Going Back to a Simpler Life is Not a Step Backward

There’s a lot of change happening in my life, right now. Four weeks ago, I left the full-time job I’d had for three years to become a full-time freelancer, and I’m very happy to say it’s been a successful start. I’m still trying to get into a groove of managing multiple clients and projects (as a planner, the lack of routine drives me crazy sometimes). But I’ve genuinely enjoyed everything I’ve worked on, so far, and the feelings I wake up with every day serve as a reminder that I made the right decision. It’s the most challenging blessing I could’ve asked for, at this stage in my life.

When I decided to quit my job, back in June, there was another decision I was toying with… and that’s where I wanted to live. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’ve moved many times over the years. In 2012, I left my hometown of Victoria, BC and moved to Toronto for work. I stayed there for a little less than a year, before I asked if I could move to Vancouver and work remotely. And I’ve spent the last two years in Greater Vancouver, and have loved so many things about being there… but it’s never felt like my forever home.

See, around the same time that I decluttered that last 10-15% of my belongings, and realized I’d been buying certain things (like clothes, books and furniture) because I thought “grown-up” or “successful” Cait needed them, I quietly started to question some of the other decisions I’d made for that same reason. The one big decision that stood out most was where I “had” to live – because I’d been telling myself for years that I had to leave my hometown for this, that or the other reason, and then that I had to live in Toronto or Vancouver for certain reasons, too.

Why I “Had” to Leave Victoria

I have a degree in Communications, and spent the first five years of my career working for the provincial government, so I used to think I would start at an entry-level position and work my way up to eventually become a Communications Manager or Director. Of course, the government had other plans when they implemented (and seem to still have, all these years later) a hiring freeze, and it became near impossible to move up and around within the organization. At that point, I convinced myself I had to move away, in order to have the career I wanted.

It got to the point where I was constantly looking at job boards, searching for something in Toronto and daydreaming about escaping Victoria. With a population of 350,000+, it’s not exactly a small town, but there is typically only 1-2 degrees of separation from everyone you meet, so it can feel small and seem like there isn’t enough to do. I told myself I had to leave if I wanted to do/see more. So, when I got a job offer from a company in Toronto, I quit my job with the government, packed up my stuff and put it in storage, booked a plane ticket and flew out 19 days later. I couldn’t seem to leave fast enough.

Why I “Had” to Stay in Toronto

I loved my first few months in Toronto, but the longer I was there, the more I realized that I wasn’t meant to live a big city lifestyle. Sure, I was starting the career I’d wanted, but I found the lifestyle in Toronto to be “work hard, play harder” and it was something I couldn’t keep up with. I didn’t mind working 9-10 hour days, compared to the 7.5 hours I had worked in the government, because I liked what I was working on and the people I worked with. What I couldn’t deal with was the “play harder” part. I didn’t want to spend my weekends partying (especially because this is when I decided to quit drinking)… I wanted to spend them outdoors, hiking and exploring.

I tossed and turned for a month, thinking about the situation I was in and how I could change it. At first, I convinced myself that I had to stay in Toronto, because that’s where I’d continue to get the most opportunities through my blog, as well as further advance my career. However, I knew I wouldn’t be happy in the city long-term, but I also wasn’t prepared to go back to Victoria. I decided the next best thing would be to move to Vancouver – a big city where I could still work hard and eventually advance my career, as well as spend my weekends outdoors. I asked my boss, at the time, if I could move and work remotely, she said “yes” and I was on a plane back to BC two months later.

Why I “Had” to Stay in Vancouver

While I only loved the first few months of being in Toronto, I truly loved the full two years I lived in Greater Vancouver. Sure, I grew to hate the traffic (and certainly won’t miss that), but I loved all the neighbourhoods, the beaches, the trails and the mountains. I made friends with people for reasons as simple as that we seemed to share similar interests as seen through our Instagram accounts, and I eventually made more (and more genuine) connections with journalists and companies I could potentially freelance for than I did in Toronto. It wasn’t work hard, play harder – it was work and have fun. (And Port Moody is truly the most beautiful – and still somewhat affordable – suburb over there.)

There were always times when friends in Victoria would ask when I was going to move back. “I can’t,” I’d reply. “Whenever I decide to make a career move, there will be no jobs for me in Victoria, so I have to say in Vancouver.” I’d also had some really neat interview opportunities with television news and radio shows, and even got to be part of a CBC Radio documentary, all of which I thought would come to an end if I left the big city. Deep down, I always knew I’d go back to Victoria eventually… I just wasn’t sure when or how I would make it happen – until I reached the point where I knew I had to, so I could live the life I truly wanted.

Why I Wanted to Move Back to Victoria

Throughout the past year, I’ve been seriously questioning what I want my life to look like. I couldn’t have predicted that getting rid of 70% of my stuff and completing a yearlong shopping ban would have had such a drastic impact on me, but it made me realize that I’d spent a lot of time and money creating a life that didn’t make me happy and, since then, I’ve been trying to figure out how to create a life that does. Living on less, so I can travel more and still save for my future was a good start but, as time went on, being in a big city just felt wrong… like it was taking more energy to try and have fun there than I was getting back from doing those “fun” things.

As I began to discover the concept of simple (or slow) living, and eventually defined it in my own terms, I realized I could never be totally satisfied as long as I lived anywhere other than Victoria. See, my definition of a simple life (as of today) is one that includes three things: doing what I love, spending time with the people I love and being part of a community. I thought I had to leave Victoria so I could go climb a corporate ladder somewhere, but that kind of job would never make me happy (and now I’m a freelancer, so I can live anywhere). I’ve always known my relationships were important to me, and worked hard to maintain them all even after I moved away, but realized I care more about being in the same city as the people I love than taking advantage of whatever a big city could offer me. And that 1-2 degrees of separation I mentioned hating when I was younger? Now, I love how connected this city is.

But deciding to move back to my hometown still wasn’t easy, because my biggest concern about “going back” was exactly that – that it would be a step backward, somehow. After years of convincing myself there was nothing left for me here career-wise, I was worried that I would fail at freelancing and be stuck in a city where there might be no jobs for me. And there’s also just this weird stigma around the concept of going back to a city you’ve left… like you’ve failed to make a life for yourself elsewhere, or something. In reality, I’m just choosing a simpler life – one with potentially less income and fewer opportunities (locally), but filled with more laughter, connections, and memories to be made in the most beautiful place on this planet.

I suppose I did have to leave Victoria, so I could gain all of this experience and eventually discover what I want my life to look like. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my last job, my time in Toronto and Vancouver, and some of the opportunities I’ve had as a result of this blog. So, I don’t regret any of the moves I’ve made… I just feel more at peace with this one, because I’m not running down this elusive career path I thought I had to take, in order to be happy. This time, I’m moving because I already have my dream job and now I can take it wherever I want… which is here, where I can choose how much work I want to take on and spend all my spare time with the people I love. <3

Have you ever thought about slowing down your pace of life and/or moving to a smaller city? What’s stopping you?