My husband and I are native New Englanders, but we’re moving to Los Angeles for different job opportunities. We don’t really have any connections there, except for our new gigs. It feels like moving to a foreign country, and we’re nervous. Any thoughts on what might help put us at ease? I’d be nervous, too. I used to think that Southern California, particularly Los Angeles, was paradise. In my opinion, it’s far from that now. Los Angeles is a logistical nightmare. Traffic is impossible. It makes Boston seem like open prairie in comparison. It’s governed in certain ways like a banana republic, and it’s shedding population; people are moving in clumps to Texas and Utah to escape taxes and overcrowding. The incredibly great weather they used to have is challenged by wildfires, floods and mudslides. It’s terrifying. I’m writing this from Santa Barbara now, where the temperatures for a week have been 10 to 12 degrees lower than the historic norm. It’s chilly and rainy. “Hate California, it’s cold and it’s damp,” as Frank Sinatra once sang. Yeah, it’s colder and wetter in Boston. But at least the people aren’t smiling at you all the time and wearing clothes that look like they got dressed in the dark.
But there’s an asterisk with this warning: If you have your dream jobs waiting in California, well, economic freedom can trump (oops) almost anything else. And the Golden State does seem to have the best vanity plate messages. Also, the farmers markets are living theater. Despite my caveats, I’ve always had a wonderful time there—as a part-timer.
Age is just a number. At least that is what my dad likes to say. I’m in my mid-20s, and I have to say I definitely feel like an adult. Not just because I have credit cards in my name and pay rent, but I am finally old enough to say things like, “Back in my day, we had flip phones,” or, “You need political experience to run for office.” Technology and politics aside, I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my short adult life. For instance, I’ve learned that no one is immune to insecurity and self-doubt. It’s an eye-opening perspective to have when interacting with people. What was one of the biggest lessons you learned in adulthood that you wish you knew while growing up? You’re so right. Everyone famous you’ve ever studied or heard about has had enormous self-doubt, insecurity and periods of depression. And when a famous person retires, the insecurity and wondering about, “Who am I really?” ratchets up exponentially. Growing up, I wish I had known that everyone has their insecurities. And everyone has their hot spot that makes them vulnerable. I wish I also understood that street smarts might get you much further in life than supposed genius. Every time we get crunched economically, it seems to be the so-called brilliant people who get us in trouble. Life can make you a cynic. I wish I had understood this earlier, too. Having a dose of cynicism can be good.
My girlfriend has invited me for a weekend at her parents’ ski house. Yes, they’re going to be there. I know I should bring a gift for them. Wine is an option, but I’m afraid that I’ll make a dumb impression. What can I bring to impress them—and my girlfriend? You’re right about the wine idea. I tend to buy wine by how original or offbeat the labels look, which is probably not the best approach. Like you, I don’t want my choice to be disdained. Often, when it comes to taste and originality, I consult my friend Cinda, an expert in these matters. “Be original in your gifts. They don’t need to be expensive. I pull hostess gifts out of my bag of tricks,” she tells me. “I keep the bag, full of little treasures, wrapped and tied with ribbons. We get invited out, I’ll grab a couple of goodies and off we go.”
She told me to bring spices, or Meyer lemons, lavender in little bags or honey from unexpected places like Summerland, California. But if you want to touch the heart of a host, so that you’ll be remembered for it, bring a funky dish towel, something with lots of color or the face of Mozart on it. It’s something that the host will use—and remember you. ◆
John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to email@example.com.