Why I’m leaving the city

When I landed my first role in downtown Toronto in September 2018, I immediately started looking for a place. It was challenging. September was a tough time to find a place in 2018 — so many people were looking for condos and the rental market was expensive and cutthroat. I think I put in applications for 27 places, most without even looking at them. But, it didn’t matter, because I was finally moving to Toronto, which had been a dream of mine since I was young.

The hustle and bustle of a city that rarely sleeps inspired me. I imagined meeting new people, finding my coffee place, wine bar, the places I’d frequent and local shops I’d fall in love with. I kept looking, I knew I’d find the right place when the time was right. And I did, at the corner of University and Dundas in early December 2018. Excitedly, I packed up my life, my two kittens and moved smack in the middle of downtown. Which was great — I could walk to work, walk to shopping, restaurants and explore north, east, south and west all by foot (and more recently bike!). And, the icing on the cake? The Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts is a block away from me. This is significant because I passionately love the National Ballet of Canada and could WALK to performances, grab last minute tickets and escape in the magical world of athleticism and dance. I had found my city, and I was ready for this chapter.

In March 2020, like almost every company I know, Altus Assessments went 100% remote, for the safety of all of us, and our community amid the beginning of coronavirus pandemic in Canada. Like most people at the time, I thought I’d be remote for 6-months max. I’m a people person, my energy comes from being around other people, so an office is important to my wellbeing and feeling successful, and fulfilled in my role. Like an optimistic human, I setup my kitchen island in my 400 square foot condo as my “office”, and believed some day I wouldn’t have a monitor where food should be.

Those first couple of months in the spring were difficult. Downtown was a ghost town, almost all traffic both car and foot faulted, all construction stopped, the office building across from me was mostly vacant and everything shutdown. You could hear birds chirping and one day a Canadian goose landed on my balcony (which terrified me and the cats). The city quieted.

At the end of May, Altus gave up our permanent office space, signalling that we would be a remote-forward company past six months, and the rest of 2020. And that’s when I really started considering my options. 400 square feet means that my work never leaves my eyesight, and my office doubles as my kitchen, dining area and living space. The things I love about city life had been removed, the ballet like most performance art, is now shutdown until March 2021 (at the earliest), I can’t just go out and meet people, and I’ve started to feel claustrophobic. I miss my nephews and my support network outside the city.

However, now that we’re turning a bit of a corner and opening up more things, a new uneasiness has settled within me: there are now too many people out and about who aren’t wearing masks and taking precautions. Too many people on the sidewalks, or at the wine bar I bought wine at during lockdown. I go into a store and am filled with anxiety at the sheer number of people in places now. The things I loved about city life are now something I actively dread and avoid. My love of wandering around is met with instant panic and anxiety that not enough people are taking this pandemic seriously still.

So, it’s time. At the end of September I’m heading back to Kitchener.

But I’m going back not as a failure who couldn’t cut it in the “big city”, but as someone who knows what’s important: a work/life balance where I can be surrounded by the people I love while having more space to be able to social distance. And Kitchener isn’t that far away from Toronto, so I’ll be back for meetings and get togethers, but I’ll also be able to continue to build my life in a place where I can save money, connect with my humans, and grow in amazing new ways. I left Kitchener at a very different time in my life, both personally and professionally, and I’m ready to go back.

I’m also super lucky to be working with a team of supportive and driven people at Altus. A lot of us have been moving out of the downtown core with the support of our leaders, and I couldn’t be more happy with the support I’ve received from my boss, and the entire team. I can’t wait to see the difference in my work when I have an office with a door and a desk! There’s even a handful of Altus employees in the Kitchener area, so I look forward to Altus gatherings when it’s safe.

Toronto will always hold a special place in my story but I’m so excited for the next chapter. And the puppy this new chapter is going to bring!

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Digital marketer looking at the world through customer-centric glasses (and real glasses). Kitchener from Toronto transplant, wine lover.

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