This post is the last in a series of three, commenting on a post by famed career writer Penelope Trunk.
One recommendation is, “Move to an inexpensive city if you want to start a company.”
This recommendation has some merit because you DO want to keep expenses low. However, there’s a trade-off.
When I began working on the Internet, I lived in a beautiful home in Fort Lauderdale. The house was big and as time went on, it felt like an albatross. I didn’t need that much space. I wasn’t in tune with the city; I’d moved there for a job that I no longer had.
So I decided to sell the property (I made a nice profit) and move to a small town in New Mexico. My living expenses plummeted. I bought a small, cozy house for cash and paid $300 a year in property tax. Who could ask for more?
The problem is, there’s no such thing as a low-cost place. If you pay little in real estate, you have expenses when you need to buy anything. Medical care often requires leaving the town. There are few if any public resources, such as transportation.
Additionally, I was isolated professionally. There was no way I could get business in town. Few people related to what I was doing and nobody could pay for my services.
I went to Tucson about once a month to take part in a book club and stock up on inspiration as well as almost anything I wanted to buy.
Worst of all, I had limited computer support. A couple of freelancers helped me out but there wasn’t a Mac Store with a genius bar.
I loved the southwest. It just wasn’t practical. As a business owner I needed more stimulation.
While you need to consider cost of living, you also need to consider some of Richard Florida’s research on the way innovation emerges among clusters of businesses. You can always create a virtual community but you need to have some of the same energy as the people you see. If people around you are scrambling all the time and living in scarcity mode (“I’ll never have enough”), their attitude will rub off. If you’re surrounded by prosperous, confident people, that attitude wears off too.
And as to Trunk’s final point, I actually agree. Trunk’s point is well-taken: in a family, some members benefit while the “trailing spouse” usually loses. There’s a ton of research supporting this point. I wouldn’t say the spouse shouldn’t move, but it helps if one spouse has a portable career.
I have known couples where the trailing spouse actually jump-started his or her career after moving reluctantly as the trailing spouse. There’s a component of luck in everything related to careers. I’d say the spouse should move thoughtfully, not mindlessly.
And I know people who moved to a location more suited to their temperament. They thrived. Even if the area has a higher cost of living, you might end up with more prosperity because you’ll have more energy. To take a strong example, if you’re gay (or even just wildly liberal) and you’re living in a conservative town, you just might blossom when you move.
There are bad reasons to move. I don’t recommend moving because “there aren’t any men to date here.” I don’t recommend moving because “I’m just bored. I’ve lived here all my life and I wonder what it’s like.”
But there’s no hard and fast rule.
“Melinda” was a college professor at a prestigious university in the low-cost midwest. She was miserable. She couldn’t find friends and she missed her family. Her job performance suffered and she was encouraged to leave. She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, found a job at a lower-tier school, and thrived.
“Jane and Kevin” were a housewife and state employee living in the same San Francisco Bay Area. He was from New York; she was from the southwest US. They decided to move to Portland, Oregon, where they had close friends. From the moment they arrived, they felt at home. Twenty years later, they have no plans to move.