3 Reasons to Choose Your Community
Monday, July 28, 2014
In 1876, my great-great grandparents headed as far west as they could and floated up the James River to a little patch of grass called Carter's Landing. The locals who were supposed to pick them up weren't there. They must not have gotten the text. So, under the prairie stars amidst a sea of grass, the children slept while the parents swatted away the mosquitos.
Somehow in the darkness of this night they were able to see something. They saw a farm, church, community and life in a sea of grass and emptiness.
They not only built a farm that continues to operate today and a church that continues to ring the bell every Sunday, they built the foundation. I'm here, we are all here, because of the work of generations before us.
We choose where we spend our energy and work. Today I’m asking you to choose your community just as my ancestors have done the past four generations.
There are three reasons to participate in your community:
When you participate in your community, you make your community better.
When your community improves, your work improves.
Working locally is the best way for us to change the world.
Participating in Your Community = Better Community
Most of us know that participating in your community makes your community better. When you start a business, do your best work at your job, join an organization or start an event in your community, you are creating the community you want to live in.
Although we know this to be true, many of us abandon our communities looking for the perfect city, the perfect job or the perfect place to start our idea. I’m all about gaining experience, but if we leave and don't even consider returning, we are always searching for success instead of creating success.
We give excuses for not returning home, saying it's too hard or we can't.
It's not hard.
When I started our business, 9 Clouds, 5 years ago with my brother, we had to do things that seemed hard. We had to fill out paperwork, build a website, hire an employee, search for clients and create business cards. We even printed the wrong phone number on our business cards (which doesn't help your business)! All of this stuff…it’s not hard.
Hard is building a church with only seven other people in the middle of an empty prairie. That’s what my great-grandpa did. He would go to the largest city to get supplies to build the church. On the way back, he had to cross the same river that brought him to Dakota. There was no bridge, so he would unhook the horses, swim them across the river and tie them up. Then, he would come back and take the wagon apart and float it and the supplies across the river in pieces to the other side where he would then reconstruct the cart, load the supplies and reconnect the horses. Only then could he go to the middle of the prairie to build a church...with his bare hands.
That’s hard. Finding or creating fulfilling work in your community when we have the entirety of the world’s knowledge in our pocket and quick access to over 2 billion people in the world is not hard.
We not only tell ourselves it is hard to do meaningful work locally, but we think we can’t.
We tell ourselves that our town is too rural, that we have the wrong education or that we don’t have the experience. We are surrounded by structural barriers discouraging us from trying if we’re the wrong gender, color or age. Maybe our culture even discourages us from standing out and taking a risk.
Fortunately, this is a moment when we don’t need permission. No one can tell you no.
In my hometown of Brookings, I have a friend who was a teacher in her former home of Mexico. She wanted to open a school in Brookings. No one asked her to; no one gave her permission. However, with two introductions and one Facebook message she opened the first Spanish preschool in town.
We can bypass the structures, cultural norms and gatekeepers telling us no. No one can tell us no, but first you have to tell yourself yes.
Community Improves Your Work
Most of us know or feel that our work in the community makes the community better. The second reason to choose community is not as obvious. Our communities make our work better. What this means is we are uniquely positioned right where we are to succeed.
No one else has your background and vision. You understand your community’s problems better than anyone else in the world. That connection to your community’s problems enables you to imagine and create the perfect solution. My ancestors looked at an empty prairie and saw a farm, a church and a future; you can look at the problems facing your community and create a solution that an outsider could never imagine.
Your community is your competitive advantage.
I left my community in 2001 and spent 10 years looking for a way to make a difference in the world. My grandfather passed away while I was abroad, and I came home to see and feel the community gathered in the church that my family had built. Shortly after, I returned home to start a business with my brother, teaching businesses and communities to grow using technology.
We not only wanted a vibrant company, we wanted a vibrant community, so we hosted community events like TEDx, midnight brunches and morning coffees to get people sharing ideas.
An amazing thing happened: people got excited.
We built on the momentum and created an entire week called Creativity Week to highlight the amazing people and activities in town.
An amazing thing happened: people started to participate.
We then decided to take a leap, and we declared Brookings, SD the creative capital of the world. Not Brooklyn, mind you, Brookings!
And again, an amazing thing happened: people started to believe!
We threw out an audacious goal and now community members are coming out of the woodwork to make the dream a reality.
Watching this take place, I finally learned that to better the world we need to participate in our community.
Work Local to Change the World
When we solve local problems, we find that other communities, maybe next door or maybe around the world, share our problems and want our solutions. We can then export our unique solutions to improve not only our immediate community but communities around the world.
In addition to exporting ideas, when we choose our communities we are making it easier for the next person to go home and start. We are encouraging participation not only in our community but in communities around the world.
Fortunately, taking action for us is not as hard as building a church.
Our ancestors built a foundation. Now it is our opportunity and responsbility to add to their foundation for the generations to come.
Today, we are the homesteaders. Our bravery in planting roots and starting means that others will follow suit. This is how change happens, and this is how movements are started.
It's time to get to work. You, me and our communities, we matter to the world. If we want to better our community and do work that matters for the world, it's not hard.
Be present in your community. Participate.