Of all the listener emails I get, one of the most common is about moving to a new city, and how to make friends and connections in a new place.
All around the world, men and women of all ages are taking the leap and starting over, looking to redefine their careers, rediscover their passions, and reinvent themselves. The urge to leave one home and create another is one of the most exciting impulses we have. It’s also one of the most important.
It certainly was for me. If I hadn’t moved from Michigan to New York, from New York to L.A., from L.A. to the Bay — and traveled like an insane person in between, from Mexico to Serbia, Israel to North Korea — I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Every city exposed new dimensions of my personality, demanded more of me as a person, and pushed me down the exciting and unexpected path of my life and career.
But that person wasn’t just a random product of Huck Finning my way through the world. In every place I visited, I learned to make conscious choices, strategic investments, and deliberate habits that allowed me to make the most of my moves. Without those decisions, I wouldn’t have acclimated so quickly to my surroundings or grown so significantly as a person.
Looking back, it wasn’t just moving cities that made me who I am. It was the commitments I made in those cities.
That’s what I’ll be sharing with you in this piece: a handy guide of principles, strategies, and behaviors to successfully start over in a new city. More than that, I’ll be sharing some perspectives and mindsets that will help you think about your move as more than just a change in location.
But before we dive into the specifics, we have to talk about something crucial.
The dirty secret about moving cities.
When we start over in a new place, we’re rarely just looking for a change of scenery. What we’re really looking for is a change of self.
Our hope is that when we move, we’ll retire old relationships, shake off old patterns, develop new identities, and acquire new worldviews. A new city becomes an attractive way to achieve all that: an excuse to hit the reset button and just start over.
What we all find out eventually, of course, is that reinvention isn’t just a matter of location.
The exciting possibility of starting over always gives way to the frustrating — and sometimes quite scary — realization that moving doesn’t automatically equally progress.
More often than not, we end up the exact same people, just sitting in different cafes, taking a new route home, enacting the same patterns with new faces in new places.
Like Stephen King said, we inevitably realize that we take ourselves with us wherever we go.
Which is true, of course. We can never escape ourselves — not really. As the ancient aphorism says, wherever we go, there we are.
Uprooted from one place, dropped into another, we’re often so stimulated and distracted by our new lives that it takes us weeks (sometimes months, maybe even years!) to realize that we never really ditched old identities. We brought them with us, and forgot that we still need to unpack them.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I made the same mistake early in my life. Drunk on the excitement of travel, I assumed that a new city would make me a new person, that more meaningful surroundings would give me a more meaningful life. They did, eventually — but not by themselves.
Moving to a new city will not make you happier, healthier, or wealthier. To truly evolve as a person in a new city, you have to patiently work for these things. A new city is merely the opportunity for you to learn how to develop them.
Any advice for moving to a new city would be incomplete without calling that out. It’s what I tell every listener who writes in asking if they should move cities. It’s what I tell every listener who has moved, and writes in asking why they still feel frustrated, anxious, lonely, or unfulfilled.
But if you know that going in — if you understand that a city alone can’t solve your problems, that you’ll have to do some work to become a new person — then moving cities suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.
Because if you accept that, then you can adopt a mindset that will actually allow you to make the most of your move. You’ll stop looking to a new home to give you all the things you feel you lack, and start viewing that new home as an opportunity to discover them. And discovering them, ultimately, is way more meaningful than having them magically handed to you.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the specifics of how to successfully move to a new city.
Find your tribe.
At the end of the day, the success of your move depends on one thing and one thing only: the quality of the relationships you develop in your new city.
Those relationships will become the lifeblood of your move, and the foundation for everything you want to experience and achieve in your new life.
Building relationships from scratch in a new place, however, can be a challenge. We tend to take for granted all the connections we have in our old cities, especially if we grew up in them. The built-in social network of a hometown or longtime city is easy, comforting, and self-perpetuating. When we move, we suddenly find ourselves staring at a blank slate, an empty calendar, a city full of anonymous faces, and that can be pretty daunting.
The flipside, of course, is pure possibility: a city full of strangers you haven’t met yet. Without an established tribe, you’re free to explore new ones all over the city. Which is really the first step: getting excited about the prospect of new friends, and mentally opening yourself up to those new experiences.
The question then becomes: Where do I begin?
While there’s no right answer to that question, we like to think about tribe-building in terms of the spheres of your life.
For most of us, those spheres break down into work, health and wellness, and social life.
Broadly speaking, these three worlds shape our modern identities, and are designed to meet most of our professional, psychological, and relational needs.
Obviously, there is lots of overlap among these spheres, and the tribes you form can (and should!) move among them. These categories aren’t a fixed framework, so much as a way to think about how and where to focus your relationship-building energies.
So let’s explore these worlds, and talk about specific mindsets and approaches to start building relationships in each.
The beauty of a job — whether you already have one, or are in the process of looking for one — is that it comes with its own built-in tribe. In the first year of living in a new city, it’s worth investing heavily in that tribe, even if it isn’t ultimately where you find your most significant relationships.
Cultivating relationships at work means engaging in a handful of easy mindsets and actions:
- Committing to being a friendly, collaborative, and kind person in the workplace.
- Finding ways to create value and help people and projects across the company.
- Hosting semi-regular social events for your colleagues (more on that in just a moment).
- Staying in touch and making introductions within your workplace and across companies.
Some time back, Aristeia, one of our listeners, moved to Portland to work in operations at a major beverage distributor. For the first six months of her new job, she told me, she decided to host a monthly beer tasting at a local brewery, and invited everyone in her department, including her colleagues, subordinates, and bosses. Everyone paid for their own tab and stayed as long as they wanted. All Aristeia did was bring them together.
At these hangouts, she’d invite people she hadn’t worked with directly before, and helped make introductions — with the help of a friendly venue and some good mead, of course — among her colleagues. After a couple of these events, she quickly became known as the friendly, social, generous new colleague in the office, which ended up becoming an organic part of her newly-formed personal brand. She even ended up signing two of the bars where she hosted these events as clients of the distributor — a revenue-generating role she wasn’t even hired to take on. Those wins ended up becoming a huge bonus during her year-end review, and helped her secure a promotion and a raise much faster than she anticipated.
My favorite part of her story, though, is this.
After a year, Aristeia realized that she didn’t absolutely love every single one of her colleagues — not enough, anyway, to hang out with them constantly outside of work. But one of those colleagues became her closest friend in Portland, and they would never have met if Aristeia hadn’t invited everyone she worked with to the event.
That friend ended up jumping over to a major food brand six months later. The following year, when Aristeia was ready for a change, her friend hired her to the food company as her right-hand operations woman. All because she hosted a little get-together.
The last time Aristeia and I corresponded, she said she was doing the exact same thing at the food company, and encouraging all of her new hires to do the same.
Jobs demand a great deal of our energy, especially when we move cities to take them. One of the rewards for that investment, though, is the friendships we develop in an office. These relationships are a gift to a new transplant, because they’re immediate, organic, and tied to the success of your work.
So in the early days of moving to a new city, think of work not just as a job to be done but as a sphere of relationships to be formed. Down the road, you might want to separate these worlds more clearly. But when you’re new to a city, investing in professional friendships will pay massive dividends.
They’ll also create the first section of your tribe, which we’ll return to in just a moment.
Health and wellness.
Friends aside, we all need to carve out time and space to take care of ourselves, physically, mentally and spiritually. Incidentally, taking care of ourselves also puts us in a great place to develop new relationships.
First, as we all know, being healthy and happy makes socializing infinitely easier. Social capital tends to gravitate toward productive energy, and we all know how much more fun it is to socialize when you’re feeling happy and healthy.
Second, the places where you take care of yourself — whether it’s a cycling studio in town, a hiking trail out in the mountains, or a meditation center one state over — tend to attract people who are bonded by priorities and interests. That makes these places invaluable worlds to meet new people who share your values and reinforce your health and wellness habits.
For many of us, moving to a new city often comes with related health and wellness goals: to commit to a gym routine, to start meditating, to go to church, to pick up a new sport, to attend a lecture series, to take advantage of nature, and so on.
So we recommend making the most of those goals by turning them into social-capital engines. Commit to the health and wellness goals you have for yourself, while making an effort to meet the people who move through those worlds.
These relationships tend to flourish very easily, since they’re built on a common activity. They’re also easy to maintain, because all you have to do to build these friendships is continue doing the activity together. After a few weeks, many of our listeners begin hiking, cycling, lifting, or meditating with the people they meet. As an added bonus, they find themselves sticking with those healthy activities, because they have a built-in community and automatic accountability.
The important thing is to explore a wellness tribe that’s easy and meaningful to you. To start, all you have to do is connect a health and wellness interest to a specific place.
- Meditation — meditation classes, spiritual centers, church groups
- Cycling — spin classes, neighborhood or Meetup cycling groups
- Lectures — classes, workshops, night series, even webinars
- Lifting — gyms (especially group fitness classes), independent studios, communities
The beauty of health and wellness rituals is that they congregate in specific places and attract people who share common interests and priorities. Which, by the way, is why fitness and socializing don’t need to be tradeoffs, as many people assume. As long as we’re in relationship-building mode, the two can go hand in hand. And they should, especially when we’re starting over in a new city.
A social life that is separate from work, distinct from your hobbies, and enjoyed purely for its own sake is an essential part of our fulfillment. Unsurprisingly, it’s usually high on most people’s lists when it comes to starting over in a new city.
Unlike work and wellness, however, a “social life” doesn’t really have a nexus, a fixed location, a defined world. A social life is dispersed across spaces and tribes, and built piece by piece over a long period of time. It’s the sum total of our relationship-building efforts across our lives.
Which means that this is the part of the article where I dispense advice that you almost definitely already know and are probably putting into practice.
It’s the part where I talk about the importance of social capital, generosity, and authenticity.
It’s the part where I talk about patience, persistence, and consistency.
It’s the part where I talk about spending time in places that reflect your values, interests, and tastes — whether it’s a whisky bar or a vegan cafe, a book reading or a tai chi class, a punk rock club or a slam poetry reading — and actively meeting people in each of those worlds.
It’s the part where I tell you that you can make friends wherever you go, that the friends you want to cultivate will tend to be in the places you yourself enjoy going, and that spending time in those places is still one of the greatest ways to expand your social circle.
It’s the part where I tell you what you already know. So I won’t belabor the point!
What you might not know is a clever way to multiply your social life with very little effort.
Because rather than work directly on “having a great social life” and “meeting a ton of new people” — which, again, is never a bad idea — I like to take a slightly different approach.
Instead, I recommend using all your spheres to bring together the people you respond to the most, so that your new social network can help build your tribe for you.
I shared this idea with Ben, a new listener of ours, when he moved from Charlotte to Chicago to take an immunology postdoc in a lab. Ben was facing the usual challenges of moving to a new city, plus the prospect of a highly solitary lifestyle in a competitive lab.
He wrote me asking if he should just put his social life on hold for a year or so while he focused on work, and even suggested that some people — like researchers — just aren’t meant to have vibrant social lives. After a few lines, I could already tell that he had resigned himself to an experience in a city he hadn’t even tried to live in yet.
Instead, Ben took all of the advice we’ve already covered in our piece — he did his own version of the monthly drinks thing with his colleague, and joined a local CrossFit and a Sunday running group — and then went one step further.
Every six weeks or so, he invited his newest friends to meet up for drinks at a fun neighborhood bar he found on Yelp. These are acquaintances he had met in the lab, at the gym, in his apartment building, and even one guy who was reading his favorite book on the L.
Keep in mind that Ben didn’t know these people very well at first — they were all brand-new relationships — but that’s all he needed to start.
He reserved a small section at the bar for his group, created a simple Facebook invitation, emailed out reminders, and invited everyone to bring one cool friend with them. That helped strangers feel comfortable in a new setting, and instantly multiplied the size of the party.
And he invited everyone to order their own drinks from the bar — a detail I mention because Ben did not have to shell out tons of money to host this little shindig.
The party was a huge hit. Ben met a ton of new people in one night. His new friends got to meet him in a highly social role. And the fact that he was new to the city gave him the perfect excuse to talk to new people, make fun plans, and enjoy the role of “the new guy in town.”
Now, none of this would have worked if Ben weren’t a truly kind, interesting, curious dude.
Despite the fact that he was a self-described introvert (again, immunology postdoc!), Ben made a conscious choice to be a fun, friendly, gregarious host at these parties. He introduced people who didn’t know each other. He spent time with friends of friends, getting to know what they loved about Chicago. And he found that the more he hosted, the more he actually enjoyed the role of host, which he found much more enjoyable than being a guest at someone else’s party.
The first time Ben hosted, about 10 people showed up. The second time he did it, about 30 people showed up — new friends he had made since last time, and friends of those friends who wanted to join.
When Ben wrote me a couple weeks ago, he told me 80 (!) people showed up to his little monthly mixer. The bar he had picked — which had become his favorite go-to spot — was a little overwhelmed by the turnout. But they loved him for the business, and actually ended up asking him to host a party there on a regular basis.
This, from the guy who thought he’d have to give up on new relationships while he stared into a microscope for a year!
Now all of this advice might sound so logistical as to almost be boring. But that’s exactly the point.
We tend to think that we need to invest hundreds of hours, spend tons of money, and be extraordinary socializers to make new friends in a new city. The truth is, we don’t.
All we need is a system that does most of the work for us.
And that system consists of:
- Meeting new people strategically and organically through work, hobbies, and everyday life.
- Bringing those people together at a fun and easy location.
- Inviting those people to invite other people they like.
- Being a kind, fun, generous host to everyone who attends.
- Doing this on a semi-regular basis.
This is exactly the system I used when I moved from city to city. It’s an insanely powerful way to meet new people and multiply your social capital in a very short amount of time.
And the best part is, it gets more and more fun the longer you do it. Over time, you’ll find that your events will attract more and more of the people you really like, and more and more of the relationships you really need.
You’ll start to have a regular group of friends, and those friends will feel more comfortable inviting their friends (and maybe even hosting their own versions of these events!), and before you know it, you’ll be surrounded by a self-perpetuating social network in a brand new city.
In other words, you’ll have a tribe.
And that tribe will be pulled together from all of the various and interesting worlds you participate in. It will include your new colleagues at work, your most interesting new friends, your favorite fitness buds, and your coolest neighbors. It’ll be a cross-section of all the spheres you move through, which is exactly what you want: a dynamic group of people only you could have brought together.
The system works.
And when you find that you don’t have the confidence, time, or energy to “meet people” or “socialize,” the system does most of the work for you. That’s the beauty of it.
Now that we’ve gotten a grasp of these practical techniques, let’s talk about something much more important, and much deeper: the mindsets and behaviors that underlie these systems.
Because ultimately, your success in a new city doesn’t just depend on what you do, but who you are.
And who you are depends on whether you…
Adopt the right mindsets.
To create a new home, you have to proactively invest in new relationships across your life. It takes time, it takes energy, but most of all, it takes a practical commitment to expand your social network.
But what makes that commitment really pay off is the attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors you adopt as you move to a new city.
As we saw with Aristeia and Ben, it’s who you are as a person that will make your move a success — not just how much you do to make new connections.
So what are these attitudes and mindsets?
At the simplest level, they’re the qualities we talk about on the show every week. They’re the attitudes of high performers, the behaviors of value-creating colleagues, and the values of self-aware people.
They’re the thoughts you carry around with you wherever you go, and the priorities you’ll bring with you to your new city.
At the beginning of this article, we talked about the common trap many people fall into when moving to a new city. They assume that a new city will be a fresh start, and that the challenges or deficiencies they experienced in their last city will automatically disappear.
What we’re covering in this section is the answer to that pitfall.
Because if we can identify the qualities that make us successful in a new city, then we can consciously choose to cultivate them wherever we go. We’ll stop looking to the city itself to solve all our problems, and we won’t be angry when it inevitably lets us down. We’ll realize that the ability to successfully move ultimately rests with us — if we meet the city with the best parts of ourselves.
It all begins with a commitment to…
Be open, flexible, and patient.
One of the most common complaints in the emails I receive from listeners is that a move to a new city hasn’t quite worked out the way it was supposed to. Their new home isn’t as exciting, beautiful, stimulating, or fulfilling as they hoped it would be. While exciting at first, their enthusiasm has fizzled. Life isn’t playing out like they thought it would.
What they’re really saying is that they’re not playing out like they thought it would.
What they’re really saying is that they’re not playing the right way at all!
Whatever we thought would happen to us in a new city — whatever awesome jobs or perfect boyfriends or ideal roommates or romantic adventures we imagined — is ultimately a fantasy.
We project onto the city all of our hopes and desires, and then get frustrated when those projections turn out to be false. It’s a very human thing to do. We’ve all done it.
The truth is, moving to a new city is hard. And daunting. And confusing. And often very different from how we imagined it.
From the logistics of moving to the etiquette of dating, from the travails of transportation to the social contract at work, life is always surprising us.
We blame a city for not living up to our expectations, when it’s actually our expectations that have let us down.
But we can avoid a great deal of disappointment if we just commit to being open, flexible, and patient.
Open to versions of our lives we hadn’t expected.
Flexible to the inevitable surprises that will come our way.
And patient when the happiness and fulfillment we fought so hard for take a little longer than we thought they would.
The alternative to that mindset is to live in a cycle of ecstasy / misery, expectation / disappointment, possibility / failure.
A city will never be precisely what we imagined it would be. It can’t. It’s a city. It’s made up of hundreds of thousands, often millions, of people just like you with their own projections and expectations. It doesn’t exist to automatically fulfill all your needs. It exists to fulfill its own needs!
More important, a city will only be what you make of it.
Your lens, your beliefs, and your attitudes will ultimately determine your experience in a new city. The city just provides the raw material.
So consciously commit to being open, flexible, and patient. And when you forget to do that — which we all do at some point — come back to this reminder, and commit to it again.
It’s one of the best ways to avoid the trap of expecting a magical change in your life without any effort. It’s also the best way to understand that life will never play out exactly as you imagine. If we trust that, then we’re free to enjoy the surprising gifts a city will send our way, in the form of new people, experiences, and opportunities — which are always more meaningful than what we thought we’d have.
Invest generously in other people.
This principle is relationship-building 101, and ancient wisdom for long-time listeners of the show. It’s critical advice for anyone at any stage of life, but it’s especially important for someone moving to a new city.
As I said at the beginning of this article, successfully moving to a new city is ultimately a function of your relationships — the quality, depth, and breadth of your connections.
The lifeblood of those connections is social capital, which is basically the raw energy of your relationships. It’s the sum total of the value you invest in the people around you, in the form of knowledge, introductions, assistance, and emotional support.
To thrive in a new city requires social capital. Your success in landing the right job, meeting new friends, buying a new car, finding a killer apartment, frequenting a fun bar, planning a day trip — any number of new-city projects, big or small — depends on the quality of your relationships.
All else being equal, people with strong social capital tend to thrive in new cities, while people with weaker social capital tend to struggle.
The same is true of life generally, of course. But new cities tend to demand more of us, which is why social capital becomes so important in new places.
So what’s the key to building social capital?
Well, to sum up a huge body of insights and curriculum from our show, it’s basically this:
Lead with generosity.
Wherever you go, whomever you meet, whatever you’re doing — find a way to add to lives of the people you encounter. This should be operating procedure across your life, but it should be priority number one when you’re starting over.
What does this look like in practice?
It means going out of your way to be friendly to your new colleagues at work, and finding ways to help them in their jobs, even when it’s not explicitly part of your roles and responsibilities.
It means taking a few extra minutes to meet your neighbors — with the help of a hand-written note, for example, or a basket of fresh fruit from the market — so that you build connections with the people you live with.
It means investing a few extra minutes each week to introduce two or three new people in your city, so that you become a generous hub in your network, and not just a spoke.
It means smiling at people on the subway, carrying up a bag of groceries for your neighbor, putting away equipment at the gym after a workout, and thanking the people you meet for adding to your life in your new city.
It means embodying the values of kindness, curiosity, and gratitude, in whatever ways are authentic and meaningful to you.
That is the stuff of true social capital. And it can transform your experience of a new city.
I can’t tell you specifically how — and I wouldn’t want to, given all the expectations we talked about in the previous section — but I can promise you this:
If you lead with generosity, your relationships will automatically strengthen and grow. Your social capital will expand, boosting your social network. And with that social network in place, anything you want to do, achieve, or feel in a new city will become significantly easier — not to mention way more fun.
So make this mindset a priority, and stick with it.
Invest in yourself.
We’ve talked a lot about building a tribe, adopting the right mindsets, and engaging with your new city in the right way. As important as those outward relationships are, however, we still need to consciously carve out space for ourselves. Social capital might be the lifeblood of a great tribe, but investing in yourself — separate from other people — is an essential piece of this puzzle.
So what does investing in yourself in a new city look like, in practice?
It means creating experiences and spaces — both mental and physical — that are just about you.
Let’s talk about a few of the most common.
City attractions. Every city boasts its own unique history, culture, and charm. In the early days of moving to a new city, making an effort to get to know them is part of your education. It’s also a ton of fun. Museums, historical sites, parks, exhibitions, nature — exploring these spaces will help you bond with your new city, and give you a deeper appreciation for your new home.
Obviously, these are excellent places to explore with new friends. But I recommend also exploring them on your own, so that you can have your own experiences with your new home.
Then, once you’ve experienced them, apply the generosity principle above and recommend the ones you love to other people. That’s how you take a personal experience and create even more value from it — which will, in turn, deepen your relationships.
A home base.
I often talk about finding a place that is “your spot” when you first move to a new city. Having a regular hangout to eat, drink, read, reflect, and meet new friends has a wonderful stabilizing effect. If it’s close to home, even better.
Having a base like this — often referred to as a “third place” that is distinct from work and home — can instantly transform a new move, when we often feel rootless and adrift. If you anchor a ritual to this spot — like Sunday morning tea at a tea garden, or Thursday night drinks at a local brewery — then your new home base becomes part of your new lifestyle, and gives you a space that is just yours.
Other benefits to having a regular spot is getting to know the staff, who tend to become a sort of surrogate family in a new place. And when you invite people to meet you at your spot, you’ll get to meet them in your “element” — not as just another patron, but as a beloved regular.
To give you some more practical techniques, a few helpful tactics to develop a third place include:
- Asking the bartender or doorman if he or she would like a drink when you arrive (you’d be amazed how rarely they get offered a drink, and how much they appreciate it in places that allow it).
- Dropping in on slow nights or off times, when the staff has more time to socialize and get to know you (Sunday afternoons at a bar, early dinners at a restaurant during the week, etc.).
- Write a Yelp review or Facebook shout-out to your third place, and, if appropriate, consider telling the manager or owner that you’ve done so (in addition to being an act of generosity, these small gestures build loyalty and can earn some special treatment).
Of course, you can have multiple “third places,” and you should always be open to finding new spaces and new rituals. Wherever your third place is, invest in it. Having that space will do wonders for your social capital, especially in a new city.
For obvious reasons, the place you live — whether it’s a studio apartment in the city, a house full of roommates in the burbs, or a series of Airbnbs as you get settled — will play a huge role in your experience of the city.
And while I’m not here to give you decorating tips or real estate advice — you can watch HGTV for that! — I can tell you that your living situation matters a great deal. So take your time finding the right place. Be open to moving once or twice before you find it. Create an environment you look forward to spending time in.
Most important, make a conscious practice of enjoying it, because it’s easy to forget how special a great place to live is.
A Final Word
When we talk about starting over in a new city, we often focus on how to make the most of what our new city has to offer. That is, after all, why we tend to move.
But the more important task is to make the most of ourselves, so that we can become the kinds of people who thrive in a new place. That inner, personal work is far more important than the outer, logistical work.
But when they work in tandem, we don’t just inherit new lives when we move to a new city. We build new selves. And that’s the real gift of moving to a new city.
[Featured image by Jairph]