To beach or not to beach

Since my early twenties, I’ve dreamed of the looking down at the ocean waves through walls of glass in an ocean front condo; dreamed of turning to the door and heading down for a sandy walk and a salty swim. That I’m even entertaining the idea that beach living may not be my endgame intimates how much I and the world around me has changed in the past couple of years.

I had a clear picture of my future self sunning against the backdrop of shimmering waves and a warm breeze. I’d begun researching before the pandemic, and could envision great scoping vacations in resort areas across the country. I even considered a minor career adjustment that would have made all of it easier.

Fast forward to today, our pandemic limits travel, inflation floats beach properties higher each day, and my brush with cancer makes me wonder at times what lies ahead. I’ve started rethinking where I see myself in my future years, and how long I’m willing to wait to get there. In a few years I’ll have an empty nest. And if this pandemic EVER subsides, I’ll be able to begin vacationing again. But will I research areas near beaches as I’d planned? I’m not sure.

During my early research I bumped into a legitimate issue. As you know if you’ve read my earlier post about a writing contest, I’ve developed an aversion to dark water. And frankly part of it is predatory fish. Although I grew up near the beach and frequently swam in ocean and bay water with low visibility, I’ve developed some trepidation. Still, though, something more insidious crept in. It’s the changing value I place on the conveniences I have.

Post pandemic and post cancer treatment, I’ve come to value how connected my current location is to everything I could need. Paths and natural wooded areas allowed us to continue outside activities when indoor areas closed down. A nearby metropolitan area means access to all manner of deliveries and services. When searching for medical care I found exceptional doctors and facilities in my own back yard. They’re things I thought I didn’t need, and yet somehow they’ve become table stakes.

So were I bent on a beach relocation, I’d be looking for a place with crystal clear water, mild climates year round, recreational places and spaces to enjoy, city-style amenities reasonably close by, world class medical resources, close to a major airport and highways so I can easily stay connected to family and friends. Did I miss anything? And is there any chance this place exists?

This week, as I shopped in one of the four grocery stores a stone’s throw from my house, Coastal Living magazine with an island life feature caught my eye. It occurred to me that if I’m never going to be happy without clear water sans predatory fish, maybe I should just stop this seaside search and consider being happy with a pool.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but it was a practical thought, so I stood for a couple of minutes and let it settle in. Given that I was in an obvious crisis, I did what my fellow Americans do in times of crises: I bought stuff.

Don’t worry, it was nothing big. I purchased two magazines: Coastal Living and Traditional Home. I wanted to explore what resonated and what didn’t. During my first flip through Coastal Living, I found that some of the coasts were beautiful…if I also had a pool, because I wasn’t loving those brownish green waves. Needing a pool defeats some of the purpose of moving to the beach. Shifting to Traditional Home, there was some appeal to the thought that I wouldn’t have to swap out French country furnishings for conch shells, sand dollars and shiplap. Over the years I’ve lost my affinity for classic coastal decor. It’s fun for a vacation, but it wouldn’t be my every day choice.

Moving beyond the superficial is going to take a little more courage. It’s not so often we wrestle with letting go of something we’ve held on to for so many years. So I’ll take some deep breaths and I’ll flip through more pages. Because a lot has changed for all of us. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that any successful rebuilding can only be done by being honest with ourselves about what we need, what we want, what has passed, and what may yet lie ahead.

Following our passions is getting easier.

“Cowboys and Indians” was the earliest game I remember playing in my neighborhood. I always wanted to be the ingenious Indigenous, powerful and stealthy from knowing the place, strong and tan from living off the land. I didn’t understand why most kids wanted to play the boring interloper cowboy, but it worked for me.

Behind the scenes, I didn’t just want to play the role, I wanted to be an American Indian. The way my four-year-old self saw it, there was only one thing keeping me from sleeping in a teepee and hunting game on horseback with my new peeps: golden blonde hair. I knew from every TV show I’d seen that there was no such thing as a blonde American Indian.

Nightly, I would pray to the Guy in the Sky to give me long, straight black hair. I pictured myself at the top of a clay mountain on horseback, the sun high overhead, waving goodbye to my family as I prepared to gallop away. A shirtless brave with equally awesome long black hair was on his own horse beside me. We set off for my new home, our matching hair waving majestically in the wind behind us, along with some feathers from our headbands.

As I grew older, I came to understand that I would not be fishing in cold, clear streams with my fellow tribesman and sleeping under buffalo skins. I never lost my soft spot for the Indigenous people, their culture and traditions, though. The more I learned, the more I believed I’d been on the right side of that childhood game. So in my 30s, when the consulting firm I worked for landed a contract essentially helping the attorneys for the “cowboys”, I was horrified. I decided to decline being staffed on the project, even if it meant giving up my job. Fortunately I wasn’t staffed on the engagement, so it never came to that.

A few years later, now at another consulting firm, I learned of a project working to reconstruct the records of Indigenous tribes in an effort to get their assets appropriately assigned. I was thrilled at the chance to right some past wrongs. Alas, the job involved a lot of on-site time at remote reservations and came with a hazmat suit, and I was pregnant. Contributing in that way would have meant a lot to me, but the time wasn’t right.

Over the course of my career I haven’t always felt passionate about the projects I undertake or refuse. I was reminded of these two engagements, though, when I read about an increase in employees making working decisions based on the values and social positions of their current or potential employers. The importance of Corporate Social Responsibility has been increasing in recent years, but the pandemic seems to have accelerated employees prioritizing it from their employers.

I wonder how it will shape assignments and engagement choices in the future. I suspect it would be much easier to decline an assignment that clashes with your values, without having to accompany it by a resignation. I feel comforted knowing that as businesses evolve there will be more of a place for our social conscience, and more opportunities for employees to do work that touches their hearts.