When I moved back to the U.S., I went from being a small fish in a big pond to a big fish in a small pond.
I don’t mean this boastfully. What I mean is: I moved from Vancouver (the population of the greater area exceeds 2.4 million) to New Mexico, which has just over 2 million people in the entire state (approximately 560,000 in Albuquerque, approximately 80,000 in Santa Fe.)
There’s also the experience gap. When I moved to Vancouver, I was straight out of grad school with no work experience, and it took me seven months to find work; when I left Vancouver for New Mexico, I had several years of working at a prestigious international firm and some high-profile projects, so I landed a job almost immediately. The experience of entering each city anew was radically different.
In this smaller, less dense area, I expected less infrastructure. What I didn’t expect – and was pleasantly surprised by – was how accessible the agents of change are, and how empowered I would feel about being an agent of change myself.
In the larger pond, I was surrounded by like-minded individuals and supportive infrastructure, including mass transit, curbside recycling and composting programs, green energy options, progressive policy, and advanced technological support in the workplace. I felt almost programmed to succeed by an environment that supported my values – provided my trajectory was in line with the larger community.
The downside? I felt constantly overwhelmed by the massive size of the community and my seemingly minuscule impacts therein.
Compare that to now, where I’m often faced with the friction of disagreement and discontent, seeing how things could be better, but also having the opportunity to connect with thought leaders – whether it’s the New Mexico Recycling Coalition or locally elected officials.
“Simply put, the drive to relieve discomfort is the root cause of all our behavior, while everything else is a proximate cause… without understanding and tackling root causes, we’re stuck being helpless victims in a tragedy of our own creation.”Indistractable:How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal
The tension isn’t so much value clashes with my neighbors, but the deeply embedded belief, seemingly throughout the whole state, that all change is slow and we must accept that. I appreciate what this means for my work/life balance but am disappointed when key infrastructure projects are always “tomorrow”. There’s a reason they call New Mexico the “Land of Manana.” I’m needing to make peace with this discomfort, because discomfort is a necessary catalyst for change. I’m needing to accept my personal limits and design my lifestyle more mindfully in order to live in alignment with my values. It’s not impossible – it just requires more intentionality.
“No one accomplishes anything all alone. But I also know that in order to continue to grow and challenge myself, I have to believe in my own abilities.”Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
It all comes down to: what’s the best way to live a meaningful life? Is it better to embed yourself in a community where you contribute to well-supported incremental change, or where your areas of impact are fewer and with less support but more drastic?
I feel blessed that I was able to grow my confidence and skills in a community where I could best define what my values were, and to now apply them where I, in many ways, have more of a choice, and also more of an influence.
“NOTHING IS ORIGINAL STEAL FROM ANYWHERE that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”Jim Jarmusch
It’s not where you take things from… it’s where you take things to.
Thank you Vancouver, for supporting me in such a period of healing and growth, for aligning my values, for showing me what that lifestyle can look like.
Thank you New Mexico, for encouraging me towards holistic self-care and for the opportunities of leadership in change.
Thank you both for being home.