How to know if it’s time to move away

Man on bike

On a recent flight home, I fell into conversation with a friendly woman from my birth city of Philadelphia.

She was on her way to a small town in the Pacific Northwest for a job interview and was as excited as she was nervous. Hearing that I not only lived in Portland, but also was originally from the east coast, she peppered me with questions. About my move, about how I decided it, about why I chose Portland, the whole process.

It turned out that the questions were not just polite ones, but deeply relevant to her, as she appeared to be at a crossroads in her life: Should she stay in the place she’s lived all her adult life, which was easy and comfortable and had real prospects, or should she pull up her roots and head to new place, one filled with promise but also uncertainty?

There is no should, of course. But it made me think about moving, both in my own decisions and those of others.

Going soft

I’ve talked about my decision to leave New York City, where I lived before moving to Portland.

But there was more to it than just feeling burnt out from the uphill exertion of doing basically anything. And it was more than the gnomic adage that I’d heard so many times in various configurations:

Leave the west coast before you get too soft; leave the east coast before you get too hard.

(If the above is true, I currently have about 25 years to go before I reach equilibrium.)

The other aspect to me leaving New York City was this: I felt like I could. I felt like a had a window to move, and that window could close in an instant.

Going somewhere else

Moving is never easy, especially if it involves intercity (or even inter-country) travel. There are times when it’s easier (such as when a job falls in your lap or there are people you want to be near), but this is all a differential against a large volume of effort.

Even just moving across town (which I did last year) took up months of my life and caused me to scuttle any plans of job hunting for about a year. And that was in a situation where the choice to move was made for me!

So with such effort, it may be tempting to not move away ever. And I know lots of people who have never left their hometown—or at least a 15 mile radius of it—and are fine with that.

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Granted, I personally believe that it’s a good idea for everyone to experience life in different areas, if for no other reason than to confirm or deny that the place that they started is the place that they want to be. (This is also why I don’t think marrying your high school sweetheart is a good thing.)

One question

But let’s say that you’ve already got the bug to get out. There is one fundamental question to ask of yourself when you’re contemplating if now is the time to make the move:

Will your move become easier or harder in the future?

In my case, moving from New York, the answer was very straightforward. I had no intimate relationships and very few people to say goodbye to. I rented an apartment (month-to-month lease), I had a job that would let me relocate with no fuss whatsoever, and I had the ability to pretty much do it single-handed.

In short, I could go pretty much whenever.

I knew it would never be easier to make the move. And the chances of it getting harder over time were great.

If I stayed, I could find a partner. I could change jobs to one that was less flexible. I would find more reasons to stick around.

The idea of getting older and never leaving New York was a scary one to me. Even if I found reasons to stay, it couldn’t take away from the desire to experience another part of the world, a chance to start over. Nothing in New York would ever let me do that.

A tough call

I posed this question to my seatmate on the plane. Her response was surprisingly candid, in that she put her head in her hands and groaned. “Ugh, you’re so right, but that’s really hard to hear.

Mind you, I knew nothing about this woman’s backstory. I don’t know her reasons for wanting to go. I don’t know if she had a partner, and if so whether this partner would come with her or not.

I don’t even know if my question was suggesting for her a reason to go or a reason not to go. I was a stranger, and it wasn’t for me to ask.

But I would pose the same question to you. Remember the lessons from the burning building. Moving is hard, but will it just get harder? Is now the best possible time?

But enough about me. Are you considering moving on in some way? How are you making that decision?

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