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What Taylor Swift can teach us about making (literal!) career moves...

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

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Did You Know? with Gorick is the weekly newsletter by Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules, where we deconstruct the untold paths to success — of people (or things) you know!

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Did You Know? Your location could accelerate your career!

A story from the past

It’s 2002 and 12-year-old Taylor Swift is going door to door from studio to studio in “Music City” Nashville, Tennessee. Her goal? Hand-deliver her demo CD and do what her idol, country singer Faith Hill, did: Get noticed and sign with a record label.

Two years later, Swift’s dream came true: After securing a studio contract, she moved to Nashville from Pennsylvania. But producers wanted Swift to sing songs by other artists instead of her own, so Swift left the label. A year later, while performing at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe, Swift was spotted by a music executive who offered her a new deal, one where she could write and record her own work.

Fast forward, and Swift’s first album became a worldwide sensation, ranking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 where it stayed for a record-breaking 157 weeks. 12 Grammys, 98 Guinness World Records, and more later, and Swift is now considered a top 100 influential person by Time and Forbes as well as both the Artist and Woman of the Decade.

So, the next time that you find yourself wondering, Should I relocate for my career? Remember Swift—who made the move, transformed her career, and redefined music and fame as we know it.

Taylor Swift in 2006 (16 years old) and in 2023 (33 years old) (Images via Wikipedia Creative Commons)

A study of the present

Beyond knowing how to sing, Taylor Swift also knew something else: the importance of being at what I call the “center of gravity”—the place where stuff happens. Think Los Angeles for entertainment, Washington DC for government, and New York City for finance (if you’re in the US). As a country music fan, I was embarrassed to learn that I had no idea until recently that there is such a thing as the “Country Music Capital of the World”—and that it is, in fact, Nashville.

Being at the center of gravity is helpful if you know which “orbit” you want to be in. And if you don’t know? Then go where there’s people, progress, and possibilities. Where, you ask?

Just last month, Bankrate identified the top 10 U.S. cities for starting your career based on job openings, cost of rent, and quality of life (e.g., access to healthcare):

Best cities to launch a career* (Image via Bankrate)

Meanwhile, here’s how the usual suspects ranked: 

  • Boston: #12
  • San Francisco: #17
  • Washington, DC: #19
  • New York City: #43

So what? We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to pick the right job or the right company. But picking the right geography matters, too, and could mean the difference between being exposed to the right opportunities and not.

A strategy for your future

Last week, 84% of you said you have moved to be closer to family. I made a similar move myself, so you’re not alone! But what if you want to make a future move for your career? Consider this:

(1) If you’re early in your career… Consider Bankrate’s top 10 cities. Use Linkedin to search for people you already know (or people you can get introduced to) who live there and ask what it’s like.

(2) If you’re feeling restless… Consider what commercial real estate company JLL calls "global leaders" (e.g., Paris), "innovation-centric" (e.g., Singapore), and "talent-rich" (e.g., Denver) locations.

Not every move will lead to a breakthrough. But moving does promise new experiences and new people that could change your life for the better. 

I know it because I’ve experienced it: Had I not prioritized a job with lots of travel back in the day, I would have never had an appreciation for how big the world is—and where I’d want to live long-term. As the saying goes, I had to “see it to believe it.”

Make the move!


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*Best cities to launch a career

  1. Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, Texas
  2. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington
  3. Salt Lake City, Utah
  4. Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina
  5. Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee
  6. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Indiana
  7. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, Texas
  8. Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas
  9. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Alpharetta, Georgia
  10. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California