How much do you get to choose where you live?: A deliberately controversial post

A reader, in email, notes that sure, she gets to live near a Whole Foods, but she made that choice of where to live.  We could have made that choice, but we didn’t.  (Implicit:  so we should stop complaining.)  Indeed, one of us could commute a couple hours into work if she wanted to live in a city with a Whole Foods and the other would have to live in an entirely different state.  Seems as if the red state folk aren’t as into WF as those blue coastal cities.  (Which is weird, because isn’t WF from like Texas or someplace?)

Anyhow, that gets to the question:  How mobile are people?

Most of us are living constrained optimization problems.  Most of us aren’t quite qualified to be tenured professors at Stanford (we are ignoring people who would prefer Harvard or Columbia).  So we have to make trade-offs.

Currently the trade-off we’re making precludes us from walking to a Whole Foods (and don’t even get us started on the lack of Trader Joe’s).

It is true, we could re-optimize.  We *could* move.  But… making the trade off to be closer to a Whole Foods seems kind of the opposite of the advice to make the choices that make us happiest.

Many people have even more difficult choices and are even more constrained than we are.  In our optimization problems we generally have to balance:

Jobs– this is what our revealed preferences have put our strongest weight.  We’ve made most of our mobility sacrifices based on our ability to be tenure track professors at research universities.  We could have made the choice to have a more mobile career, but we didn’t want to.

Family– We’ve both asked our partners to make sub-optimal career and lifestyle choices in sacrifice to our jobs, and they have.  For a while #2 was living apart from her partner and that sucked more than anything.  With couples, often sacrifices have to be made for one or the other or both.  We don’t make choices in a vacuum.

Credit constraints– If we were independently wealthy, we could quit, pack up, and buy that house in the SF hills or Palo Alto or wherever.  We could walk to all sorts of fancy food places, and no longer care about our careers, finding fulfillment in high level charitable work instead.  Alas, we are not independently wealthy.  And many many families have it much worse than we do with our comparative privilege.  Rent for places near WF is generally not cheap.

Weather– I could very easily get a job in Boston or DC but I don’t want to live on the East Coast!  #2 likes the DC area, however.

Given that we’ve made choices that have these consequences… are we allowed to complain?  Well… yes and no.

Under constraints, rational actors try to find work-arounds that optimize their utility.  It’s easy to buy baby tomato plants at the grocery store to plant and get your tomatoes that way if the only tomatoes available at the stores are tasteless mush imported from the Netherlands.  So although we’d love to live closer to WF, and many other amenities, we’ve found some work-arounds.  We’re doing what we can.

Even though we complain about many red-state aspects of the culture here, it can be fulfilling to get students to see two sides of an issue that they once thought was only in black-and-white.  It’s still bad that homosexuality is thought of as a sin here, but that would be bad if we were living in the SF bay area (we just wouldn’t have to know about it because people wouldn’t talk about it in polite company).

And complaining about bad weather is totes fair game no matter where you live.  Even if you’re complaining about it being the short-lived rainy season in Santa Monica.

What do you think?  Have you managed to get everything you want in life (career, family, quality of life)?  If you haven’t, should you be allowed to complain about the trade-offs you’ve had to make?  And what tradeoffs have you made?

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84 Responses to “How much do you get to choose where you live?: A deliberately controversial post”

  1. Thisbe Says:

    It is always okay to complain about the weather! It’s one of the mainstays of polite conversation.

    When smart, solvent people complain about the entirely foreseeable outcomes of their own life decisions, I have a harder time being interested. But, my interest is probably not your goal. :)

    I do think that it’s probably a bad idea in the long run in terms of personal joy to optimize too heavily on one factor. Like if you find yourself complaining too much about a lack of Whole Foods (which I don’t even think is that great, but to each her own) and walkable neighborhoods, maybe it is time to rethink some other things.

  2. zenmoo Says:

    Well, my husband and I are from different countries – all his family lives in one, all mine in the other. His friends live in one – mine (mostly) in the other. His job prospects are better in my country – and to be honest, the type of work I liked doing most was better in his (but I’ve since changed fields and quite like what I do now – and it sure as shit pays a lot more to be an engineer in Australia than NZ). We’re never going to have everything we want in the same place.

    We optimize by travelling a lot and spending money on a ‘working holiday’ in NZ. We therefore live in a smaller house than we might otherwise.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I often kick myself for not choosing the smaller house option. We could have gotten a perfectly nice 2 bedroom for 100K less than what we spent. That would have paid for at least a few summers elsewhere.

  3. Ana Says:

    WF is from Austin, the most “un-TX-y”, liberal part of TX. We shop at WF because its the ONLY store we can get too that actually has fresh produce (urban food desert otherwise), and it is so so expensive & I’ve gotten food poisoning TWICE from their prepared foods. Trader Joe’s on the other hand (besides the non-local, pre-packaged, produce) is AMAZING and cheap.
    I never sensed that you guys “complained” about lack of WF, just mentioned it as explanation for planting tomatos and what-not. And I totally agree that where you live is only SOMEWHAT a choice, and only for very lucky/privileged people, and there are trade-offs in most choices. Unless the location you live has ZERO redeeming qualities, it would be foolish to move for one or two small negatives.

  4. Dr. Virago Says:

    Seems as if the red state folk aren’t as into WF as those blue coastal cities

    I believe that *your* red state doesn’t have a Whole Foods, but OMG, that’s not a universal. There are Whole Foods in red, non-coastal cities and in red states (Overland Park, KS, for example, is red suburbia in a landlocked red state and it has *two* Whole Foods). And there are blue cities and even whole blue states in the non-coastal part of the country (Michigan, for example — and no, I don’t count the Great Lakes as the “North Coast”). And there are red states with lots of ocean coast, as well (the Carolinas come to mind). Some of these have Whole Foods, some don’t, and it has more to do with economics than politics — there are enough spendy types to support a Whole Paycheck. Sometimes your unexamined California-centric view of the world makes my head explode, because otherwise you’re a rational, examine-the-evidence kind of person (people? though I suspect it’s only one of you who’s Cali-centric).

    Your fetishization of WF is kind of funny, too, especially in light of your love of things politically blue. WF’s CEO is more red than blue: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-wyskida/why-im-done-with-whole-fo_b_259716.html. But maybe it’s just shorthand for you.

    • Dr. Virago Says:

      I realize this wasn’t the point of the post, btw, and yeah, if one wants to stay in academia, one rarely gets to choose where one lives. Even at the star end of things, there’s not much choice involved — that’s not how hiring works.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Wow, that’s pretty harsh. As we noted, one of our red states *does* have whole foods. In the city. However, in the blue states we’ve lived in there have been lots of small WF scattered all over the place. In the red states, either no WF or a small number of very large WF.

      Kansas is midwestern and gets a bye, just like Missouri (and even Indiana).

      Neither of us is California-centric. We’ve both lived all over the country. Having lived all over the country, we both love CA best, and for very good reasons. If anything, we’re midwestern-centric. If only it had better weather.

      And we don’t let our politics govern our food choices (though one of us feels guilty every time she eats Haagandaz… most other Nestle food is bad enough that it is easy to boycott).

      And yes, you are right that WF is very careful about where it places stores. Our town fits everything on their list (which has been on their website) except population. I ran the census numbers to check a few years back. The Red/blue comment was more tongue-in-cheek, If we had TJ’s we would be less likely to need WF, though the local produce is awfully nice at WF.

      • Dr. Virago Says:

        All I’m talking about is the quoted remark, where you assume red states are into WF and you equate blue cities with coastal cities. There’s a whole lot of assuming going on there. And the Cali-centric bit comes from the text — Stanford, SF, and Palo Alto are your go-to ideals here.

        And if you’re going to give midwestern red states a bye, then what you’re really talking about isn’t red state vs. blue state is it?

      • Dr. Virago Says:

        Er, are *not* into WF.

    • Linda Says:

      I thought Michigan was a red state, not a blue state. I live pretty close to it (in Chicago, IL) and have family/friends from MI. I’m pretty sure it’s a red state, FYI. Now, Ann Arbor, MI may be more blue, and it also has a WF, as I understand. Ann Arbor MI is like Austin, TX, though, in that it is an island of liberalism in a sea of conservatives.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Regardless, they have Zingerman’s. Whenever I’m in Ann Arbor I have to make a stop.

      • Linda Says:

        I’ve heard good things about Zingerman’s. I’ve driven through Ann Arbor plenty of times on my way to and from Detroit (for work) or Toronto, but have never stopped there. All my knowledge of Ann Arbor is second hand.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Their chocolate cherry bread is worth the stop.

      • Dr. Virago Says:

        In presidential elections, Michigan usually goes to the Democrats — the origin of the blue/red state metaphor. State politics are usually more divided, and the presidential elections can be close, so there’s plenty of red around. But there are plenty of Democrats outside of Ann Arbor, many of them labor/union Democrats, many of them in the industrial cities of Flint, Detroit, etc.

      • Dr. Virago Says:

        And yes, Zingerman’s is da bomb in many ways. I recommend their restaurant, The Roadhouse, as well as their creamery if all you want is their yummy cheese (*much* easier to park there). But I prefer Plum Market to WF in Ann Arbor grocery shopping.

      • Dr. Virago Says:

        Here’s MI’s voting history, fwiw. I think “solidly blue since 1992″ would make a good slogan of some sort. :) Yeah, it was red before that, but what state *wasn’t* red in the Regan years? http://www.270towin.com/states/Michigan

      • Dr. Virago Says:

        OMG, *Reagan* years. Why can’t I type accurately today?

      • becca Says:

        Fivethirtyeight is forecasting a 98.3% chance of Michigan voting for Obama.

        I spent some adolescent summers in Delton, Michigan; and I’m originally from Chicago. Rural Michigan seems pretty freakin red to Chicagoans, sure! But in terms of voting behavior of the state as a whole, it’s pretty darn blue.
        Worth quoting (forget where I read it though) : “There are no blue states, only blue cities”. Have you ever been to Danville, IL? It’ll make you forget IL is a blue state.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We have spent a lot of time in the rural midwest. (It’s interesting that many of our friends from small midwestern towns now live in the SF bay area.)

      • Linda Says:

        OK, I stand corrected: MI is a blue state. :-)

        I’ve only been through Danville, but I know what you mean, Becca. My stepmother’s kids who live in IL away from Chicago are all voting Republican for sure. My own father who was a Dem as I recall from my younger years is now a Republican. (Hmmm…odd how that happened when he moved away from the Chicago area…)

        Driving through the smaller towns and rural areas of IL a couple months ago I was struck by how limited the options are for careers in those areas. Farming (if you’ve got money for land or family who have a farm), some light manufacturing (not enough of it, or enough that pays decently, at least), and retail with big chains seem to be the main options. Very sad. It has sensitized me to the bitterness many of these folks seem to have towards politics.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Farming really isn’t an option anymore in the Midwest because it’s mostly big farms with underpaid migrant labor (well, that and 12-14 year old labor). There’s not as much in terms of boutique organic small farms as there are near the coastal cities, probably because the land is too valuable for corn and soy. My partner has relatives with a farm and basically they work outside jobs to pay for the money they’re losing on the farm. (My partner’s accountant relative is always complaining about their choice there.)

        I think we talked a few months back about options for a younger relative’s post-high school schooling and employment. There’s just not much now that all but one factory has left the area. And she has to drive over an hour to get to community college each day.

      • NoTrustFund Says:

        Someone sent us Zingerman’s after baby #2 was born. Wow, was I ever impressed. I had never heard of this place, but everyone else seems to know about it already. Now I know!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We got zingerman’s after baby #1!

  5. First Gen American Says:

    I’d say its more common form people to prioritize being close to family over career. I recruit for work and one guy was like “I want to stay in the area” and by that he meant within 30 minutes of his house, so the job we had with an hour commute was out of scope. And in my head, I was like, dude…there is a reason you still have no job a year after graduating. There just ain’t that many engineer jobs in the little suburb you live in. And is being an hour drive away from where you grew up that big a deal?

    People have a right to prioritize things the way they see fit, but sometimes compromise is a prudent option to keep oneself afloat financially.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My students heavily prioritize family. Many of them, no joke, have never left this state… ever. Good for them and their close family ties! I’m sad for their job prospects, though.

  6. Belle Says:

    Choices limit other choices. That’s a no-brainer. I live in an ultra conservative, anti-intellectual red state that yes, has a WF. No TJs. But do I like it here? It’s fine at the bottom line level. I chose this place because at the time, employment was better than un- unemployment, underemployment, uncertainty. That job morphed into tenure-track job, and there were other choices constrained by various factors. Ran smack into sexism, ageism, regionalism. So I’m still here. Do I get to complain? Yup. I’d probably complain if I’d gotten the job in NC or CA – because no job is going to perfectly fit into the complexity of life. I also get to revel in the good stuff!

  7. Liz Says:

    Hmm, this post resonates because I am at a bit of a career crossroads where I have realized that I can’t have my ideal job and live in my ideal location anymore. Ultimately, I have chosen the location over the job because for me, this location = family near by, partner happy and well employed, and a city and social life that I love (and a WF too, which although not an actual consideration, it is related to the fact that living in a big city is important to my happiness). So I am happy that I have made the best choice for me and my family but I am still guilted by the fact that as an ambitious female, I am choosing to not make my career the number one priority in my decision and will likely end up with a career path that doesn’t have the same prestige as the one I know that I could have achieved if I was willing to live anywhere.

  8. Foscavista Says:

    In my red state, Fresh Market is our Whole Foods (and as overpriced)!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      For us, the WF in the city is actually a bit less expensive than getting the same products at the various fru-fru grocery sections and tiny fru-fru store in town (and everything is always covered in dust at the tiny fru-fru store… I think they must be a front for a drug operation or something). Double especially if there’s a 365 brand. Our local grocery has started selling the exact same organic produce (shipped in from Latin America) at similar prices, so that need is not as great as it had been.

      Another thing that’s weird is there’s a cheesemonger in our county that we didn’t find out about until they started selling at the WF in the city. But you can’t purchase from them directly and they don’t sell in our town. What’s up with that?

  9. The frugal ecologist Says:

    I grew up shopping at the original WF – in a funky old craftsman house in Austin. Nowadays it’s too corporate/expensive/non local. I prefer finding a local co-op & farmers markets – they exist almost everywhere

    I currently have a TT job in a town far from family, and an un/under employed academic spouse. Cost of living is low, we live in a blue island in a sea of red, so it could be worse.

    We came here because we were advised that one TT job is better than none (duh). However, my partner is miserable and I feel trapped (and overwhelming pressure to get us something “better”).

    so yes we had a “choice” accepting the job here, but academic jobs rarely give you much choice in where you end up – they are just too few & far between. I wonder if I should have done a second postdoc, so that we might have been in a stronger position to negotiate something we would have been happier with in the long run.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’re both now in fairly new CSAs, which is pretty cool. Though we’ve hit “too much squash” here, which is hard to believe given how good zucchini bread is!

    • Perpetua Says:

      There’s no WF in Billings, MT (as red a place as you can get before cracking off the earth), but there’s a kick a$$ co-op. I agree that co-ops are much better than WF, but I’ve lived in lots of places without a co-op.

      I think in academia one doesn’t have a lot of choice and I have to confess to hearing people on the market complaining about this place or that place and it makes me roll my eyes. A job is a job, eventually you can move if you hate it, but frankly you don’t know what you’ll hate until you get there. I get tired of the coast-only, big-city-only attitude of most of the folks I went to grad school with. I used to live in my dream place to live and left for family and professional reasons; for me, those last two trump everything, having a WF or whether or not it’s red/blue state or even near family are not really considerations. Bonuses, but not considerations. But I have a determinedly optimistic attitude (every place can be a good place, or almost every place. But then again, I’m white and straight and I know that makes a big difference). OTOH, I think a mild amount of complaining about whateve r- heat, snow, traffic, ice, humidity, rain, lack of restaurants, lack of decent produce – is totally acceptable.

      I feel like I am the only person in the world who has no use for Trader Joe’s.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        If we had a kick-ass co-op, we’d be happier! The advent of the CSA movement has definitely improved things.

        With us, right now academia is winning over place. But if we weren’t in academia, we’d move to the SF Bay area. We’re doing our best with what we have here (housing is very nice, for example), but every year or two we re-evaluate– is the job situation still enough to justify not living in paradise? (Particularly in August… I wish I made enough to summer *elsewhere* like many of my more senior colleagues do.)

      • Linda Says:

        Oh, man, I was at the most AWESOME co-op when I was in Eureka, CA last month. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, to have a store like that nearby. (Humboldt Fog for $17.95 a pound! Of course, it’s made, like, 10 miles from there, too.)

        The closest co-op to me in Chicago is not convenient to get to. (Public transit would take about 40 minutes with a .5 mile walk involved, too; car would take only 20 minutes to get there, and likely another 20 to find a parking spot.) It also is very small and doesn’t have very much fresh produce.

        TJ’s is beloved for their packaged/frozen foods, cheese, and wine. If you like to do a lot of from scratch cooking, you wouldn’t find much to get there. I only go there occasionally because I like to cook from scratch a lot. WF’s bulk bins are awesome for that reason and win out over TJ’s for me.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        TJ’s for cheese and nuts. They used to have really awesome freeze-dried fruits and amazing jams, but the last time I was at one they’d stopped carrying the kind I liked.

      • chacha1 Says:

        No, you’re not. I don’t love TJ either. :-) They are all over L.A. and I think I’ve shopped there maybe 5 times in 15 years. I have friends who incessantly rave about TJ … but all these friends buy are the junky processed snacky foods that I don’t buy regardless of where I’m shopping.

        I would much rather go to my superb local supermarket than TJ *or* WF. My choice of expensive neighborhoods gives me that option. :-)

  10. Linda Says:

    An important point made by FGA and Liz is that being close to family may be critical for some people. (And by family I mean more than just a partner and children.) I know it was for me. Even though my family has been a source of much upset for me, they were always available to help me out if I really needed it since I lived in close enough proximity. It would have been much harder for me at certain points in my life if I hadn’t lived close to them.

    Many people have to rely on family support to get started in a career or help them through certain stages of their life that may be more unstable or risky. Think of the young folks moving back home after college, the young families that rely on the grandparents for childcare, and the older folks that rely on their children to give them the little bit of help they need to stay in their homes instead of moving to an assisted living facility.

    I can’t say I feel I’m living in the optimum place for my quality of life, but it is pretty darn good. I have a very good career, a living situation that allows me to enjoy my outdoor hobbies (a house and yard in which to garden and keep chickens), and have a WF a mile from my house. ;-) I would prefer to live in central or northern coastal CA, though. After 45 years of winters in Chicago, I think I’ve done my penance. I’m trying to figure out how to make that location switch in about five years and still have a similar standard of income.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      A sizable portion of our budget goes to visiting the partner’s family in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere each year. He’s kind of like a vampire in that he needs to sleep in his home soil or he starts to wither away. My extended family is scattered all over the place so it isn’t as big a deal for me, but I definitely see that need in partner’s family. These are tough choices.

    • darchole Says:

      Yeah, for my spouse and I we’ve made the decision that we want to live close to family, rather than have more opportunities in our fields. However we may have to make the decision to move to a bigger city so spouse can get a job with better room for growth (together we make enough to live comfortably, so more money isn’t an issue). And if I ever decide to get a PhD we would definitely have to move, because there are no job opportunities here for a person with a PhD if you don’t want to teach. But if we do move it won’t be far away, so we can come back on a regular basis. (Side note we’re finally getting a Whole Foods here!)

  11. rented life Says:

    I’ve never been to WF or TJ. A TJ came to a city and hour away and might come to my city soon–which I look forward to checking out. We walked by many a WF in the city that never sleeps, looked at each other and said “what gives?” I will say I miss the produce from where we used to live–affordable and EXCELLENT selection. I could buy an herbs I needed, fresh. I can’t say that here at all. It was run by a local farm and it was run very well. We didn’t plan on living 15 mintues from them, it just happened to be that way.

    I say we have partial choice in where we live–$ shortens that choice a great deal. I’d love to live exactly where we want to, but I don’t have the funds to support that. So we have limited choices and we make our decisions based off that. We could live more in the country, but I want to be close to what i find important, even if my country family doesn’t get it. I’d rather have a longer drive to them by 10-20 minutes, than a longer drive to the grocery store or work.

    You can only complain about weather to an extent. If you moved somewhere warm because you wanted to and it was all you takled about and then complain when it’s a million degrees in the summer, I get annoyed. You moved there for the weather. shut up and deal. This is why I won’t live down South. I do not like being hot (Sorry AZ, not interested in a dry heat either.) I’m aware I would complain and be miserable so I don’t live there.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Spoken like a non-midwesterner! (Re: not complaining about weather.)

      Seriously, I never understood the line in the Music Man that says, “don’t ask about our weather in July”… yes, Iowa has cruddy weather in July (and August more), but any Iowan is perfectly happy to elaborate on that fact at great length.

      • rented life Says:

        I might sound like a non-midwesterner to you but for whatever reason I’m a but alone on this point in my area. It really only bugs me when 1) people can’t deal with weather that’s normal for their area (it’s gonna snow in the north, deal) or more often 2) people who move, bug me to move because the weather is sooooo much better and then complain about said better weather. Or don’t believe me that I don’t want to live in the super heat. I don’t. I’m ok with it.

  12. mom2boy Says:

    Santa Ana winds – novel experience. This close to Halloween, winds that scrape branches along the windows all day are spooky when home alone.

    Having never even visited where I currently live before we moved (for work, not mine, a trade-off that so far is positive) this place would never have made my dream places to live list. Now, it will never be off the list. And I still miss my home state grocery store. Oh, and hot wings. I had no idea there were places (whole cities even!) in this country where you can’t go get hot wings and cold beer as a meal in a restaurant that basically just serves those two things. Hot wings and pizza is just wrong and weird.

    Definitely trade-offs come with certain career and family planning choices. I don’t think acknowledging those trade-offs and the things given up for the things gotten is a bad thing – if at some point the things given up are worth/wanted more than the things gotten – well, re-evaluate any possible new choices that can be made, right?

    Yes, we have WF and TJ but omg I’ve never paid so much to fill up my gas tank ever! You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve never lived in a place without hotwings! I think that’s what happens when you only live in college towns your whole life. (Though my home town had pizza/hotwings until I was in middle school and a chinese place near the uni was replaced with a wings n things. I also don’t think they sold beer.)

  13. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Somewhat off-topic, but I have to share this snippet:

    I was skyping my sis in [hurricane's path]. She went to the grocery store to prep for the storm. She bought halloween candy, batteries, and a bottle of wine.

  14. GEW Says:

    Regarding complaints: I find that sometimes, when I am “complaining” about being busy at work, certain members of my extended family will say, “Well, at least you have summers off. You’re lucky.” This line of thinking always bothers me for several reasons.

    First, my summer’s aren’t totally “off.” Granted I’m tenured at a community college so I don’t have all of the same obligations that someone might have at, say, an R1, but my responsibilities certainly bleed into “summer” and I spend time prepping, doing service, researching, and writing.

    Second, I don’t get paid in the summer. I am on a 10-month contract that is renewed each year, so I have to save money during the school year for summer. So I’m off, but I’m also not paid.

    Third, although I think I am very fortunate to have summer breaks that include much more flexibility that most people’s schedules, and I, myself, often use the word “lucky” to describe my lot, I did make some intentional choices that led to this career.

    Fourth, does “having summers off” mean that I can’t ever complain about being busy in October?

    Fifth, would it be appropriate, when these people complain about their jobs, if I were to say, “Well, at least you have weekends off. You’re lucky!” Or, “Well, at least you make more money than me. You’re lucky!”

    It really bugs me.

  15. Veronica Says:

    I work at a college in a rural small town with conservative politics. I don’t have a problem with my colleagues who sometimes say they wish that we lived closer to Big-City-Two-Hours-Away for the Whole Foods, or the better schools, or the cultural opportunities. I do have a problem with the colleagues who can’t ever talk about anything else. A little complaining seems normal enough, but the constant refrain of “I can’t stand it here” gets tiresome.

  16. oilandgarlic Says:

    What a timely post for me. Right now we’re staying put because of my job and my family. We talk about moving to Europe because my husband doesn’t like the U.S.’s focus on career/money over family/culture. Ironically while I say that I do value “working for a living, not living for work” and the idea of a family-centered society, I admit that I’m super independent and often put financial considerations first.

  17. J Liedl Says:

    I’ve had precisely one tenure-track job offer in my life so my choice was between here with a job for which I trained or anywhere else where my Ph.D. would go to waste (I could have always relocated back to the Midwest and taken up a job managing a fabric store). We came here because of my job. We stay because of my job and autistic youngest (better the devil we know in terms of her school and support services). We’ve done the math: nowhere else and nothing else that even the two of us could pursue could come close to the income my job alone provides here.

    Except? Everyone in my family hates the location. The weather? It’s pretty horrible most of the year. Also the four hour best-case-scenario drive to nearest family members and major city. Yet, every time that someone in my family complains about this location, I feel horribly guilty. If only I had a better research profile and more publications I’d be able to wrangle a job offer somewhere they want to live instead of condemning us all to live here (where it’s already snowing and will do so, on and off, into May, thankyouverymuch).

  18. bogart Says:

    Ack, late start today, no time to read all the other comments. Besides, isn’t today’s assigned topic “Frankenstorm?” Quick thoughts: I thought blogs were *for* complaining :) . And I live near 1 and work near another WF each of which is within walking distance of affordable housing and free (yes, yes, *to the ridership*) public transportation. Really! But no, I haven’t optimized on everything (yet!).

  19. Spanish Prof Says:

    After these commments, I feel like I live in SF and not the Midwest. My city (not Chicago), has a WF, a TJ, an Ikea and, if you want vanity, a Nordstrom. And while the city leans democratic, the suburbs are a completely different story.

    But about the question, one thing I never understood is graduate students bitching about academia because they’ll have to move somewhere they don’t like. Seriously, what did they expect? Maybe because I needed a job to stay in the country, that was clear to me from the beginning. I did choose and pick, though: I did not apply to jobs on certain states, and I did not apply to jobs that were either in mid-size cities, or at most 35 miles away from them. I luck out, and I learned a lot about geography in the process.

  20. kellydamian Says:

    I have the experience of going from an urban, snazzy city to the hot, hard-working interior of California. It was a rough transition, but life is what you make of it. I found that when I tried to re-live my Bay Area life here in Bako, it always backfired, but when I just embraced Bakersfield for the place that it is, things went a lot more smoothly. I work hard to see the beauty in the valley and respect the people who live here. It has definitely wormed its way into my heart.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If things are worming into your heart, consider seeing a physician right away!

      • Debbie M Says:

        The people can make or break a place. I have enjoyed living in a dorm room and in the woods, and I have disliked living in a large city (with plenty of libraries and community colleges and TV channels). Also, maybe it’s okay to be like the people in that joke “True Stories” where God was too tired to fix part of his creation, so he made people who liked it like that.

  21. Cloud Says:

    Well, I live in San Diego, which has multiple Whole Foods AND Trader Joes. But none of these are super convenient for me, so mostly we shop at the grocery store down the street and complain bitterly about its crappy produce. But within each complaint is the implicit acknowledgement that yes, we could rearrange our priorities and our schedules to allow us the time to go to TJs more than once a month, and/or to one of our local Whole Foods like chain (cheaper, with more local produce), and/or to one of the many farmer’s markets in town. But we don’t, because time is our main currency these days and the store with crappy produce is a 2 minute drive from our door. What I WANT is to have one of the better options two minutes from my otherwise perfectly located door! Or to have the store that is two minutes from my door magically start carrying better produce.

    I don’t complain much about the weather, though. OK, I whinged a bit at the tail end of our hot (for us) summer, and I’ll no doubt whinge a bit when it is cold for a couple of weeks, too.

    Just because things are pretty damn good, I don’t see why I can’t wish they were perfect!

  22. hush Says:

    I’m fine with folks complaining about trade-offs up to a point, but then suddenly I find the conversation needs to move on very soon, or else inside I feel like I’m the person’s unpaid life coach: “I think you made a great choice, no really, you did!” rah rah…

    We’re in a small red town in blue state far, far away from family. We love the weather. We hate the lack of decent schools for our kids. We love our tiny crew of local friends we’ve slowly cobbled together over the last few years. We hate that it took so long to find each other. We love our career prospects. We hate that there’s no good Thai or Indian food… but we love that this is a great place to retire. I could go on and on with The Good and The Bad. I think there’s something to be said for just deciding to make it work – and to stop comparing wherever you are right now to some imagined Utopia that might not even actually exist.

    • oilandgarlic Says:

      I’m with hush re: complaining up to a point. I had a co-worker who commuted about his long commute almost daily. I have a long horrible commute, too, and it’s tiring and I hate it. However, I only complain on rare occasions because what’s the point? I do sometimes collapse in exhaustion when I get home so the effect is there but talking about it makes it worse really. I’m actively trying to change this but we may be stuck due to finances, a tough house rental market and difficulty of finding a place that will rent to dog owners.

  23. chacha1 Says:

    Everyone has SOMETHING to complain of. About 75% of the things we complain about exist in our lives because of choices we’ve made. But it’s very difficult for people to “see” that. Just as it is difficult to “see” that where we are is not exactly like any other place. The person who was snotty about “why can’t you just move closer to Whole Foods” or whatever probably has never lived in a city (let alone a state) that didn’t have one.

    People who live in all-white communities honestly cannot conceive of what it’s like to live in an integrated city (and vice versa). People who live in rural communities and small towns cannot comprehend the challenges of living in a large metro area (and vice versa). People who live in places where it’s perfectly okay to put anti-gay, anti-black, anti-woman, anti-Muslim (ad nauseum) signs in their front yards will never understand places where hate speech is actually taken seriously because it’s not the norm.

    Will return to read the preceding comments later as I am sure some of them will be interesting. :-)

  24. Amstr Says:

    Thanks for the post! I’ve been thinking a lot about these issues as a geographically bound academic (bound because of spouse’s job; nearing the end of the dissertation). In looking toward my career options post-doc, I’ve been frustrated that exactly what I want isn’t available, and the kinds of options that would be close pay so dismally. I haven’t thought of it much in terms of trade-offs; thinking of what I do next as a choice from available options (which are the ones available because of other choices) is somehow freeing.

  25. Revanche Says:

    Hum. Gotten everything I wanted? Certainly not. But last and this year has been the culmination of everything shitty so it’s going to feel that way. It’s going to feel like everything I worked for has been for nothing because in the end, my mom died and so what the eff was it for? But that’d be the gut talking.

    In the end, I haven’t not gotten anything either.

    I have always made the decision to put the Career in first place *because* of my family. I couldn’t take care of them without a career and I always intended to have one. So I have the career. And when I had to, I moved to the Bay Area even though I didn’t have any particular love for it, to grow into the next big job and build more opportunity. PiC was here, and we grew into a marriage eventually but that wasn’t easy or smooth sailing and there are definitely trade-offs in both the relocation and the relationship. I do whine about the weather because it affects my health but I didn’t actually choose our specific location so I take special license there. As for the other little things about the area I don’t like, there are an equal number of things I do like.

    This move was the choice I made for a big reason and in the end, I can make my peace with it. Even if I don’t have my close friends nearby, I have a whole lot of internet friends and they’re easier to get a hold of! Even if I don’t have my family close, well, I don’t have to deal with the burden of other family I don’t have the energy to manage. Even if TJ’s doesn’t have enough fresh produce I like, there’s a produce market six miles the other way. And hey, even if I always get lost driving to a new place, no LA style traffic! I’m not naturally a cheerful person but I can be pretty fair.

    It sure would be nice to be able to afford a yard in a manageable commute distance, though. That’s a tougher nut to crack than my fairness can handle.

  26. Debbie M Says:

    Just because you choose to live someplace doesn’t mean that place won’t change into another place while you are living there. Here are some things that happened to the place I picked only 16 years ago: They tore out two entrance ramps, one exit ramp, and part of a major street I use to get to and from my house. (Boo!) They turned a Wards into a Target. (Yea!) They moved the airport far away. (Boo! We didn’t have many noise problems somehow and I used to be able to walk home from the airport.) They are replacing the airport with lots of things, many of which are cool such as a hiking trail, a Home Depot, and a Chipotle. Next year we will have a grocery store in walking distance. (Yea!) They turned the rest of the main road we use from a four-lane road to a two-lane road with suicide left-turn lanes. (Boo!) But also with bike lanes and bus pull-outs. (Yea!) The library was moved slightly farther away. (Boo!) …to a bigger place. (Yea!)

    I wanted someplace warm, but also literate, in the US. Of those few places, I picked the place where I already knew people (they didn’t all leave after grad school, like they said they would). I’d rather have better mass transportation like when I was in Boston. Better bike lanes like Amsterdam. More walkable like Lausanne, Switzerland. With a Trader Joe’s (coming soon!). And fall color, like Atlanta, Boston, etc. But I also got bonuses that I didn’t plan for or expect. I found an affordable central place to live. The culture is extremely casual (you can wear shorts and sandals to brunch at The Four Seasons hotel, for example). Pro-wildflower culture. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (great pre-show, with no ads except for movies; they also serve food, but I don’t care about that). One of the biggest university libraries in the country (used to be #2 to Harvard, but I doubt that’s true anymore). A neighborhood with no HOA, in a city where one of the mottos is “Keep Austin weird.” So one guy edges his garden with bowling balls. One guy dresses up his dead tree year round (it’s been a sock monkey, the grinch, Betty Boop, and a witch at the stake, among other things). No state income tax (though we do have high property tax). Good bankruptcy laws (my dad’s always his own boss–I have issues.) And Tex-Mex food. (Finally learned how to make a good enchilada sauce, so I could probably stand to live elsewhere if necessary.)

    I guess I sacrificed career for location. Since grad school, I’ve always moved to follow a boyfriend or moved back to my grad school location. I started off wanting to teach junior high or high school, but no one would hire me. I don’t look like a disciplinarian. But some places were surely desperate enough for teachers to hire me, especially after I got certified to teach math–but I didn’t want to move to a small town or teach in ghetto areas. Finally I just went for a clerical job in a university. And then found out that I preferred a low-stress, low-pay, only 40-hours-per-week job over the high-pay, high-stress, high work hours jobs all my friends got. Oh, and all their layoffs. I’m good at frugality. And I ended up in niches where my brain was appreciated anyway. And where we dress up for Halloween. And I get to be financially independent (= retired, not independently wealthy) in two years.

    My parents used to move all the time; while I was off at college they moved one last time. I lived there my junior year of college, the year between college and grad school, and one summer after grad school. I do not like that city at all. (Not cold, but colder than mine, extremely boring, not casual, not liberal though my parents manage to be a minority religion, and did I mention boring, boring, boring–nothing to do but eat at restaurants and go shopping.) And I love my family, but have trouble liking them for long periods sometimes, so I enjoy living away from most of them.

    I think some people can’t really imagine moving, either. I moved all the time, so it’s easy for me to think in terms of choosing where to live, but my experience is that many people don’t feel like that at all.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think maybe I love my family MORE from far away. I love them a lot, but can’t live with them. I have moved multiple times and hate it, but I would do it again to get out of this ultra-red and bigoted place.

  27. NoTrustFund Says:

    Wow, I’m a little late to comment and look at all I missed. I feel really lucky in that I moved back to my hometown a few years ago and have been really happy here. It’s not glamorous and I certainly would have better career prospects if I were to look at a national level (who wouldn’t?) but overall we have found a good balance in our current city. Now that we have kids it is so great to have family near by.

    I have to say, it does bother me when people constantly tell us how lucky we are to live near family. It’s frustrating because it’s a choice we actively made. I guess we’re ”lucky” to be from an area with reasonable job prospects for both of us, but this is also a case of making your own luck.

    With respect to complaining. Everyone has a right to complain but at some point it’s time to make action. I know if I complain too much I start to make myself miserable. Eventually it’s time to either make a change or learn to live with whatever it is you are complaining about.

  28. Funny about Money Says:

    LOL! Whole Foods is probably from Texas as my father was: as far FROM it as he could get.

    “Have you managed to get everything you want in life…?” Huh… Well, now that I’m old, I’d say yes, sort of, within limits. Did I have a choice of what part of the country I’d live in? No. But other than being a cultural and political backwater, where I am is not THAT evil. Would I live in the Bay Area if I could? Of course. But I can’t. So I’ve made my peace with where I am, in a centrally located pleasant neighborhood a block from a beautiful park and 20 minutes from chamber music, live theater, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, snooty shopping, and blessed (or cursed, depending on your tolerance level) with a political scene that will keep your dudgeon up forever and aye. One thing about living in a state governed by kookocracy: you never get bored.

    Have I done what I dreamed of doing when I was a young thing? Sure: published more articles and books than I can count (one of them a best-seller), been a college professor, traveled all over the world, married a wealthy man, divorced a wealthy man, run off with the harmonica player, dumped the harmonica player, indulged my entrepreneurial spirit in two highly successful projects and one that has yet to prove itself, and achieved financial and psychological independence.

    Has my life been successful? Nope. The things that are really important in life — love, other human beings, and steady moral bearings — got dropped by the wayside.

    And as for the weather? Around here, we like to say “ya can’t shovel heat.” One accommodates oneself, in due time.

  29. Feminist Still Willing to Move for Her Husband’s Career! « Stacking Pennies Says:

    [...] He has a list of positions and schools, and when/if he gets offers, we’ll perform the constrained optimization “where should we live?” problem then.  Currently, there are too many [...]

  30. Can’t vs. Won’t: A deliberately controversial post | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] as a short-hand for “could but I’d have to do all these other things I either don’t want to do or I don’t want to tell you about possibly because it’s none of your […]


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