I took the above picture from near my home in Seoul for 2.5 years.
It can be difficult to know where exactly we need to be and what we need to be doing. Paramount among the quest for a pleasant lifestyle is answering where we want to live, how close to friends and family, and what kind of work do I want to be engaged in. The world is infinite and the multitude of options and can be paralyzing. Nevertheless it is important to take a stab at defining the life that we want otherwise we are at the mercy of cold blind circumstance.
With this bout of mini-retirement coming to a close I’ve been thinking about what I want to build for the next step. My past experiences of living and working in Boston and Seoul have become powerful reference points in shaping my requirements this time around. The goal is to make each iteration an improvement on the previous.
Part of defining a pleasant and productive lifestyle is understanding what is important to us. In Boston I was commuting by car 45 minutes out into the suburbs and I despised it. Everyday I had to fight through a barrier of stress to get to and from work. In Seoul I had a similar commute distance but was shuttled around on the company’s private bus fleet. Though the commute time was the same I reclaimed a precious 1.5 hours of my day. Commute is something I will not compromise on. It must be short or it must be via public transportation.
Living in the city versus living in the suburbs. I’m a city guy, 100%. I need to be near culture. I like to take walks to kill boredom. I need to be around good coffee. I like riding my bike to go grocery shopping or to visit friends. I like the x-factor of being near some random event or happening. In Seoul I never got tired of living a minute’s walk from line 3 of the Seoul Metro or being able to get a bite to eat at anytime of the day or night. I’ll save the suburbs for when my mind slows down or I’ve resigned myself to the quiet life.
Being near friends and family. In Boston I had a large and deep network of friends. Also, NYC was just a four hour bus ride away so going home to see family was not a large undertaking. It wasn’t until leaving Boston that I experienced the weight of isolation. Leaving Boston for Seoul was like leaving a small comfortable lake for a large ocean. And while I did well making new connections and built up a large network of friends and acquaintances it wasn’t the same as those old deep roots of friendship that only come with years. Since my experience in Seoul, this has become a factor in choosing a city.
Choosing the optimal work scenario. I need challenging and productive work. I understand this to be coming from some egotistical motive buried deep in my core but if an ordinary joe off the street can do my work I don’t feel satisfied. Every time I saw a Macbook with a CPU I worked on or a Galaxy phone with a component that I helped design I felt satisfied that my small contribution is proliferating through the world. I guess it is my way of being and feeling productive. The other and often overlooked side of work requirements is thinking about what kind of leisure a job will allow. Flexibility to work remotely is a must. This facilitates the ability to sleep in and recharge, take meetings from bed, and take long weekend trips.
The considerations I mentioned above are not exhaustive. The more detailed the requirements get the easier it is to suffer from paralysis by analysis. Part of the reward in diving into a new city is figuring out a little more about what it is we want. The most important facet of lifestyle design isn’t getting every detail right, it’s ownership over our lives. It’s the difference between having food shoved in one’s face and being forced to eat it versus choosing what we want to cook and eat.