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True Home

An audio version of this essay is available on Substack here.

Where I live, that place I call home, plays a critical role in my algebra of happiness. When making plans for life after midlife we often concentrate on what we do, and less so on where we live (or even whom we love). Perhaps we regard both as immutable. For this reason I can’t leave here, (and for that reason I can’t leave him).  You can change these things, actually, if ownership over self is a priority. The better question is not can I, but should I.

I was in Singapore last week for work. It offers much to admire. The city is modern, clean, and safe. The street food tradition is celebrated, with delicious specialties from every corner of Asia, and cheap. The MRT public transport runs regularly and on time. Singapore is veiled in a warm and verdant environment, and not hard to imagine as a former rainforest. It is an immigrant enclave (as an American I love cultural diversity) and offers a variety of fascinating ethnic neighborhoods to explore.

So, I feel lucky to have work in Singapore on occasion. It’s a great place to visit, but do I want to live there? Well, at the right age and for ridiculous pay I could have been tempted. But that’s not now. And it would never be True Home.

One advantage of getting older: we have fewer obligations to force compromise. The early adult years are marked by a series of concessions to location for studies, work, and family (at both ends). I think we’ve all yielded to these priorities without complaint, to optimize the career trajectory and keep the household happy. In my case that location was always San Francisco, so not much of a sacrifice and definitely no complaints.

At post career we are liberated from most such obligations. That doesn’t mean we want to move – most of us love where we’ve landed – but it becomes an option. Options are good. I think it’s a healthy exercise to remind ourselves of why we don’t move, … or perhaps plant a whispering seed to the contrary.

English friends of mine living in Provence repeat a family ritual each Christmas. They pose the question: do we want to stay in Aix for another year? The 3 of them – dad, mom, and daughter – each write their responses on small slips of paper and place them in a hat. For the past 10 years now the response has always been a unanimous YES. I love the ceremony that gives them each a vote, and an opportunity to reflect on how moving back to Bristol would impact their lives.

Writing this piece has prompted me to consider the same question (practice what you preach!). I moved to Aix-en-Provence in 2010 seeking my True post-50 Home. For these past 14 years it has overdelivered on that promise, filling me with creative inspiration, providing calm and restoration, offering a stage to meet fascinating new friends and lovers. Do I stay another year, or 2 years, or the rest of my days? It has always been an easy yes, but suddenly I’m not sure; an unexpected and baffling feeling.  I’ve been a most enthusiastic cheerleader of this locale since arriving. But life is not static; friends leave, children grow up, and our fonts of happiness evolve in importance. And so I’m running the experiment.

What is the experiment, you ask?


The True Home Experiment

First, note that there is a kaleidoscope of factors we each consider when imagining that perfect place we call True Home. No two kaleidoscopes are the same and no single place on earth perfect to everyone. My list of top 10 criteria will likely differ from yours, and how they are weighted in importance will also be unique.

To run the experiment, grab a pencil and paper, then:

  1. Create a table with 4 columns.

  2. In the left column list the 10 most important criteria against which you evaluate your happiness in location. Things like proximity to family, near a surfable sea or skiable mountain, access to world-class museums, etc. It’s your list.

  3. In the next column, rate each of these criteria from 1 to 5; 5 being that it’s indispensable in defining your perfect location and 1 meaning it’s a consideration, but definitely not critical. Every criteria in your top 10 list should at a minimum be a consideration.

  4. In the third column assign a rating to each criteria on how your current location is faring, again from 1 to 5.

  5. Now, subtract the ratings in column 2 (level of importance) from column 3 (current location). Where the differences are 0 or positive you’re doing well. Variances of negative 2 or more merit attention.

I’m including my most recent True Home experiment as an example. Mostly good, but one area of work: proximity to my kids. That’s a big consideration. It has me thinking. Action may be needed.

What can you do about a location misalignment? Pick up and move to a more perfect location? Take a one-year sabbatical there? Arrange a periodic home exchange (there are numerous platforms that support these arrangements)? The reality may be that you can’t do anything, at the moment. Still, there’s great value in thinking through what that fix would require, and what you would gain and give up in pursuing it. Making plans now, even the smallest steps, can release a wave of those I’m planting one foot forward on a new grand adventure endorphins. I can tell you want an amazing, liberating feeling that is.


A humble acknowledgement

There are billions of people on this planet with no possibility of choosing where they live. Worse, many have been forced from their homes, never to return. What they would give to see that old familiar front door again. In Gaza, Israel, the Ukraine, Haiti, and way too many other flash points on the globe this is the rule, not the exception. I write this essay with great humility in the face of these injustices. Never take our extreme good fortunes for granted.

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