In the 20 years I lived in Summit County I can remember moving at least 10 times. Most homes I barely moved into, leaving most boxes packed and ready to go in an instant, depending on how long the lease lasted or my funds ran out. I survived on the necessities and did my best to create a “safe haven” to return to between shifts and runs on the hill. I didn’t own any furniture, slept on a mattress on the floor, and typically worked 2-3 jobs at any given time. Regardless, I was thrilled! I had finally made it to Breckenridge to live out my dream of living in a small mountain town. Over time this hustle and constant chaos began to exhaust me, overwhelming me with stress, anxiety, and fears about my future. I began to question if living in this paradise was worth all the hard work.
The expectations of Summit County include unlimited outdoor activities right outside your door, endless beauty from the natural wildflower fields and snow-covered peaks, and a melting pot of citizens from all over the globe joining together in a community of similar interests. But the reality of living and thriving in Summit County is a contrasting struggle. Most citizens arrive on a high note, ready to experience high-country living and flourish in opportunity, but rapidly face trials like housing shortages, working multiple jobs, and isolation from friends and family left behind.
Perhaps you begin to question your choices and wonder why this paradise you firmly believed in feels more like an inexplicable puzzle or situation you can’t seem to solve. Maybe you were born and raised here and feel stuck, unable to launch into the real world financially and with confidence.
The term “Paradise Paradox” is becoming more prevalent in conversations about rural mountain communities. While we are devoted to visiting this topic here at Building Hope and its relationship to mental-health struggles, we can honestly say that we don’t have all the answers and believe it’s not a simple fix. As a community of varying demographics and finances, we understand that this community does not work efficiently without a healthy balance between all citizens. We are committed to being a part of the conversation and working together to move closer to positive solutions. We are also open to your ideas, suggestions, and comments.
The reality is there are simply things you can and cannot control. High interest rates, an imbalance of supply and demand for housing options, seasonal changes with your job and the tourism industry, and living miles away from friends and family are simply part of the challenge of living in Summit County for many. However, advocating for small changes in your life that can add up over time IS in your control. Dr. Anne Brown says: “When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you are responding to what’s happening. That’s where the power is.”
If you feel like you are ready for a change, be brave and be vulnerable. We are firm believers in the healing power of connections with people, being present in real life, allowing vulnerability and change in your life, and working hard to be the best version of yourself. Start small, be patient and optimistic, and offer yourself some compassion and grace. Making changes in your own life is no easy feat. Here are some action items to consider in your own journey here in Summit County, regardless of your demographics and financial status:
Create a realistic budget: Observe and prioritize your debt, earnings, credit score, spending, and financial goals. Try different types of budgets or sign up for an app like Mint, Goodbudget, or Everydollar. Consider working with a local financial advisor to receive specific recommendations. Seeing where your money is spent, and working towards a goal like a downpayment for a home comes with small changes over time. It’s never too late to start somewhere.
- Free online financial courses: https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/family-finance/articles/worthwhile-online-personal-finance-courses
Explore local resources: We all need a little help sometimes. Explore different resources and available options for housing and rental assistance, food banks, connecting to health care, utility bill payments and more. https://www.summitfirc.org/en/. Sign up for a class or explore resources through https://www.summithousing.us/.
Consider transitioning your short-term rental unit to a long-term unit for a local family or workforce group: Sixty-five per cent of Summit County Homeowners are second homeowners. Already a landlord? Consider putting aside a small portion of each month’s rent for your tenant to use on a down payment for their own home – especially if you are charging top-of-the-market prices. Consider the long-term benefits of this for your community.
- Explore incentives and resources for landlords: https://www.summitcountyco.gov/1461/Lease-to-Locals https://www.summithousing.us/education/landlord-tenant-education/.
Explore a new career or job: It never hurts to explore your options and apply for other jobs. Be aware of what other businesses are offering in the area and be open to a different schedule or environment. Attend a local job fair, update your resume, or schedule an appointment with the local workforce center for a career coach.
- Colorado Mountain College Career Preparation Guide: https://coloradomtn.edu/student-services/career-services/career-preparation/
- Colorado Workforce Center Career Coaching (potential grants and funding): https://sites.google.com/state.co.us/nwcoworkforce/job-seeker-services?authuser=0
Be open to change in your own business: The annual inflation rate in the U.S. has drastically increased in the last 10 years. Throw in recovery from a worldwide pandemic, additional unique Summit County challenges, and a transient seasonal workflow. Consider raising your pay scale to accommodate for the high cost of living. I own a small business, and in my industry, I pay $25/hour for an entry level position. Consider purchasing a condo or home to house your workforce if you can. Most jobs require secured housing before a job offer. Perhaps an applicant should require the same before acceptance.
Participate in local changes: Your voice and opinions matter. Vote in elections large and small, attend town hall meetups, and engage in local surveys for data collection to present to our local leaders and government.
Prioritize being present and developing healthy relationships: Studies show that human connections are imperative to your physical and mental health. Moving to a new town alone away from friends and family can feel brave and exciting, but also scary and lonely. We also live in a digitally competitive world where our social media updates often feel more important than our real-life experiences. Consider joining a new class, trying a new hobby, attending a free Building Hope Event, and getting outside every day.
Volunteer and give back to your community- We all come from varying places with a different history. In reality, Summit County does not operate or thrive without a healthy combination of full-time locals, part-time second homeowners, seasonal workers, and visitors. We need to maintain a positive balance for our towns, ski resorts, local restaurants, and businesses to operate. Consider volunteering at a local food bank, or financially contributing to a non-profit organization that is working hard to maintain this balance if you are able to.
I made the mistake one time of adding up the money I had given my landlord in a 7-year period. It certainly didn’t help that he had confided in me that the home had been paid off since the late 1980s. It was devastating and defeating to feel like I had wasted so much time and money. I had been watching the median price of homes increase drastically and was concerned I had missed my chance in a good investment, as well as a secure place to finally settle into and call my own. I also knew it could be easier to live somewhere else- but the mountains held my heart, and I wasn’t ready to give up.
I slowly began to confront my own version of the paradise paradox, making small changes in my lifestyle choices, career (yes, I still have multiple jobs…), and financial choices. Five years later I closed on my first home. Do I believe that being a homeowner is the answer for everyone and the ultimate goal in life? No, but I fought hard to make small improvements for my own personal well-being, and I am reminded that opportunities don’t just happen – you create them.
“Courage doesn’t always roar,” wrote author/artist Mary Anne Radacher. “Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”