“Why are you here?”

Dan Wells, one of my favorite new writers, has moved to Germany with his family. One of the most common questions he faces there is “Why are you here?” That led him to contemplate his reasons for living anywhere, noting that most Americans never live more than 200 miles away from where they grew up, and yet we live in a time when mobility is easier than its ever been. So why not live where you want?

It’s an interesting point. Why don’t we? In a way the question is a bit naive. He’s an author. As he’s admitted elsewhere, he can do his job pretty much anywhere. And yes, business analysts are needed in many places in the world. But if “where I want to live” happens to be in a small agricultural community? Chances are there’s no work for business analysts there. Heck, one of the reasons I’m where I am right now is because there weren’t any business analyst jobs in a town of 300,000+.  Otherwise I would still be there.

Another problem is that it’s pretty hard to really know if you want to live somewhere without…well, living there. I’ve been many places in the world, most of which I enjoyed, but I lived there long enough to know that there are downsides as well. And some of the places I enjoyed as a single person may have had drawbacks I would never have seen until I had kids. Kids change things a lot.

That said, I suspect there are places that just resonate with people. Something about the landscape, the architecture or the local culture just fits right. But again, I wonder how people find those places without doing a lot of looking first.

Most people probably find places like that because they had to, and only later found that it was a fortunate happenstance. I’ve moved twice in my life, and neither time was because I really wanted to. The first time was to a city that was a bit of a shock at first, but I grew to love and didn’t want to leave. The city we’re in now isn’t bad, and offers opportunities we’ve never had before, but it’s somehow not as enjoyable over all.

So where would I live if I could choose any place? I really don’t now. It’s not something I’ve spent much time thinking about, let alone researching. Maybe it’s a by-product of belonging to a religion that believes God has a plan for each of us. I tend not to think too much in terms of what I want, at least on the big things. Doing what I want might mean missing out on something God had in mind for me, and even the hard times in our lives could be just the thing we need to knock the rough edges off our souls. I tend to think along the lines of “bloom where you’re planted” instead of “where do you want to go?”

 That said, I have had experiences most Americans don’t get to have. I lived in Australia for two years, and I get to visit Finland regularly–and have a genuine Finn experience when I go there instead of only the touristy stuff. So I guess I’ve had the best of both worlds, so to speak. Perhaps it’s not so much where you live as the experiences you have and what you do with them.

In that regard, I certainly don’t begrudge Mr. Wells his year in Germany. I’m sure it’ll be a great experience for him and his family. I’m sure there will be times when the only way they get through it is by reminding themselves it’s only for a year. And there are other times they’ll be deeply saddened that it’s only for a year. But there’s something good to be learned from anywhere you go. It’s just a matter of looking for it.

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