Base rates of a nightmare city

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Uncategorized

An executive coaching client was recently offered her dream job: exciting work, inspiring executive management, blue sky growth and development.

But there was a problem.

“It’s in the Bay Area,” she told me, her voice flat and resigned. “I hate the Bay Area.”

This client, a young woman in a technical field, is a rising star in her organization. She is thriving in her current role; it’s just that, well, this new opportunity would be a leap upward.

“If this job were in Seattle, I’d take it in a second,” she said. “But the idea of moving to the Bay Area …” she trailed off.

“I love my life in Seattle,” she picked up again. “I mean, I have hiking dates planned after work all summer. You can’t do that in the Bay Area — you have to drive hours and hours to get into the woods.”

“OK, let’s look at some ‘base rates’ of this move,” I suggested, drawing on  Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s 2013 book on decision making, “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.”

One of the tactics suggested by the Heath brothers is to think of people who’ve faced a similar situation and how they fared. “This involves looking for, in statistics terminology, some ‘base rates’ on the situation — data showing the record of other people in similar circumstances,” they write.

“Do you know people who moved from Seattle to the Bay Area to work in that organization?” I asked my client. “How are they doing?”

She said she had friends who did just that.

“They’re miserable,” she said flatly. “They love their jobs, but they hate their lives.”

That’s one base rate. I took another angle. “Let’s pretend you decided to take the job and you figured out how to be happy in the Bay Area,” I proposed. “How did you do it?”

She gamely engaged in the thought experiment.

“I guess I’d find housing near the company so I don’t have a 90-minute commute,” she said. “I’d work heads down all week, and then I guess I’d fly back to Seattle some weekends to see my fiancé and my dog and my friends.”

She didn’t look happy.

“I’m serious about my career,” she said. “I just feel like, as a young woman in tech, I can’t turn it down if I’m going to show that I am actually serious about my career.”

“What if we reframe that,” I suggested. “What if we agree that you are very, very serious about your career — on your own terms.”

“Your career on your terms is in Seattle,” I said. “You’re building a career and you’re building a life, and both are important.”

She looked at me, a smile slowly lighting up her face. Her dog owes me.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.