Roots, and the lack thereof…

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I read an article a while ago about a journalist who had escaped his tiny town and traveled around the world in search of adventure and professional fulfillment. When his sister got sick, he took his family back home to be with her and was amazed and transformed by the community and simple, happy life she’d built in a place she’d never left in 30+ years after high school. He has since moved his family back and says he’s content and happy.

It got me thinking about my own lack of roots and what it might feel like to have stayed put in one place long enough to have that many people surrounding me that know me and would care enough to make a concerted effort to help me be well.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky enough to have amazing friends who would all be there for me in my hour of need – they’re just all scattered around the country and the world. Since leaving college almost 10 years ago, I haven’t lived at one address for more than 2 years. And I love it – the moving, discovering new people, new places, having new experiences, making new bonds and memories…but sometimes I wonder – what would it be like to have a place I truly called home?

Quite a few folks I know post b-school are in somewhat of a similar position. They’ve traveled, moved for work, went back to school, moved again – and while they may not be as nomadic as I’ve been, the networks they’ve built are usually as far-flung and dispersed as mine. It’s simply a function of higher education environments that bring together people from everywhere and then send them back out to the world just as scattered as they came in. Unless you live in SF, NY, or London (the major cities most densely packed with recent b-school grads), it’s likely that you’ve found a new crew, started over again, began to build yet another life for yourself in whatever city work opportunities took you to. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you’ll be doing so again in the next 3-5 years if something new pops up.

On some level, your professional advancement becomes limited if and when you choose to stay in one place. Maybe that’s why our generation is so much slower to do things like buy a home, or invest in something that requires you to stay put for a long time. The inability to get up and go when the right opportunity calls is frightening. The permanence of something so tangible, while comforting, can also feel restrictive. And that’s not even accounting for people who have the complication of a relationship with someone else who also has geographically diverse job opportunities as well.

One of my good friends has lived in Chicago for over 10 years. She went to undergrad there and stayed put. She knows the city like the back of her hand, has seen the ebbs and flows, has friends from different environments and groups, but above all, the city is HERS. She’s not a visitor, it’s home.  And part of me is jealous. But I can’t imagine yet staying in one place for 10 years. It just seems like so long!

So I wonder…is there something lost in this constant traveling and moving and resettling? A sense of depth, roots – a self connected to a community of people? Is it possible to truly have the shared life experiences that build the deep-rooted relationships our parents’ generation had with folks when you’re only in the same city with for 1-3 years? What are the tradeoffs when your support network is scattered across different time zones and geographies?

16 thoughts on “Roots, and the lack thereof…

  1. I recently had a conversation on this very subject. I compared our generation to mercenaries willing to travel any length for the right “opportunity.” It’s comforting to know the questions that I ask myself about the trade-off between establishing roots in a community and jumping at the next exciting opportunity are common among the set of individuals that share our life experiences.

  2. Your friend is smart enough to realize that the simple things in life usually bring a lot of joy. Whether you roam the world or stay at a small community, you have to know what makes you happy. Sometimes you get lucky and you arrive at your destination without much planning or effort. I wish you lots of luck with your decision.

  3. Found your link while randomly looking up MBA blogs. I can perfectly relate to what you mean – the very concept of a home is now becoming alien to me to a point where I don’t even know which continent I will be living in 6 months from now (much less country or city). All my personal belongings fit inside a 50 kg box which is the maximum I can carry in suitcases. But then it seems like most of the people in our generation are in the same boat. Opportunities could arise anywhere in the world, and with countries opening up their borders, rapid travel and communication, it becomes tougher to pass up on them. It of course brings with it a whole slew of problems and I also wonder if it is simpler to just buy a house somewhere and settle down. The only thing keeping me from doing so is that I know I would get bored of any location in 2-3 years and would want to move again.

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