Starting Over in San Francisco

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For a very long time, San Francisco was the place where the Golden Gate welcomed anyone looking to start over. Justin O’Kelly says it still is.

I was shocked to find a slide show recently showing the number of companies that have left San Francisco, for Austin, and other parts. It revealed just how many firms can’t put up with the high cost of business here. Not to dispute that, but there’s one big reason why I returned to the Bay Area after a year and a half trying out Seattle. For me, it’s the city of second chances.

Oscar Wilde wrote once: “It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.”

I wouldn’t disagree that there are many problems that go along with those attractions. But the author was on to something when he talked about ‘the next world’. In December of 2007 I disappeared from London, where I barely had a couple of friends, and moved to San Francisco for the first time. Not just for the weather, but because it’s a city that nurtures people with a vision to make life better. Yes, I said that, fully knowing you can find a parody video of Silicon Valley founders ‘wanting to make the world a better place’ from HBO’s show of the same name.

But I’ve found that where British people look on career hiccups or missteps as a sign of shame, San Franciscans ask you: what did you learn from that, how are you going to avoid it next time, and what can I do to help you? I know, because I’ve been on both sides of that fence. Nowhere in the world have I seen the power of the network effect more beautifully displayed than here, where I hope I’ve managed to add a little to it.


I took a second leap when I moved, changing professions, from journalism to public relations. It was the hardest professional decision I ever made. Was I selling out? Moving to the dark side? The truth is I do miss journalism occasionally. But after over a decade doing it, I was ready to try a different way of telling stories. This city gave me the chance to do that. Here I can work for a company that proves you can have a second chance - at building a career that makes you feel as good as the previous one - that you still think of with great fondness.

With a Perspective, I’m Justin O’Kelly.

Justin O’Kelly is half-British, half-American and lives in the Duboce Triangle.