I must level with you, dear readers, before we delve into the meat of this book review. I have been re-evaluating my relationship with my career and work in general, ever since being laid off in May and relying on my freelance work to pay the bills. It’s nothing particularly earth-shattering, a good bit of the classic early-30s “Oh wow, how did I become an adult?” paired with “Wait a minute, is this … what I want?” For the most part, I feel lucky I live in a place that allows this kind of whimsical half employment. On days when I’m anxious and stressed about money, though, I get annoyed at the way our culture makes us feel like we should be maximizing our hobbies for profit, constantly side hustling just to make a living.
Which is a long way to say: I just read Melody Warnick’s “If You Could Live Anywhere: The Surprising Importance of Place in a Work from Anywhere World,” and I’m conflicted about it. Per the publisher, the book aims to “examine the powerful relationship between where we work and where we live. ”Anywhereists” as Warnick defines them, are “a fast-growing subset of people who aren’t tied to a particular geography by what they do for a living … being free to work anywhere lets you make your own choices about where your life is going to play out.” Becoming an Anywhereist (a term I find … irritatingly cutesy) is about having a good work-life balance, avoiding stress, exhaustion, feeling like you have time for friends, partners, and family. To do that, Warnick, whose previous book is “This Is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are,” argues that people must “take control of their location first.” She is here to help the reader develop a location strategy that, ideally, puts them in that perfect place.
On that level, the book succeeds. There is a lot of helpful data about the economic and cultural realities of cities all over America — and to a lesser extent, other parts of the world. And I love a self-help book that offers practical, hands on information. There are helpful exercises and questions that can help you decide if moving truly is for you, and how to figure out what kinds of places you might want to live in. There is even information about towns that offer cash incentives to remote workers who move there and ways to build community wherever you end up.
So why then am I conflicted about this book? There was a part of me that yearned for a more critical look at how our economy works, in addition to the practical tips. Warnick includes an anecdote about Arlington, Va., and their (successful) quest to become the location for Amazon’s second headquarters. “They also presented a plan … creating a K-12 STEM education pipeline that would pump employees into Amazon’s loving arms for generations to come.” When I read that, I thought “Yikes, that’s kind of a troubling indictment of the ways we are dependent on billion-dollar companies to invest in our cities.” Warnick does not seem to share those concerns — though there are moments where she takes the time to mention the downsides of swarms of professionals descending on tiny towns.
Finding jobs, finding good housing, finding communities that you want to be a part of — it’s all harder than it needs to be, and it’s frustrating that there are so many people for whom this kind of lifestyle will never be available. I know Warnick is just trying to make working and living a little bit easier for those who can afford to do so. I just want us to dream a little bigger, I think. For all of us.
By Melody Warnick
Sourcebooks, 336 pp., $16.99