Who loves where they live? And if you do, what do you love about it?
My post's title comes by way of the Clash's famous song, and it was my mantra for the majority of last month. I was invited to join a team of professionals for a “feather in my cap” kind of opportunity. But it involved a major relocation -- to Boston. I have lived in the northeast before, and I do not feel particularly called to do so again. But this was an amazing opportunity, to work with outstanding people I have worked with before. There were some “slam dunk” aspects to the job, but the location (for me) was not one, even though I do not claim to hold a lot of love for where I currently live … in the heart of country music U.S.A..
The possibility of dropping everything to swap locales in about 60 days or less really spun up my existential drives. What were the short and long term details? What mattered in a quality of life sense, in a lifestyle sense, in a values sense? The job was only for 2-3 years, and then another move, probably back to Oregon, but nothing was guaranteed or even strongly likely. Much would be dependent on my performance, the economy, the larger team I would work with, and whatever opportunities awaited after 24 to 36 months.
Evaluating the job rapidly became much less about the work and much more about everything around work -- commutes, weather, cost of living, renting vs. owning my residence, community contacts, if any. I was drowning in trying to quantify the little things that actually comprise my life outside the job and in an excruciatingly fast timeframe.
Pop quiz: what makes one’s life one’s own? What makes one happy in that life? I found that mine rooted in some surprising hooks: routine, for one. I like going to the same spot every day, and seeing the same co-workers and working on the same deliverables. I like knowing my favourite eateries and what my favourite dishes are. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt in my world; it breeds contentment. Owning my own home is a pretty big deal to me, too. It may not be my forever-home, but it is mine, and I like my space. I like my 12-minute commute by train, too, and the one-mile drive to the train station to hop it. Often, I get chauffeured to my office by my sweetheart. It is a pretty sweet lifestyle.
I also happen to like my job, which is the first time in a very long time that I like a job that is a permanent gig and not the more casual (and easy to swallow) consultancy of my last decade. I’d be giving up an office on the top floor of a high-rise, visibility to and with the C-suites, and a management role without any direct reports. I get paid well and I have a bonus, too. This was nothing to cast aside casually.
But I do not love the city I live in. Unfortunately, I found I could much more easily enumerate the things that make me unhappy instead of happy. That’s a pretty common aspect of the human condition -- it’s easier to complain and find the negative, while the positive goes unmentioned and hard to enumerate. I do not like traffic. I do not like overt religiosity. I do not like humidity and tornadoes and mosquitoes. I actively dislike having to drive everywhere, in a culture that can’t conceive of walking any distance, short or otherwise. (Maybe it’s because of the humidity and the mosquitoes, I will give them that.) I am embarrassed to live here, to read about this backwards state and its backward approach to modern life.
Some of those dislikes affect me every day. Others are just principles, ideology. I may not enjoy paying taxes to a backward state, but I do enjoy cheaper real estate and a balance of sun and seasons throughout my year. Ultimately, it is a trade-off. What trade-offs were truly worth it, both short and long-term?
I borrowed trouble on this decision, too, by trying to be true to the longer-term outcomes that truly rooted in this short-term, 2-3 year relocation that would have lead to another relocation to Oregon. How to contrast today, wherein only my career is at play, against a next-year reality where my partner’s career was involved, too? How to balance potentials almost in hand now -- a slower pace of life, a possible part-time job modulation (and more writing and baking and gardening, oh my), a scratch-the-Portland itch with a big house and yard in East Nash … it was too much. I cannot judge my future here against the here-and-now here. Too much may change. Music City offers some lifestyle ease because it’s cheaper here that simply cannot be had on the West Coast. I had slipped off into evaluating “rest of my life” decisions based on what was to start out as merely the next 24-36 months.
But isn’t that what every choice ultimately is? The rest of one’s life can hang on the smallest of decisions: to go to the doctor sooner rather than later, to take up meditation instead of cross-stitch, to become friends with one person instead of another, to attend a work mixer or skip it to go home and read a book. A line from the movie “Cloud Atlas” clatters through my mind as I look back on the things I considered and weighed in my vortex of decision-grasping: “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
A year ago, I would have made this choice in isolation. I would have consulted my partner; we would have evaluated what we could quantify, and then rolled the dice. But this year, our lives are different. We have friends. We have relationships. We leveraged those people in our decision making process, asking them to gather with us over dinner and drinks and laughter and a few tears. They were supportive and caring, and they did not want us to go, but they understood if we ultimately decided to.
To add friction to an already sticky set of variables, my grandmother's voice echoed back out of time and the grave at me to implore of me again -- "Why can't I be happy where I'm planted?" She asked me that question almost a decade ago, and I was younger and less experienced then, so it bothered me at the time ... because I did not know how to answer her. Was I fundamentally flawed, I wondered in 2004, that I had to rattle my sabre and fumble my way through half a dozen locales, trying to find a place I felt I belonged?
Now, as 2014 draws close, I realize the disingenuousness of the inquiry. I was not consulted on my planting. Where I was born was a matter of circumstances, mostly of my parents and their choices. I was a mere blastocyst when my early life and young adulthood was decided. I found it much more apropos to ask why would I be happy where I was planted. What would be the odds that the things that satisfied my mother and father about their life choices be the same to satisfy me? It's a different world, radically so, for me verses the path my parents trekked. It would be much more likely that I would prefer to chose my own pot or plot of ground for rooting. And so I have.
In the end, we decided not to go -- with all things considered, inasmuch as they could be, guessed at and otherwise. In the end, the devil we knew was better than the devil we didn't. And it sure helped knowing we were not alone in this crazy, country-music-soaked, church-stuffed burg. We have cobbled together our tribe, we have found our favourite breakfast joint, our favourite dog park, a decent bar that makes a decent French 75. And all is right with it, in the end. For now.