As professionals, our jobs often dictate where we live. Yes, telework is gaining traction in many fields. Sadly, however, there are still institutional barriers to telework. And in many sectors, there will always be work to do onsite. This is especially true in my industry – I work in a laboratory. I suspect that as long as I’m involved in laboratory science, my work will dictate where I live.
What is “home?”
When external circumstances dictate where you live, it can be difficult to determine whether the place you currently live is “home.” I believe it’s possible to be, as my Uber driver put it, “a transplant” and still truly feel that a city is home.
But I also believe that each of us has an environment in which we thrive most. That environment may look very different for different people. And while most city slickers are agile enough to succeed in a country lifestyle and vice versa, it’s difficult to change our inherent preferences for the ways we prefer to shop, eat, and get around town. In other words, “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”
So what do we need in order to feel like a city is “home?” There are a handful of factors at work here:
Maybe you moved somewhere solely for the job opportunity. At some point in life, though, there’s more to life than just your job. The cities that make us feel at home are the ones in which we can forge personal connections.
These are the cities where we have some social skin in the game. This could be the formation of a rich network of friends or the presence of family. It could be an amazing professional network. It could even be the right set of circumstances that lead to us meeting the perfect partner. As it is with any relationship, an intimate relationship with a city is a two-way street, and we need some skin in the game to reap the rewards.
If you’re constantly finding that you’re the only libertarian in a room full of populists, or the only football fan in a roomful of NBA fanatics, chances are smaller that you’re going to feel truly at home. Differences in educational background, religious preferences, political views, and life philosophies can cause divides, however subtle. It’s even possible for us to have the utmost respect for our neighbors or colleagues and feel that they’re our intellectual equals and yet, still feel that we are missing a true connection, if the gaps we must bridge are wide enough. Finding our “people,” philosophically speaking, can be key to feeling like we’ve found home.
Lifestyle plays a huge role in whether we feel comfortable. Our upbringing and personality types both contribute to our innate preferences in lifestyle, for example, whether we walk or drive to do our errands, or whether we buy groceries at the corner market versus Costco. In fact, you probably have preferences in both of those scenarios, and I’m betting you didn’t have to give it much thought. We all have different tolerances in what we’re willing to endure to get ourselves to work in the morning, be it changing trains on the subway, sitting on the interstate, or simply walking a few blocks to work. Of course, we can override those preferences, but not without some mental cost. We deplete our mental resources if we’re stressed out by the subway schedule or reduced to road rage every day on the interstate.
Although the most superficial of the four factors discussed here, weather is nevertheless a factor. When I lived in Houston, I met countless people while traveling who would readily admit, “Oh, I could never live there. I hate the heat.” Likewise, I’ve met plenty of people who enjoy the warm weather that the gulf coast has to offer. I’ve also known people who have moved away from cities because it’s just too cold (sorry, Chicago). As with lifestyle factors, weather is one factor that we can overcome, but we all have our innate preferences.
In the end, when it comes to really connecting with a city, it doesn’t matter how you got there. What matters most is whether you’ve forged personal connections with the people with whom you share that city, and whether the lifestyle aspects match your preferences. We all want somewhere to call home. When we are aware of the factors that can allow us to feel that connection, we are one step closer to being able to find it.
Erica Bakota is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. After earning her PhD in chemistry at Rice University, she joined USDA as a research chemist, where she studied lipid oxidation and alternatives to partially hydrogenated oils. She then returned to Houston, Texas to join the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, where she led method development and validation for the Forensic Toxicology Laboratory. In March 2018, she made a move back to the feds and is now with the FDA as a chemist at the Kansas City Laboratory. Her work at FDA focuses on active ingredients in dietary supplements and pesticide residues in foods. You can read her posts here.