I used to love my city. After growing up in Nebraska, living in San Francisco was surreal. I felt like a character in a movie to be so lucky as to live there.
But I eventually realized the danger of loving my city. Loving my city was holding me back.
The same phenomenon I was suffering from, I later observed in other cities. It was that loving your city can make you delusional.
The phenomenon is called “basking in reflected glory,” and it’s what makes loving your city dangerous. When you bask in reflected glory—otherwise known as BIRGing—the accomplishments of others make you feel as if you yourself have accomplished something.
I noticed something one day as I was proclaiming how happy I was to be living in “the greatest city in the world.” It was that a large portion of that feeling was coming from pride for what other people were doing in that city.
When I searched my own accomplishments for the source of that pride, I found nothing.
The dangerous thing was, that false sense of accomplishment was making me complacent. I didn’t want to go through life fooling myself into thinking I had done something, when I was only feeling pride for something other people had done. I didn’t want a sense of accomplishment to come easily. I wanted to earn it.
If you live in a “great city,” look around, and you’ll find it. People who love their city so much that they’ve lost all sense of who they themselves are.
It makes them hang on to empty dreams—the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who pursues idea after idea that has no hope of ever being useful, the L.A. actor who will clearly never make it, the NYC artist who spends the entire day freelancing for giant corporations—instead of painting—just to make the rent.
These dreams all have value, but the BIRGing has disconnected each of these people from the only thing that will ever bring them the satisfied sense of success they crave. The only way they’ll get that is if they stop getting validation from merely having their body in some particular location, and they start searching themselves for that thing that makes them unique.
So, how do you love your city without BIRGing? For some people, merely being aware of the problem is enough. Whenever you find yourself too prideful for something someone else accomplished, you can remind yourself with a personal mantra: Don’t bask in the accomplishments of others.
For other people, the problem calls for more serious action. Me, I left San Francisco. I lived in a bunch of other places, and I saw and experienced myself enough BIRGing to spot it and smother it at its source.
By leaving the city that made me falsely feel accomplished, I was forced to find satisfaction through my own accomplishments. I’ve since published several books, and—as the name of my podcast implies—I love my work. I never would have found my way if I had allowed my love for a city to continue clouding my judgement.
Go ahead and love your city. But the next time you feel that sense of pride welling up inside, stop yourself. Does that feeling come from satisfaction you would rather earn in some other way? If so, put your head down, and get to work. Or, pack your bags and run like hell.
Want to 4x your creative productivity? Get your free toolkit »