My company wants me to move to California

I don't like California; I like it where I am!

Published July 11, 2008 10:23AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am having a hell of a time making a decision. I have been offered a promotion that involves a move out West. I trust, admire and respect the boss, and I am very grateful to him for considering me. It's a risk for him, too. Why am I having such a hard time with "manifest destiny"? This may sound like blasphemy to you, but I've never felt great love for California. I have visited several times now.

I'm very much an East Coast girl. I grew up in the South; I still live in the South. It is my home, and I have never had any intention to leave it. But I'm not romantically involved with anyone, and I don't have children. I'm not tied to the land by immediate family. I want to "move up." (Right?)

The small beach community in question is idyllic and artistic, intelligent and hip. Anyone would be privileged to live there. But that's part of the problem. I hate to boil opportunity down to dollars, but ... home prices there start at $1 million. How can a place with a median income of $47,000 have a median home price of $1 million? Rents aren't exactly sane, either.

I, too, am privileged -- just not in a million-dollar way. I own a great home with a detached painting studio, with a great garden, lots of room for the dogs, in an in-town neighborhood near work -- and mine cost a third of that. I have wonderful friends and neighbors, and a fairly active social life. I volunteer with a few groups, and there is plenty to do in the metro area. I'm fully stocked with expensive furniture and yard stuff that could not come with me. I know this: I am not cut out to be a landlord. If I leave, I have to sell the house and a lot of the stuff. Luckily, the market in my neighborhood seems stable; I could sell the house and probably even make a profit. (The real estate agent is coming tomorrow to chat.)

I'm not likely ever to be able to afford my neighborhood again.

My friends and family are pushing back, hard. My parents are fearful of everything; they always have been. Their reaction is predictable. The important people in my life want me to succeed professionally, but they don't want to lose my physical presence. This is flattering; however, I also have to swallow my own considerable doubts if I go, and to pretend that I believe This Is The Best Idea Ever. I'm not so sure about that. But isn't that part of being a manager? Don't you have to convince the troops to forge on even if you are not so sure, deep down inside? Don't you have to project confidence in the face of risk? Don't you have to soothe everyone else's fears and annoyances, all the while keeping a steely eye on the bottom line, balancing innovation vs. productivity? I don't get promotion offers often, because few positions like this are available anywhere. I'm at the top of my game doing what I do, and I have been for several years now. I'm not quite 40 yet. Is this seriously as good as it gets, career-wise?

Am I a fool if I turn down the offer? I already asked if I could perform the role from here and commute, but that isn't feasible. What should I do?

Thanks for your advice.

Should I Say Goodbye?

Dear Goodbye,

Don't go.

Don't go don't go don't go.

Don't go.

Don't sell your house. Don't sell your furniture. Don't go. Please don't go.

I rarely feel so sure. Seldom do intuition, feeling and thinking agree. But this time they do. My feeling tells me that you will not be happy in California if you don't like California. My intuition tells me that interesting opportunities await you if you stay where you are. And my thinking says the deal is no good; it is a one-sided offer. It is lopsided. They aren't offering you enough.

How much money would it take? I'd say, maybe, for $100 million, maybe you think about it. Seriously: No amount of money could replace the intangibles -- your network of friends, family, etc., your attachment to place, the confidence you carry with you because you know the weather, the freeway surfaces, the mailboxes, the skies. You know this place and love this place. That is irreplaceable. You cannot simply go somewhere else and know it and love it in the same way.

So please don't say yes. Say thanks, really, thanks so much, but no, no thanks.

This isn't about a fear of the unknown. This is about giving up one known quantity for another known quantity. It's clear to you, as it's clear to me, that the quantities are not even close to equivalent.

If you want to overcome your fears of the unknown, then go jump out of an airplane. California is not the unknown. California is a place you have visited several times and don't like. I can hear the little wheels whirring in your head going, Well, everybody loves California so maybe there's something wrong with me, maybe I just don't get it. Oh, you get it all right. You get it just fine. You've been to California. You don't like California. California is a place you do not like. So do not move there.

Oh, and this business about being a manager and leading the troops despite your own doubts. I would say no, that's not what a good manager does. I would say as a good manager you must be sure, yourself, that the course is fundamentally right despite the risks. You are not sure. You have serious doubts. So I would say no, it's not the wise thing to do to try to psyche the troops up for a move that you yourself do not feel right about. When we feel right about something, we will still feel fear and we will still face risk. And we may then have to put a good face on things in order to lead. But if we ourselves are not fully committed, then no, I think it is deceitful to try to persuade others to follow our lead when we ourselves are not convinced. We have seen that in business and in government. Do not just be a good soldier. A good soldier is not a good leader. Look at what happened with Colin Powell's address to the United Nations in the run-up to the Iraq war. One might say that he was being a good soldier when he should have been a good leader. There is a difference.

And do not dismiss your parents' fears. They may indeed be habitually fearful, but that does not mean their fearfulness is always without basis. Perhaps they have seen firsthand how commercial culture breaks the fragile bonds of community, and they don't like it and don't want to see that happen to their own daughter. I would not blame them.

Please do this also: Banish from your mind any notion that just because you aren't married and raising a family that you lack roots, that you are therefore somehow not attached to a place. That is deep hogwash. It is deep because it is rooted in the assumption that only external, demonstrable, physical ties matter, and that the deep emotional bonds we form with a community are somehow insubstantial if they don't involve marriage and children. Deep, deep hogwash.

Every now and then the answer is so clear! I could go on. We could say the future is uncertain and often we cannot see what it blah blah blah just don't go. We could say throughout history we have longed for what is blah blah blah don't go. We could talk about how unfettered capitalism uproots towns and families and entices blah blah blah just don't go. There is on the one hand a lovely life and on the other California blah blah blah have you any idea what you've got where you are and how impossible it would be to blah blah blah?

We could say that all California needs is one more person who left her idyllic hometown for a company's dream and now is unhappy but can't afford to go back and blah blah blah but all we really have to say is:

You know in your heart what the right thing is.

Just don't go.

Don't go!

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