Lessons learned moving away from home

Rachel and I packed up and spent six months in Portland, Maine this past fall and winter. In case you missed it: we had two opportunities to see a lot of the country we hadn’t before (driving out east and driving back home). We also made the most of a very snowy winter and kept running, skiing, and hiking.

Friends (and family) would usually ask a variation on the same few questions: Are you moving because of work? Had you been there before? Are you crazy spending a winter on the east coast? Are you coming back? Did you sell your house? … Well, why did you go, then?

No. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. Just because.

Both Rachel and I grew up in Colorado and hadn’t spent much time any further than an hour away from our childhood homes. Sure, we’ve both traveled all over, but never fully immersed ourselves and become “locals” outside of the Denver area.

Since Rachel left her job to focus on her MBA studies full-time and I changed careers this afforded us the ability to pick up and live somewhere else with very little “tieing us down”. And knowing our friend @cfg was moving to Maine from Boston to put down roots: we invited ourselves to help him move in at the end of the summer. :house:

Our “little adventure” as we like to call it was intentionally meant to:

  • spend an extended period of time away from home
  • experience a different (but friendly and familiar) town
  • reset our comfortable routines
  • simplify our lives

We were successful and learned a lot about ourselves (and our lives). I’ll try to summarize our groundbreaking realizations as follows:

  1. Relationships are life
  2. Try new things, remain curious
  3. Less is more
  4. Don’t work too much

Riveting, right?

Relationships are life

Being in Maine meant we were both physically far from our families for extended periods. I failed to appreciate the ability to stop and visit with Rachel’s parents or my own at the drop of a hat. Being nearby makes that easy and the time spent together is invaluable.

Since being back, my Dad and I have a standing weekly coffee meeting to catch up. Rachel and I also visit at least one of our families almost every weekend. I could probably do a better job calling mom more often.

In a similar vein, when in Maine we found that having a strong core group of friends is invaluable. There was always someone around and able to hang out and we were all supportive of each other. And no matter what we ended up doing together: going to dinner, just sitting and watching TV, it was meaningful time and fun.

Since being back, we’ve kept in touch with our “Maine friends” using a private Slack channel. We share animated gifs and keep up with everyone as a group, as if we were still there. We realized we should continue to foster these tight relationships with our friends back home in new ways.

Try new things, remain curious

Trying new things hopefully also comes with learning new things … and I love to learn. Being in a new town in a new state on a coast I’ve rarely visted meant everything was new: the neighbors, the businesses, the rules, the fun things to do, the things to avoid.

It took some time and effort but we eventually felt like we started to get to know a lot of little bits of Portland and weave those stories together:

  • how things work different: like which streets you can park on and where the seven feet of snow goes after being plowed.
  • how things are interconnected: like the family that owns three restaurants in town and how they are all a little unique.
  • some history: like how the industries in Maine are changing and why you pay for city-provided recycling and trash bags.
  • new people: like the old man who started driving Uber X and pointed out the house he was born in just down the block from ours and the friendly staff at the local brewery that love to chat about how great Colorado is (right?).

Since everything (stores, restaurants) was brand new to me, I spent more time trying to figure out the story behind it. I realized I was starting to lose that curiosity back home: our own neighborhood was changing but I hadn’t paid attention to the specifics around how or why. We also have new restaurants in town but I wasn’t taking any time to learn more about the chefs and their backgrounds like I was in Portland. Since being home I’ve rebooted my curiosity of the things around us.

Less is more

We arrived in Maine with just the items we could fit in our Prius. A subsection of our clothing and shoes. Some items of comfort (slippers, technology, favorite coffee mugs).

Sure, some days I might’ved missed my fancy desk chair, or two-headed shower, or coffee grinder, or night stand with the cute lamp, or those fancy brown shoes I only sometimes wear. But it didn’t matter. There are other chairs. I could still wash my hair and drink good coffee. Life was fine and nothing was truly “missing” from it.

We all hear this and know this: less is more, material comfort isn’t everything. After returning home we purged lots of clothing and “things” from our life. This refreshed perspective also helped us a few weeks ago when our basement (primary living space) flooded. Nothing was truly ‘lost’, life is fine.

Don’t work too much

I’ll look back on our time in Maine fondly. The good times, fun new experiences, new (and closer) friends.

I’ll also remember the long flights across the country back to San Francisco for work. Were the trips helpful in supporting the team and getting things done efficiently? Sure. Was 16 hours away from home every few weeks absolutely necessary? In hindsight, maybe not. Was working late hours because of a three hour time difference (everyone else is still at work and asking questions) the right thing to do? Sometimes, sure.

Since being home, I’ve contintually reconsidered how to do more with less, say ‘no’ and better define boundaries, and prioritize constantly. That all said, this is not self-imposed but with the full encouragement and support from my team.

There are no new lessons in anything described above. Most of us have heard and know these things. But, taking the time to “reset” and intentionally get out of our comfort zone helped us come back and realize these things we already knew and make sure our behavior matched them.