the band

Human beings like to fit in. It’s kind of our thing: it’s what we do. It makes us feel better about ourselves, fitting in, being part of a group. Of course, there are the lone wolves among us who prefer not to, but more often than not, underneath that independent surface is someone who deeply longs for the group, but a) doesn’t think they belong (or ever will) and/or b) tried and ‘failed’, more than once, not less than twice, certainly at least thrice, and well…

They gave up.

We like fitting in. We like being members of a tribe. Until, one day, you’re on the outside looking in OR, better yet, you found your tribe and maybe, if you’re lucky, it’s not the “dominant tribe” around you.

What do I mean?

Well, I left NYC, and the dominant tribe of New York, no matter how many theater geeks we have, and techies who have descended, and journalists, artists, fashionistas, creatives, et al., New York City is a finance town. It’s the Moneytown and the supporting cast of all those other industries and movers and shakers produces a miasma of ego, anxiety, Keeping Up With the Joneses, etc. etc. etc.

I left. I still work in finance, but not in Moneytown, USA, and let me tell you: it’s fantastic!

I didn’t know how much being part of the dominant tribe influenced and touched every part of my life until I was outside of it. Now, I work in a smaller place that has its own interlocking set of identities, some of which are closer to me than not, but I’m not in the dominant tribe of this company town. It is nice to not need to care. I feel less pressure to be “on track” or to “follow the crowd.” I’m not tracking my own, or other people’s bona fides. There is so much less measurement. It’s still competitive, but not insane.

I know people who would look at my move, at my choice, and say:

  • “It’s not as good at NYC.”
  • “How could you make that move? That’s it for your career.”
  • “What do you even do there after work? Doesn’t everything close by 10?”
  • “Nobody leaves NYC. That doesn’t make any sense!”

That there is a lovely mix of incredulity and sneer, however, I respect the point of view even as I don’t ascribe to it. In a way, the people who say or think those type of things need to do it to bolster up their own ‘choice’ to stay and to remain part of the tribe.

Is my new town a smaller one? Sure. Does everything close at 10? Not even close. Am I challenged every day by my work? More than I was in NYC because I have more room to do more, learn more, and impact more. Is there a vibrant arts, culture, and letters scene? In a way that feels more energetic than in NYC because the nature of its size requires deeper engagement.

I’m sure in the dominant industry of this town that the posing and the scene is equivalent to what it was for finance in NYC. Like I said, I respect it even as I no longer ascribe to it. But, it’s not my bag anymore, not my horse to saddle, not my burden to bear.

It’s nice to not be part of the band. The music plays on. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t enjoying just being in the audience for once. Seats are comfy.

 

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