I am where I am by default – and by choice. That’s right. I still live in the city I grew up. My parents moved the family to Canada’s capital when I was in the second grade, and yes, I’m still here.
Now I’m not saying I never left or I’ve never been away – I have. I went away to attend university, I was in Washington State for year, and I even spent a short time living in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve traveled to many different cities and countries around the world, and yet here I am. Right back where I started.“Pretty as a Postcard” by Victoria Smith, sfgirlbybay on etsy.
You see, when I was finished school, the world was my oyster. I could have placed myself anywhere, but I came back to Ottawa. I had family here, and finding a job in a familiar place was far less daunting to me than starting somewhere new. So, I settled in and diligently started work on that checklist we’re conditioned to believe. You know the one – a job, a husband, a pet, a starter home, and even a child.
These were all choices I made knowingly, and they were pretty easy to make, but it never crossed my mind to question whether I was in the right place. Anyway, after a while, it all started to add up. One thing led to another, and here I was. Established.
Then, after checking everything off ‘the list’, something was still missing. My choices had accumulated into a life that left me feeling lost. So, as difficult as it was, I undid decisions and went my own way. I also grew very grumpy about being bound to my hometown, and felt trapped in a city that no longer suited the new me. I began to get fired up about the possibility of starting fresh somewhere else.
I went into an Internet frenzy, searching high and low for a new place to live. I was looking for warm and sunny, since I can’t stand the bitter cold winter, and I wanted to be where cutting edge innovation, creativity and risk taking were ‘de rigueur’. A healthy environment, a progressive political class, a diverse and open-minded culture, a breathtakingly beautiful landscape, and a rich history were all factors I also knew would be ideal.
Never before had it occurred to me that I could actually choose my place. How liberating!
All of a sudden, I was shopping for destinations to settle - comparing the features and benefits of various metropolitan areas – and seriously considering a move. The prospect of a major relocation was exciting, although I knew it would not be easy to leave friends and family behind. Even so, I was undaunted.
Along the way, I met a fella who was game for a change, and the two of us plotted endlessly. We were keen on the same kind of cities, and knew if we were together, we would somehow be ok. After much deliberation, we determined that San Francisco would be the best place to be, and we promptly hopped on a plane to test our theory. We were not deterred.
Then, reality caught up.
Making A Conscious Choice
While he and I had sadly split well over a year before, my young daughter’s father was still living here in Canada’s capital. Who was I to contemplate a scenario where she would grow up a such a long distance from her loving and devoted dad? Father daughter relationships as close as theirs are rare, and a move by me would have been devastating to them both. I never mentioned anything, and my exit plans slowly faded away.
Fast forward a few years, and everything has turned out well. I am genuinely happy, and despite the long cold winters, I consider myself at home. After our trip to San Francisco, I moved into my fella’s friendly little house, and finally began to feel like I could hang my hat, permanently. My daughter and her father have a wonderful relationship, which I know will continue to deepen meaningfully as she grows up, and I am truly grateful for the healthy co-parenting arrangement he and I have worked out.
I also started a blog with the expressed intent of embracing my choice to remain, and focused my posts on local innovators, risk takers, and creative trailblazers. Through this process, I re-connected with my community, turned up tons of stuff I never knew existed, and met many good friends. I also uncovered my strengths, learned new skills, and after a few false starts, happened onto the idea of location independent web-based entrepreneurship. I guess you could say my experience with place has been completely re-framed, although I no longer underestimate it’s relevance when reflecting on what home really means.
This cold capital city is – and will always be – my home base. Being here – and building a location independent business – means I’m also enabling my mobility. Maybe in the future I’ll spend months at a time in San Francisco, or maybe not. After all, there are loads of other places I’d still like to see. The point is, wherever I go, this is the home I chose.
We all have the ability to choose our home base, and whether it’s a city far away or a neighbourhood around the corner, it’s a choice that is best made mindfully.
In his book “Who’s Your City”, author and celebrity academic Richard Florida makes this argument way better than me – with research, data and fascinating footnotes to back it up. Building on the work of Harvard psychologist and happiness expert Dan Gilbert, Florida suggests that the question of where we live has as much of an effect on our happiness as what work we do, or who we choose as mate. Why is it then, that most don’t consider it nearly as carefully?
“The key is to find a place that fits you – one that makes you happy and enables you to achieve your life goals.” he says, and I agree.
What about you? Did you choose your place, or did it choose you?