Culture Shock

30-odd years ago, my wife and I moved from the Nashville area, to NJ (for what we thought was a 4-year stint).

It was a true culture shock. And the 4 years turned into 30.

Last week, we moved back to the Nashville area.

There were multiple reasons, including cost-of-living and a milder climate, but the biggest reason was culture.

We never felt like we fit in New Jersey. Not that we didn’t meet fine people there, or discover some lovely geographical areas, or grow in great work opportunities – all of that happened.

But northern NJ shares the greater NYC rush-rush “vibe,” and the kind of friendly transparency of people that we so enjoyed in the mid-South was sorely lacking in the Northeast (note: my wife and I are both actually Connecticut natives).

We were misfits. We didn’t feel at home. Although native NJ’ers might have no such struggle, we felt locked up and uncomfortable.

For thirty years.

The nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, so I guess that makes us only 3/4 as tough, but the feeling of relief and freedom crossing our own Mason-Dixon line version of the Jordan River was palpable. We’re home.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, first of all, it’s a huge – and very happy – transition for me. A massive weight is lifted off my shoulders, and I feel like I’m skipping in a fresh field of clover. Which, at my age, probably would look awkward. That’s why we have metaphors.

But it also underscores something I’ve learned and re-learned over the years, in work, and church, and homestead settings.

Culture matters. Discovering our “fit” includes where we belong culturally.

One of my new neighbors (goodness gracious, they are friendly here in Franklin TN!!) was telling me about a job where he was prospering. He could hire and manage the way he felt was best. Then came a regime change – how many times have I heard variations of this story!! – and suddenly, the culture was changed. Suddenly, as ethical and other decisions began to take another direction, he became a stranger in a strange land. A misfit. A victim of culture shock. Can you relate?

Culture shock can often lead to a career change. If you don’t like the culture, and you aren’t in a position to change it, you may need to move on.

Culture Fit

I’ve been career-coaching a handful of people who are being cycled out of one healthcare company after a merger, and a big part of the talent drain now underway is a hostile management culture. As we’ve mentioned in another place, you can’t fix your boss.

We can’t control everything in our professional lives; and for those starting out in their careers, there may be periods of time when you simply endure a cultural mis-match for the sake of gaining important skills and making professional progress. But make no mistake – there will come a time when culture matters more than the bigger paycheck, the fancier office, and the upgraded title. There is a less tangible element of our professional life called our soul, and finding the right “fit” isn’t always about the right steps on a ladder portrayed on a resume.

Be careful to listen to your gut instincts. Don’t discount those alarm bells. We are not slaves; we are free people and we may, at times, need to take our talents and our future elsewhere if we end up in a stifling culture.

In fact, cultural mis-matches may lead to our best new opportunities. They can be pointers to tell us where better fields of endeavor lie…


Also on the blog: Four Ways to Get Out of Someone Else’s Box

Do you need clarity?


  1. So happy you made it to Middle Tennessee.
    I’m looking forward to meeting up and skipping through the clovers with you soon.

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