For most—if not all—of my professional career, my decision to live in Richmond, Virginia, has been questioned.
The questions started 17 years ago when I was in graduate school. I attended one of the top graduate programs for advertising in the country—the Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University—which happened to be located in my hometown: Richmond.
And exactly no one understood why I wanted to stay behind when all my classmates were surely destined to leave.
Towards the end of my first year I was asked to complete a form ranking my top five choices of advertising agencies where I’d like to spend my summer internship.
I listed The Martin Agency (an agency in Richmond) in the first spot and left the remaining four spots blank.
My professor called me into his office immediately.
Professor: You only listed one agency on your internship form.
Me: That’s correct.
Professor: Why is that?
Me: Because I want to live in Richmond, Virginia.
Professor: OK, but that’s all the more reason you should spend your summer internship in San Francisco or New York. So you can see what else is out there and really decide what’s best for you.
Me: I’ve already decided what’s best for me. It’s to live in Richmond, where my family lives.
Crickets. Total silence, and maybe even an eye roll.
My rationale was this. A lot of great jobs can be found in a lot of great cities. But, my family lives in Richmond, Virginia. And my family, and my ability to see them on a moment’s notice, is—and always will be—more important to me than my career.
Throughout my career, headhunters would call about job opportunities in faraway lands with brighter lights and bigger cities. The scenario was always the same:
Headhunter: We’d love for you to consider being a _____ in the great city of______.
Me: I’m flattered that you’d consider me for this job. But my family and my life are in Richmond. So that’s where I’m going to stay.
Headhunter: Well, that’s a first.
My response seemed natural to me, but came across as so strange to other people.
So eventually I stopped listening to other people.
When people told me that jobs paid more in other cities I said, “I don’t care.” When people told me the titles and corner offices were bigger and better in bigger cities I said, “Oh well.”
Exactly when did ‘more’ become synonymous with better? Perhaps bigger isn’t always better.
I fully recognize that very sentiment is borderline anti-American, but for me it’s the truth.
The siren call of sexier cities or glamorous clients sound very stressful to me. More money equals more responsibility; a bigger title means bigger headaches; and the larger the office, the less time you spend at home with your family.
I’ve always had big ambitions when it comes to my career, but I never believed I had to move away from my hometown to achieve them.
And, boy, am I benefiting from this belief.
The payoff isn’t an ever-growing 401k profit-sharing plan to help me live the good life later; it’s everyday moments that help me live the good life right now.
- If I’m having a bad day, I can call my big brother and he’ll meet me for Mexican food, beer and a side order of perspective.
- Both of my grandmothers died last year and I was with them when they each took their last breath. Not because I got on an airplane and flew across the country, but because I got in my car and drove down the street.
- My father was the mystery reader in my son’s first grade class last week. Not because it was a special occasion, but because it was Tuesday.
That’s my all.
I’ve always believed that in order to have it all, you first have to determine what your own “all” actually is. And this is mine.
Big careers are exciting, but to me, the little things are everything.
Is this scenario possible for everyone? Probably not. Every member of my family had to make a conscious decision to stay in Richmond – resisting job offers and relationships in other cities every step of the way. And perhaps even more amazingly, my husband from Geneva, Switzerland was willing to make Richmond his second home. I know, and appreciate, how unique my situation is in this day and age.
But even if you don’t live down the street from your family, what can you do to bring them into the fold and into your life today? Not tomorrow or next week or for their next birthday.
One day they’ll all be gone. We’ll all be gone.
Find a way to make them a priority today. Make some memories today – even if it’s picking up the phone and reminding them how much you love them.
It’s the little things.
It’s always been the little things. But somewhere along the way, people tried to convince us that it was the big things that matter.
And they were wrong.