My wife came home from work a couple of days ago looking like she was deep in thought. I said hello, and she said—to me, but also seemingly to herself—“What would it take to get you to move away from here?” I could tell she had been pondering this all the way home on her long commute and was struggling for an answer. Silence ensued as I tried to think of some decent responses. The only two that jumped to mind immediately were the lottery and the super-duper dream job. As I was searching for something more reasonable, she said, “I just happened to hear about an opening for a job like mine, and it got me thinking about why people really leave one place for another and how often they regret it.” She mentioned some friends who had left for a few years and then came back, not aware at the time how much they would miss it and how the grass is not always greener on the other side. My mind was definitely churning for answers by that point, as she had hit a sensitive spot with me.
Her question made me think of my interview I did with my Mom last week in anticipation of her 70th birthday. We were doing a life review and talking about lessons she learned, things she was proud of, and things she would regret. In the middle of it, she casually mentioned—in a way that suggested that I have always known this—that she never really liked the town that she has lived in for the last 40 years (my hometown). My jaw dropped. HUH???? I was blown away. I never knew! In her casualness about it, she added, “But I can’t think of any other place I’d want to be, either.” She rattled off a few of the contenders in the area but none were appealing enough to make a change. Much like my wife’s question this week, I was really left wondering about my choice of town, the one that my kids will always know as their hometown. Just how great is this place? But, more specifically, how tied am I to it? How likely am I to leave in the next 20 or 30 years? What would it take to make me go? Hmmmm…..
When I was young, I moved all the time. I thought nothing of it. Between my 21st and 22nd birthdays, I lived—my definition of “living somewhere” is that I bought mustard at the grocery store there, a sign that I was somewhat settled in and not at a hotel—in five different cities: Grand Forks, ND; Minneapolis; Chicago; Washington, DC; and New York City. Shortly after that, I finally settled in Los Angeles and thought I was done. A few years later, it turned out I was not done. Cities were then like jobs have always been for me: as soon as my heart wasn’t in it anymore, I had to move on. I moved a couple other times before finally settling here, where I have been—albeit in a few different houses—for the last 13 years. When we bought our current house almost five years ago, we thought of it as our forever house. And, despite the fact that my wife was looking on a real estate website today—old habits die hard–I think we both believe we are here for the long haul.
Or are we? Her question this week—and my Mom’s revelation last week—have me wondering why we are here and just what it would take to get me to leave.
I have never loved it here. I haven’t hated it, either. I just haven’t loved it. There is nothing particular about it that especially appeals to me, nothing that demands to be called Home. I live in a pleasant suburb of a fairly large city that has lots to do. However, I just don’t value the size, and I don’t take advantage of all the cool things about big city life. I can’t stand traffic; it seems like a waste of time to me. And Winter is very long here. It is gorgeous in the Summer—by far my favorite time of the year–but there is so little of it and so much nasty Winter.
In theory, I prefer to be in a relatively small town. I would like to know and trust more of the people around me, the way it seemed my parents did when I was a kid in my hometown of around 35,000 people. I would also, in theory at least, prefer to live either in the mountains or on the ocean, and somewhere with mild to warm temperatures most of the year. So, a smallish city on the beach or in the mountains with lots of active, outdoor options and open spaces. None of those qualities are even remotely close to my current situation! What the heck have I done?
The options certainly change when you get other people involved in the decision. Suffice it to say that I would probably not be living here right now if it weren’t for my wife and kids. And I DEFINITELY would not be living here right now if it were not for our extended families. They have shaped everything.
Living in a city this size is one of my wife’s ideals. Part of that is something we both desire, which is racial and ethnic diversity. We are a multi-racial family, and it is important to us to at least be in the same town as people whose ancestors do not all hail from Northern Europe. In most cases, with size comes diversity. So, here we are in the city! The reason it is this city, though, instead of one in a warmer climate or on an ocean—or even a more diverse one—is the reason that seems to trump all of the others: FAMILY. The proximity to both sides of our family and the ability to see them all frequently is the reason we came here, and it is the reason we have stayed. It means so, so much to me to be within a day’s drive of my parents and siblings, including both my childhood home and the lake cabin/family gathering place. I love that my kids’ favorite times of the year are when they gather with their cousins, and I so appreciate how well they know their grandparents. We just couldn’t pull off this combination anywhere else.
So, what would it take to get me to leave? Any old job opportunity wouldn’t do. It would have to be an absolute dream job—like writing or public speaking on topics of my choice—that also came with an obscene amount of money and time freedom to allow us to come back this way frequently to visit our families. Or, if my wife got a job that paid so well that I could work only on my passions at home and, again, we could easily and frequently visit family. Or, yes, the lottery would still be nice, I admit! All of the possibilities seem to involve 1) a dream job opportunity, 2) lots of money, and 3) the necessity of easy access to family. Short of that, I think I am a lifer. For better or for worse!
How about you? How tied are you to the place where you live? Open up your journal and share what it means to you to live where you do. What brought you there in the first place? How much choice did you have in the matter? What were the things that appealed to you when you first arrived? How have those things changed, and do you still value them the same way? What are the things about your home that you see as positives now that you didn’t think about when you first moved there? How much does proximity to family play a part in your choice of location? Is just knowing they are around enough, or do you really make the effort to see them often? If you took family out of the equation, what kinds of qualities matter most to you when you consider your ideal hometown? What kind of climate would you prefer? How about the landscape? Population? Diversity? Proximity to “culture”? Which of these carries the most weight? How long do you think you will live where you do now? Forever? Can you name one place in the world right now that you would definitely move to, even if it involved a very similar lifestyle to the one you lead now? What is it about that place? Why haven’t you gone there already? Leave me a reply and let me know, “What would it take to get you to move?”