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A Perspective on Relocating Your Home & Life



by Richard J. Leider & David A. Shapiro

As we move into the second half of life, we inevitably confront the question "Where in the world do I belong?" Changes in relationships, work, and physical health naturally precipitate the need to reconsider our sense of place. And this means both our external place-where we live-as well as a more internal sense-where and to whom we really belong. Fortunately, the second half can provide us with a unique opportunity for renewal; we cannot avoid the freedom to choose whether to stay, grow, or die.

The challenge is to discover the basis on which to choose to move or stay, cling to or renew.

In nature, organisms move about and relocate when the time is right. Migrations are a survival tool for countless numbers of animal species. As contemporary human beings, we seem to have a tendency to hunker down and stay put when we're challenged. But this may not be the most appropriate response. We're genetically programmed for both flight and fight; we need some way to figure out which is the better choice.

In traditional cultures, elders are accorded a special place, both literally and figuratively. The Hadza people reserve a prime spot in the inner circle around the fire for those individuals who have attained the status of tribal elders. They also reserve a special place in their rituals and respect for such individuals.

Contemporary Western culture doesn't do such a good job of holding a place for elders; it's up to each of us, therefore, to claim our place by focusing on that which sustains and renews us. We do this by recognizing what we have to offer to our communities and figuring out the best way to share it. In so doing, we make ourselves a resource for success in our communities and thus carve out the place in which we belong.

Soon after completing the first book he and Richard worked on, Dave and his wife Jennifer, picked up from their home in Minneapolis and headed off to Seattle . They had a variety of reasons for their move, but the primary one was that the Midwest never really felt like home to either of them. They enjoyed Minneapolis a lot, but something about it never quite fit. While they felt, when they were there, that it was a great place to live, neither ever really envisioned settling there forever.

Making the move was complex, difficult, and expensive. It would have been much easier to stay in Minnesota than head all the way across the country with no friends, family, or place to live.

And yet, it was all worth it. In the end, Dave and Jennifer found their home in the Northwest. It's not perfect, and it's certainly wet, but it is the place they belong.

Everyday, people pack up and face the trying challenges of finding a new place to call home. Nobody particularly looks forward to moving, but many of us look forward to having moved. The hunger for a place we belong is among the most deep-seated of our emotions. We're willing to put up with a lot during the journey if the promise of home lies ahead.

The myth many of us have accepted is that as we age and put down roots, we lose our ability to relocate, either literally or figuratively. Often we get stuck in a place, again, both literally and figuratively. Ultimately, though, the only way to get unstuck is to find a better place. The only way to liberate ourselves from the restraints of a place is to claim a new one. Just as no tree can grow tall unless it is firmly rooted in the soil, so we, too, cannot continue to flourish unless we have set down roots in the place we really belong.

Of course, it is a serious challenge to identify where that place is. We can pore over maps all day long, consult the places-rated atlases, and contact chambers of commerce all over the world, but the information we gain won't give us all the answers we seek. Ultimately, the place we are looking for is a place somewhere within us. We must journey inward as well as outward to find our place in the world. Like those intrepid explorers of old who sailed off to terra incognita, we too must be willing to venture into uncharted waters. We must be willing to explore the regions of our own world-our internal world-about which the maps provide no information.  And to succeed in our quest, we must do more than merely peer over the edge of those maps, we must venture into the unknown as well.

Consulting Our Internal GPS

What sort of tools do we have to find where we belong in the world?

If it were merely a matter of finding a specific place, then the task would be fairly easy.

On any sort of longer trek these days, the global positioning system (GPS) has become invaluable. Such devices, using satellite technology, enable us to pinpoint our exact location anywhere on the planet. But of course, unless we know what we're looking for or where we're going, that doesn't really help us much.

A few years ago, for instance, a friend of ours, Gary, was using his GPS to find the cabin that he and his friends were staying at on a fishing trip in Canada . As they approached the site in their powerboat, Gary had his eyes fixed on the readout of his device. He kept ordering the boat's driver to "go south, go south, go south!" When the driver kept heading straight on, Gary became incensed! "Why don't you go south? It says right here on the device that we need to go south!"

The boat's driver just laughed and directed Gary 's attention away from the readout on his device to the shore before them. "Look," he said, "the cabin's right here." And with that, he pulled into the dock and stepped out to their waiting cabin just a few feet away.

The lesson here is that in spite of how effective and useful technologies like GPS might be, we still need to rely on our senses-both internal and external-to tell us where we are. We need to attune to our innate sense of direction to guide us . . . given that we might already be where we're trying to get to.

And this means, as we have mentioned, that we need to think about place as more than just a physical space. All too often, people in the second half of life conceive of place solely in terms of the outward environment. They pack up their belongings and move to a warmer clime, install themselves in a tiny condo thousands of miles from their roots, and then wonder why, in spite of the exterior heat, they feel so cold inside.

A real sense of belonging to a place involves more than just physical comfort. A sense that we are seen by others, that our contributions matter, that we are making a difference and touching people's lives plays an even more vital role in helping us to feel like we're where in the world we belong.

We can assist our internal investigation into where our outward home in the world is by introspection and through discussion with others. Some of the questions we can ask ourselves that will help us in figuring this out include:

•  How important to me is climate?

•  What sort of physical environment helps me to feel most at home?

•  What medical and social services are essential to my sense of safety and place?

•  What cultural activities do I need in a place I call home?

•  What opportunities are available for me to express my calling through work in this community?

•  How important is it to me to be in close proximity to my family?

Answering such questions, preferably in discussion with people you care about and who care about you, can provide an important foundation for truly understanding where we belong in the world and where in the world it is we call home.


Excerpted from Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose by Richard J. Leider & David A. Shapiro. Copyright © 2004 by Richard J. Leider & David A. Shapiro. All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with Berrett-Koehler Publishers ( ). $14.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.929.2929 or click here .

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