What's good about the bad bits?
February 15, 2019 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I will be compromising on career and commuting options in order to lead a potentially saner life away from the big city. I thought I was ok with this until sh*t got real. How do I frame these changes in a way that helps rather than hinders the transition?

In October I asked this question about anxieties about leaving London. The answers were really helpful and I felt good about making the move. Things have since progressed, my husband has found a great job in a city we both love and we are set to move to a beautiful area which has affordable housing, a lot of nature and is commutable to places we can both work. We just agreed a good rental property and are set to move in April.

All good right? Except I am now panicking to the point of paralysis about two aspects of leaving the city and am terrified that our relationship will implode in resentment if I can't get past these anxieties. Can anyone offer any reassurance?

1. Career: Hub is younger than me and this is a great move for him, both a big step up in pay and higher level work he is interested in. I however will be leaving a great job that I worked really hard to achieve. We are lucky in that there are lots of jobs in the new area that I can apply for but they don't map so well to my current career and at 43 I'm really afraid of setting myself up for underpayment til retirement if I step off that ladder.

To that end I recently declined an offer for one job in new area - it looked interesting and the interview was great but their best offer was 25% less from what I'm on now and it was too hard to swallow the cut. I'm now worried that this was a mistake - if jobs there just pay less I will need to suck it up by either aiming for more senior (and more stressful/harder to come by) roles or taking a hit at my current level. Both seem risky options, any thoughts?

2. Commuting: Part of the move is to live in a specific rural area. This will mean commuting by car - there are no other transport options. Currently we have one car that we use rarely. In the new place we will each need a car as hub's work schedule can be erratic. I travel an hour to and from work currently but there are multiple options: subway, train, bicycle, even walking at a push, with lots to see and do along the way. Daily car commuting in lovely-but-amenity-less countryside seems wasteful, stressful and dull which is why I've actively avoided it for the past fifteen years. Hub on the other hand hates public transport and is very excited about getting to drive.

I realise that I'm focusing on the negatives here. Can anyone see any benefits that I'm missing out on? Is there any way that a drop in salary/ramp up in job stress and a long car commute isn't going to be the absolute worst? How do I approach this move - that my partner and I agreed together - with gratitude and excitement rather than fear?

Any thoughts welcome!
posted by socksister to Work & Money (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Salary has meaning when it's tied to your cost of living. If you take a 25% pay cut to live in an area with a 50% lower cost of living, you have more real income than at the higher pay rate. You do have to factor in the non-location-tied expenses, but if things like housing and food are much cheaper, it really makes a tremendous difference. My wife and I went from scraping by with parental assistance to living very comfortably on our own by moving from Expensive Big City to Rural Area, although she can only charge half as much here and I am making the same or slightly less these days.

Commutes are commutes, and they generally suck, but the advantage of a car commute is the privacy and control you have. I strongly suggest taking up podcasts and/or audiobooks and look at the time as an opportunity to learn and relax. (I do love driving, though, so ymmv.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:50 AM on February 15, 2019 [22 favorites]

A long commute is perfect for discovering new books on tape or interesting podcasts!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:11 AM on February 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Car commute is a feature not a bug as they say. No more having the person next to you on the train coughing and sneezing on you, no more being on someone else's schedule, can leave when you want. Can duck into your car at lunch for a power nap or to make a private phone call. Can listen to whatever you want on the radioCDStreamSatellite. I drove from the suburbs to downtown NYC for about 7 years. Worst traffic best commute of my life. I had a 3 minute drive to one job and hated it. No time to decompress at the end of the day.

Career is career. If you keep score by absolute dollars, sure, you will be lower in the scale, but there are much better (or different) metrics at which you can measure your success. Also, restless_nomad makes a great point about cost of living v salary.

I cannot tell you if it is the right move, but it sure sounds like it to me.
posted by AugustWest at 8:20 AM on February 15, 2019 [8 favorites]

I agree you should consider cost of living, and at least partially your husband's improved income, in your overall formula. If you keep doing only selective math, you'll always find a way for this to be a bad prospect, but it sounds like a good deal to me: your cost of living is presumably going down (or you're getting more bang for the buck at least, which for a lot of people translates to more time spent at home and less money spent for outside entertainment), he's making much more money (and likely will continue to do so), maybe the math allows for you to take something of a hit for improved choice and less work stress if he's able to cover the gap by starting to save more now for your retirement years.

(And while your husband is getting a big salary bump out of this, I suspect that's not typical for the region. Salaries for most industries in your area are probably going to be lower, across the board and over time, because the cost of living is lower. You might also compare things like utility rates, food and fuel costs, average cost of a night out or weekend afternoon entertainment.)

I have had long commutes, and I certainly don't prefer that to other options, but I do miss the podcasts and books, and sometimes just good old alone time to sing along to my playlists, I used to use that time for. I can't tolerate sitting still to listen to things at home, so now the only time I get to do it is when I'm doing housework or running errands. And yeah, as an Angeleno, I'd far rather that drive be in the countryside than the 405 - in fact, my last long commute was in San Diego along some pretty spectacular geography that I considered a partial return on having to be in the car so much, and I loved seeing it change with the seasons.

Shit, that commute was the best part of that job, looking back. And there was a lesson in that for me, and can be for you as well: there's a lot of things in life that are stupid and unpleasant and necessary, and you have to look for ways to make them more palatable because they're not going to do it for you. Clearly this move to the countryside is meaningful to you and your partner in ways important enough that you're taking the step in the first place, and you have some say in how you view/narrate/experience the tradeoffs you make in return. I think there's probably plenty of silver lining to be found in this if you shift your mindset to be oriented to them. You're anxious, and that's why everything seems terrible, and sometimes it's enough to just say that out loud to yourself and cut yourself some slack for it while also making a point to look for the good.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:20 AM on February 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don't know about you, but after a few years into my career, I realized I care WAY MORE about having a low-stress job than having a career at the cusp of earning potential. You can push yourself until your salary and income are more than you might expect, or you can find something that's comfortable.

One benefit of living out of the city is that in these jobs that pay a bit less, you'll probably do really well at them. They could be easy. Instead of working through lunch every day, maybe you'll take long lunches and relax. Maybe people in the country are a bit more relaxed.

In the end, there's only one thing that makes or breaks a new job for me. My manager. If my manager is respectful, pleasant, smart, and puts his employees first and utilizes them well, I'm in for a great time. If they use fear, respect, admonishments, or are particularly dull or ineffective, I'm going to go crazy.

Good luck!

PS - I would aim to minimize commutes more than any other amenity with your new home.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Try and resist the idea of your salary as some sort of "score". Your employer doesn't pay you $X because they think you are "worth" $X, they pay you $X because you provide $X+Y in revenue to the business. If you can achieve your financial goals at a reduced salary, there is no reason not to take it.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

This does sound hard - obviously I live in Minneapolis and Minneapolis is no London, but I'd find it hard to make a change to a rural place. However!

In re the car: I had a car for a while and got rid of it because I too hate car commutes. But there are some things I really miss about having one: short road trips to out of the way places, the ability to buy large or heavy things without worrying about getting them home, the kinds of conversations you can have in the car, even driving a pretty bit of a predictable route and seeing the seasons change. If I were in your situation, I'd plan some little trips with the car in your new area.

Another thing I really miss about having a car: it used to be easy to drive out into the country and go to farm stands/orchards/etc. Are there small food producers locally that you can visit? It's a bit consoling to come home with a big box of jams or a lot of apples, and it makes a really good routine, whether that's monthly, quarterly or annually.

Honestly, I ended up enjoying driving through lovely but dull areas - it was actually very relaxing once I was used to it. It's city driving which really got me. I found that driving through less-crowded areas gave me a lot of time to think - not just about work, life, or relationships but about books, politics, art and ideas. I'm not saying that I evolved any earth-shattering theories, but it helped me feel more grounded and like there was more to my thinking than just daily matters.

I might also try to remind myself to wait to have these negative feelings until you're actually having negative experiences - the stress of the move and job-hunting are no doubt amplifying your feelings and you can't really tell how your budget is going to work once you're out of London.
posted by Frowner at 8:22 AM on February 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

You will get used to car commuting, and it will help that most other people will do the same so life will be set up for it better. It's going to be more annoying if the commute is signficantly longer than you have been used to. But yes try listening to audio books or

In terms of your career, find out what the job market really like in your new location. For most locations and most professions in the UK, pay is maybe 10%-15% less than in London (and COL much lower) or the jobs don't really exist in the same way. It may be harder to make your career still happen outside of London, but not impossible. There are about `0x more job vacancies for me in London than where I live, but on the other hand that means that there's less turnover in my colleagues, if you're good you can stand out locally as it's easier to be a mover and shaker in networks if you're willing to start making things happen.

Finally, you need to have something that you think is actively better about your new location. Whether that's the opportunity to own property, or to actually spend time in the countryside, or closer to the beach, or some other specific amenity or activity that you can do/use better in your new place.
posted by plonkee at 8:26 AM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would be worrying less about salary and more about job-title/prestige. That is, your husband will be getting paid more, your cost of living will be lower, the salary won't be a hardship and if you move back to an area where salaries are higher, you should recover. But I'd want to maintain your relative status/career ladder position (what exactly does this mean in your field? Presumably you know), because if you get dead-ended into something lower status, that's going to be hard to recover from.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:46 AM on February 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

The move sounds advantageous in many ways. Retirement will be affordable there, not in London. Things weigh out differently in some ways. This is a brief tale. A friend, when gas was over $4 per gallon, crashed a big Lexus suv. I helped her pick out a used Forrester, a great little car. She complained it was a little more than she budgeted for. Her relatives thought it was a step down classwise. OK. She shared the car with a kid, and had a long commute. A month later I asked her about the car. She said that three weeks had passed after the purchase, before they had to buy gas. So it was like the savings at the pump, covered the car payment. That car was at her house for the next ten years, then later I passed the place, and her new car was the same model only newer, even the same color. The relief from lowering the cost of living will be like a positive undercurrent, and remember corporations often dump high paid employees after fifty, probably even moreso if they are women.
posted by Oyéah at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

In order for your feelings about a major move and change of circumstances to be positive, you'll have to shift your priorities to match the new situation. Look at things that you've wanted to do in the past that will be easier/cheaper/more enjoyable about the new situation, and focus on them. Things that will be difficult/expensive/annoying, can you minimize or eliminate those things from your life?
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2019

Fifteen years ago I turned down a dream job in a small town location I would have loved to live in because the pay was about 30% less than I thought I deserved. It took 12 years to get to a (different) small town and the lifestyle I wanted back then, only now I don't have the dream job (lackluster telecommuting, instead). I don't have a lot of regrets in my life, but passing on that gig is a big one. At the end of the day, for me, enjoying my life is so much more important than keeping score by the size of my paycheck.
posted by libraryhead at 8:53 AM on February 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you're at the crux of the panic point right now, because you're weighing two things against each other, one of which you know heaps about, the other you actually know zero about.

Thing 1 - living in the city - you have loads of genuine data on (salary, commute, social life). But Thing 2 - your forthcoming life - you have zero genuine data about, only speculation. So you're comparing something full of STUFF with something else that has nothing but a complete ABSENCE. So of course you feel terrified that you're going to nothing. The only answer to that is to know that your panicking brain is not making a realistic, logical comparison, because it doesn't know a whole lot about your future life. And realistically, it takes time for this stuff to even up. Even if you hate the country life for the first month, you won't really know whether it's for you or not. I think it takes a year at least to make a genuine assessment.

So what do you do in the meantime? Given that you're already committed to this change, I think the only thing you can do is treat this as an anxiety problem, which is what it looks like to me. Some CBT might help you deal with the serious catastrophising and negative prediction-making that you've got going on, either to dial it down, or at least to appreciate that it is anxiety, not an informed assessment of the situation, that's going on inside your head. Maybe meditation to stop yourself getting whisked away on the negative thoughts roundabout that's making you so dizzy. Whatever your flavour of self-help is, now's a time to give it a try, and if you don't have one, it's an ideal time to start.

You asked for reassuring anecdata - my answer to your last question still holds true. The pressure, expense, noise, general grim-facedness of the London commute (and London life in general) is something I would hate to go back to. I live by the sea, 25 minutes from the city centre, bump into friends when out shopping, can get easily into the hills or to a wild beach. The jobs that are on offer are just the jobs that are on offer, and I choose from those, without even giving any thought to what might happen to be on offer in any other city.

And at the end of the day, you're moving to another part of the country, not prison. If it really doesn't work out, you can move somewhere else.
posted by penguin pie at 8:58 AM on February 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

How do I approach this move - that my partner and I agreed together - with gratitude and excitement rather than fear?

You're trading the human-built environment for the natural one, and as a city dweller, perhaps there's a sense of...emptiness there. And I'm not saying that the human experience will stop mattering as much as it does in the city. But this new rural life means it will be so much easier to spend so much more time outside, so much more chance to notice the sky and weather and flowers and trees and ruins and walls and burrows and fields.

In your case, I'd try hard to reinvent yourself as a bit of a rambler on weekends, and perhaps even consider spending a whole four-season cycle in your new area without too many trips abroad or to large cities, with whole days spent walking wherever you can. Get all the Ordnance Survey maps you can of your new area and plunge down old tracks. A few hours' walk amongst whatever hills/dales are around your new place will cost nothing, require no commuting or parking or driving at all, and be an instant relief. There is a permanence, a stability in the land that is deeply soothing even on the most stressful of days. The tree you walk past when you walk your dog is older than your house, older than the railway line in the next town. The tree was not planted by a city parks commission; it was planted by a bird dropping a seed 300 years ago. You'll also have clean air every single day.

I live on a very busy road in Hong Kong, but on weekends I am sometimes invited out by friends to their home in a more rural corner of the city, a tiny hamlet near a small town, into an area that is only accessible by minibus and then a transfer to a taxi; it's straight up a mountain, actually. And it's brilliant! I've spent whole weekends out there. They can see stars at night! They have a barbecue and a hot tub on their roof! But mostly I come for the sky, which I literally cannot see from my windows back in town. I can't say I'm making the right choice in having a shorter commute when I have to use an app to check the weather instead of just looking out the window, you know?

So in making this move, you will also have so much more space to welcome people in to share this new experience with you. You'll have (I assume) at least a bit more space than in London, so that means an easier time hosting guests, for an afternoon or a week. Start with people you know and love and have them up for bank holidays. Host a housewarming party for your neighbours. Host the big family Christmas if that's your thing and really get into the decorating. Long walks in the woods or across the hills on a summer winter Saturday morning with flasks of tea.

Overall, if you're not sure if you'll find comfort and security in your new place, try to use your new space and context to enact those feelings for you, your partner, and your friends and neighbours. This kind of move creates a good kind of tension, and resolving that tension will lead to a positive shift in how you relate to the landscapes around you; the insecurity you feel now will be replaced by new relationships, new knowledge of the land and world you inhabit.
posted by mdonley at 9:09 AM on February 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

Try to look on the upsides - there aren't many hills in London or anywhere you can feel completely alone under the stars.
Yes, you will need to adjust to driving instead of public transport for commuting but this can be a upside - travelling on your schedule, and you can have one fun car and one boring car in the household (I miss my mx5!), and listen to podcasts on the way.
In tech, I'd expect at least a 25% drop in pay working outside the city so it may be the same in your industry as well - your total household disposable income could still see an increase and that's what matters most.
Good luck!
posted by JonB at 9:42 AM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wanted to offer a re-framing of your move, and specifically about your car commute. The studies I've seen have been done in the US, but here at least it's generally true that folks who commute by car are more stressed than those who walk, bike, or take transit. Sure, there are advantages to having your car with you, but those are often off-set by the stress of driving, especially if you're not excited about it already. So, I'm not going to discount your concerns about your commute or your move.

However, you said you found a rental. What if you thought of this as a move for one year? Not that you would move back to London, but if, after a year, you find yourself completely stressed out by your car commute, might it be possible to move closer to whatever job you have found? Since your husband likes driving himself, might it make sense for him to have the longer drive and you a shorter one?

I wonder if you think of this not as a permanent change, but as a test run for a year (or for the length of your lease), it might help you relax a bit more into it and take advantage of what you can enjoy there. You're not leaving the city! You're moving to the country for a year.

Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:07 AM on February 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

I was about to say what bluedaisy said! Take this year as a learning experience, see what you want and don't want in your life going forward, and adjust from there. If you find that rural living bothers you, there are more options in between that and London that you can explore.

In the meantime, since you mentioned approaching the move with excitement, does your new house make it possible to do things that you haven't had the opportunity to do in London? (I'm thinking things like gardening, taking advantage of additional indoor space for crafts, etc., but you'll know better what interests you.)
posted by trig at 10:30 AM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

1. I car-commuted in a rural area for 5 months and I kinda miss car commuting sometimes - and I work from home! I have no commute at all! But the morning commute was good for mentally getting ready for the day, and the evening commute was good for decompressing. And I now have very little time to listen to podcasts.

2. What about telecommuting? I'm assuming if this were an option in your current position, you'd know, but this is increasingly an option in lots of fields, especially for someone with more experience like yourself. The tricky thing is that companies don't always say that telecommuting is an option in job postings - it's often something people negotiate with hiring managers/HR. But if you can make it work, you'll have a London salary with a rural COL.

3. Do your research and figure out how much you need to make in your new location to be equivalent to what you make in London. I once over-estimated how much cheaper life would be in a lower COL area and took too big a paycut, so you don't want to do that, but don't be afraid to take some sort of paycut. There are COL comparison calculators you can use - or a good way to estimate is to look at rents for the kinds of places you'd want to live in and extrapolate from there.

4. You seem a bit ambivalent about the whole stepping-out-of-the-rat-race thing. On the one hand, you want a lower-stress, lower-cost lifestyle, but on the other hand, you are anxious about taking a pay cut. This is totally understandable, but it may be helpful for you to just sort of "pick a side" for now and see how it plays out. Just say "ok, I'm going to be ok with taking a job that pays less and is less prestigious-sounding, but where I'll be able to leave work at work" and see how it works out. Maybe you'll love it and be happy with your new life. Maybe you'll realize that you do want more of a challenge in your career, and so you can start looking for a job that offers that. I totally understand being a woman in your early forties and worried about career trajectory and longevity (it me), but IME real careers have a lot of ups and downs and wandering paths, and you will have a very good story to tell about why you took a position that was a bit of a step back/down (moving for a change in lifestyle/family reasons). (Or I guess you could also pick the other side and say you're going to lean into finding a role with a lot of responsibility, but it doesn't sound like that's what you really want right now)
posted by lunasol at 1:03 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on the move! About long commutes and the car....
1) Get a vehicle that is energy-efficient. Is rental an option? You might find the Prius of your dreams.
2) Google different routes. Not only can this save time and energy if the regular route is out of commission (road repairs, local traffic patterns, weather-related) but this is... different. Drive past the horse barn today, drive past the high school football practice tomorrow.
3) Break up the trip by doing some investigating. Check out the antique shop. Have a picnic by a bridge and watch the ducks paddle in the creek. Cheer on the players at that football game.
4) Seconding using podcasts and books on tape. Your local library may be a good source.
5) If all else fails, find some games to play. Vehicle license plates (same numbers or letters together, here in U.S.A. finding different state tags). Finding the letters of the alphabet on billboard signs, one letter at a time (sometimes you just have to skip Q and Z). How many houses have metal roofs verses shingles. How many have pickups verses cars.
6) In the U.S.A., watch your speed and look out for local speed traps.
7) Just in case, have some sort of roadside assistance (I have AAA) in case of emergencies. Have a cigarette plug-in charger or an equivalent for your cell phone.
8) If traffic is a problem, consider getting to work early or leaving late and using the extra time for other activities (checking emails, doing some yoga, etc.)
Long commutes are tedious, but you can find ways to split up the time and find things to look forward to.
posted by TrishaU at 9:21 PM on February 15, 2019

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