Giving Up “Cool” for a Bigger Life

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Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

Originally published on No Sidebar

We didn’t mean to move to one of the hottest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. A mixture of chance and necessity pushed us there––we had moved back home to LA from a stint in Colorado and found we could no longer afford to live in our old neighborhood in Pasadena.

We knew enough about Highland Park; that it used to be fairly unsafe, but had seen more and more hipsters moving in, and with them craft coffee shops, trendy restaurants, and plenty of bars. In the two years we lived there, the main drag just blocks from our apartment saw openings of new shops and cafés almost every couple of weeks, and Vogue.com’s travel section ran a piece called “An Insider’s Guide to Los Angeles’s Highland Park,” describing all our routine favorites.

I joined a playgroup with other moms, all of whom had interesting or hip jobs, from screenwriters to jewelry designers. They traveled to Spain, South Africa, and Pakistan with their toddlers. One was a long-suffering solo parent as her husband toured the world with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The people who walked into my favorite coffee shop wore outfits so cool they were downright ugly. Somehow being near all this coolness made me feel cool, even though I often felt out of place with my Target outfits and suburban upbringing.

Thinking Outside the Box

When we started looking for a new place to live, wishing for more space and a little patch of grass where our toddler and dog could run, we didn’t even consider the nondescript town where I worked, about 25 miles from downtown LA.

But then I stumbled on my dream (rental) home: a little Spanish bungalow, with a pale pink paint job, lots of square-footage, even half an acre of land, which is unheard of in LA. This beautiful property was only a mile from my office, and the front windows offered views of the San Gabriel mountains.

When one of my friends, who lives in a downtown loft, heard where we were moving, his reply was, “Welp, see you never!” All my cool mom friends from playgroup had the same reaction, as if we were moving out to the sticks. (It’s a 30-minute drive from our old neighborhood to our new one.)

We promised ourselves and our friends that we’d take the train to LA and go for drinks or dinner at one of the many new restaurants, but now that we’re here, settling into our dreamy house on its sprawling yard (so sprawling we like to call the property “The Ranch”) we realize how much we were missing living in our trendy neighborhood.

Tearing Up My Cool Card

Brené Brown once said, “Cool is an emotional straightjacket.” Growing up in Southern California, cool is in my DNA. We’re taught that California is one of the greatest places on earth; we see our schools and neighborhoods and landmarks in movies and TV shows, we see people flock from everywhere in the country and the world to enjoy what we have every single day.

It took traveling around the U.S. and the globe for me to realize how many equally amazing places exist, but still––I have that itchy desire to have what other people want, like the apartment in the hip neighborhood, even if it’s not technically what’s best for me.

But just like when I worked at a summer camp where part of my counselor training was to metaphorically “tear up my cool card,” I’ve found freedom in shirking what’s cool and embracing what’s good for me instead. My husband and I both come alive and at the same time feel soothed in the presence of trees and outdoor space. At the Ranch, our 2-year-old suddenly knows how to play independently, now that she has an expanse of dirt and grass and trees where she can roam.

Making Room for the Bigger Life

This evening, after we had returned home from work and daycare and fed the little one, we had time to play tag on the grass. My husband did a cartwheel, then a perfect round-off. “When did you learn gymnastics?!” I asked, surprised by my partner of seven years. Our dog raced around, joyfully barking, as our daughter asked her daddy to spin her again, and again, and again. I felt like I was in a Walmart commercial. Why was I once so resistant to living here?

Later, on the couch, my husband reflected on our evening of playing with our daughter and our dog in the grass. It was an impossible dream compared to the old after-work hustle at our city apartment, carrying the toddler and groceries and everything else up three flights of stairs, most of our time spent indoors, feeling claustrophobic. He said, “Our life feels so much larger here,” and I had to agree.

Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin advises, when stuck on a lifestyle decision, to choose the bigger life.

We chose the bigger life moving out of our cool neighborhood in Los Angeles. Now our cramped souls are starting to unfurl with what makes them expand and stretch and grow. Time outdoors with family, space to stretch out, less time in the car or out spending money––these are what we needed to live large. When I get ready for the day and see trees outside my bathroom window instead of the tops of buildings; when I fall asleep at night to the sound of crickets, I want to tear up my cool card forever.

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