In terms of pure economic considerations, everyone in the U.S. is at a disadvantage when it comes to getting laid off ... at least when compared to countries with more socialistic bents and stronger safety nets for the unemployed. This list of the best countries in the world to lose your job might prompt some to consider relocation to Scandinavia, cold and dark be damned.
But this short piece I stumbled across in the New York Times a couple of months ago offers a more nuanced take on the subject. In it, Susan Dominus describes four friends in New York City who'd been laid off, and who had decided to make an independent film with their suddenly spare time. One of them admits, "I would not have done this unless I'd lost everything"--because of both a fear of failure and a simple lack of time. Dominus concludes:
"Even unemployment can feel burnished by the setting. To be an out-of-work artist in New York is to be part of a grand tradition, and that history no doubt helps fuel aspirants like Ms. Major and her friends, who might otherwise succumb to fear of failure."
On the one hand, places like New York City, Los Angeles, and (for more technically-oriented creative types) Silicon Valley, are obscenely expensive places in which to live. Which means doing a start-up or trying to make a living there as a freelance artist is far tougher financially than, say, in rural Minnesota. But location does matter--not only for moral support, but also in terms of finding other people with more fluid lives to provide bits-and-pieces creative and technical support.
When I first quit my corporate job and set out to be a self-employed writer, I was living in a predominantly blue-collar community in Minnesota. The cost of living was wonderfully low. But getting hit with "when are you going to get a job?" from everyone I met was exhausting. Tell someone in New York or LA that you're a writer, or tell someone in Silicon Valley that you're starting your own company, and the response is far more likely to be, "Wow! That's great! Tell me all about it!" And, quite possibly, the conversation will conclude with, "you know who you might want to talk to ..."
Every city has a personality, and different places have different predominant norms and values. Low rents and good schools are great. But attempting to be an entrepreneur or artist in the world is tough, and scary. The obstacles are great, the security level is low, and every step is a challenge that has to be figured out without any clear guide as to what the "right" next move is. Having a supportive and nurturing social culture in which to struggle through those challenges ... as well as ready access to more experienced, like-minded explorers ... is a huge asset. Not only to inherently creative or entrepreneurial types, but also for anyone who's just lost their job.
Being laid off in New York or LA or Silicon Valley just means you've joined a well-populated club with a long and cherished tradition. Even if you don't want to stay in that club forever, you don't have to be embarrassed to be a part of it. That counts for a lot. And it might just open up doors to a new career that, like Ms. Major, you never otherwise would have tried.
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