Where Are You From?


Where are you from? I frequently get asked this when I travel — by taxi drivers, supermarket cashiers, the random person sitting next to me on the bus. It’s a simple question, yet profound.

“I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area,” I say. “But I’ve always wanted to live in New York. I can’t help offering the extra information, even though nobody asked.


The irony is the place I have lived the longest is also a place that I have rarely felt like I belonged. Having grown up in the Silicon Valley for over 20 years, I’ve long been on the fringe of the engineer’s playground. My Dad was a computer engineer, and I swore I would never marry one (and then I did). As my creative soul mates left for Los Angeles and New York (the epicenters of fashion and publishing), I stayed behind, feeling stuck.

For years I tried to “just make it work,” but it was like shoving a square peg into a round hole. I’ve been told to compromise, to consider shaving down the corners to make myself fit in, but in the process it just didn’t feel right. I took a Computer Science class once, and the entire time I asked myself, “Why am I doing this? Why am I here?” Were we not all individually created with certain gifts? Shouldn’t we find a place where that can be properly appreciated and developed, instead of trying to conform?

And why does any of this matter? Because I know when people ask where I’m from, they really want to know who I am. And I am not a tech geek, I don’t work at a start-up, I have no idea how Google stock is doing or which company is going to IPO. And frankly, I don’t care.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always wanted to provide the New York bit, as if to say, Where I’m from doesn’t define who I am. Where I’m from doesn’t necessarily include my dreams, my passions and my future…What should matter is where I’m going, and where I end up.

What should matter is the journey.


Athleta Shanti top, David Lerner silk pants, Joie Kidmore crocodile-embossed sneakers, Pamela Barsky pouch

Where are you from and is it a place you feel you belong?

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  1. says

    Such an interesting post you have written. To answer your quesTion i Live in Virginia Beach and love it! But happiness isnt a place its a state of mind and you can purse a dream no matter where you live. The world’s most successful invesTor, Warren Buffett, never left omaha, Nebraska. Nice outfit and i enjoyed the pics

    Red Reticule

    • lifeunrefined says

      I agree, happiness isn’t a destination but the acknowledgement of the everyday blessings we do have in our lives. but while certain careers can be pursued almost anywhere (medical, finance, law), there’s a reason most people who dream about film move to LA, and those who want to be fashion designers move to New York or paris. you need to be surrounded by people with the same goals in order to develop and refine your craft. you may eventually be able to achieve it alone, but it would be much more difficult, and lonely.

  2. says

    thanks for this short and honest piece. i mirror your sentiments exactly, word for word! Keep being authentic! You inspire the rest of us who are still trying to figure out why we don’t belong.

  3. Christine says

    Thanks for this post Jen. Great insight. I’m Originally from Eugene, Or, but i’ve lived in portland, or, salem, or, seattle, wa, the bay area, like you, and now i live in the sacramento area in CA. If someone asks me where i’m from its hard to answer sometimes, but my roots are definitely in Eugene. :) as a kid, i never felt i belonged. I eVen got confused and thought I was ‘from’ hong kong because my dad is from hong kong and most people saw me as sort of an outsider there. Now that i’ve lived in different places, i miss some things about eugene and can’t find a place that really compares! I’m Not sure if I wanna live there or not, but i happily say that i Grew up there. In the end though, i agree that we’ve gotta find ourselves despite where we Live, but at the same time where we live can infLuence us in ways we dOn’t always realiZe. ( for bette or for worse)

  4. says

    First off, I love that last picture of you! You look very free…and artistic! 😉 I also appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I am guessing there are many many many more of us here who feel like we don’t fit the tech mold in one way or another than those who do, but tech is such a prevailing theme in the culture here that we all feel alone. When people like you write about your struggles, it can help others feel just a little less alone, which makes a HUGE difference.

    Your post also made me remember something I wrote 2 ½ years ago, after I had lived here for about 18 months: http://mindbodymusings.blogspot.com/2012/01/innovation-and-stress-in-bay-area.html While I didn’t necessarily feel like I don’t fit in for artistic reasons, I definitely noticed that the culture here is quite unique, and being immersed in it 24/7 makes it hard to realize that actually, the way people think and work and consume and live here is just now how it is most other places. That said, despite my cynical critiques of the consumerism and work mentalities, there are many positive things about the culture here that I will certainly miss when I leave. For example, I have valued the fact that people actually care about social, environmental, health, and other issues here, even if I don’t always agree with their ultimate conclusions. Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent…..

    Just want to add that I am so thankful that God put a person like you in my life! I know He has a purpose for you and intentionally created you in just the right way. Perhaps He will take you to Paris or New York, or perhaps He will use you as an agent of culture change in the Bay Area. Or maybe He will mold your desires into something different altogether and bring you closer to Himself in the process. Whatever it is, I am confident that He has an amazing plan for you. Love you!

  5. says

    Such a great post, thank you so much :)
    I think that person with 18 and 28 is not the same. I was 100% sure what and where I want to be, so I Study Software EngineeriNG. From job perspective it is such great DECISION. Know i see myself in something TOTALLY DIFFERENT, something more creative, more ME :)
    maybe now i have more wisdom and DIFFERENT priorities, who knows. So as you said, who knows WHERE i will go, what will life bring….THAT’S why it much more interesting :) Mel

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