I’m in LA, which is always a slightly surreal experience for me. I used to dislike LA – a lot – but now I simply feel a little ungrounded when I’m here; like I’m wandering through a gigantic stage set. Though I feel connected to the clients I work with, and to my brother and his family and my niece and nephew when I visit them here, the city itself feels foreign to me.
And I got to thinking – what is it that makes a place feel good to us? That makes us look around a city or a part of the world and think, “I could live here?” The first time I ever had that experience strongly was when my ex-husband and I were considering moving to New York in the mid-nineties. I remember distinctly driving across the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, and looking northward at the long gorgeous vista stretching up the Hudson River, and thinking “I could live here. I want to live here.” But it wasn’t just the physical beauty – I felt and feel the same way about New York City itself. For all its dirt and sometimes crazy energy, brusqueness and clamor, I really feel comfortable in New York City. In fact, I love it.
What’s that about? Someone once said to me: “In LA, what you have and how you look are important. In New York, what you do and how you think are important.” That’s simplistic, but it seems at least partly true. And certainly, I’m more comfortable focusing on doing and thinking; perhaps there’s a “values consonance” for me in New York that I don’t feel in LA.
Which leads me to believe that feeling at home in a place is composed of many things: Do people share your values? Are you physically comfortable? Do you feel you can be yourself? Do you like the way it looks and smells and sounds? And, on a deeper level: do you relax? When I’m in LA, I never quite let go. When I’m in New York – and especially when I’m at our house upstate – I do.
So, what does this all have to do with work? I think we have the same reaction to organizations that we have to places. When people say so-and-so isn’t ‘a fit’ for a particular organization, I think it comes down to a lot of the things we’re talking about here. My husband is in the process of changing jobs for just this reason. His current organization is a highly respected non-profit that does important work in the world — but it simply doesn’t feel like home to him. I’ve watched him get increasingly uncomfortable with it over the past year or so, so that even though he often likes and is excited about the work he does, he feels continually off-kilter: the way people deal with each other, and what that reveals about the values of the organization, simply doesn’t work for him.
If you want work to be something you look forward to most days, and you want to do your best work and grow and develop as a professional, find an organization that feels like home to you. It’s not silly and it’s not superficial: feeling connected to and supported by the company you work for is an important foundation for excellence.
I encourage you to find your “work home,” if you’re not there now. Settle in. Do good things.