Is Los Angeles the Unfriendliest City in the US?

career, moving to los angeles

I asked myself this question after a reader (living in Los Angeles) emailed me and mentioned how “unfriendly” LA seemed.

I haven’t visited every major city in the United States, nevermind lived in many of these cities. So I can’t say how friendly/unfriendly LA is, relatively.

(I bet that’s true for the participants of this survey that decrees LA as the least friendly city (out of a list of 35), thought that obviously didn’t stop them.)

The survey above — along with these listicles below…

…all missed a particular detail about living in Los Angeles…

People Come to LA With An Agenda

For this post, I’m talking about people who moved here to work in the entertainment industry, in one form or another. So this excludes Los Angelenos whose families have lived in LA proper or in Semi or Riverside or in the Valley since time Immemorial.

But if someone (or their friends) are LA transplants…

Who moved to Los Angeles at some point after the first 16 years of their birth…

They came out here with an agenda.

The agenda could be to become any number of things:

  • top music of film executive
  • producer
  • actor
  • screenwriter
  • model
  • YouTube content creator
  • restaurateur

The point is, their primary reason to live in Los Angeles was achieving this singular goal. They can cite any number of things to love/hate about Los Angeles beyond this goal…

But it comes back to this goal.

If we look at the city (again, I’m restricting this to people working in entertainment, which is an admittedly broad demographic and ridiculous to generalize but I’m going to give it a whirl) through this framework, this “unfriendliness” makes more sense.

Words thrown around to describe the same niche are “fake” and “self-centered.” Not untrue, but hey… the people who moved here… they sold things and moved away from home and left family and friends who used words like “pipe dreams” and ate ramen noodles for months on end…

To live in LA.

If they decided, “Now that I’m here, I really need to focus on this goal, even if it means being rude or flakey at times…” well, can you blame ’em?

The Only Lonely Boy in Los Angeles

If your plan is moving to Los Angeles, this is what you’re signing up for. It shouldn’t come as a shock (hey, you have an agenda too, don’t you?) but reminders are helpful.

If you currently live in Los Angeles and struggle with the “unfriendliness” or the loneliness, knowing the “why” isn’t much help. But know that everyone struggles with the loneliness of the city and the industry. Yes, even the people who have lived here for 10 years and know the places to be “seen” and are friends with the bouncers so they get ushered right in…

They went through the same thing.

The still go through it.

My first two years living in Los Angeles… easily the two loneliest years of my life. This is even with living with two roommates who were friends, who I knew pre-LA.

I was completely focused on my agenda, what I came out here to do, it pervaded my every thought and action, consciously and unconsciously. If it didn’t contribute to the bottom line of my goal (become a screenwriter (p.s. god, what a terribly ambiguous goal that is, too)) then I wouldn’t partake. 

Meaning, I wasn’t giving myself the opportunity for fun. To do stupid shit. Or I would, and I’d feel horribly guilty about it afterwards, and I’d punish myself by “making up” the work.

More importantly…

This meant I wasn’t doing anything for others. I was creating zero value for other people. This just wasn’t in my purview…

And that is the best advice I can give to anyone who’s struggling with the unfriendliness of the business, or the loneliness of the city.

Go provide value first.

If you want to get through the loneliness, it’s not enough to recognize that other people have an agenda. That’s understanding the problem, not solving it.

To solve it… 

Help them reach their goals first. Assist with their agenda. 

In Los Angeles, you have to come to the table with something of value first. This can literally be just about anything — it doesn’t have to be industry specific, or have monetary value: recommendation to a restaurant, notes on a script, attending an open mic, attending a free improv, donating your time and your hands to a web series shoot, a photo shoot, a coffee, a smile…

It can feel impossible to interject any “real” value into someone else’s life… especially if you’re still new to the business and someone else has been here for years and has already established themselves. That’s okay. It can take time to build the skill sets or connections to provide value. It could take years. But everyday, keep asking yourself: “how can I provide value first?”

The Worst Advice I Ever Got

I heard the worst advice my first month in Los Angeles. I met a mutual friend at a bar, someplace in mid-Wilshire I think — jeez, I was so green I have no idea where I actually was — and he said:

This [meaning the entertainment industry] is really hard. If there’s anything else that you’re really good at, you should go do that instead. Only do this if it’s the only thing you can do.”

Four years later, I maintain this is the worst, blanket advice ever… told to green transplants for the purpose of boosting up one’s own self-esteem.

However, I admit there’s a sliver of truth there. The sliver is this:

This is really hard. If you need someone to take  you under their wing, to tell you how talented you are and that your ideas really are good, and that you’re going to carve out your own path without providing a shit ton of value to other people firstwell, you’re going to find that Los Angeles is a cold and unfriendly place. And maybe you should consider something else.

But… if you accept that these first two years will be lonely, and you keep your complaints about how self-centered and unfriendly everyone is to yourself… and instead focus your energy on creating value for others first… then you’ll do alright.


Photo Credit: Sunciti Sundaram

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