Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Advice on moving to Los Angeles

Someone moving to Los Angeles asked my advice. Here it is:


I lived in LA from 2002 to 2009 and loved it. There are a few things to understand:

  1. It’s not really a city. Not long ago, it was just a bunch of small towns: Venice, Pasadena, Burbank, Encino, Beverly Hills - but then for tax reasons they drew a circle around about 30 small towns and decided to call it Los Angeles. So if you go just understanding it’s a bunch of adjacent towns, each quite different in character, and don’t go expecting a city, then it won’t be so frustrating. When someone says they hate LA, you have to ask, “Which neighborhood?” Because Santa Monica is not like Silverlake is not like Van Nuys is not like Hollywood, but they’re all inside that circle called LA. It’s completely de-centralized. (And “downtown” is just another neighborhood. Unlike most cities, it's not the center of everything.)
  2. Americans are already quite individualist, but Los Angeles is the most individualist part of America. Because so many people are employed by the entertainment industry, many are self-employed freelancers. They’re very focused on themselves. People talk about themselves a lot because they feel they have to, for survival, for self-promotion. Just as you can’t fault anyone in the world for doing something for survival, try not to fault them for being so self-promotional. Learn to lovingly listen like you’d listen to an 8-year-old who excitedly tells you about their train set for an hour.
  3. You know you need a car, but you also need to use it to go exploring, the way you’d go on a random walk in London, strolling down streets you’ve never seen. Do this in your car, and stop and get out in different places that seem interesting. Most of the best parts of LA are on little side-streets you’d never run across. Avoid the highways and take the backroads, for this reason. (Get GPS so you can always do this fearlessly.) Find Little Tokyo, Topanga Canyon, Eagle Rock, etc.
  4. Get into nature often. Go hiking up in the hills. Go hiking in Will Rogers State Park in Pacfic Palisades, the beach in Malibu. East to Palm Springs, etc. It’s all so close.
  5. Every culture values different things. In some places, it’s your bloodline. In others, your university. In others, it’s where you live. In LA, it’s who you know. Since the entertainment industry is all about short-term projects, everyone survives by their next project, and these projects always come from a connection. So everyone is collecting contacts. (Again: it’s survival.) Friendships are pragmatic and often short. Don’t fault them for talking about who they know, the same way you wouldn’t fault someone from India asking about your family. Introducing people to each other, people who could potentially work together, is the most valuable thing you can do, as it raises your value and theirs. LA people want (NEED!) to have powerful well-connected friends, to survive and thrive.
  6. Not just LA but California is the most optimistic place on earth. The side-effects of this can confuse outsiders. When you say, “Will you come to my event?” or, “Want to help with this project?” - they will almost always say yes, full of enthusiasm, and actually 100% sincere, fully intending to be there, to help, whatever. They honestly and optimistically think that they will be there and do it. They have the best of intentions. But when it actually comes to that time, and they’ve optimistically said “yes!” to a dozen other things too, or perhaps they’re just nestled in the comfort of their California home, then... well... they reluctantly “flake” - and won’t follow through. Don’t get bitter and write them off as fake, or backstabbers. Just understand that it’s a side-effect of sincere optimism, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

As with any place, if you really want to experience it, don’t just sneer and condemn it, dive in and live it like a local. (Most people are from somewhere else anyway, so you're just as local as they are, now.) Drive around the different neighborhoods. Be totally optimistic. Aim to meet as many people as possible, and get something out of your short-lived friendships. Introduce them to each other. Have lots and lots of lunches, and enjoy the conversations. Go to the beach and hike in the hills.

It may feel fake, but faking it is fine. (Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “You are whatever you pretend to be.”) If you throw yourself into it whole-heartedly for a while, you’ll learn something useful from it, and have it as a great life experience, as you go back to whatever culture feels a better fit for the real you.


Disagree? More to add? Please leave a reply, below…

Los Angeles