Texas Forever: How I Found the American Dream in the Lone Star State

October 27, 2015

When we shopped for our first house, I told my girlfriend (now wife) that most of the decision was up to her. I had worked out what we could afford, but in terms of what house, where and what style, I wanted whatever she wanted.

We were coming from New York and so everything seemed bigger in Texas. A real estate agent showed us a “small” place that was “only” 1,500 square feet. We didn’t have enough stuff to fill half of that. We ended up with a two story, two bedroom with a small fenced in yard, at just under 900 square feet. It was perfect.

Except the day we moved in, she said to me, “You know, I’ve always wanted to live on a farm.”

When I moved to the South for the first time in 2011 I thought it would be a good place to write. What I could not have anticipated is how good a place it was for just about everything. I certainly could not have anticipated that just a few years later I would live on a twenty acre ranch with more animals I can confidently account for (it’s somewhere around 20 but if you include the cattle that live on the land, closer to 50).

Our house. (Photo: Ryan Holiday)

A few years ago, Tyler Cowen wrote a Time Magazine cover story about why everyone was moving to Texas. There is a bunch of data behind it, but I can lay it out pretty simply:

-It’s cheap.

-It’s beautiful.

-It’s awesome.

It’s a chance at the life.

It’s easy to say about a lot of places, I suppose. But let me tell you what they actually mean in Texas.

First, there is no state income tax in Texas. Some people know this and some don’t—few really grasp what it means practically. It means that if you make decent money and decide to move here and rent something affordable, it’s essentially free to live in Texas. If you make $150,000 a year, your state income taxes in California are roughly $12,000 per year (in NYC it’s closer to $15,000). Or, you can put a thousand bucks a month toward your rent here. If you decide to buy, property taxes are high—but what you get for the money more than makes up for it. My editor at the Observer recently tried to cajole me into coming back to New York. Our house now—which has its own lake and is 29 minutes from the airport which never has lines—costs less than the rent we were paying for our lofted studio apartment in Midtown. Are you kidding?

New sign for the front gate. Truer words never spoken. (Photo: Ryan Holiday)

Second, I’ve driven across the United States many times. I am continually shocked at how beautiful Texas is. The vastness of Texas means it has essentially every kind of climate you can think of from plains to swampland to pine forests to the coast to deserts and even some mountains (topping out at 8,750’). I could go on about the many beautiful features of Texas but I thought I would just pick one thing and it’s so unexpected: water. Barton Springs in Austin is probably one of the most amazing natural swimming pools in the world (rivaling Australia’s rock pools). There is a college campus near San Antonio that has a swimmable river in the middle of it(with its own rare species of grass at the bottom). In a place called Wimberley, there is a 120 foot deep blue hole that you can rock dive into. There’s another stream nearby called Wimberley Blue Hole and a thing called Hamilton Pools, which is one of the largest natural rock grottos on the planet. Out in the middle of nowhere, there is a park in Toyahvale that happens to have the largest spring fed pool in the world. In some random town called Luling, there’s an Old Mill turned into a swimming hole that looks like something out of Mayberry. Honestly, the only water that isn’t nice in Texas seems to be the ocean.

Third, it’s awesome. Like really awesome. In East Austin, where we used to live, we had two small pet goats. We were not the only ones. Another neighbor had them too. Oh, and apparently other people did too because one day someone found one wandering the streets—wandering the streets of the fastest growing city in the US—and gave it to us. His name is Watermelon.


In Dallas, a guy named Jason Roberts created a program called Better Block Projectthat has become the model for urban revitalization. A friend of mine started the best hostel in Austin out of an old Victorian mansion and a month after opening, it’s fully booked almost every night. They’re building the first Wavegarden surf park in Texas and a brand new F1 racetrack sits right outside Austin. They say the state bird of Texas should be the construction crane—that’s how much it’s being built out.

There is a certain freedom and ridiculousness to Texas that I love. Sure, let’s have a 20 oz. chicken fried steak for breakfast. Sure, let’s put queso on everything and have tacos for every meal. I remember shortly after moving there, asking an employee at Cabella’s if he had any recommendations for a gun safe. “Well, son,” he said to me in complete seriousness, “m’boy moved away to college a few years ago so I reinforced the door frame and just turned the whole guest room into a gun vault. Have ya thought ‘bout doing sumthin like that?” Good God, I thought. And then, when we moved into a new house this year, it had a walk in closet turned into gun vault.Welcome to Texas.

Some other awesome things: It’s a state with two football teams, three NBA teams, and two professional baseball teams (oh and pretty decent college and high school—including a 100,000 seat college stadium). It’s the setting for one of the greatest television shows and books of all time, Friday Night Lights. It’s one of only three states to ever be independent countries. There’s a fort in southeast Texas called La Bahia (arguably more important than the Alamo) that flew the flags of six different nations in its 294 year history. In East Austin, there is a French embassy. (Did you know the two countries almost came to blows over a pig that broke into the ambassador’s home?) Oh and my favorite, Texas is so big that the distance between its two furthermost cities Beaumont and El Paso is 26 miles more than the distance from Los Angeles to El Paso. Texas is roughly the size of France and Switzerland combined

And yet…it’s a four-hour flight to basically anywhere worth going in the United States. You can leave Texas on a 7am flight and still have a full day of work or meetings on either coast.

To me, the American Dream has always been relatively simple: The ability to live one’s life on one’s terms. That is: financially, recreationally, personally, and creatively. Texas offers that. Increasingly, America’s great cities and states make having all of that essentially impossible for the vast majority of people. They are culturally, financially or physically oppressive.

Of course, Texas is not without its flaws. Two cultural flaws are particularly odious and bear pointing out. One, the radical, delusional politics. Not because it’s a Red State—every state has the right to lean the way the population cares to (for the most part, as a liberal person I’ve never found conservatism in the South to be a bother). Instead, I’m speaking of the Jade Helm 15 variety of nutbags and the Overton Window that these views set. I’m talking about anyone who can’t see that Americans in Texas complaining about Mexican immigrants clearly doesn’t understand enough history to deserve the right to an opinion. The second cultural problem is a certain breed of NIMBY-esque hipsters—particularly in Austin—who constantly complain about the other Americans who dare to like their city enough to move here. In fact, I can already hear them complaining that I wrote this piece. Last week I shot a jack rabbit off my front porch, skinned and ate it. I’ve earned my stripes. I’m not the enemy.

But these are minority viewpoints and they’ll work themselves out. I’ve always found the South to be almost disconcertingly welcoming. It’s that they people seem to generally want you to live there, they’d like you to be a part of their community. Diversity—an essential ingredient to a happy life—has always been more tangible to me here than East or West, and not only by race but by occupation, lifestyle and beliefs.

screenshot-instagram.com 2015-08-31 11-23-00

This too is part of the dream. This too is part of the rich life. Along with millions of other people, I found it and fallen in love with it here.

So I’m not saying everyone should move to Texas, but you should move to Texas.

This post appeared originally on the New York Observer

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

19 responses to Texas Forever: How I Found the American Dream in the Lone Star State

  1. Ryan – Fantastic. Even having lived here my whole life, Texas still feels like a precious jewel. Now, I would be remiss if I did not add yet another lovely body of water to your aforementioned list: The Narrows. This one is the perfect blend of beauty, mystery and adventure because, unless you know someone who knows someone, the only reliable way to access the formation is to trek up the Blanco. All in all, it’s essentially a day-trip, so naturally you’ll want to pack tacos. Here is the most accurate trail description that I’ve seen (includes photos) http://www.texasriverbum.com/narrows . Also, perhaps you could send a crate full of your most recent book directly to the Texan’s locker room as soon as humanly possible, may God help them [face to palm].

    Again, great read. Thanks!

  2. Great take on the American Dream. Looking forward to seeing guest posts by Watermelon.

  3. Ryan, I would like to comment on the politics you cited as being a negative. You are a self-described liberal, and I am a conservative. There was nothing at all inflammatory about your commentary, as you took pains to indicate you have no issue with the conservatism of Red States, and that your unfavorable opinion applies only to “radicals” and conspiracy types. So there is not much I can argue with (except that we might differ on what constitutes being “delusional” or “radical”), and this is not intended to be a confrontational comment. I simply wanted to ask out of curiosity: Has your experience in Texas made you see any favorable aspects of conservatism that you might not have seen before? Obviously the natural beauty of Texas that you love has nothing to do with conservative politics. But no state taxes, limited government intervention, and the gun ownership that you clearly appreciate are all values that come more from the right of the political spectrum than from the left. So just wondering if your Texas experience has had any favorable impact on your view of conservative principles, especially in comparing Texas to a state on the other end of the spectrum, such as California.

    • I grew up in one of the most conservative counties in California, possibly the country. I have no problem with conservative principles. In fact, I like most of the economic ones. I just don’t like when they cross the line into idiocy.

  4. Thanks for the Texas apology. My wife and I are transplants by choice, and we love Austin. You mention six flags…did you know that Laredo has flown seven flags?

  5. You obviously haven’t been introduced to Texas property taxes

  6. “I’m talking about anyone who can’t see that Americans in Texas complaining about Mexican immigrants clearly doesn’t understand enough history to deserve the right to an opinion. ”

    Those who are as ignorant as you don’t understand the present enough to deserve the right to an opinion. Don’t live in some bubble on a ranch – go live in some Mexican barrio. See, you choose NOT to do that because even you don’t believe what you are saying.

  7. I’ve always enjoyed articles like this wherein the liberal carpetbagger anthropologist discovers that, if one can merely overlook the fact that its native inhabitants are batshit-crazy xenophobes and conspiracy theorists, Texas is actually a pretty nice, cheap place to live.

    As a gay native Texan, I long held a similar, albeit somewhat more benevolent opinion of our homegrown radical counterculture—until, that is, I moved to California in 1989, and over the course of the next 25 years, watched as one of the most highly-taxed states in the country descended into insolvency and multicultural chaos at the hands of both a growing PC ethos and an ultra-liberal, increasingly Hispano-centric legislature.

    I’ve also watched what happened to the country as a whole in the years following 9/11, as first a Republican and then a Democrat administration used that event to systematically strip away our freedoms, militarize our police, blow up our economy and plunge us into a series of stupid, pointless, never-ending wars.

    Having just moved back to Austin after my long California detour, the contrasts between the two states (of mind), have become even more stark to me.

    As a gringo frio, I too love Latino culture (and date Latinos almost exclusively). But the xenophobic, batshit-crazy Texan part of me has come to understand that if one imports enough, say, Mexicans into one’s midst without inculcating them with the idea that they must subordinate the culture from which they fled to the one in which they should be grateful to have arrived, one will eventually find oneself to be Mexico. There is a reason there are different countries; California is discovering this, and very rapidly.

    Was Jade Helm conceived as an attempted military takeover of Texas? Nah. But was it maybe one more litmus test (like TSA airport-security theatre) to see how the sheep would respond to turning the once-unthinkable into the commonplace? Based on my study of history, particularly of past empires at similar points of flux, I deem that possibility much more likely than do you; and I, for one, am glad that Texans reacted to it with something other than apathetic passivity, because we were about the only ones.

    I guess what I’m taking a very long time to say is that, in any culture, the “good” and “bad” are often inextricably linked. If not for a strong wariness of government overreach and a very un-PC resistance to the corruption of its traditions and values, Texas might not be the place it is today, and you might not find it nearly so amenable.

    Just a thought.

    [btw, in no way did i mean any of the foregoing to be dismissive or disrespectful. I follow you because you’re smart in all sorts of ways I’m not (for instance, you’ve probably experienced more of Texas in your short time here than I have in half a lifetime), and I’m hoping if I stick around your blog long enough, maybe some of that’ll rub off.]

    • What are you talking about? California still gives more to the Federal government than it receives. And standing on its own, CA would still be a top 10 global economy. Yes the cost of living is higher than Texas, but so is the quality of life. Top quality public universities and school, excellent public hospitals and research centers plus several compassionate programs for the elderly and the disabled, a livable minimum wage – these are just some of the things that the higher tax rate enables. Given the value I get from my state, I am happy to pay more taxes and live in California.

  8. I live in New Braunfels and sometimes forget all that is around me,

    Great piece Ryan.

  9. David Harbour May 6, 2016 at 9:38 pm


    Welcome to Texas, as a native with really deep roots, it’s nice to hear someone who wasn’t (you get to be in by book with this post) tell it like we have been saying it forever.

  10. Every place has their beauties and crazies. Texas is a wonderful place for many reasons.

    I think the most important fact is that our self loving bravado can be a reminder to the rest of the country that the states have rights that the Federal Govt. shouldn’t intervene in. That goes for both blue and red, and fiscal and social, or whatever topic one could bring up.

    That’s whole reason the original colonies were founded. Different strokes for different folks.

    God Bless Texas! And to each, their own.

  11. Great article! I think Ryan has just exceptionally explained that, of all the 50 states, Texas has the best balance of available land, big cities and populations with culture, political freedom and variety of geography. I agree with him.

  12. As a native Texan I was nodding my head happily until you said only decent college. Like Dang, Texas A&M, UT, Baylor, and Rice are some of the best in the nation. ): Only minor heartache however. The rest of the article was splendid!

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