Peter Kowalke

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Life in San Francisco

By on June 1, 2017

One of the more interesting and less talked about aspects of making the whole world your home is the frequent change of seasons. I don’t mean this literally, although there was an abrupt climate change going from Manila to San Francisco. Rather, everything changed when I moved from Asia to the Bay. My life entered a new season with different rules, pacing and lifestyle.

The normal transitions in life are a new job, a new house, a new relationship, a new part of the country or a new mindset. In some ways, I get all of those at the same time when I change locations every 2 to 5 months. All those definitely changed when I landed in San Francisco on April 21 and set up shop here.

San Francisco as the New Geography

As everyone knows, I live on the road and split the majority of my time between the U.S. and Asia. Last year, for instance, I spent time in 24 cities across eight different countries.

This constant travel and relocation is a bit much.

While there are spiritual, logistical and experiential advantages from roaming around the world, there also are psychological and emotional energy costs from planning your next move the very week you arrive someplace—to say nothing of the time in takes to secure new housing, learn new ways of doing things and book upcoming flights.

So last year I began formulating a more moderate version of my mobile lifestyle, one where I spend most of my time in San Francisco, live in Asia for 3-4 months each year, and sprinkle in short trips at the start and end of each move. Bangkok and San Francisco become the main geographies–with longer uninterrupted stays–even if the housing and smaller trips remain fluid.

So the first change in my new season has been the geography change, which alters my climate and workflow. In Bangkok, the weather varies from hot to hotter, and I alternate between air conditioning and sweating through my thin cotton clothes. Here in San Francisco, everything is micro-climate and there must be a 30 degree temperature change depending on the time of day and where I am in the Bay.

My one and only sweater is getting a lot of use because Chilly Fall Day seems to be the temperature norm here even in summer, but opening windows and wearing shorts also happens every day.

Workflow also is different because I’m not on New York time or its diametric opposite in Asia. Scheduling was fairly consistent before, even if I was traveling; either I would wake up to Asia ending its day or stir my coffee while the U.S was going to bed. California time requires a different scheduling approach because it is “U.S. time” but back three hours, so Asia is already asleep when I get up but I have a longer window with them starting late in the afternoon. I also struggle talking with family and some of my East Coast contacts because evening social hours for me already is the dead of night for them.

I’m figuring it out and kinda liking the longer business hours with Asia and timezone parity with my content consultancy’s tech clients here in the Bay, but family social calls are suffering a bit.

New Home in the Mission District

A second change in this new season has been a different home and office life.

I spent the first 10 days last month camped in San Francisco’s Little Philippines, a barangay (village) 40 minutes away from downtown called Daly City. Although the dinuguan and McDonald’s billboards advertising “Magandang Umaga! $2 Medium na Iced Coffee” made for a nice transition from Manila and Puerto Galera, where I had been the week before, I knew this was just a stepping stone as I moved closer to the heart of San Francisco.

In short order I found an apartment in the middle of San Francisco’s hip Mission District, a Mexican enclave-cum-West Coast Williamsburg that mixes amazing cheap tacos and Mission-style burritos with trendy cocktail bars and $54 men’s haircuts.

The Mission District always was my preferred location because I had briefly lived there before in 2012, and it is one of my favorite locations in the city. The Mission District offers a thriving local community, a range of price points (by SF standards), a 15-minute or less commute to downtown, and a metro network that easily gets me to Berkeley or Silicon Valley. It also is flat, unlike many other areas in San Francisco; I don’t need a grappling hook to get home from a meeting in the city.

My new apartment is only two blocks from the old apartment where I stayed in 2012, actually, so there is continuity; I headed straight for Pancho Villa Taqueria and its dreamy all-you-can-eat salsa bar on my very first night. Still, there are lots of adjustments and new things to learn.

The selection and price of food at the Vietnamese grocery and little bodegas by my home limited me to eggs and rigatoni my first few weeks, for instance, until I discovered that I could get normal groceries delivered at a normal price through Amazon and Safeway. Delores Park and its six tennis courts is only a two-minute walk from my home, but first I needed to buy a racquet and figure out how to find another player at the same skill level (hint: there’s a rating scale and a web service for that).

Then there is the issue of learning how to balance so many social appointments when getting a quick cup of coffee with someone is just a quick hop away. I’m learning, but there is an adjustment.

Same Same Job But Different

Which brings me to the third change of the season. My work life is different.

The business is the same—I’m still a relationship coach and run the content marketing firm, EdChief. What’s changed since the move to San Francisco is the emphasis and pacing; I’m now much more social.

By day, I work from my home office and either write or see clients over Skype. This is normal. What’s changed is that almost every night I now am out at a business event or meeting with someone in person. Often I will attend two or three of these a night, and this also has meant more time on the backend with adding people to my address book and following up after meetings. I haven’t done this much meet & greet since my days as a food editor.

There also is much more cross-pollination with partners and allied professionals both for my coaching work and the editorial side of my business. The Bay is teeming with tech and startup talent, as well as some of the top relationship professionals in the business. I’m taking advantage of the talent concentration, and in fact that’s the main reason I’m here in San Francisco. I’m developing a larger referral network, sharing what I know (which apparently is more than I thought), and learning plenty along the way that is helping me with my business.

This learning component includes classes. My work life has shifted in this new season partially because I’m a formal student again for the first time in more than a decade.

The grown unschooler in me has meant that I’ve always kept active learning and studying on my own, but this year I decided to add some new credentials and round out my autodidactic education with more time in the classroom. The process started earlier this year, but largely it coincides with my new season here in California.

When not out and about for work, I’m studying for my International Coach Federation coaching certification and attending NLP refresher classes. (NLP basically is the foundation for the coaching techniques used by Tony Robbins. I am a certified NLP master practitioner, although not on Tony’s level!)

A Whole New Cast of Characters

San Francisco

The most obvious change of the season is that everyone in my life is different. Not completely; I have a global network of friends, and I still write and video chat with these people. By and large the cast of characters changes completely every time I move physical locations, though. All the people I see now are different than those I saw before.

This is always the most jarring change, but the most exciting. New friends!

Social San Francisco is nothing like Bangkok or New York. In Bangkok, my friends are all Asian or eccentric expats who are either extremely daring or extremely global. In New York, there are East Coast natives with thick accents, blue collar laborers and lots of upwardly mobile professionals. Here in San Francisco, everyone works for Google, the financial services industry or a tech startup.

I’m not joking. Everyone works tech or finance here. If you’re blue collar, that means you’re a driver for one of the vans that pick up Google employees gratis. Or maybe you’re a chef who makes the free food for the Google employees. Everyone here is in tech, and you encounter more software engineers and tech employees on the street than you do when having lunch at the Microsoft headquarters in Greater Seattle. I knew this was tech town bar none, but I had no idea.

So far, many of my friends are coming from that same font of awesomeness that I drink from in Bangkok, the local chapter of the global Internations community. Just as in Bangkok, I’m heavily involved.

I also quickly connected with the local Vedanta community, where I spend half of every Sunday.

There actually are two Ramakrishna Vedanta communities here, just like in New York. After trying both, I settled on the Vedanta Society of Berkeley and its small but embracing religious community. These are my people.

Since the global Vedanta family is a small one, the few familiar faces I do have in the city are from this community. Overall, though, almost everyone I now interact with on a weekly basis is different.

Peter Build 38.3.23

Peter Kowalke in Berkeley

Finally, my new season here in San Francisco also brings a new mindset. I’m still Peter; I’m always Peter. There’s a noticeable change in my mindset in this new season, though, just like my sense of value shifts when I go from someplace like Australia to India. I’m Rupee cheap in India, but that thinking won’t fly at the swanky gastropubs in Australia!

There are five mindset shifts I have noticed since my arrival in San Francisco.

First, I spend money casually and like I am investing in something larger. $35 dollars for a Meetup event? No problem. $12 to reach church by public transit? Of course. $27 for bread at Tartine’s Bakery and $4.50 for a large can of tuna? Ummm…ok, I’m not in Bangkok anymore.

This change in spending mindset reflects the reality that I’m in San Francisco for increased revenue, not for cost reduction. When four days in the Bay costs the same as living in Bangkok or Hyderabad for a month, the mindset shifts and it becomes about investing in growth instead of protecting what already is in the bank.

Second, I’ve flipped from liberal to conservative. I don’t mean this in a political sense, or even that my values and beliefs have changed. What’s different is that I’m now in one of the most liberal enclaves in the world, so by comparison I look and feel more conservative here.

This is on dramatic display at relationship events in San Francisco, where matchmakers talk as if everyone is polyamorous, and relationship advice always seems to resolve back to better sex. My message of deep emotional connection and commitment to others still resonates with almost everyone I meet, but it feels oddly fresh and a little conservative compared with the people who talk about worldwide social change founded on programmatic genital stimulation!

Third, my coaching mindset is shifting a little as I talk and grow through my conversations with other relationship experts here (and not the ones who are focusing on the sex side, by the way; sex is rarely the real key to a magical marriage).

My relationship coaching practice has always been founded on client-led habit change, not instruction; I may be able to clearly define love and connection, and how to get more of it, but this means nothing without buy-in and action on the part of the client. The subtle shift since coming to San Francisco (and through the coursework) has been the recognition that much of the time I am consulting when I should be coaching more. Consulting is telling, coaching is the process of asking powerful questions at the right time and letting the client lead.

I’ve always known the distinction as a grown unschooler, but I’m further disabusing myself of the teacher mindset and subtly shifting how I help couples and singles reach their relationship goals. My relationship coaching practice looks more like unschooling by the day, which makes sense given my history and expertise.

Fourth, my sense of self is changing.

In Bangkok or the Philippines, I am a foreigner. A farang, in Thai parlance. This is intimately tied with how people see you, and how you see yourself. It becomes your personality, for the better and the worse, and in many ways that has been my primary persona since Bangkok became my primary residency in 2015.

Here in San Francisco, though, I’m just a guy. So other personas emerge, mainly Peter as relationship coach. Here in San Francisco, I walk around as International Relationship Coaching Guy.

Also, in less than a month, I’ve stopped being a traveler. The entirety of my wardrobe still fits in a carry-on suitcase, but I’m no longer a farang or obviously itinerant. I have an apartment, I might not be traveling internationally again until 2018, and for all intensive purposes I look settled. This is a persona shift, but it also is a deeper mindset shift for me. I’m not thinking about the next move.

More than anything else, this mental shift from traveler to San Francisco resident signals the new season. Things are different now.

Peter is a relationship coach, writer/producer, and R&D monastic. He splits his time between San Francisco and Asia. Read more about Peter.