The Geography of Work-Life Balance

August 30, 2011

Sometimes where you practice has as much to do with the length of your workday as what’s going on in your practice.

As I was enjoying the beautiful weather this weekend, I marveled in the community in which I live. Growing up in a suburb of Washington, D.C., spending eight years in Boston, and then completing my residency back in D.C., I spent most of my life in congested, busy, expensive, and fast-paced communities. At one time, an hour-long commute didn’t seem too terrible. I mean, that’s only two hours a day, after all. I also expected to drive or take the train for at least 30 to 45 minutes in order to visit a zoo, museum, or attend a play. 

When my husband and I moved to a smaller town in Georgia after I completed residency, the pace of our lives changed considerably. Not only did we soon start having children, but we also were part of a community that was slower, less expensive, and not as high-pressured. Having grown up in a Chicago suburb, my husband could also appreciate the difference in only having to drive 10 minutes and pay a dollar for parking to see similar performances that we could see in Boston, D.C., or Chicago.

We enjoyed more time, more money, and less stress. When we decided to move closer to family, it was a no-brainer. There was no way we would go back to a major metropolitan suburb.

So, this weekend, I thoroughly enjoyed traveling a mere 15 minutes to a local zoo. It was certainly no match for the National Zoo I grew up with, but it was easy to get to, we could park right in front, and honestly, my kids didn’t notice a difference.

This morning, my commute to work was seven minutes. On a bad day, with lots of traffic, it’s 10. Despite all the things we thought we’d have to give up to live someplace smaller, we feel blessed. In fact, when we visit my family in D.C. or my in-laws in Chicago, my husband and I stare with silent wonder at the price of gas, the rude drivers, the horrendous traffic, and the trappings of high-pressured living.

It got me to thinking about how work-life balance can be affected by where you live. If you reside and work in an expensive part of the country that also happens to have a lot of traffic, chances are you’ll be working long hours, made longer by a lengthy commute. While there may be advantages, like having a good deli that actually knows how to make a Reuben sandwich the right way, I’m not so sure that it’s worth it for the toll it takes.

Clearly, this former big-city girl loves the quiet life at a softer pace. I’m curious, readers, how where you live affects your ability to achieve the work-life balance for which you strive.

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