Relocation always brings challenges and Peter Kilborn writes a journalistic account of a special segment of people who move: families who are required to move in order to keep their jobs or maintain career growth. They earn high incomes by most standards – $100,000 – $400,000 – and their companies move them lavishly. One company even flew the wife’s mother to babysit with the children while the couple went on a househunting trip.
These families represent middle and upper management. None was described as a CEO but some were VPs of mid-sized companies. Some worked in cubicles.
Author Kilborn focuses on the impact of moving on family dynamics. His approach is typical of contemporary journalism: focus on a handful of families in depth and chronicle every aspect of their lives that might remotely relate to moving. Thus we have children who start over in school, wives who volunteer, husbands who are away from home for long periods. We see variations from one family to the next but as I read, their stories blended together.
Kilborn notes the pressure to conform. For instance, these families need to buy homes with high resale value, so they tend to seek new homes in new neighborhoods. As a result, older neighborhoods fall into decline.
We see how some families try to escape the pressures. One family was thrilled to find a home outside a homeowners association. Surprisingly few get divorced; one woman is shown in front of her new antique store, which she opened after divorcing her mobile husband and remarrying.
This book describes a small, privileged sliver of corporate America. And, although the book’s subtitle refers to a “new” rootless professional class, I don’t think it’s all that new. I remember when IBM used to stand for “I’ve Been Moved.” If anything, I’m hearing that companies are cutting back because spouses now enter the picture.
And that’s my major quibble with this book. Are all members of this corporate America male and married? The book finds one young single woman who talks about the difficulties of getting a boyfriend. But I’ve known single and divorced women over 40 who reported enormous problems fitting into this mobile class. One woman moved into a nice neighborhood; after all, she earned a good salary and she could easily afford a big house. Her female neighbors were threatened at first. They actually worried she would chase their husbands (as if she had time or inclination).
The book doesn’t address other issues, such as relocating professionals who are gay, non-Christian, or of another race. In these Relovilles, will these people stand out? Will they be ostracized? Or are these towns so filled with corporate execs who have higher tolerance than longer-dwelling residents of these small towns?
Ultimately I’m not sure what we are supposed to learn from this book. Wisely, the author chooses not to draw lessons and move to the self-help genre. Perhaps the ultimate lesson is to choose a career where you are self-employed or where you just don’t have to move. You might sacrifice the big pay checks (or not), but you will gain the most valuable commodity: time. And if you do choose this path, nobody can say Kilborn didn’t warn you.