When I was just a little over 18 years of age, I left home and packed my things to head off to University in Newcastle. At the time, compared to Parkes, Newcastle could have seemed like the “big smoke”, but I was already aware that it was small fry to Sydney.
Over time though first as I studied in Newcastle then started working there, I (and then my partner and I) actively discussed how big city life wasn’t an option – it would be too busy, too hectic, too unfriendly.
So when I started working in Sydney, the logical move for us was to relocate to the NSW Central Coast – a half way point between Sydney and Newcastle, and quite readily commutable from by public transport, at only an hour and a half each way. I commuted to Sydney for 6 years, sometimes loving it, sometimes hating it, before the company I worked for collapsed and I got the remarkable opportunity to work from home.
I also, having invested too much of myself in that previous company, got a big dose of depression which took a good two years to properly get over. But when I did get over it, it left a bit of a nagging feeling of “what am I doing here?”
(Not on the job front – I really love working for my current employer. They actually believe in a work/life balance and look after their employees.)
For various reasons though, most notably an inherited hermit-like tendency that grew out of a mix of my introversion and my parents own hermit like tendencies, I felt completely embedded where we were on the Central Coast. We had a mortgage, Darren’s job was just down the road, I was working from home, and we had a comfortable life. Sure, Darren would every now and then talk about changing things a bit, but I felt pretty damn comfortable.
And then at the start of the year I made the unpleasant realisation that sometimes, particularly when you’ve got hermit-like tendencies, “comfort zone” is a synonym for “rut”. We weren’t in a comfort zone any more, it had grown into a rut.
When we first moved to the central coast it was exciting because it was relatively new and I was commuting. But even before I stopped commuting the general drudgery of life it offered was becoming apparent. As a combination of seachange lifestyle and commuters, the Central Coast has suffered a lack of community spirit for ages. Gosford council in particular seems to have been constantly reluctant to actually allow investors into the region who want to shake things up (they too are exhibiting all the signs of being in a comfort zone that has turned into a rut), and so there’s never anything new and interesting appearing on the coast.
Or, to put it in a callously simple way – if the only place you can go at 9pm at night to get a coffee after a movie is a Macdonalds drive through, there’s something seriously fucked up with where you’re living. Sure, it’s more complex than that, but it’s indicative of a greater problem with the region. A lack of lifestyle culture, if you will. In some ways, the central coast is becoming a grey region – full of retirement villages, the median age of the coast is going up higher than the average region, I think; and that of course influences the tone of the region. It’s also got, lamentably, a significantly large group of evangelical churches. This seems directly related to the number of people making a seachange. Turns out if you don’t know why you’re moving when you move, you may end up needing a crutch.
In short, unless you’re prepared for a prayer session where it’s hands-down-for-coffee, or want to sit around talking about Matlock, you need to go somewhere outside the central coast to do anything pertaining to culture.
That’s if you’re heterosexual. If you’re gay, it becomes a bit more interesting again. But, if you’re a bear, it goes from “a bit more interesting” to “damn impossible”.
In short, the Central Coast is a picturesque region that has much to recommend it if you’re a commuter with kids, or a retiree. I’m neither, and the realisation was that Darren was (as I should have known!) completely right, and it was time to shake things up a bit.
The Ungay Guy wrote an article last year about deciding to move from Chicago to San Francisco called “Everything must go“. I actually give no small amount of credit to him for actually setting the seed that allowed me to make the realisation myself at the start of the year – after all, he said:
Even though the status quo seems good, my life still feels stagnated.
There’s that damn rut again!
So we evaluated where we’d like to live, and it came down to three choices: Hobart, which has the best weather in terms of what we’d like, Auckland, which is where my company’s head office was, and the third choice: Melbourne, the next biggest IT centre in Australia after Sydney.
From a weather perspective, Hobart won hands down. But from a work perspective, it was without a doubt the most limited. Realistically as well, it also has a limited social life as it’s a much smaller city, even if it is a state capital city. Auckland – we gave that serious consideration, but the biggest fear of Auckland was (not earthquakes or power losses) that it would be a one way move. It’s very unlikely the NZ dollar will reach parity to the Australian dollar without an amalgamation between the two countries, and so any move over there would result in a substantial reduction in Australian-calculated income, and the cost of living seems undoubtedly higher in New Zealand than Australia. It would have a good culture, and plenty of work colleagues, several of whom I consider to be close friends, but it would be a one-way trip.
Or in other words – I love New Zealand, but I’m fairly certain I want to stay an Australian.
So Melbourne – and then the idea sparked for us: it’s not third choice. It has the highest employment prospects, it has culture, it has a strong bear community too if we wanted to dip our toes into it, and it has weather that’s more compatible with us. It also has the best food culture in Australia, and having watched with envy for years the sorts of shows and exhibits that Melbourne gets either in preference to, or before Sydney, it seems to have the most compatible culture for us, too. Suddenly Melbourne was elevated to first choice from third, and we felt rather sheepish for not thinking of it sooner.
It wasn’t that we didn’t want a big city life – we just didn’t want that big city life to be in Sydney.
But, moving to a place when you don’t know anyone can be a challenging thing to do, and the internet lets you get around those problems if you want to work at it. Not only that, there was the growing thought that if there was a gay community we were interested in having some exposure to, it was the bear community, and so early on in 2010 we started actively talking on the net with bears in Melbourne to see if we were making the right decision.
Through that, we’ve been lucky enough to make some really fantastic friends. We actually kept our cards close to our chest for some time for a very simple reason: making friends when you are or are going to be local is easy. Making friends when you’re someone remote is more of a challenge, and if it works you know that it’s a real friendship indeed. And real friendships were definitely formed, which took us from thinking “maybe we could move to Melbourne” to “when shall we move to Melbourne?” (And also, from the perspective of other people, –condensed form–, “Hi, I’m moving to Melbourne. Want to be my friend?” is decidedly creepy!)
As an aside, you also know that you’ve been making plenty of bear friends when you click on “People you may know” on Facebook, and every face suggested has a beard or a goatee.
At first the plans were set for 2012, then maybe by the end of 2011, and now suddenly we’re both thinking that mid-2011 is a bit of a challenging deadline but it gives us some hard work to do with a great reward. Suddenly the Central Coast isn’t home any more, just a holding pattern, and home will be when we move to Melbourne.
Sure, it’s going to a big bumpy and interesting – yet rewarding – ride ahead of us. Yet what is normally the biggest uncertainty of moving is not an uncertainty for me at all. Normally people either have a find a job to move to, or move then find a job. Instead, my job comes with me – in fact, it’ll be a great challenge, getting to drive new business in a new city and grow the presence of my company across two states of Australia.
Having made the decision, the next focus is on enabling it, and the first thing we think now when we look around our house is “how many of these possessions can we ditch?” We’re probably not going as far as the Ungay Guy who said he was going to keep only a quarter of his possessions, but we’re definitely halving. That’s probably the first major decision we’ve made – there are many more to come. Do we sell, or do we rent our current house? Where do we move to in Melbourne? How will we keep recording Coronation Street for Darren’s mother? These are all big questions that’ll need to be answered over the coming months.
But if I’m slightly distracted from blogging in the next 7-8 months, you’ll know why 🙂