The Debate: Location VS. Career?

2009 April 14
by Grace Boyle

When looking for a college, I was very much focused on specifics: a major in public relations and marketing, a smaller college in the North East (I’m from Iowa, so this was a distance leap), strong study-abroad program, rooted in education and then, where it was located. I visited many fantastic school’s and programs that I got into around the country, but either the college town was in the middle of nowhere or the campus was the entire town. I couldn’t see myself being able to enjoy or thrive. Flash forward four years of college living in Burlington, Vermont one of the healthiest and most progressive cities in the country at Champlain College a nationally recognized small but powerful college, known for it’s upside-down curriculum and offering real-life experience. I know, I couldn’t have made a better choice.

As my college tenure was ending and I was filled with hope and aspiration (plus 5 internships under my belt) I began to think, should I take the traditional path of many classmates, head to Boston or New York City where there are a plethora of jobs in my industry but still close enough for comfort? I said No. I’m not satisfied with safe. I want to walk to the edge. So the wheels began to turn. I researched, networked and used a little intuition (I’m an ENFP, I gotta). I landed on Boulder. This was a good 6 months before I was set to graduate, but I knew it was going to be Boulder.

Flash forward today, here I am living in the smartest town in America, “the perennial town” for its 300+ days of sunshine, the Silicon Flatirons with fresh, innovative startups and a community that cares. These reasons and more are why I’ve found my niche in Boulder. I find myself smiling looking up at the Flatiron mountains as soon as I walk out my door in the morning, or when I’m snowboarding the majestic Rockies, or working at a fantastic startup with intelligent, forward-thinking people, or when I attend a New Tech Meetup and meet another incredible entrepreneur driven to move to Boulder and incubate their idea. I know I also made the right decision and I surmounted all the challenges that stood in my way.

Career-wise, I moved to Boulder first as the location knowing that the career would soon follow. This was in August of 2008 and I know even in this short time, things have changed, I see and hear this everyday. However, the power of place has been discussed in terms of your identity and career, especially for Generation Y. Some might have said my decision was idealistic and that it was easier to interview locally or head back to your hometown to start your first job, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied. I believe that choosing a location that inspires you would be conducive to my career creativity and growth. I don’t think it’s naive. I understand the constraints and wasn’t looking for my dream job, I was willing to work to make it work. I also had a list of contacts and companies I had been in touch with, so I wasn’t jumping in blind. I wanted to live in Boulder and I accepted the challenge upon moving here (without a job) but I knew my capabilities and for me, it worked.

It may not be for everyone but really, how much can your job define your happiness if you’re in a dreary location that doesn’t support you and who you are? When you’re in a location that is robust with intelligence, education and experience the people become analogous to the qualities of the place you live in.

Would you move first for the location, if you knew the job opportunities existed? How important is where you live, versus the career you want to pursue?

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  • Rachel Conn

    I love that you shared this story, I know so many others with similar stories. As a fellow gen-y-er, (in Denver) I can totally relate. After graduating from a mid-sized college only 4 hours away from my home in Ohio, I made the same decision not to pick the safe choice of Chicago or Columbus where most of my friends would be. I moved to Orlando somewhat on a whim, for a job that was great, but I quickly realized the location just wasn't right for me. I told myself that I'd stick it out for a year, and if I still wasn't happy, I'd move based on location first, career second. After a lot of research, I finally decided on Denver and never looked back. It was the best decision for me, I couldn't be happier here. About a month after I moved here, I found, the web startup where I currently work and love. That was last July, and since then things have gotten even better, I've really fell in love with life here, it's the perfect balance of city life and outdoorsy activities.

  • Grace Boyle

    Rachel-Thank YOU for sharing your story. For me, it really feels good to hear another person who took a similar path and succeeded. You seem to also have a good grasp, because you first moved to Orlando and didn't like it (but you moved for the job).

    I know the recession creates some road blocks, but I still think we shouldn't have to compromise who we are. I really liked finding the solution in my career path, versus being frustrated and just giving up and settling. I respect that each person is different, but for me and you it sounds like, we took the right path and it's paying off. Disaboom sounds amazing, I would love to hear more!

  • Akirah

    I am pretty committed to starting my adult life in Pittsburgh. I love this city, I love its people, and I am passionate about positively contributing to it. So unless I get an amazing job offer elsewhere, I'm pretty set on living here.

  • Grace Boyle

    Akirah-Isn't that a good feeling? Do you like the job you have in Pittsburgh? Or is it mostly the place and people that is keeping you there?

    What an amazing combination to have a job you love, in a city you love with good people. That's the ultimate I suppose…

  • nicolerelyea

    I'm moving to Boulder in August for all of the reasons you cited above, assuming the career will follow.

    Perhaps it's because I've never had just one particular career field, (that whole ENFP thing…) but I've always prioritized location over career. I know that I can find (or create) work that I like to do wherever I go.

  • Grace Boyle

    Nicole-I didn't know you were moving to Boulder. We should talk more, I would be happy to help in anyway that I could!

    I really like your positive attitude and I think your thoughts greatly can mold your life, they're pretty powerful. I did have a career focus when I came here, to me, it made it a little more easy because I could start with one topical interest…but like I said, I was willing to make it work. I would have worked (almost) anywhere in the beginning to live here as I knew the rest would fall into place if I worked hard enough.

  • Rebecca

    Great post – I think location matters so much. I still need to read Who's Your City by Florida.

    Here's what I've been pondering though lately and would love your thoughts on. We choose a place to live, but do we commit and give back to that place? In other words, will Gen Y ruin local community?

    Akirah says she is committted to giving back to Pittsburgh, but I don't see this often in real life… what do you think?

  • TOPolk

    To answer the question you posed, I'd move first for location if I knew the job opportunities existed. I've actually done so before. I didn't think it was a big deal and I kinda enjoyed the excitement/stress of not knowing exactly what was coming next.

    However, I think a better question would be whether or not you would move somewhere if there were no job opportunities — being dead set on a location, no matter what. We spoke briefly (as in 140 characters) on Twitter and I think I may have mentioned that I want to work in the gaming industry. But for as much as I want to break into the industry, I have little to no desire to live in California, Texas, or Washington. But in this scenario I know that I have to put my potential career ahead of my geographical desires. I'd love to stay in the southeast (it's all about college football and sweet tea), but doing so would make me happy on some levels while making me miserable on others.

  • nicolerelyea

    I think Gen Y has the potential to improve local community. When we live in a place we chose because we love it, we're more likely to care about the community and give back to it.

    Maybe it's not an instant thing; it takes awhile to get to know a place well enough to feel connected to it in a way that enables you to give back to it. But I know that, for me, I'm way more likely to give back to a community I want to be a part of, rather than a community I'm part of because that's where I just ended up.

  • Grace Boyle

    Rebecca-Thanks, I really liked your post about The Power of Place that I linked to. We're on the same page there.

    You bring up a good point that I didn't really address. Maybe I will do a follow-up because I think it's important, in giving back to the local community and economy. I for one always commit to give back to that place. Just as Boulder is inspiring me through the aesthetics, intelligence and the people I want to do the same.

    This has been in the form of: I always tend our local's farmers market to help sustain our farmers, I attend local events and volunteer with Ladies Who Launch a local entrepreneurial women's organization and for now, I am committed to living here.

    In your eyes, Rebecca, how do you think we as Gen Y can commit to a city and what are the various forms of giving back to a place?

  • Grace Boyle

    Nicole-I agree. If I lived in a city (as I described in my post) as drab or uninspiring then I would so less inclined to give back. I think giving back is PART of the circle and influence of moving to a location that supports you.

  • Grace Boyle

    Terence-Again, a point that I didn't directly address.

    I was very serious about moving to Boulder, but I picked it because I do know and love the tech, social media and marketing industry–and Boulder has that. Maybe the two go hand-in-hand. I could have picked Aspen because it's so beautiful and luxurious, but there are no companies or jobs there. It's a resort town. Half of what inspired me about Boulder was that my industry was thriving here…then the rest, like the people, weather, beauty, nature, etc. were the perks.

    If I found no appealing jobs or companies, I don't know if I would have pushed so hard for Boulder. I definitely took a leap, and knew no one and just did it. It's exciting and scary, but I thrived on it.

    So in your case, if you want to stay in the gaming industry you have to move to states that are less appealing to you. Maybe you can stick it out, then other states might pop up as the industry grows?

    What are your thoughts and what do you plan to do?

  • sameve

    Major props to you for pushing yourself so far outside your comfort zone! I can see both sides of the location issue. If you find somewhere that you know will be a great place for you, where you have contacts and job opportunities, then go for it. If nothing else, you will learn a lot about yourself.

    On the other hand, people choose to look for jobs in certain locations for other reasons, like being close to loved ones and friends, proximity to a major city, cultural opportunities, faith communities etc.

    After three years of long distance, my boyfriend and I tried to look for jobs in the same city, but promised each other that we wouldn't give up a great job if it came along somewhere else. However, after he got a job in New York, I stopped looking elsewhere. I knew there were still plenty of choices, and I didn't feel that I was limiting myself too much. Plus, I also knew that being away from him would affect my ability to do my job well and establish my life somewhere new.

    Different strokes for different folks :)

  • Grace Boyle

    Sam-You're right, but I had very few ties. If I were in the similar situation to you upon graduating college, I probably would have reacted similarly.

    I have friends and family all over the country-so picking many cities would have allowed me to be near friends, family, loved ones, cultural opportunities, etc. All reasons that I consider to be legitimate. After all, they shape who we are and our lives.

    I had an intense drive to move to Boulder. It was pushing me to come here and I couldn't deny it. It was just me and only me.

  • heartbot

    Location is so important. I've lived and worked in three cities since graduating college: Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland. Even while I've had some great jobs in some of these cities, I've had a really hard time living in them. Minneapolis because of the snow and the cold (I grew up in Texas), and Seattle and Portland both because of cost-of-living and the lack of sunshine. While Seattle and Portland were particularly cool and had great industry, I just don't think either is really where I want to be long-term. Over time, the expense, the weather, and especially the distance from my family has made it hard to see myself staying here for any length of time.

    The boyfriend and I are planning on moving back to Austin once he's finished with schools. The job market is a lot better there, and even though we might take a pay cut, the cost of living is a lot lower, and I think we'll both have a better opportunity of finding jobs that jibe with our personality. He's always wanted to work for AMD, I want to go back to work for the university…so we'll see.

  • Grace Boyle

    Katie-It seems to be reoccurring here. I know people doing the same kind of work that I do, but they're in a large city and make more than me. That doesn't deter me. I'm so happy here and I've somewhat escaped the daily grind by being part of a community and location that I want to be in.

    I commend you however, because you took chances on cities. I think that's good and I strongly believe in moving because it can teach you a lot and diversify your palette (if you will). Even more, now you know that you and the boyfriend are moving back to Austin because it jives with both of your ideals and needs. Location is important. Thanks for sharing!

  • TOPolk

    There's a company in Maryland that I would love to work for, but I haven't had much success on even getting my foot in the door. Their proximity to my desired location is my main draw, but if not I've already decided to do what you mentioned. Get in the door and just grind it out.

    With the high price of living in places like California and Seattle, the industry has been slowly expanding eastward. Right now there's a decent amount of programming/design positions open in the southeast (Texas and Florida mainly). Hopefully the product marketing and management positions will be crossing the Mississippi soon as well.

  • Grace Boyle

    I see your point. I think the East Coast is fantastic and I have a lot of friends happily employed in many different industries.

    Sounds like you've figured it out, the rest should follow and nothing is permanent…at least as I've figured it to be. I wish you the best of luck and am interested to see what unfolds for you!

  • Lauren

    I found your blog thru twenty somethings and I'm hooked. I've been in this “I don't know what to do with my life” phase and your post today really hit home for me. I keep going back and forth on if I should go to Grad School or just move to a creative city and make a go at it. It just so happens that Denver/Boulder is an area I am seriously thinking about. I love the sun, outdoors and creative atmosphere.

    Anyway, you said “I believe that choosing a location that inspires you would be conducive to my career creativity and growth….I wanted to live in Boulder and I accepted the challenge upon moving here (without a job) but I knew my capabilities and for me, it worked.” I feel the same way and just wanted to say thanks for sharing this story and being so positive in your posts!

  • Grace Boyle

    Lauren, thank you so much for your kind words. It's fun discovering new blogs and people through the others that you trust. Your blog is beautiful :)

    Positivity has helped me a lot, because as dark as times can get I know that something has gotta give and things work out. I suppose I could say, that this is me not sugar coating things but I hope that my good vibes can rub off on others. If you ever make your way to Boulder or Denver, look me up. I would be happy to help. Looking forward to talking more, Lauren!

  • Jenny Blake

    Grace –

    You are a shining example of the rewards that come from putting one foot in front of the other in a way that aligns with your values, and trusting that everything will work out, and that doors will continue to fly open. It's an incredible way to live your life, and your success and happiness so clearly show that the best things in life are things we can't predict or always plan for! A quote from my dad, that you reminded me of with this post, is “You can't cross the Grand Canyon in two small leaps.” Way to just go for it and take the big one! 😀

    Thanks for being such an inspiration,

  • Grace Boyle

    Jenny, coming from another motivated, high-level achiever that means a lot. Thank you! I like the quote you provided, it takes time and I know my “journey” isn't done yet. I knew while I was young and had little to no attachments, that I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity and risk.

    Thanks for your support :)

  • Rebecca

    Those are exactly the types of things I'm talking about… and also getting involved in local politics, caring about your local lake, the kids in the community, etc. Doing stuff, you know.

    Ruby Ku's post on Akhilah's blog is really what sparked my thoughts and I've been mulling it over about why Gen Y might not actually commit to a place because it's not in our nature (quasi-anonymous and all that). There's all these things that influence us and while we choose a place to live first, work second, do we do anything to keep it great? I'm not so sure.

  • Grace Boyle

    I know, I saw your response and agreed. You (and many others) actually do care and do contribute, in many different forms. I can't see myself not being active in the city that I live in and honestly, I think I give back a lot. Whether it's volunteering or helping with a project that passions you locally.

    I'm still mulling over all this and might write a blog post. As always, your thoughts are always encouraged.

  • rubyku

    I read somewhere that “Passion is a compass, not a map.” I'm sure your compass somehow pointed you in the direction of Boulder :)

    Grace, you care so much. You inspire me.

  • rubyku

    My question would then be, why don't people do anything to keep it great? Why does it matter that they may only be there for a few months? There's still plenty that we can do in those few months, no?

  • Grace Boyle

    Ruby, thanks for caring in return. I like that quote, I was driven by something (passion probably) to move here and I had to do it without a doubt.

  • CarlosMic

    I always recall Malcolm Gladwell on this topic:

    Context is more important tan individual actions.

    I'm with you 100% on moving somewhere for the location. An appropiate context for you, will bring out your best. Your career and more important, happiness, will follow.

    I'm happy to get to know this part of your life, it's just another proof of your wisdom. Glad to have met you Grace, for real.

  • David A.

    Thanks Grace. This is a subject I've been thinking about a lot lately. I've really enjoyed reading your blog.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Carlos Context is very important. @Sameve had personal ties that kept her where she was, versus taking the leap to move somewhere different. If I were in her situation, I might have stayed and moved to be near a specific person. Very good point about context.

    @David Hey! Thanks for sharing, it's good to hear from you. Are you facing a career vs. location dilemma?

  • Jonathan McD

    Grace, this is fantastic. I am so happy everything is going well for you. Rather than taking the same route, you blazed your own path. : ) I will take your experience and strongly consider this when I actually see where my career can take me.

  • Brett Borders

    Once when I was living in the sticks, I made a decision that I was going to live where I want to live, no matter what. Like you, no settling for a job in a place where I didn't want to be.

    Thankfully, internet / telecommuting is making location more and more flexible for many people.

    Boulder is “okay” for me but I don't love the place or the people so much. I find them cordial but not particularly kind and “friendly” compared to other places I've lived (West coast, Oregon, rural Japan).

    I also think we live way too far from decent snowboarding (starts around Loveland) and quality mountain biking (starts around Winter Park).

    My plan is to eventually move to the mountains and work from there.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Jonathan Thanks! I know you're just beginning college, but it's quite obvious that the way you engage and involve yourself, you're going to do so well. Sara is down in South Florida, one of the first in your immediate family to make a leap beyond New England. Although it's not all easy, I think it “puts hair on your chest” and is good for the morale 😉

    @Brett You bring up a good point that telecommuting and the digital age we live in, makes it easier for a lot of free-lance workers and/or entrepreneurs to live in desirable locations. I think the most important part here is to understand what works for you and what makes you happy. You seem to know what you want, I think pursuing that desire (whomever you are) is important.

  • David

    I chose to live where I live now because of location, not what I could do for a living there. I spent too many years in LA working at a job I didn't like – so didn't like work or location. Luckily, I now work for myself from home and can live anywhere, but location for me is way more important than what I do for money. Great article, really enjoyed it.

  • Grace Boyle

    @David You're a great example of living somewhere for a career, but not being satisfied or fully happy. I like to hear stories like yours and it seems as though working from home and your ability to live where you want works well for you. Thanks for your kind words about the post, I'm glad you could stop by and comment. I really enjoy your blog, as well.

  • Grace Boyle

    @David You're a great example of living somewhere for a career, but not being satisfied or fully happy. I like to hear stories like yours and it seems as though working from home and your ability to live where you want works well for you. Thanks for your kind words about the post, I'm glad you could stop by and comment. I really enjoy your blog, as well.

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  • Ed

    You are young. Boulder is a young person’s town…especially if you like the outdoors (camping, hiking, rock climbing, cycling, etc). However, property there is extremely expensive…even in Longmont. I had a ball when I lived there. However, be careful. If you do buy property…can you depend on maintaining a good job there?

    I’m at the point that a job is more important (mid-career). I’m considering a move back to Texas for an awesome job. I could live in a plush Dallas McMansion for the price of a rundown house in south Boulder.

    Decisions, decisions…

  • Grace Boyle

    You’re very right Ed. I wrote this when I was even younger, four years ago. That said, I’m still in Boulder but I am not a property owner. It is sad how expensive things are even when you’re doing well and making good money. That said, I am writing this under my lens (sans-kids, not a lot of assets, etc.) so I still believe in finding a place that speaks to you and the rest falls into place. I am attracted to things in Boulder that also go with career, not just the fun pieces, like the smart entrepreneurs, the huge tech scene, etc. that all goes into personal and professional. Thanks so much for sharing. I often think about all the things you shared!

  • Also Grace

    Hey Grace! I see this has been written long ago, but I wonder if you would still see this comment and give me some advice. Long story short, I’ve a pretty good job currently with a great boss and nice colleagues but I don’t really like where it’s located – it’s pretty far away from where I live, it’s quite inaccessible and it’s nestled right in the middle of our national park where I have to walk through trees and plants and greenery everyday to get to office. While this may sound wonderful for some, I’m very much a city girl and I know this very well myself – I’m an ESFP and seeing nature everyday as opposed to being right thick in the action of a bustling city and of having happy-hour drinks after work just… drains me. Should I give up my current job to pursue one in the city, even though this may mean I may get a lousy boss and mean colleagues? Also I’m young and I’m single… and I just feel like I should not be stuck in the gardens right now but be out there to mingle and meet more people. However, is this a trivial and shallow reason? I do like my job now and the exposure it gives me – should I stay on for a year or more so just to build up expertise but “suffer” for a year more in terms of location and how it does not jibe with my personality? Thanks so much!