The London Stories: How to leave London (20 of 20)

“I can’t believe you are leaving London. There’s no way.” Most of my friends and online friends were a bit shocked when I announced that I will be relocating. And yet, I had already thought about it at least three times before.

Don’t know what’s going on? I’m leaving London soon so this is one of my 20 London stories – a celebration of 20 years of my life here.

Reading my 20 stories it might sound like I’ve been dedicated to London non stop from day 1 and even though that’s generally true, I had had my doubts here and there too .

The first time I thought of leaving London was when I was in a super serious relationship with a talented Greek boy. “Have you ever thought that we are working hard here and we may go back to Greece one day and think we should have returned sooner to build something?” I said, all of my 26 year old stupidity on display.  

I am 42 now and I would *never* think that way about Greece. But I was young and in love and was wondering if we could build a life together not just in London. It turned out that we couldn’t build a life together anywhere so I m’ grateful to the boy who was adamant that he was still too young and needed the experience abroad.

The second time was around the same age (maybe a couple of years later) when I felt that politically Greece might be changing. This, I found out over the years, is a conviction of young people abroad from time to time. Going back “to contribute” is a noble quest but whether you’ve actually been successful or whether things have actually changed are more difficult things to determine. I mean, how the hell do you look back and say “I wasted my time”? You don’t. Which is why I am absolutely certain that I’m happy I never went back and why others might tell you the exact opposite. Cause to me, Greece is not changing – or at least is not changing enough for me to believe that I could make a meaningful contribution or that I’m not wasting my life.

On discussing this with a political party appointee a while back he insisted that we should go back to Greece not because it’s better but because it’s our homeland. While I respect this point of view I also find it utterly foreign to me. The only homeland is myself and my people. Everything else – to me – is a sentimental trap. I don’t think I can adequately describe how freeing that is. Fundamentally, this is *exactly* how I can leave London – even though it’s been home for 20 years.

The last time I thought about leaving London I was about 34, had just exited the abusing relationship I’ve mentioned already and felt… stuck. The job was maddening and not too exciting, some friendships were fleeting, the money terrible, the men worse. I thought I needed a change. Why had I been so stuck in London, what was stopping me from traveling, going to a new city, getting to know a new place? I decided it was just a fluke and so I started looking for jobs elsewhere. Fun fact, I interviewed for a job at Nord Stream which thankfully I didn’t get.

That year, I went to Edinburgh and stayed at an Airbnb. I was so taken aback by this incredible concept and enjoyed my stay so much that I decided I needed to work for that company. When a policy position was announced in August of the same year, my CV must have been the first one through the door. Amazingly, inconceivably, after a looong process, I got the job. I found a workplace and I also found my tribe.

Working at Airbnb opened to door to tech and a global community of like minded people. I don’t work at Airbnb anymore but I’m incredibly proud of that company, its people and its community. Nothing was out of bounds, no idea dismissed. People I worked with every day were enthusiastic, incredibly smart and came from all around the world. Finally, FINALLY, I was not the odd one out. I was not the exception. I was part of an office where multiple languages were spoken, life experiences were respected and something meaningful was happening. I didn’t even have to go to the pub every Friday and drink myself to oblivion. We can argue about the benefits and drawbacks of companies like Airbnb all day but nothing will diminish my love for the company and what it did for me.

My job at Airbnb demanded travel and lots of it. I was averaging three trips a month. Play a very small violin for me, obviously, as I was being paid to go to incredible destinations and work hard with interesting people. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun at work nor felt so challenged. It consumed all of my energy – I stopped blogging and creating online, the job was hard but utterly satisfying. And it also did this: I was so rarely in London that I started rediscovering its wonders. Let’s be honest through, it was also an issue of money. Getting a great job that pays better does expand your ability to do things in an interesting city.

That’s the time when I discovered the most interesting restaurants and I finally managed to go to a Royal Opera House performance sitting somewhere other than up at the gods. The friends who showed understanding and patience with my frequent absences I’m friends with still today. I would meet them for a drink in a new bar, we would find a funny restaurant, we would go for a burger to a new cinema club. And I also made friends at Airbnb – despite my general rule of no friendships at work. Incredible, talented people, not constrained by geography and countries. Most had travelled, changed places, sometimes careers, lived some sort of adventure. It was exhilarating, it was invigorating.

Yes, the job did lead me to rediscover and fall in love with London again. And yet, in a strange way, it also led to my decision to leave London.

Tech is a peculiar beast. If you have the propensity (I do) it can train you to think outside what you thought was achievable. Have a crazy idea and make it work? Done that. Go to a country to pass a law everyone (even you) thought was impossible! Was there for that too. Witness an idea grow and a community thrive? It happened. Leave everything and go to a new country for a job? WHY THE HELL NOT?

As the time eventually came to start interviewing inside and outside Airbnb my world was different. It was post-pandemic and I had also become a parent. Having the  Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child join our family made a HUGE difference to how I make decisions about my life and my work. I am incredibly more ambitious now – for example – which I understand is not exactly what society expects of me. But you know, society can suck it.

I started interviewing in the summer of 2021 – when the job market exploded after a two year period of tumbleweed. Out of the five jobs I interviewed for, only one was based in London. When they were asking me “would you” my answer was “in a heartbeat”.

Funny story, one recruiter actually asked me to discuss a potential relocation with my husband. It’s the biggest red flag I’ve ever seen during interview time with any company – thank fuck I dodged that bullet. Anyhow.

I don’t think our leaving London actually sank in until the movers were done and I did one last round of the empty rooms of our house. My husband bought that house years ago, it’s where we had our wedding (really, in the garden) and where Philip joined us. But bricks are bricks and people are people. I was taking the most important people with me after all.

Did the destination matter? Not really. I was prepared to leave London regardless of the destination, the job being a bigger priority. Is there really a way to leave London? I doubt it. How can you say never to a place that was home for so long? I wouldn’t say never even for Greece and that’s definitely not in any plans I have or could ever imaging myself having.

That last weekend we booked a nice hotel in central London and did the tourist thing. We walked around Hyde Park, we went to a couple of museums, we had a lovely meal together. This is going to be it from now on, that’s how Philip will get to know this city in the foreseeable future – with a vague notion that he carries the passport but with no real attachment to the place. I think I prefer that.

I spent too many years of my life sentimentally attached to places when really, they don’t count and that’s been proven to me again and again. I count, first and foremost, being healthy, doing meaningful things, finding happy moments. And then my people. The knight in well travelled armor, the boy, my sister, a few friends.

I wanted to end this post by saying that the world is changing. We are more mobile than ever – we can do our jobs from anywhere. That boundaries are disappearing. That opportunities are global. As I watch the invasion of Ukraine I know that the world is changing but not exactly in the way I imagined. The world is becoming different, small mindedness thrives but also greatness, humanity, connection. It feels like there is no certainty anymore, no guarantees.

I remember when I was a teenager and I believed that by a certain age I will have things figured out. I will have a job, a family, be settled, know where the sun comes up and where it goes down. I discovered over the years that my main driver is avoiding exactly that.

I was 22 when I left Greece, I had a job, a car, a boyfriend. I assumed that in about 10 years I’d have a different job, a bigger car, a better boyfriend.

I was 42 when I left London. I had a job, a car, a husband and a child. I assumed that in about 10 years I’d have a similar job, I’d go to similar places and I’d probably look forward to sending Philip to university and spending some alone time with Antonis. It’s a lovely life as I describe it, calm, joyous, desirable. Just… you know… not desirable for all.

And so I said the big yes and thank all the gods of Olympus that I married the man I married (cause it was touch and go there for a while) and we got on that plane. Will we like it? Will we stay? Will Iron Maiden ever perform here? Will we manage to learn Arabic? Will we bend some things to our will and will we accept some others? Will we find a community, will we thrive, learn, grow?

Who the hell knows, but honestly, finding these things out is half the joy of moving to a new place.

Wish us luck.

And London. See you soon my love.

———————————-

My #20LondonStories

  1. Grexit/ Brexit 
  2. The way to anyone’s heart is through the stomach
  3. The night bus 
  4. Words save our lives… sometimes 
  5. The rest is noise 
  6. How not to bite your nails in the Officials’ Box 
  7. Always have a sister 
  8. Greek London 
  9. This green and pleasant land 
  10. The bridge of aspiration 
  11. The knight in well travelled armor 
  12. Carpets in the toilet and other adventures in housing
  13. Moments in Art 
  14. The NHS hunger games 
  15. In nocte consilium
  16. The friends we found, the friends we lost
  17. Blogging tips for beginners 
  18. Lord of Gondolin, Bane of Gothmog, mighty beater of his headboard, conqueror of the slide, aka our child
  19. γνῶθι σεαυτόν
  20. How to leave London

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.