I just returned from spending two weeks at our family home out west. Not a vacation…mostly just a change of venue…but all kids were present for the holidays. Sheer joy.
Every time I return from being away, I am unnerved by the chaos of the transition and the need to immediately return life to order. Mail sorted and tossed. Suitcases unpacked. Refrigerator refilled. Computers and work papers back in their places—or as best they can be given that my little home office wasn’t designed for full-time work and I haven’t taken the time in the past nine months to organize it. (After all, we were going to be working from home for just “two weeks to flatten the curve” and would be back to the office soon, right?)
Basically, I need to feel like I’m home. We all do.
The transition struck me especially hard tonight because I had just had a long conversation with one of my daughters about the frustration and lack of “groundedness” she feels because of her nomadic pandemic life. She’s not alone.
Like most animals, humans need their clan and a home. Home provides safety from the elements and predators. In primitive times, rejection from the tribe could mean death since an individual likely could not survive in the wild alone. Yet the pandemic has created a world of young wanderers who are suddenly floating through life.
My daughters—and many of their friends—have been floating for nearly a year. One daughter has an apartment in New York City, but with the city shut down, violent crime on the rise and much of the city’s fun things unavailable (no restaurants or arts), she has spent the better part of this past year at home with us…still paying rent for her apartment but not living there. The other daughter has been bouncing between our family home out West and her fiancé’s apartment and family in another state. She gave up her apartment lease in the summer when she knew it was time to be done with roommates but hasn’t yet been able to set up a forever home because she and her fiancé have jobs in different cities.
Their friends have been in similar situations, pausing their adult development, independent living and peer connections in order to be in safer spaces. But it’s taking a toll on them. They’re all putting on good faces, but being cut off from their communities is wearing thin. They have “stuff” scattered between bedrooms here and there. They can’t develop work friendships with people who would normally create their local community because most of their meetings are on Zoom…and companies and local governments are specifically reminding people to stay home and away from people. And the community activities and groups that they had previously been involved in are suspended.
These young people are trying to pursue their grown-up independent lives, yet they are unable to create roots to lay the foundation.
At the other end of the spectrum is a segment of young people who think they have won the lottery because they can work from “anywhere”—still rootless but enjoying the ride. A person at our marketing company picked up and moved to Hawaii from the East Coast and is living with several other young women who have chosen to do the same thing. Her rationale: “If I have to work from home, I might as well live in a place that I might not otherwise be able to.” She has to get up super-early every weekday morning in order to operate on New York time but feels it’s worth the effort. She’s not the only 20-something combining work from home with travel—others are choosing to work from ski areas, beaches, mountain cabins and more. What a great opportunity to travel and see the world when “home” can be anywhere that has Wi-Fi.
Being a nomad may be fun for a while. New adventures…new places. But I think the nomad life will wear thin for these constant travelers eventually. At our roots, we need roots.
I was talking to a 40-something friend about meeting her husband and how their relationship developed. The short story is that they knew each other for five years before they started dating. Neither had planned to get married or have children given their respective unhappy childhoods in divorced homes. But 10 years later, something shifted…a need for something deeper and bigger. My own marriage had much the same story—no plans for marriage and children in the beginning…but at some point, after our years of adventures, my husband and I were ready for home.
An article on FlexJobs.com details statistics of both corporate and employee satisfaction with work from home—scores are far better than initially anticipated. My opinion: Let’s talk in a year, after there has been employee turnover and new employees are lacking adequate training and have limited connection to corporate culture or coworkers because of the distance. There’s no question that it’s great to save time on commuting. But there’s also no question that teams work better when they get to know each other live and in person. We all saw what happened at the start of the football season when teams had had limited practice time—performance sagged. Proximity breeds connection. Connection breeds improved performance.
Humans need community emotionally and physiologically. Even our biophysiology is affected since our hormones are fueled by the security of home and the feeling of connection. Every pregnant woman has experienced her wave of nesting as she prepares the nursery and relishes the comfort and security of home. And informal reports show that marriage proposals have been up significantly through the pandemic as people look for security and connection.
Be it at work or at home, without clan and connection, we are lost—vulnerable, defensive and in survival mode. Sure, travel is fun, and telecommuting is convenient. But for most people, this is not a forever endeavor. Our social species needs a place of grounding to make us feel whole.
Sarah Hiner, president and CEO of Bottom Line Inc., is passionate about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to be in control of their lives in areas such as living a healthier life, the challenges of the health-care system, commonsense financial advice and creating great relationships. She appears often on national radio and hosts the Bottom Line Advocator Podcast, where she interviews leading experts to help people be their own best advocates in all areas of life.