moving to los angeles

Here’s What It Takes To Make it in LA

“What are you going to do when you get to Los Angeles?”

“Probably wait tables to start.”

This irritated my dad. You can tell by the way he pursed his lips and stared more intently at the television. If my dad was your typical parent, he’d have snapped back with:

  • “You didn’t go to college so you could wait tables”
  • “You don’t need to move to Los Angeles to serve food”
  • “They need waiters here, too. Why not save money first, then move?”

He wanted to say all of these things. Any of them. Instead, he did something totally against his nature: He stayed silent.

I’ve seen my dad tell managers at restaurants he’d make such a scene they’d wish he never stepped into their building. I’ve watched him shout back at other parents at soccer games, and fire new hires five hours after they started because they had a bad attitude.

My dad doesn’t stay quiet often.

But this time, he bit his tongue.

Because about 10 years ago, he was looking to break back into the restaurant business. Except he couldn’t find a job right away. So…

Yup. He went back to waiting tables.

He knew getting back into the game was a months long process — and he had a family to support. So one afternoon, he went out and bought a waiter’s apron. By the time he came home that night, he had a part-time job waiting tables at Real Seafood Company.

More than a decade later, he owns three restaurants.

Yet it’s in this moment that I’m most proud of him. The moment he had to make a choice:

“I could wait for the right position to open up. I am too good to wait on other people and bring them their refills of Diet Coke and apologize for the lack of shrimp in their shrimp scampi.”


“I could take whatever I’m offered today. I just need to start: If that means mopping floors and fetching booster chairs, fine. This is just the start. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Which would you choose?

Get These 3 Things in Los Angeles At All Costs

Recently, I received this email from a reader looking for advice on moving to Los Angeles:

“I’m planning on making this move myself.  I’m in no rush if it means making this move the wrong way, but I also don’t want to waste any time.  I don’t know a single soul out there and I don’t want a roommate. I have trust issues with sharing responsibility.”

I admire her determination.

But I’m wary of here last sentences: “I don’t want a roommate.”

When you’re planning your move to Los Angeles, your world should be consumed by three objectives:

Nothing else matters until you’ve satisfied a minimum 2 out of these 3 things.

Ignore everything else: Finding a car, furniture, making friends, exploring Los Angeles.

Just get started on these three things, no matter how awful the start may seem in the moment. Discomfort is temporary, not forever. It’s just the first step. You’re building the foundation.

After the foundation is set:

  • You’ll have money to spend on $13 cocktails at Perch
  • You’ll have your own apartment again, roommate free, where you can binge watch Gilmore Girls or Pretty Little Liars to your heart’s delight
  • You’ll land your dream job, and laugh about those days you slung frappuccinos at Starbucks or stocked shelves at Target

But you gotta be tough.

What would you sacrifice for your fresh start in Los Angeles?

(I wrote a guest post on I’m Moving to Los Angeles about how to find a roommate in Los Angeles. A must read before you move. My buddy Justin runs the site and I know he’d appreciate it if you checked it out and left a comment. Thanks!)


Photo Credit: Geoff

Did You Expect to be Great?

I ask everyone who emails me for advice on moving to LA the same question:

“What do you want to do in Los Angeles?”

Last time, I told you I only get a reply 30% of the time.

Of that 30%, here’s what 99% say:

  • “Acting. Just a little bit. Nothing big”
  • “I’m a musician. But mostly for the change of scenery. Hopefully some new work”
  • “Something in entertainment. Hopefully writing TV or film”

…which is really interesting. Because it means one of two things:

  1. These guys are the most unambitious, unimaginative people ever (hint: I don’t think it’s #1)
  2. They feel weird admitting what they really want

I think we’re getting warmer.

Because it’s not #1. Don’t kid yourself. If you’re looking to move to Los Angeles — with little money, no definitive job prospects, and no housing — you don’t fall into the category of unambitious or unimaginative.

Which leaves #2, and this next question:

What are you embarrassed to admit?

Here’s my guess:

You’re embarrassed to admit you expect greatness.

What is greatness?

Greatness can look like any number of things:

  • For actors. Broadway, film, TV, collecting residuals from that AT&T spot
  • For musicians. Selling out a standing room only venue. Or a platinum record
  • For writers. NYT Bestseller, that Emmy, seeing your play come to life

For most of us, greatness is why we move to LA: We believe we’re destined to be great. Not just good, not “also-ran.” Great.

Yet saying this aloud seems arrogant. So we keep it to ourselves.

How do I know this?

I’m guilty myself.

Another assistant would ask: “What are you looking to do? Do you want to be a screenwriter?”

I’d answer: “You know, maybe…  I’m still just learning about this business and figuring out where I fit.”

Meanwhile, every morning that week at 5:30 a.m. I’m up typing into Final Draft before spending the next 10 hours answering someone else’s phone.*

There’s an audacity to expecting greatness. For example, if you say you expect to be a great screenwriter, you’re also saying you’re better than the millions who “never makes it,” whether it’s because they don’t have the connections or (more likely) didn’t write well enough.

It’s difficult to admit this to someone…

But it’s even harder to admit this to yourself.

Once you admit you expect greatness, you admit that you’re trying. You’re writing everyday, taking classes, you’re joining writing groups. You’re working on the craft while everyone tells you to “be normal” and “don’t be so hard on yourself.”

The downside is you could fail.

For example, the first screenplays I poured hours into were — objectively speaking — shit.

It’s terrifying to realize your expectation of greatness could be nothing but a mirage you’re stumbled towards.

So when someone asks, “What do you want to do in LA?” you’re better off giving a vanilla answer (“Oh, I don’t know… maybe I’ll take up acting.”) It’s not normal to open yourself up to an emotional, devastating beat down. 

But on the flip side, by definition, there is nothing normal about greatness.


*This is not to say you should pour out your heart and dreams to your Starbucks barista and her mother. If it’s a first date or your current boss, they don’t need to know everything right away.

Photo Credit: Topher76

I am not famous, I am me

Cameron Diaz has words of wisdom for you.

(If you know who Cameron Diaz is, jump ahead to 00:29.)


Here’s the part I want to highlight for you:

“When people say, ‘I want to be like you, I want to be an actor, I want to look like you,’ the question I always ask is ‘why?’”

I ask all my readers: “What are your biggest struggles to move to Los Angeles?”

They’ll tell me it’s money, or they don’t know where to live, or if they’ll find a job. All solvable problems.

Then I’ll ask, “Why are you moving to LA?”

I get an answer 30% of the time. The rest, I never hear from again.

“Why?” is a difficult question.

  • It can be hard to articulate (“I feel I could do great things if I move”)
  • It can be embarrassing to admit (“I always wanted to be an actor and no one else knows”)
  • It can extremely personal (“I’m stuck in a corporate job and I finally left my asshole boyfriend”)

But there’s always an answer. Figure out your “why” before doing anything else.

Making money, finding the right place to live, getting started on your career… we can get there together. That’s what we’re doing here.

But “why?”

That’s up to you to figure out.

Bonus: I also love this part:

“Being famous is my job. When I’m with my friends and family, I am not famous. I am me. I am Cameron. Fame doesn’t define me. If you’re looking for fame to define you, then you will never be happy.”

But, is that your best plan?

Conor McGregor had a lot to say after his 13-second defeat of the division’s 10-year-undefeated champion, Jose Aldo.

But I thought his most interesting words were reserved for his teammates, Gunnar Nelson and Artem Lobov, both of whom lost their fights:

Gunnar will be back, he’ll grow with it like he did the previous… As my coach says, we win or we learn. We will head back to the gym and we will enjoy and learn from every sequence that happened this weekend, and learn and grow from that. Add to it, implement these lessons into our game.

In other words, there is no failure.

Only lessons.

This is true if you’re moving to Los Angeles, too.

I found if you’re planning a move to LA, you fall into one of two camps:

Camp #1: You’re still saving enough money and deciding why you want to move to LA

Camp #2: You have the money and skills, BUT the thought of failing is holding you back

A few examples:




There’s a lot of subtlety in these emails, but it boils down to:

I don’t want to fail.

  • “I’m terrified about the actual process of making that career happen”
  • “I’m deathly allergic to failure and dread moving back with my mom”
  • “They give you the rundown on how bad it is… I questioned why I want to go”

That’s CRAZY pressure to put on yourself, before you’ve even MOVED.

It safer to delay — and do nothing — than try and fail.

Which is I love Conor’s words. It’s a powerful reframe:

We win or we learn. We will enjoy and learn from every sequence that happened, and learn and grow from that. Add to it, implement these lessons into our game.

When you first move to Los Angeles, your goal is to learn

To be clear: Greatness SHOULD is the ultimate goal, in whatever you pursue.

Daniel Humm, chef and co-owner of Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad in New York City put it this way:

When I was young my father told me that it didn’t matter what path I chose — whether it was a complicated profession or a simple one — but whatever I did choose pursue I should want to be the best.

But that comes later.

After you understand the industry, your competition, and where your particular perspective, skillsets, and personality fit in.

The first step is to learn.

Tim Ferriss’s goal is to write amazing, NYT best selling books. His first step is writing two crappy pages each day.

So someone like Mitch, who “wants a career writing for film & television,” should focus on “what I need to learn to be the best film & tv writer I can be” (because yes, there’s more to it than “write good”).

This is a small tweak, but it takes the pressure off, and moves your target much closer.

First things first: Get in the mix. Enjoy the process. Learn the sequences. And implement the lessons.

How do I prioritize my first month in LA?

I get asked some awful questions.

For example: “I have no experience, so my resume sucks. Can you look at it and tell me how to fix it?”

In other words:

THEM: Please give me the easy way out, I don’t want to work

My response:

ME: No

Occasionally, I get asked great questions. Shannon W sent in three great ones, and I’ve answered them below. 

Do you have a great, burning question? Leave it in the comments and I’ll answer them in another post.

1) I’m trying to create a rough plan of action steps for me to do in the first month arrive in LA. Through experience, do you have suggestions of the amount of time I should put away to doing certain tasks (finding a job, networking, producing my own work) and questions to ask myself in terms of how to prioritize?

I currently work for Ramit Sethi, who wrote the bestseller I Will Teach You to be Rich.

I followed him for years before joining his team. One of his most influential concepts in the early years is called the Tripod of Stability.

My interpretation: At any point in life, there are few BIG things in your life you try to get ultra-stable in order to be ultra-aggressive in other areas.

This looks different for everyone. A few examples might be:

  • Your job, your home, your relationships
  • Your car, you apartment, your finances
  • Your side business, your family, your health & fitness

You’re moving to Los Angeles, starting your career, and — I’m assuming — opening yourself up to some financial risk.

Your priority is reestablishing your Tripod of Stability ASAP.

Here’s what I would recommend you prioritize. Again this is a very personal decision so your mileage will vary:

  1. Savings. Be liquid. Cash equals options. You can make the move with $5,000, if you have a high risk tolerance. (You can calculate how much you should save using the Moving to LA calculator.)
  2. Living. Your housing. Sort out your living situation. Sleeping in your car at a Wal-Mart isn’t restful.
  3. A job. Any job. It doesn’t need to be exactly what you want. Just start getting paid. I call this a “money job” — take it purely for the money. If you get a job in your industry right off the bat, great. However, don’t let finding the “perfect” job slow down your momentum.

Prioritize these three things. Outside of them, carve out time for working on your craft, meeting new people, searching for a job you love.

2) What are some things I should avoid doing in the first 6 months that I’m here (either because of cost or time i.e.: partying, hiking, touring Hollywood, etc.)

If you’ve working on your priorities, then by all means do as much of all of this as possible.

Do all the touristy things you can your first year in LA, because there’s a time limit on visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame or a Hollywood bus tour and it starts ticking the day you learn how to pronounce “Sepulveda” correctly.

Catch an Upright Citizen’s Brigade show. Do a pseudo-hike at Runyon Canyon. Ride the mechanical bull at Saddle Ranch in Hollywood and then never go back.

Honestly, I did it the wrong way. When I first moved to LA, I got so wrapped up in “trying to make it” ASAP, I didn’t spend enough time enjoying the city. There’s a cost-benefit relationship to every decision (an hour spent surfing in Venice is 2-3 hours you could have spent writing) and I worried too much about the cost.

What should you avoid? Don’t treat this as anything less than a 5-year game. Five years is the short game. Prioritize the 3 things above, but remember the race is long.

3) How do you find ways to remind yourself that “you can do it” and the tough times are just temporary?

The hardest job I ever had was when I was 14. That’s when I started waiting tables. It was at a Chinese restaurant and I barely spoke Chinese. We added our checks by hand, bussed our own tables, and if there were no customers, we were doing side work (making sauces, cleaning tables, folding napkins, etc.)

I dreaded going in. I started hating the weekends, and when I started working more in the summer, I started hating summer vacation, too.

When things got difficult in Los Angeles, I would think about those days.

Back then, I didn’t have a choice about the work. My parents told me to do it.

But moving to LA and pursuing this career was 100% my decision — and that’s no different for you.

You’re not moving to LA because you need the money. You’re not moving because you’re cornered and there are no other options. There are easier ways to make a living.

It’s liberating to know any difficulty you face is self-imposed. The universe did not do this to you. You did this to you. You chose this for you, which means you can walk away at any time. You can literally do anything else in the world.

At a high-level, that’s how I manage difficult times: Adversity didn’t happen to me. I chose adversity.

At a more tactical level, see answers to numbers one and two. Prioritize, then enjoy it.


Don’t forget to leave a great question in the comments if you’d like me to answer it in another post.

Photo Credit: Peter Tandlund