I chose Santa Cruz over Silicon Valley

One month ago, I left a high paying job at one of Silicon Valley’s most successful start-ups to accept a position as the Director of Development and Partnerships at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. In true Silicon Valley fashion, my metric for success in writing this article would be to inspire just one reader to make a similar choice that I did.
This all started when my fiancé and I moved to Northern California for a job in Mountain View. We decided to make Santa Cruz our home, not necessarily because of what this community had to offer, but to avoid Silicon Valley itself.
Two years in, after having discovered the beauty, culture, and people in Santa Cruz, we decided that remaining here was enough to fight for.
My job at UserTesting was, on paper, the Silicon Valley dream. In my five years there, the company grew from 15 people to over 300, and is on pace to go public within a few years. I personally led two departments of 50 people each. Our campus was nestled up against the Googleplex. They paid me well and granted me lots of stock.
Then I chose Santa Cruz and the Museum of Art & History.
At first, the decision seemed impossible. However, the more I spoke with Executive Director of the MAH, Nina Simon, the easier the decision became.
In no particular order, I chose Santa Cruz for three simple reasons:
To feel like a better human.
Two years of the commute had taken a toll on my body, my mind, and my relationships. I gained 20 pounds, my relationship with my wife suffered, and I made few friends. I had lost my sense of creativity and spirituality, and I was keenly aware of that.
Since joining the MAH less than a month ago, I have dropped several of those pounds, spent more quality time with my wife, and expanded my social circle substantially. Every day, I feel my creativity and spirituality returning.
To elevate my career.
Nina Simon and the leadership team at the MAH consisting of Lis DuBois and Stacey Garcia are the primary reason I signed the offer sheet. I wanted to learn, and they were the team from whom I wanted to learn. There are incredible leaders from the business, non-profit, government, and science world across Santa Cruz and the career growth potential here is often underrated.
Working locally also will enable me to work harder, to be a better teammate, and a better leader. Putting in the extra hours will not be as daunting or as draining, as I know the bicycle ride home is only ten minutes long. It will be easier for me to come in early, stay late, and adapt to the needs of my organization without hesitation.

It makes economic sense.
I calculate that I was spending somewhere between $1,000-$1,500 per month to work in Silicon Valley, if you factor in gas, car maintenance, and frequent eating-out. Over the course of a year, that’s $12,000-$18,000.

Additionally, I put a value my time. I spent two hours per day in the car, and as much as I love podcasts, it was not worth the value. Over the course of the year, I was investing tens of thousands of dollars per year listening to Radiolab, Stuff You Should Know, and Pardon the Interruption.

Every year, I invested five to six figures for the privilege of working over the hill. On the surface, the sacrifice to work in Santa Cruz was frightening. However, in reality, it was a no-brainer.

If you aspire to feel better, elevate your career, and make an economically sound decision, I implore you to also consider choosing Santa Cruz.

Jonathan Hicken is the Director of Development & Partnerships at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. Before coming to the MAH, Jonathan was a business leader at a successful Silicon Valley startup, UserTesting, where he served on the executive team and led two large departments. Prior to that, he researched undocumented migration along the U.S.-Mexico border. He can be reached at jonathan@santacruzmah.org.