Ten Years of Dreaming of San Francisco

| life | sf | smoking |
Picture of Lev smiling at the top of Lombard St. in 2013

I meant to write this in June, when I turned 35, but time flew away from me. Here we are over six months later. Better late than never.

I came to San Francisco 10 years ago to celebrate my 25th birthday. Here is a picture of me standing on top of Lombard St. with a huge smile on my face. I just got my braces off the month before, I had a head full of dreams (and hair 😉).

I had this brilliant idea to try and quit smoking the day before coming here as a gift to myself. I listened to a hypnotist the night before my flight. It seemed to work for the first few days, but I eventually collapsed and didn’t make it past my birthday.

I fell in love with the city the moment I got here. I flew first class for the first time as a treat to myself on Delta Airlines (RIP to the CVG -> SFO direct route). I took BART from SFO to Powell St. and still remember how alive the city felt as we emerged at the cable car turnaround in front of Westfield Mall. We stayed at the Marriott Marquis in a corner room with a wonderful view of the Soma, Mission, and Bernal Heights. Apple was holding WWDC that same week at Moscone center and the whole neighborhood was abuzz. They announced iOS 7, the cylindrical Mac Pro, and Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks that year.

I only stayed for a few days, but got a chance to experience the amazing food, people, and natural beauty. I saw Harvey Milk’s old camera store, which was turned into an HRC store, and now is a Philz. I got to go to Napa for the day. I saw the Saturday morning farmers market at the ferry building in full swing.

I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but until that trip I had no idea that Silicon Valley was near San Francisco. For some reason, my whole life I thought it was near LA. At the time I was a huge Open Source and Linux geek and my mental model of how most software was made was globally distributed people hacking away in their spare time out of the goodness of their hearts. I just got into the tech industry the year before working for a small enterprise healthcare company in Cincinnati. I remember walking down Market Street from Castro to the hotel and seeing the Twitter Logo along with a dozen other tech company logos and slowly started to realize that this was the home of the entire tech industry.

By the end of the trip I convinced myself that moving to San Francisco would solve all of my problems and make me happy. I dreamed of taking my reusable bag to the ferry building market on Saturdays and whipping up a meal in a cute little apartment with some delicious, seasonal, fresh ingredients. A cursory search of apartments gave me sticker shock and a reality check. It would cost more to rent a tiny studio than I made in a year. It seemed completely out of reach to be able to live in a place like this. I went back to my life in Cincinnati feeling a bit discouraged, but determined to figure out a way to come back here for good.

Over the next few years I switched jobs twice and found myself knee deep in the startup scene at CircleCI. I joined the company in July 2015, but by November found myself coming here at least once a month. At the same time a very long and painful relationship finally came to and end. I was ready to change my life completely and during a business trip in November I walked down the street to 1188 Mission and signed a lease.

I moved here with two bags of clothes, my laptop, and my phone. Everything that happened since then has nothing short of amazing:

  1. I learned so much and grew a ton. I built a strong team at CircleCI, and an even stronger one at LaunchDarkly, creating the foundation for a career that I am incredibly proud of.
  2. I was able to move down the street from the ferry building and still get a tremendous amount of joy by visiting the Saturday farmers market that is still going strong.
  3. It took many years of trying, but I finally quit smoking for good.
  4. I met many wonderful people and made some lifelong friendships, including my best friend Nathan. We met at work one day and have basically been hanging out every week since November 2015.
  5. Most importantly, I met Aosheng about a year after moving here. We dated, moved in together, traveled the world, and got married a few years ago. We’ve built a life together that I couldn’t imagine and I feel so lucky to be on this journey through life with him.

I have no idea what life would have been like if I didn’t take that leap in November 2015, but I am so glad I did. Every single part of my life is 10x better than it was back then, and I still feel like we are just getting started.

When I look at that photo I can still remember all the dreams I head. Reflecting back, I realize that all of them came true. I am not sure what the future holds, but I feel grateful and lucky to have had the chance to spend the better part of the last decade living in San Francisco.

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