Last spring, a friend of mine, a writer and executive coach named Brad Stulberg, received a troubling call from one of his clients. The client, an executive, had suddenly started losing many of his best employees, and he couldn’t really explain why. “This was the canary in the coal mine,” Stulberg said. In the weeks that followed, more clients began sharing stories of unusually high staff attrition. “They were asking me, ‘Am I doing something wrong?’ ”
Stulberg was especially well suited to help the executives he advises grasp the mind-set of their exiting employees. Before the pandemic, Stulberg had been working on a book, “The Practice of Groundedness,” which argues for a values-based approach to defining and pursuing success. The research process led him to question his own professional situation. He lived with his wife and their young son in an apartment in Oakland, California. He was on staff as an internal coach for Kaiser Permanente, a health-care company. He also ran his own small, community-based coaching practice, wrote books and freelance magazine articles, and delivered paid lectures. His new book emphasized the imperatives of presence and developing community ties, but Stulberg didn’t have the time to act on these principles, as he felt that he had to work constantly to keep up with the high cost of living in Oakland. “The laptop was always out,” he said.
At the end of 2019, Stulberg and his wife began discussing the possibility of moving to Asheville, North Carolina. They reasoned that the lower cost of living would enable them to significantly decrease their work pace. The city was also closer to family, and afforded easy access to outdoor recreation. When the pandemic hit full force, they accelerated their plans. Brad quit his job at Kaiser and pared back his coaching roster to a limited number of clients, whom he worked with only on Mondays and Fridays. His wife, who is also a knowledge worker, shifted her work to be fully remote, greatly increasing her flexibility. They signed a lease for a rental house near Asheville’s charming downtown sight unseen, boarded a plane, and never looked back.