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By Susanna Maize
Emileigh Barrett, 36, thought she had her path in life figured out. The freelance video producer had spent over a decade working in the entertainment industry, jet setting from Italy to Los Angeles to work on award-winning films, music videos, and commercials. She thought a career doing what she loved and an apartment in New York City would feel like the culmination of success. But it wasn’t adding up to everything she expected.
“It was a very hectic, high-energy industry where you fall into the rat race and you don’t stop for years,” Barrett says.
Recently, thanks to the ability to work remotely, Barrett decided to make a major life change: She moved back to her hometown of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
With remote work becoming an increasingly popular option, Barrett is just one of the 40.7 million Americans expected to be working fully remotely in the next five years, allowing them to pick where to live based on lifestyle and personal preferences instead of proximity to their workplace.
Many people are using this opportunity to leave cities in search of cheaper rent or mortgages, more family connections, and a better work-life balance.
A recent survey conducted by the freelancer marketplace Upwork estimated tens of millions of Americans to be interested in moving as a result of remote work, which would cause near-term migration rates to nearly quadruple compared to pre-pandemic rates.
Back to the Granite State
When her Brooklyn lease ended in the summer of 2020, Barrett decided to move into a month-to-month apartment in Portsmouth. She always liked to visit her childhood hometown during the summer anyway, and she considered this a good chance to take a break from city life. About an hour’s drive north of Boston, Portsmouth is a charming and historic gem of New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. The town of 22,000 residents boasts waterfront views, 10-acre Prescott Park, and a vibrant and historic downtown.
The plan was always to return to New York City. “But then I just kept postponing going back,” Barrett says. A few months turned into two years, and even though she often will travel for work, New Hampshire has officially become her home again after an eighteen-year hiatus.
Now with an apartment overlooking the docks, Barrett is able to smell the salt air when she wakes up instead of city streets. “Portsmouth is the quintessential New England town,” she says. “You can walk down the street and always wave at a familiar face. I’ve lived all over the world and there’s something about being here that feels like home.”
And it wasn’t only a love for the state of New Hampshire that kept her around. Barrett found a life partner in Portsmouth, too. Though the two didn’t know each other growing up, he is also originally from the area. “I went all over the world only to find out my soulmate was in the hometown I grew up in,” Barrett says. When she found out she was expecting her first child, she knew she wanted to continue to build her family in Portsmouth.
Remote work works
For Barrett, remote work has given her the opportunity to feel in control of her life, with Portsmouth offering a more balanced mix of work, play, and relaxation. “I feel like here you can breathe deep and take a step back,” she says.
While Barrett is spending more time walking on the beach and taking advantage of Portsmouth’s close proximity to the White Mountains for outdoor excursions like camping and hiking, she is also thriving creatively. Her career has taken off over the past couple of years, with more opportunities for video work than ever had before. In fact, her client list quadrupled. “I’m really fortunate that everything fell into place,” she says.
For most of her career, Barrett thought she would have to live in a major metropolitan area in order to be successful. Her professional wins post-move proved that isn’t the case, at least not anymore. She didn’t have to sacrifice success in exchange for a healthier, slower lifestyle.
Now, as much as she loves going back to the busy cities to shoot, she loves leaving the city to come back home even more. “Being a professional producer in this small town is actually the best I’ve ever done, which came as a big surprise to me,” Barrett says. In her industry, it can be easy to get wrapped up in competition and hustle, but living in Portsmouth reminds her there is more to life. From the strangers who wave and say hello on her morning walks, to her favorite cup of coffee from the shop where they always know her order, to her family living in town, the community of Portsmouth has brought new dimensions to her life. “For 18 years it was always phone calls, emails, and texts,” Barrett says. “But there truly is nothing like being able to hug your family and friends in person.”
For anyone thinking of making a similar move, Barrett recommends taking the leap of faith. “Too often our lives are just like whizzing by so fast, and we never take a second to really examine where we’re at,” Barrett says. “The most rewarding beautiful moments of life can come from change.”
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