This post could be a lot longer, but I wanted to write something down now that I have lived in Lisbon, Portugal, for one year.
Last August, I left Austin for the first time in my life.
I was born on 38th Street and, for the next three decades, stayed within five miles of the place. K-12 was on 39th street. University on 26th. I worked on 4th and 6th. I migrated south at a pace of about 1.5 miles per decade.
And this was fantastic and fortunate and I loved every minute. Austin is a lazy Saturday morning and I embraced it surrounded by everyone I loved. I would get disappointed when I walked into a restaurant and did not recognize, a habit that annoyed my wife so much. I lived in a year-round summer camp and I shared the best cabin award with all of my friends.
I abandoned Austin in the Spring of 2019 when I surprised myself by responding with “yeah” when someone asked if I was interested in moving to Lisbon to be part of a new office. I’m pretty sure they assumed I would say no and then my subconscious bluffed.
This decision did not make a lot of sense. I had never been to Lisbon. All of my friends and family were close to me in Austin. I loved Austin and had an unbroken streak of living in it - if I became the oldest resident someday, I could state that I had lived in Austin longer than anyone alive. I also owned a house, a large dog, an automobile. I did not speak Portuguese.
I can invent a lot of reasons as to why I stuck to that initial response, but my best guess is that I wanted to be on a mission to Mars. Sent by an organization that I knew, with teammates I loved, from a home I understood, to help build something in a place I had never seen.
My wife was excited about it and found a graduate school that lined up with plans she was making pre-Lisbon. That made it possible. On August 11th, 2019, we moved to Lisbon site unseen.
I cursed the move about 3 hours after landing. I arrived before my wife to try to get some things ready. My wife loves grocery stores, it’s not something I understand, but I tried to scout one out. I managed to stumble into what amounts to a gas station convenience store in America. I assumed it was the actual grocery store. “Oh. Damn it.”
Later that week we found a real grocery store, but I spent the first couple of month repeating that pattern. I attempted to translate Texas to Lisbon. I even created a spreadsheet for other Americans. “Best Buy is Worten here, Nordstrom is ECI.” I tried to rebuild my life as best I could.
I stopped doing that in October. You take yourself with you, but you shouldn’t take your town with you. I mentally moved here when I stopped trying to rebuild my own version of Austin-on-the-Tagus. Once I did that, I could figure out Lisbon.
Things I came to cherish about this phase:
I spent October through March joyful. A dozen of us sat in a tiny huddle in an off-brand WeWork ordering roasted chicken until we couldn’t anymore. My cowboy hat crossed the Atlantic and was worn by the majority of the office. We played tabletop games from Flying Tiger and ran out of coffee. I rehearsed presentations on a balcony and walked home from the office with friends. Our group of astronauts bonded and we started to invite new team members and the office grew.
Some of this changed, but not all of it. I was in London for a conference when the coronavirus pandemic began to spread in Europe and the US. I remember sitting in a hotel that night, watching the NBA cancel the season and President Trump close the borders and I bought the first ticket back to Lisbon.
Family started to postpone and then cancel trips to visit. My brother’s wedding was going to happen here and then I watched it over FaceTime.
The city took the quarantine seriously and so did we. I’m also not sure I noticed. The teams I work on were part of a response that made products and onboarding sessions free. I stayed busy being part of that group. I had nothing else to do but couldn’t imagine something I would have rather been doing.
We were helping people, guiding anyone who asked through 1-1 onboarding sessions, building things faster. When I wasn’t working, I was sitting on our balcony watching the sunset with my wife and our dog. I was lucky and privileged that my quarantine looked like that.
Eventually Lisbon returned to mostly-normal and Texas didn’t. Pandemic Lisbon led to an odd survivor’s guilt. My friends and family live in a place that still does not have the virus under control. Meanwhile, I’m in a European paradise. I wish I could teleport them here.
Work in Pandemic Lisbon evolved into a moveable feast of 1-1’s. Any meetings I have with a coworker have moved to an outdoor cafe, as long as they’re up for it. A couple weeks ago, I had 3 back-to-back meetings at 3 different patios. It feels like living on a movie set, hopping around from scene to scene.
That pattern even crashed one of my most stoic routines. I’ve eaten lunch at my desk since I started my career. I hated interrupting work to eat. Now, I spend nearly two hours over some lunches plotting what’s next for certain products or ideas. I’ve come to terms with this change.
Pandemic Lisbon made this journey feel more isolated. We didn’t burn the boats, but they’re going to be in the harbor for a while. I can’t go visit home casually, people back home can’t come here. I’m so grateful to be here, but I do miss that sense of connection.
Lisbon has its own Saturday morning atmosphere. People are funny and quick. The city is fantastic and casual. On weekend mornings I walk my dog to a park where they sell queijadas and orange juice and I read a magazine while he plays in the adjacent dog park. All of this is in the shade under a historic aqueduct above us. I did not rebuild this routine from something back in Austin.
I’m so glad I moved here. I’m even more thankful for the opportunity and the people that made it possible. Lisbon is home and the last year has been beautiful.