Over the summer of 2015, Marcia and I transitioned personally and professionally from Des Moines to Chicago. I started my job at TREE Fund that August, knowing that my travel commitment in the job was going to be something of a bear for us, since getting from Chicago home to Naperville office and back was a three-to-four hour per day commitment, plus all of the national trips that my work required. That seemed manageable, though, since Marcia’s work was close to home — at least until unexpected professional transitions resulted in her primary base of operations shifting back to Des Moines four months after I started at TREE Fund.
Because of those changes, we have maintained two residences (one bedroom apartments in Chicago and Des Moines) with significant periods of separation for nearly three years now. As I type this, we are in Day 10 of a 12-day continual separation, to cite the current, but not atypical example. Needless to say, this is wearing on us on a variety of physical, emotional and financial fronts, and we have decided that this is no longer a viable long-term situation for us. After carefully considering a wide variety of possible remedies, we now plan to re-consolidate our household where we have the lowest living expenses and where our daughter makes her home: in Des Moines. And driven by a lease renewal deadline, we recently advised our condo owner that we will be leaving our Chicago home in March 2019.
I discussed this decision with the TREE Fund Board of Trustees, and after a good series of conversations over a couple of weeks, we all agreed that it was in our mutual best interests that I continue to serve as the organization’s President and CEO. So that’s what we’re going to do, embracing the ever-more-decentralized way in which people work in the 21st Century, with me becoming a remote employee, getting the job done without being tethered to a single site.
After we get through the various personal moves we need to make, my home office in Des Moines will be declared my primary work location effective May 1, 2019, and I will be there for standard work day hours with full connectivity to all constituents via phone, email and video conference. I will then travel to spend one week per calendar month onsite with staff in the Naperville office, and I will participate in one conference or other trip for TREE Fund each month as well.
I am relieved by this solution that allows me to continue working in a job I love, while dramatically reducing the time I spend away from the wife I love, and significantly increasing the time I spend with the daughter I love. Win-win-win. I will miss Chicago a lot, though, and I plan to stay in the city when I’m back for work at Naperville, so I can enjoy the evening activities here rather than hunkering down in a generic suburban hotel somewhere.
I also very much like the fact that my professional world will not be restricted to Des Moines and its immediate environs upon my return. It will frankly be easier for me to live there when I am not entirely beholden to the region’s nonprofit, cultural, political and philanthropic communities, whose values and priorities often did not align well with my own. (Look what has happened to my beloved Salisbury House since I left it, to cite but one particularly painful example). So I am glad I will be in the Des Moines community, but not of the Des Moines community, if you get the subtle distinction there. That is also a win-win situation for me.
Of course, there are things about Chicago that I have come to dislike and will not miss when I leave here, so I’ll probably do a report about them when I head out next spring, too. Fair’s fair, after all. No place is perfect, and managing expectations is key to making moves like this work well, I think, though that’s been a lesson learned the hard way in a couple of cases over the years.
In closing, I should note that Marcia and I have come to greatly appreciate condo/apartment living with a small footprint. We do not intend to buy a house again in Des Moines, but will just continue to rent, leaving the grass-cutting, sidewalk shoveling, driveway plowing, roof replacements, window washing, shingle painting, Christmas decorating, and lawn-watering to others. We bankrolled our earnings from our last home sale and are saving them for the retirement years, whenever those arrive, maybe sooner, maybe later.
It’s nice to have that sort of flexibility in planning the next step(s). Options make everything better.