The Pressures to Uprootimage
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The Pressures to Uproot

Me: Cambridge, Maryland! That's where we should live!

Sarah: Is it better than Charlottesville?

Me: Thinks for a moment. No. Dammit. Goes back to scrolling through Zillow.

Over the past couple years, this type of conversation has become a running joke between Sarah and I.

Every few weeks, I'll recommend that we move to some obscure place; and no matter how excitedly we entertain the notion - regardless of its beauty, affordability, or proximity to surfable waves - it inevitably falls short of Charlottesville.

We love where we live. We don't want to leave. But as we've waved goodbye and watched so many loved ones move away, we've been left wondering whether we should do the same.

So in this post, I'm going to examine these pressures to uproot. And in doing so, I hope to help myself and others think through whether to pack up or stay put.

Pushes and pulls.

Over the past four years, as we've bid friends farewell, Sarah and I have had many moments to reflect on the reasons people relocate. In fact, we've begun to see them similarly to the factors of immigration that we learned about in freshman world history - just on a smaller scale.

People and places are like magnets; and moving is the product of influential forces that push and pull them.

Push factors are like the sudden loss of community. This is why most people we graduated with didn't move back to Charlottesville. Their community wasn't formed around the city; its foundation was built on their class, and class was over. One of our friends lost their job during the pandemic. Being unable to pay rent was a significant push out of the city and back into their parent's house.

Pull factors are like the offer that same friend received a few months later to work at a company in D.C. Most pull factors involve the promise of opportunity - be that a job, degree, or sense of place.

Obviously, these factors can also compound. Another friend of ours spent most of her college years far away from her family. She works in a very particular field and loves to ski. So, after graduating, she moved somewhere with the work she wanted that was within a thirty minute drive to a killer slope and a six hour drive to her parents.

Hey, a six hour drive is better than a six hour flight...right?

Identifying this pattern in others has made Sarah and I realize that we have very few pushes away from Charlottesville and so many that - whenever we travel - always pull us back.

I could write a whole post on why I love this place, but I won't because - unless I've told you otherwise - I don't want you to move here.

Kidding...but not really.

A different kind of "FOMO".

The "fear of missing out" is a common pull factor towards major metropolitan hubs. People see on social media the diverse set of experiences cities like New York, Las Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco offer, and it starts to make them feel that they're limited by where they live.

Sarah and I have never felt this kind of FOMO.

However, when Keith and Chelsea - two of our best friends - recently moved to Philadelphia, we were reminded of an alternative kind of FOMO: the fear of missing others.

This is the same feeling we had right before Sarah left to study abroad in Ireland, right before I spent a summer in D.C., right before our friends all moved across the country to pursue their post-grad plans; the impending sense of pain caused by the lack of proximity to the people you love most.

We live in a time where it's easy to hop on a plane, send a text, or pick up the phone and be instantaneously transported into the lives of those that we miss. But it's not the same as feeling like you're part of their lives because you live in the same place.

When you don't know the next time you'll see someone, "Goodbye" means more. It brings up more unknowns about who they'll be, who you'll be, and what the world will look like if and when you reunite.

That's why now, when we visit our friends, Sarah and I try to always leave knowing when we'll see them again. We make a plan; because focusing on the known makes it much easier to deal with the unknown.

I'm afraid of missing out on the lives of those that I love. I fear that growing in different places will cause us to grow apart. But the reality is that this magical place in my mind where I live next to all of my favorite people doesn't exist. There's no place I can move to make that fear go away. So I have to face the fact that:

Living apart is part of life.

Respite from restlessness.

When we shut down Lumastic about a year ago, I was exhausted, burnt out, depressed, and lost. So, although it was extremely difficult, I was also glad to close that chapter. I was looking forward to being still - taking some time to rest and reflect.

However, in the time since, I've grown restless of resting. I feel like a black bear coming out of hibernation. I'm awake, and I'm hungry.

I want to be back in the arena. I want to hear the call of adventure again. I want the wind of an idea to once again whisk me away towards uncharted waters. And I'm getting tired of waiting.

If I allowed myself, I'd sail away with the next fleeting thought; but I don't want to choose the heading of a five, ten, twenty year journey based on a brief, momentary gust.

I know practicing patience, going slow, testing out my assumptions and picking the right idea is the pragmatical thing to do. But knowing that doesn't make it easier.

I think I've been using the idea of moving as an escape from the agony of dealing with my own impatience. A change of scenery feels like a fix - a quick hit to my adventure addiction.

However, the hard realization is that moving would only be a distraction. It would give me respite, but not resolve. The unanswered question for me is not "where next", but "what next".

The sanctity I seek is not a place, but a state of mind. I don't want to move, I want to work. So, for now, all I can do is trust my process: watch, write and wait.

Listen. The call will come.

Being part of the scene.

In general, I enjoy talking to people. I've been told I'm pretty charismatic and a good conversationalist. I like learning about the lives others.

But I'm bad at networking.

I don't really enjoy small talk* or coffee chats; I do a poor job of keeping up with people outside my closest circles; I ignore or forget about most emails; and, in general, I think of LinkedIn as a club for corporate shills to talk about their work instead of doing it (shoutout to everyone here from LinkedIn 😘).

However, I understand the value in cultivating a great network.

The proof is the cherished relationships I have with people I've met through jobs, conferences, accelerators, or just randomly here on the internet. Having folks to learn alongside, share motivation and opportunities with, and get feedback from is invaluable. I just wish the process didn't feel like such a slog sometimes.

So, recently I've felt an urge to be move to a "scene": a place where people with similar interests colocate. San Francisco, Seattle, LA, and NYC - these capitals of creativity seem to make networking just a function of proximity. But as I've researched the pros and cons of becoming a "scenester", I've become less certain about this silver bullet.

There are real networking perks when we're part of a scene. There are more opportunities to connect with people on the front lines of a field; living next to leaders lets us watch and learn closer to the action; surrounding ourselves with a larger peer group also (usually) means surrounding ourselves with a higher caliber of craft.

All of these benefits let us immerse ourselves in the work and accelerate our pace of progress. It can be an extremely valuable and strategic move. However, these perks also come with a cost.

Being on the front lines isn't always the greatest strategy. "Pioneers have arrows in their backs", but they also sometimes just get lost and die in the woods. And when we're constantly being told that, "This is the next big thing", the pressure to be a pioneer compounds. And if we're not careful, we can find ourselves sifting fools gold; realizing that the only person cashing out is the one that convinced us to buy in.

Living in a scene can also easily become living in a bubble. The diversity of perspectives around us is what helps us create one that is uniquely our own. This unique perspective is where our creative power comes from. Immersing ourselves in a mostly homogenous pool of people can cause us to lose this perspective, get lost in the sauce, burn out, and forget ourselves.

Like I've mentioned, networking is important. Connecting with and learning from others is a vital part of any career; but it can also easily become a vice, a distraction, from doing the actual work. It takes a great amount of discipline to keep this balance in the face of an endless feed of events. But if we don't know how to say no, our focus can start to drift from our work to the work of others.

Obviously, different people will make different judgements of these tradeoffs. Personally, I don't think being a scenester would solve anything for me. Meeting people is relatively easy in the central VA tech scene - keeping up with those people is the part I need to work on.

Also, I am not very good at saying no to opportunity. I'm easily distracted. That's why I love living in a smaller town. It's much easier to say no when most big events happen an hour away. It gives me a moment to actually sit and ask myself whether it's worth the distraction or disruption in routine.

Speaking of which, if you're in the central VA area, come hang with me at RVAJS Conf in November! It's gonna be a great time.

A stunt for story.

Many moons ago, I published my 35 before 35: a list of 35 things I'd like to do before my 35th birthday. And as I write this article the week before Halloween, I fear my decision to put down, "6. Live outside VA" has come back to haunt me.

I added this to the list after a conversation I had with a friend right before they moved to New York City. As they tried to convince me to move as well - something people usually do before they leave, I think in an attempt to quell their doubts about the decision - they posed an interrogating question:

Are you going to live in Virginia forever?

At the time, this hurt.

One of the virtues I strive towards is wisdom: a spiritual sense of self-actualization that I believe comes, in part, from a diverse set of life experiences. And there I was, faced with a facet of my life that I now felt limited my ability to seek that virtue.

I began to judge myself for never living outside the borders I came of age in. I felt uncultured, naive, and simple. And it was with this tint of malice and masochism that I added, "Live outside VA" to my list of todos for the decade.

However, it was not for want of wisdom that I wrote this down, but narcissism. I wanted to do it just to say I'd done it; to do it for the story. I wasn't motivated to move for self-discovery, but vanity. I wasn't concerned with what I would learn about myself, but what it would say about me to others.

Now, I'm not saying that moving to a different state wouldn't be an experiment in self-understanding; I think it would. But when I wrote that list, I wasn't honest about whether that was something I actually wanted to do. To connect to another blog post: I didn't want to live outside Virginia; I wanted to have lived outside Virginia.

As I've sat with the question more, I feel I now have a more healthy perspective on whether I'm "really going to live in Virginia forever?"

I don't think it really matters.

Most people throughout history never lived anywhere else. Loving where I live and living there for a long time doesn't mean I can't seek discomfort and self-discovery. Making a home somewhere unknown is something to be proud of for sure, but Sarah and I have done already done that here in Charlottesville. I still feel there is so much for me to learn about myself and others by being in this community.

The idea that I have to live outside some arbitrary border to become wise is absurd. Wisdom isn't gained through having every experience imaginable. Wisdom, first and foremost, is about understanding that knowledge is infinite. Wisdom is knowing that you can't know it all. Being wise is making the words, "I don't know" your best friend.

That's what matters, and that's what I forgot. Currently, there's no place I'd rather be.

But I'm always open to change.

Now or never.

I know this post is getting long, but there is one last pressure I want to address.

Sarah and I have a solid 3 years before wanting to start a family. When we take that step in life, we want to be close to our families and raise our kids in Charlottesville. So, we feel we only have a short window of time where it's easy and makes sense to live somewhere other than here. If we want to have that experience, we feel like it's now or never.

But I'm not sure that's true.

Life is messy. Just like we don't know what the next three years will look like (hell, the last 7 months have felt crazy), there's no way to know whether something will happen in our lives post children that will cause us to move. Believing that it's now or never is believing that everything will go according to plan. But, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."

Sarah's parents had their first two kids in two different states. My parents had me and my older brother in Connecticut. Through a series of moves, both of our families eventually made their ways to the houses we grew up in. Moving, I'm sure, is unimaginably harder with kids, but it's possible. If we really wanted to, we could.

It's not now or never; it's now, or maybe later, or maybe never. Who knows?

Thoughts on moving?

I know this was a rather long post; so thanks for sticking with me until the end! As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the pressures to uproot on Twitter!

Until next time.

* I hope for those of you reading who identify as introverts feel some solace knowing that there's an extrovert who stands in solidarity against small talk with you.

Drew Lyton
Drew Lyton
Monday, October 24, 2022

I'm a software engineer, ex-founder and writer who cares deeply about creating a better relationship between technology and society. I'm currently writing a book about early stage entrepreneurship.


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