I bought that framed print at an outdoor marketplace in Tallinn, Estonia. It was a crisp day and I was still snacking on the warm spiced nuts I bought from a street vendor. I don’t normally buy souvenirs, but something about the print stood out to me. I tucked it into my bag and told myself I would hang it up in my future house, as soon as I felt truly at home.
And the two thoughts I held in my head were these:
This was a country that, during my 2011 visit, had been using mobile payments throughout daily life for years. For a frame of reference, Apple Pay wouldn’t be invented for another three years.
This was also a country in which street vendors prepared sweet spiced almonds in what looked like ancient copper pots. I was smitten.
I was unable to articulate it at the time, but I realize now the reason I was so taken with Estonia was because of its use of technology to improve everyday life while maintaining an appreciation for its own roots and traditions.
Little did I know, the push-pull of technology and my roots would become a theme for this decade of my life. Nearly a year after this trip, I would move to San Francisco to work in tech. But I would frequently visit Los Angeles to visit my family, aching with homesickness every time I flew back up north. Even more so when I had my son.
When I’d look at job postings in LA, my husband Ian raised an eyebrow at the career prospects. I’d roll my eyes, “There’s more to life than open floor plans and free catered lunch.” (Don’t tell him that in actuality, I was just as skeptical about the job market as he was.)
It’s easy to appreciate the Bay Area. The weather. Wine country. The food. The bars. Easy access to beautiful hikes. The small town effect: knowing that whatever event was happening on the weekend, everyone knew about it, and most of your friends would already be going. The possibility and the earnestness that the startup you were working for was going to change the world for the better.
The Bay Area is a place that makes you feel grateful to be there.
But that feeling is a double-edged sword.
It’s also the place of the haves and have nots. If you don’t work in tech, you either don’t live in SF, you got lucky with a rent-controlled apartment, or you have at least three roommates. And if you do work in tech, then by God, you are fighting tooth and nail for that rent-controlled apartment. Or you’re biting the bullet and paying for that modern high-rise in SOMA. So you’re grateful because you have the luck and grit it takes to keep going.
For me, it was too far from home. I missed my family and Ian’s family. I hated that my son wasn’t seeing his grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins more often.
I wanted to return closer to my roots, but Ian and I spent years building our networks in tech, and in the Bay Area. Moving back south would be undoing all of that work.
And then the pandemic hit.
California shut down and we all began to learn about COVID-19: Masks don’t work. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face. Oh wait, we were wrong about masks; they actually ARE effective.
I had the sinking feeling that I would never see my parents again, thinking it inevitable they would catch the virus. I thought of my niece and nephew and how fast they were growing up. I looked at my 20-month-old son who was reaching milestones that no one would get to see.
My office shut down. Ian’s office shut down. Our son’s daycare shut down. I was furloughed for a month. And then indefinitely. Suddenly, we were paying top dollar to live in Silicon Valley and not feeling the benefits.
When you are in the same mental and physical space for long enough, you can’t help but look at how you live through a new lens.
You need to love where you live.
You need to define what that love is to you.
I love the Bay Area, but I didn’t love living there.
So we decided to move back to LA.
As Ian and I looked inward, it became about more than family and more than work. We gave more consideration to our immediate space, our access to the outdoors, our quality of life, and the cost of living.
If history tells us anything, it’s that this pandemic will last for at least a year and a half. So we wanted to live in a home that we knew we would love staying in. It took a lot of conversations for Ian and me to crystallize what was most important to each of us.
But it wasn’t a matter of deciding that intellectual, emotional, physical, social, and environmental wellbeing were significant. It was asking ourselves what those things really meant, especially in the time of COVID. I found myself asking these questions:
- What do I need to feel safe and secure?
- When do I feel most engaged with my own life?
- What are the moments that bring me joy? Why?
- What aspects of my career do I love? Why?
- What are the things I hope for my son right now? Six months from now?
Ultimately, here’s what we prioritized…
Reducing potential coronavirus infection from shared spaces.
We were living in an apartment complex that required walking through three hallways to get outside or to the parking garage. And there’s good evidence that shared air in indoor spaces contributes to the spread of coronavirus. Worried about the shared air in our building and having to touch multiple doors to get out, we limited going outside to errands only.
We wanted less friction in using the car, picking up mail, and going outside. So we added having our own front door and garage to our list.
Enabling ourselves to work well.
Ian was to become a fully remote worker, and I was focused on finding a fully remote job. All day we’d be working on our computers and taking Zoom calls, and then at night, FaceTiming with friends or watching Netflix.
We thought about what would best help us do our jobs effectively: physical space and a high-speed internet connection. So we prioritized finding a new place with an extra room for a dedicated office as well as fiber internet.
Optimizing for our routine & lifestyle.
Between being remote workers, having a toddler approaching his terrible two’s, and knowing that we would continue to be at home all day, we also wanted more square footage. We wanted ample playing space for our son, and as an extra nice-to-have, enough space so that the kitchen and living room would be far enough from our son’s room that we could cook or watch TV without disturbing him when he’s sleeping.
Being accessible to family.
Since a big part of moving back was to be closer to family, we obviously wanted to live within easy driving distance of them. We settled on finding a place within 30 minutes so that backyard dinners or occasional grocery or meal dropoffs would be easy.
Mitigating risk of unhappiness.
At the time that we decided to move, I was still furloughed and hadn’t yet landed my current job. Saving money was a priority. And with the uncertainty of the year to come, we felt it prudent to reduce costs wherever possible.
We also wanted to solve for this: Virtual tours and photos aside, we were going to move into our new home sight unseen. If we were to end up unhappy with the house itself, the community, or even the town, we wanted a place that would suit our lifestyle and savings goal well enough for us to not mind the tradeoff.
Several weeks and one exhausting spreadsheet from Ian later, we found our townhouse.
We gave our notice and began to prepare for our move.
As it all became more real, self-doubt started to flicker. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would come to regret this move. That I had spent nearly eight years building a network in the Bay Area tech industry, and that I was throwing it all away to return to my roots.
I had that thought as we made the long drive down. But as I unpacked the boxes and came across this little framed print, the print that I’ve never actually hung because I was waiting to feel at home before hanging it, I allowed myself to think…
Maybe, like Estonia, I don’t have to choose career options or being closer to my family. Maybe, I can have both.