How we view the world

August 30, 2016

What influences how we see the world?

Although my immediate family is long gone now, I’ve come to appreciate my hometown of Rochester, NY so much more in recent years. It’s a small, western New York city, but it has a thriving arts community, wonderful museums, excellent restaurants and of course, what’s not to like about a location on a Great Lake? Ontario, in case you wondered.

As I looked around on my recent trip, I imagined what it would be like to live there. Real estate prices are exceptionally low and the overall cost of living is far lower than where I have lived for most of the past 30+ years. There’s no question that we could upgrade our “things” by living in a place like this. After all, in our city a shi*ty little tract house goes for a million bucks. Which we Californians bemoan every time we see a new headline about the real estate market. Because we all think paying so much for so little is ridiculous.

At least those of us who have lived in other states think that. If you’ve always lived in northern California, well, not so much. Because the exorbitant cost of living is something I and other Californians have learned to deal with as the price we pay for the pleasures of living here. I call it the Paradise Tax. It doesn’t make the latest news about our city’s housing costs any more palatable. We get so little for our money and that’s something M. and I are always aware of as we travel to other, more reasonably priced cities.

Couldn’t help but try it on for size

worldviewStill, what would it have been like to have remained in Rochester?  For one, we’d have a veritable mansion, no, make that a PALACE, for the cost of our updated tract house. A house we couldn’t afford to buy at today’s prices, by the way. But mansions aren’t that important to us. Not as important as everything else that goes with living in the San Francisco Bay area.

I don’t think Rochester could have held me for long. And it’s not that I was raised with any great aspirations or that as a kid I longed for a bigger world. It’s just that once I saw that bigger world, I wanted it.

I wanted to live in a place where just about anything goes. Where an exciting and vibrant business community, in my case, high-tech — which gives us a pretty near full-employment-economy — would allow myriad career opportunities. And did. Where I could wake up almost every single morning to sunshine, moderate temperatures and mountains. Where I had quick access to a world class city, San Francisco, and to the Pacific coast.

I wanted it.  But what I didn’t see was how different my chosen life made my worldview from those outside California.

worldviewNot everyone gets the view Californians have about our property costs. I considered comments made about my Facebook posts about San Jose having the highest median home price in the nation. I took for granted that the subtext to that news was implicit. We don’t take pride in it.  It’s not “aren’t we lucky shi*ts” but “holy shi**, we’re trapped in our homes–we can’t buy bigger without spending even more money and if we sold what we have we could only downsize and this is getting more ridiculous than ever.”

This is just the fact of life northern Californians live with. Ask any of us.

In fact, most of the retirement savings my California friends have is the equity in their homes, especially those who bought 15 or more years ago at far lower prices than we’ve seen since, prices we thought were exorbitant then. If we’d only known!

Retirement, northern California-style

worldviewBack in my home town, the big thing used to be having a job at Kodak with great benefits and a pension. But today, pensions are rare. They’ve been virtually non-existent in the Silicon Valley high tech industry since well before I arrived in 1984.  Very, VERY few northern Californians have a “pension” if they aren’t government workers, peace officers or retired educators. Even traditional, old corporations have replaced pension plans with 401Ks based on employee contributions.

As a result, many Californians are counting on the equity in their homes to help fund retirement. Retirement some place else. That’s not so expensive. And even so, they are reluctant to leave because like me, they love the Bay area. If you don’t live here, you can’t imagine the machinations northern Californians go through in an attempt stay here after retirement. You’d think they were crazy.

But back to those house prices.

As my husband pointed out, when people buy a house in Rochester, its primary value is as shelter and maybe a family homestead. When people buy a house in California it’s to live in California–the value of the house is where it’s located, not the shelter it provides. He thinks that’s the critical difference. “It’s not a shi **y little tract house, it’s a shi **y little tract house in California, which is what gives it the value,” he points out. “Would anyone pay a million bucks to buy that tract house in Rochester? No.”

He has a point and the point is that living in my state is vastly different from living in any other in the Union. I hadn’t realized how hard it is for those who don’t live here to relate to. We think different, as the Apple ad said. Apple is located about 10 miles from us. That ad reflected the northern California ethos. But I hadn’t thought through just how different we think.

worldviewHow we approach the world

worldviewBut worldview is not only impacted by geography.  It has a lot to do with life experience. The other day someone mentioned my blog post about the bracelet I made out of my first engagement ring and wondered “who has a spare diamond laying around?”  Most of the women I know are divorced and judging by the responses to that blog post–one of my most popular–there are a lot of women in that situation. Many of them have their original engagement rings hidden away. They’re loathe to get rid of the ring but hate to leave it in a drawer.

“But I didn’t have an engagement ring,” she said to me.  And that’s the point of view she comes from. Obviously, she wasn’t the audience for this particular essay.

Worldviews. I’ve begun to think that the differences between people may come down to a difference in worldview.  It’s not that one’s better than another, either. Just different. I spent time with cousins who have traveled the world, served as senior execs in big corporations, with creative and talented friends and many of them are open and interesting and broadminded.  And yet, on this trip I clearly saw how differently we approach the world.

As I looked around my hometown and loved it, I also felt lucky to have landed in northern California. There’s nothing in my second-generation American upbringing –with Sicilian immigrant grandparents– that said I’d be attracted to a place that had such an open society. A place where, for the most part, people are accepted for who they are, millionaire and pauper alike. A place where judgment feels, well, out of place.

That wasn’t true where I grew up. In my culture judgment was the air we breathed growing up. And at one time, the “elite” ran the show in our city and Rochester was written about as Snobtown, USA. We weren’t part of the elite. Not by a long shot. But judgment was pervasive.

Yet, the very first time I visited the open culture of the Bay area I felt the click of a fit. Instantly.

Neither of my siblings were drawn to leave. None of the cousins in my generation stayed gone. Just me. And so it should come as no surprise that my point of view would be so different from those who lived in my hometown most of their lives.

There really is a point and this is it:


This has hung in my home for almost two decades. By Brian Andreas.

My nephews live in Buffalo and took me around their city, the second biggest in New York state. I was impressed with the economic development and the transformation of a Rust Belt city that had lost most of its heavy industry into today’s new and vibrant Buffalo. Where there is a neat arts community. Great restaurants. Universities. Culture.

I loved it. They love it.

And yet, my wish for them is to land in a place where the worldview is even broader. Where they can feel free to be who they are, no matter what that is: lawyer, academic, straight, gay, rich or not-so-rich.  An exciting place in which the air is electric with opportunity and possibility. I can’t explain how it’s different here. It just is.

“My fantasy,” said my husband, “is to have C teaching law at Stanford, J practicing law in San Francisco and M living at Santana Row just a few miles from us.”

Mine, too.

Living in a place where I could develop an expansive worldview, a world of no limits and few boundaries, has added texture and excitement to my life and made me joyful and optimistic about my life.

I wish the same for all young people coming up and especially for my nephews.

39 comments on “How we view the world
  1. ryder ziebarth says:

    I love my family farm. You know I do. It’s the center of my life, my world. My husband has no attachment to this community or really, our house. He is an artist by nature, a sculpture and a painter, which he is again pursuing in his retirement. But he hides it from the country club set he plays a lot of golf and tennis with for daily exercise fearing, I think fearing judgement, more so than the lack of understanding he feels he would receive ( Men can be worse than woman in so many respects this way.) I think after reading your post, I understand exactly what he means when he says he has more of as city mentality.Neither of us wanted to stay in New York City without space and fresh air for our young pre-school age daughter, but neither of us could understand the small mindedness we found ( find) in this old school ( I call it brown shoe) old monied enclave in NJ either, where, oddly, both of grew up. Someday, we will move off the farm, but to where, we are still not sure. But I will tell you this, Carol, your post truly did help me understand that the move may really be a good thing for not only MZ, but me, too.

    • So glad it helped,Ryder. As we get older where we live becomes more important and at some point decisions are forced by circumstances.. Until they are, I’m choosing!

  2. Thanks for the perspective Carol. Although I’m not in the best place to comment about myself personally for various reasons I’m glad you have had quite an incredible life of travel and being happy where you are. Smart sense and lots of good advice.

  3. As a Southern California transplant to Michigan, I can relate to this post in so many ways. Love it!

  4. Elaine says:

    Great post. We have many conversations about where we want to retire. We have come to the conclusion that wherever we are, we will enjoy it. If we stay put, we love our friends and most of our family is only a few hours away. Great weather and beautiful views can’t replace friendships and family.

  5. Christina says:

    In life everything seems to boil down to perspective. I have a cousin that lives in Ca. and he struggles to afford it, but when they moved back East they longed for it and eventually moved back.I imagine they see broader possibilities and benefits living there. Whereas I love where I live and can see endless opportunities here. Perhaps your nephews do in their town too.

  6. Hi Carol! As a Southern Californian (and yes that is still California too 🙂 ) I can relate to some of what you mention. Thom (my husband) and I have thought about living several different places around the country AND the world, but we too love where we live and enjoy the many advantages. But not all of California is priced out of the market. You can buy a home relatively inexpensively in the Coachella Valley where the weather is awesome about 8 months of the year. I would worry about people who have the “retirement” tied up in an expensive property. That is not liquid and won’t do them much good when they need to pay bills. But we all make lots of different choices as we age so I do partly understand. I just hope they are thinking through all the repercussions of their choices while the even have the ability to choose something different. ~Kathy P.S. I have a couple of nephews and nieces who already live in California and they don’t seem to be much more aware than your nephews. No guarantees!

  7. I have always been drawn back to the big apple. But, like your lament, I am unwilling to reside in a city that requires my annual income to be in the vicinity of two commas. Not that living in DC netherlands is significantly less expensive.
    But, as I age (no way stopping it 🙂 ), I will yet choose a new abode. One where my economic position, my intellectual pursuits, and my mercenary interests (I am an inveterate entrepreneur) will be full satisfied.

  8. tara pittman says:

    I love these different views on owning homes. I live where houses are affordable and I bought in a neighborhood that I liked.

  9. Thank you for sharing this to us. My family live far away from here and it is not so easy.

  10. Dawn says:

    My husband is from western NY so I’ve been to Rochester many time. I completely agree about living there. I don’t think I’d be happy either and money really isn’t everything. Great insight and storytelling!

  11. Cathy lawdanski says:

    You are right – worldview is just that – how we see the world based on our upbringing, experience and as you wisely point out – geography.

  12. Denise C says:

    I like California, but I’ve always been puzzled about how people afford to live there. There are way too many things I want to do, like travel a lot, for me to spend every dime I’ll ever make just to not be homeless. I’ll just have to content with visiting. 🙂

  13. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Having grown up in a small and depressed town where the cost of living is much less than what I have now, I could not go back there. I am comfortable with what I have and don’t need “more” or “bigger.”

  14. I’ve lived in Southern California since I was 3 when my family moved from Denver. I have visited the snow and after a week I’m ready to get warm again. We all make sacrifices for our lifestyle. I lost a big house in 2008 and now live in a double wide trailer. But hey, I’m in California, up high in the hills with Coyotes and I love it. The beach would be better but, at least I can drive there.

  15. We have Story People in our house, too, Carol. Love them! And I love that C.S. Lewis quote. I often wonder how different our lives would be if we still lived in Manhattan instead of moving to Southern California. But I’m just as glad not to know!

  16. Shanna Uptergrove says:

    I love how different places can be. We moved from a big city to a small town and I am loving it. Everyone should experience differences like this more often.

  17. Kait says:

    I grew up in a small town. While I loved it and definitely feel it helped shape the person I am today, I was ready for bigger things and to be able to raise my kiddos in a community that would enrich their lives and open their hearts to more experiences in their lives.

  18. In a busy world we live in and most of the time technology eats up most of our time and we forget the things around us. We need to get out and enjoy what is there in the real world. Time can be little at times but when use wisely it can be very fruitful specially when you spend it with family.

  19. Karlyn Cruz says:

    When I was a kid, I lived in a simple town. Then when I work, I get busy and lived in the city.

  20. I grew up in Ft Lauderdale and lived in Florida for 31 years. We never thought we’d leave St Petersburg, where we lived for 8 years. We’ve been moving to smaller and smaller cities, settling in Sonoma County. We love it here, but the housing market and cost of living are tough to swallow. I agree about the Paradise Tax. It really is just awesome living here. I think it’s worth it. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to live in different parts of the country, and visit different parts of the world, to expand my view.

  21. Elizabeth O. says:

    We can’t stay in our hometown just because everyone else is staying there for the rest of their lives. We are “built” differently and some of us are meant to fly. I think what’s important is that you appreciate the place that you cam from while you love where you are as well. We can only wish the same kind of thinking for the next generation.

  22. Liz Mays says:

    I’ve lived in places where the location drove the price and others where the house did. It’s definitely a large part of my decision making when I go, but I feel blessed for having had the opportunity to spread my wings a bit before I retire one day.

  23. Taty Pradilla says:

    This is a really interesting read. I want to move away from where I live, I haven’t even been out of the state. I told my husband when we retire we are moving to the other side of the world (Cali).

  24. I know exactly what you mean, where I was before I had more space and more money but I moved to London A. because I had no choice and would have been homeless and B. because it was my dream and it was a snapshot into a bigger world.

  25. This is so true! I was just telling a friend of mine that perspective is so important and often divides people.

  26. Am i too young to be thinking about retirement? hell no. it’s never too early and a great dream to dream. Living in NY must be really awesome! I wish I could live there, my country is mental at times. This is a great post on your perspective and journey. Filled with nuggets.

  27. Christine says:

    I have lived in a few places and decided not to be house poor anymore. We downsized and now are able to do the things we like to do- stressfree. And I have so much less to clean, too!

  28. Echo says:

    I recently visited California for the first time and I could definitely see my self happily living there someday. For now, my life is here.

  29. I’m born and raised in Southern California and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Having traveled several places I’m so thankful for where I live and to be able to afford a home in SoCal.

  30. kathy kenny ngo says:

    Very informative article.Yes living in a far away place seems different to the big city.

  31. Rosemond says:

    Living in LA, judgement does seem out of place. I’m from a small town in AR and like you judgement was such a part of the makeup of the culture. There are many things that aren’t perfect about LA, the housing prices, the traffic, for instance, but I so treasure the openness and lack of judgement that I’ve found there.

  32. We moved out of the city to be able to afford a decent size home for the whole family. If you asked me ten years ago if I saw myself living where I am now, I would have said HECK NO! Here I am now, loving this place more and more each day.

  33. Janis says:

    I’m glad that Laura of Adventures of the NEW Old Farts had a link to your post.I was a follower of yours at one time, but it must have gotten lost in the universe. I will follow again and hope it sticks this time.

    I am a native Southern Californian and still live here with my husband. Like you, we couldn’t afford our house these days (especially now that we are retired), but I am so glad we purchased it almost 25 years ago. So far, I haven’t found anywhere else I’d like to live, at least full time.

    I do think that we can sometimes be in a bubble here and find it hard to imagine how people from other regions can have SUCH different perspectives. I prefer our generally progressive, environmentally aware, diverse, and open populace, but it’s important to travel as much as we can and understand (if not fully appreciate) other ways of looking at things.

    Oh, and I agree with Kathy: the fact that many are considering their home equity as retirement savings is scary.

  34. Laurie Stone says:

    Carol, Never moved around a lot, but I think it would be cool to try different places. Both coasts have their pluses and minuses. But for me it would be hard to go wrong in Northern CA.

  35. I loved your description, Carol. I always wondered what California (and I note that it is north California) was like. A lot of the reasons you site for wanting to live there also appeal to me. For the time being though, I think we’ll stick to the south of France, despite our own “Paradise Tax.”

  36. I’ve visited California and can definitely see the appeal. I am a New Englander through and through, however, and cannot imagine living without the constant change of the seasons, including our long and sometimes harsh winters in Maine. I love the contrast of summer solstice when the day never ends and winter solstice when it is dark at 4 p.m. I think the main thing is to be open and happy wherever you live. If not, then you move your discontent to your new location. I know I could be happy in California too and I would come and visit you Carol in your lovely San Francisco Bay area. 🙂

  37. Mardene Carr says:

    Its interesting that we are discussing worldview right now in my doctoral studies class. It is a pretty interesting subject

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