I recently realized how disruptive it was to my personal relationships and professional networks to change fields and then move 375 miles away. I think moving from working in government and research academia, where my work was largely in the open and I could largely discuss the details in public, to the private sector, where I often cannot discuss the details of my work, made this even more difficult.

I don’t regret this shift; it was 100% the right thing for me and has been an incredible opportunity. But I don’t think I ever realized the strain I have felt because of it. I still don’t have a strong “startup” network. I have no product management network. My Baltimore network is minuscule; it’s virtually non-existent if you remove direct colleagues. These things are my own fault.

I came to this position having left a community I built by happenstance in the easiest way. I went to college and graduate school in the same city, then I worked in that city, in both city and state in government. I interacted with former classmates or professionals who attended the same undergraduate or graduate program in my daily work and around town. This became a tight network for me. When I started to feel limited by “only” knowing Providence and Rhode Island folks, I left my role at the state to go back to work at my university (in collaboration with the city school district) through a national fellowship. That fellowship tied me to similar practitioners across the country, and I already knew many people within that network because they were former classmates or colleagues. I basically went to school and did my job and stayed connected to the people I met along the way as they spread out into new cities and new opportunities, none too distant from my own work.

My friends were mostly folks who I went to school with that stayed around town or folks I interacted with tangentially through work. Staying in Providence for a decade gave me a huge leg up when it came to building a personal and professional network.

When I moved to Baltimore, I wasn’t a part of any kind of group experience or challenge that allowed me to meet new people. I wasn’t in a cohort of “founders” connected me to the tech community. I wasn’t coming together regularly with people who were product managers. I had abandoned government data analysis and leadership, and now, I was working at an early stage start up doing product management. I fell into a new career in a very different industry and after a couple of years left what had become my home city to reduce my own travel and improve my chances at moving up at work 1. As an adult, I lacked the kind of community building that happens when you go to school together, or are trained in a group to work a new role together. The sort of school/job orientation of likeminded folks is not a thing that happens very often around 30. And although I worked for a startup, I joined 1 year in and moved to Baltimore 2.5 years later. So perhaps the most likely analogs like an incubator or subsidized office space with other early stage companies had long passed. The easy(ish) mode version of building a network had passed. Add to this to my ferocious sense of imposter syndrome and general lack of confidence and frankly, I’ve floundered a bit.

I’m going to be working on all this over the next few years, because it’s gotten past the point of just muscling through it. But I’m sharing my story because it’s change a lot about how I’ve thought about moving for different professional or personal opportunities. It’s made me have a greater appreciation of how things outside of family can tie you to a place, and how even in our highly online world, place-based connections are powerful and matter. So do field/industry connections, and leaving both behind at once without putting in the work to rebuild was brutal. Seven years later, I think I still would have an easier time getting a school district or state department job doing data analysis and research than continuing to be a product manager or start up manager/executive, even though it’s further from my current experiences and isn’t greatest skillset. It’s also not what I want. So it’s time to put in some work.

How I might weigh staying somewhere versus chasing an opportunity in a new city has evolved. There’s a lot of work that happens outside the office when you go somewhere new, and I screwed up by not doing it.

  1. Both of these things happened. I should also be clear, I moved when I moved for other personal reasons. A family emergency coinciding with Elsa leaving her job meant we needed more space at home and fast and that there were advantages to being in a different job market. Although I had considered moving to Baltimore, from “serious conversations” to “we’re here” it was about seven days. ↩︎