When I first moved to Los Angeles, I felt like a lost little pea that had fallen into the wrong soup. The city was enormous and unfamiliar and the more I tried to find my way in it, the more I felt like I didn’t belong.
I told my friend Drew about the constant sense of overwhelm. I confessed that maybe I’m just not a big city person.
“I’m not either,” he said, “but Los Angeles isn’t really a big city. It just looks like one. Once you find your community, you’ll feel like you’re back in Eureka, Missouri.”
While I can’t say LA feels exactly like my hometown (and won’t until I see a homecoming parade full of pick-up trucks decorated with dollar-store streamers), I can say his insight turned out to be fairly accurate. The beauty of LA is that there’s no such thing as an “LA Person.” This city is home to so many diverse experiences, interests, and viewpoints, it can be the perfect fit for just about anyone. The trick is finding your own little town within a sprawling metropolis.
If you’re feeling a little like a drowning pea right now, here are a few tips for finding your people.
Choose Your Neighborhood with Care
It’s important to remember that every LA neighborhood has a distinct character. Defining the entire city based on one neighborhood is like defining your entire family based on one cousin.
If you moved to LA and settled into a specific area based on its proximity to your work or to that one friend you know out here, it may be time to do some neighborhood shopping.
Whether you vibe best with the energy of creative entrepreneurs or the quiet lives of suburban families, there’s a neighborhood that makes sense for you. And even if you can’t afford to hang your hat in Santa Monica just yet, no one’s keeping you from spending your days there.
This brings me to my next point:
Build Social Circles Around Your Interests
When we settle into a new city, we tend to seek out friendships in the most accessible places. We look to coworkers, neighbors, that person we kind of knew in film school who moved out here a year before we did. Meaningful, lifelong friendships can blossom in all these contexts. But if you find you’re constantly struggling with a sense of outsiderness, it may be time to get proactive.
Indulge in the hobbies you love. This city has everything. Everything. You want to take up belly dance? Join a Dungeons and Dragons league? Finally try improv? Google it, my friend, and the opportunity will appear. Almost inevitably, this is where you will find your tribe.
Meetup is a great option for finding people who truly get you. You might also consider volunteering to give you a sense of fulfillment, a deeper connection to the community, and an introduction to people who share your values. And of course, dating apps like Tinder and Bumble can at least get you out of the apartment.
Frequent Your Local Businesses
When most people imagine LA businesses, they think of cold and glamorous corporations. But if you look around your ‘hood, you’ll likely see a lot of small businesses. And nothing creates that tight-knit, small-town feel like when the owner of your local vinyl store greets you by name.
From yoga studios to dry cleaners, when you deliberately shop small businesses, you don’t just earn the right to post self-righteous status updates on #SmallBusinessSaturday. You also actively participate in what suddenly feels like an intimate community. You know exactly where your money goes. And if you have a coffee-shop-around-the-corner like mine, you may discover the same crew of friendly locals gathered every morning to discuss politics and old movies.
Hit Up Community Events
The neighborhoods of LA have a lot more going on than most people realize. Street fairs, farmers markets, cultural celebrations, pet fairs . . . there are so many opportunities to get out and be among your neighbors. Bonus: There are almost always 3-6 food trucks.
Make a list of the neighborhoods you love to hang out in and follow them on social media so you’re always privy to the latest events. In fact, even follow a couple neighborhoods you think you hate. You may be surprised what you discover within them.
The Bottom Line . . .
Don’t force the square peg of your identity into whatever round hole you’ve incidentally landed in. If you still feel like you’re flailing in a massive city, it may be because you’ve been trying to make a life in a community that doesn’t fit.
Get out. Explore your options. Trust that in this sprawling city, there’s bound to be a tribe that’s right for you.
Let the vastness of Los Angeles be an unexpected resource in your journey to discover that small town feel.