For most of my college career at Michigan State, I had a small campus-centric bubble. Looking back on it, I’d say it extended further north (lived at Chandler for a couple years) and east, where there was a mall and more big box stores, than anywhere else. I didn’t think much about Lansing – it just didn’t seem to apply to me. Heard some of the negativity continuum around a down-and-out city, post-automotive industry decline, helplessly mired in the Great Recession and mirroring the likes of Pontiac and Detroit, which I grew up closer to and knew a bit better.
But when I needed an internship for class credit junior year, Lansing was a natural place to explore based on the diverse array of employers there. It was then I began to shape a new perception based on personal experiences, which were overwhelmingly positive. Wish I would have gotten downtown more as a breath of fresh air from the usual East Lansing scene. I quickly formed a little professional network of awesome people in the community economic development realm, including a few policy wonks that were great to grab a beer with to catch up on gossip at the Capitol. I was lucky enough to be gainfully employed in Lansing upon graduation and received my first full-time gig a few months later, which happened to be at my current employer, LEAP, where I would find myself for the better part of the three years that followed.
This was an incredible period of personal and professional growth for me. In that time, I became truly enamored with Lansing and the ability to affect meaningful change here as an engaged individual. Something about the pace of the life I developed, and a kind of raw, unassuming simplicity I felt quickly made it home. The regular events downtown, in Old Town, REO Town and nearby small towns, the river trail and kayaking, the new breweries, restaurants and farmers markets popping up all over made it easy to discover some favorite spots to have a good time. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people to move into the Marketplace apartments overlooking the river, and very much enjoyed being in the heart of a lot of activities and fun.
One of the big perks of my field is all the inspiring people I’m constantly interacting with - people investing to rebuild iconic buildings, entrepreneurs pushing their ideas to reality, and community leaders revitalizing neighborhoods and often selflessly providing for the benefit of those around them. It is hard not to fall head over heels for a place when surrounded with people like that, who make up the fabric of the community and offer a look at where it is headed. These were my people, and I felt I was part of something bigger than myself in all the work I was doing, which was an incredibly rewarding sentiment.
Yet after a while I grew restless as an International Relations major that had done little exploring of the world, let alone the country, having only lived in Michigan all my life. I felt as if some new perspective would serve me well, and was ready for the next step in my professional journey. In early August of 2016, I moved to Charleston, South Carolina, a city I had never even visited, based on a career opportunity that had unearthed itself there. Charleston has developed quite a name for itself in the food world and as a renowned tourist destination, and it is not hard to understand why. Idyllic beaches, a beautifully historic yet lively downtown, not to mention the heavenly climate a majority of the year. I grew a nice life there, learning a new economic development system with the backdrop of a starkly different business and social culture, made some great friends professionally and personally, and played oodles of beach volleyball. I met many of the transient group of twenty-somethings that were flocking to Charleston to be part of the excitement and rapid growth, much like other boom towns around the country.
But there, I struggled to find something at my core that drives me. A grit that comes only from being profoundly challenged as in any proper comeback story, something we in Michigan understand. This kind of tenacity defined my early career and I want it to continue to drive me and what I am all about. It took leaving to realize that about myself. But now I’m back. Back in the land of like-minded movers and shakers. A collective identity I know my place in. Back with my people - all striving to take the Lansing area to the next level despite the naysayers and to the chagrin of the status quo. And we will.
The 5:01 is looking for guest bloggers to share their experiences on the benefits of living, working and playing in the greater Lansing area.