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BALANCING ACT | Alexandra Samuel, a Type A tech writer from the East Coast, has come to appreciate B.C.’s more relaxed lifestyle

Why an accomplished tech researcher and her communications expert husband chose sleepy Vancouver over the big city lights

As the first person in five generations of her family to be born outside of New York City, Alexandra Samuel always figured her career ambitions would lead her to a life in the Big Apple. But 17 years ago, the then-Toronto-based technology researcher and writer followed her now-husband to Vancouver. With Toronto already considered the “back of beyond” by her American family, moving to Vancouver felt like slipping into a coma. “I raged against the machine for a really long time,” she says.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the self-described Type A mother of two discovered the merits of a Left Coast lifestyle. The epiphany came at a birthday party for her daughter’s friend, which happened to coincide with the launch of Samuel’s business website. She kept stealing away from the festivities to check on its progress–and was soundly shamed.

“The other parents were just like ‘What is wrong with you? Why are you working on a Saturday?’” recalls Samuel, now 44, whose work regularly appears in the Harvard Business Review and other high-profile publications. “I felt really judged, and then I thought about it: this is exactly how this works. The reason Vancouver slows me down is because I get judgment for this. People here have different values from the values that I, on some level, still hold as a Toronto/New York kind of person.” 

Back east, working through a family-focused event might be accepted or even encouraged for an ambitious, high-achieving individual; in B.C. it’s considered a mark against your character. Samuel credits Vancouver for exuding a positive peer pressure that tempers her workaholic impulses. It’s that, more than mountain views or glorious beach days, that has her planning to stay put–at least until the kids are grown. As recently as two years ago, Samuel says she and her husband, a speechwriter and communications strategist, contemplated picking up stakes for Toronto or Silicon Valley. But each time they’ve looked, the cost of lengthy commutes, long workweeks and time away from their kids has outweighed any promise of better pay or prestige. As much as she still feels the draw of a bigger city, Samuel says living in Vancouver has made her a better parent and a better person.

Samuel is not alone. Despite bigger opportunities elsewhere and the challenge of living in some of the most expensive communities in Canada, B.C. continues to attract residents (and workers) by the thousands each year: some 51,000 people entered the province in 2013/14, up from 44,000 the year before. Recruiter David Litherland of Summit Search Group says it’s a sign of the times that people want both career potential and lifestyle, and that the companies he works with realize B.C. is often a final destination for their employees. “It seems that once people are here, they’re not interested in leaving,” he says.

The desire for work/life balance hits a particular chord among younger workers who increasingly see the 60-hour workweek as a thing of the past, Litherland notes. Whether it’s more time for snowboarding, yoga or their kids, B.C. residents are resolved to be more than their jobs. “There’s usually some other element to their life that’s important to them, and they’re not willing to sacrifice that solely for their career.”

That’s certainly the case with Alexandra Samuel. After struggling to adjust to B.C., she’s come to appreciate a life where people don’t always start conversations with “So, what do you do?” At the same time, she’s found some professional advantage to working in a smaller centre, such as having a direct impact on the city’s growing tech, sustainability and cultural sectors. “I feel like I can make a contribution to Vancouver; the project of what we’re doing as a city is important.” And although she still yearns to spend a year or two in New York, Samuel has even started to see a long-term future here. “I’m very attached to our house because it’s perfect for empty nesters. I guess that says something.”