I was born and raised in Clarksville, Michigan, a 300-person farm village that felt stuck somewhere between the “golden years” and a leisurely extinction. When I was 19 years old, I packed up my giraffe-print suitcase, boarded a plane with a one-way ticket, and exchanged my small-town life for Los Angeles, California. These are seven things I learned growing up that have helped me survive in the big city.
Growing up, my friends and I constructed epic backyard fortresses. These forts were the talk of the town. “You’re so creative!” was a compliment we often heard, but it wasn’t something I understood or appreciated until years later when I moved to Los Angeles.
To survive in LA, the ability to see the simple things and creatively envision the bigger picture is key. Instead of being discontent with my surroundings, I’ve survived and thrived with city life because I’ve learned how to use the sticks I’ve been dealt to create the reality I want.
One day my mom got it into her head that she wanted a garden. She constructed, tilled, and planted a behemoth four-acre plot. Gardening in a small town taught me a lot — most notably, that I have an incredible loathing for weeds, but also that anything I want to achieve in life won’t and shouldn’t come instantaneously. Instead of having unrealistic expectations about my career or goals, I know all good things take hard work, dedication, and an immense amount of patience.
Your reputation in a small town is the most important thing you could ever own; it’s very hard to change people’s perceptions of you. In a big city it’s tempting to become a number, to blend into the crowd, to no longer feel the weight of your responsibility to self and others. However, reputation in a big city, I’ve found, is just as important as it is in a small town. You never know who you’ll meet, what they’ll know about you, and how that connection could play out in the future.
When I was 10 years old, a record-breaking winter storm hit our town. Our neighbors lost their electricity and heat for weeks, and we even hauled our pet goats into our basement so they wouldn’t freeze to death. Luckily, my family owned a powerful generator, and our house became something of a home base for people in need. At night our living room was lined with sleeping bags, snuggled friends, and the sound of bleating goats from below.
We relied on one another to get through that storm, and I look back on what could’ve been a horrible experience, only to have fond memories of a laughter-filled adventure. When a ‘storm’ hits me in LA, I know I’ll have friends who’ll help me through.
As a kid, my favorite chore was mowing the lawn. We had 11 acres, and I could spend hours sitting on our tractor, daydreaming, chopping grass blades and watching them spit across the horizon. In contrast, I despised the work it took to get the lawn ready to mow. Groundhogs would burrow into our lawn, causing dirt and rocks to be displaced onto the surface of our grass. To protect the mower blades from damage, I was instructed to walk around and inspect the lawn before mowing.
To me, this extra step seemed like a waste of time, something my father was telling me to do because he hated me and enjoyed watching me sweat. Instead of complying, I’d simply convince myself to be extra careful — and, inevitably, my daydreams would be interrupted by a boulder collision. This lesson on the importance of diligence has stuck with me through my years of living in the big city.
Our bodies, minds, and spirits were never made to work 24/7, and denying ourselves the rest we desperately need in a restless city is a dangerous thing. Small-town folks know what it means to rest. In LA I have to remember to take time to breathe, slow down, and look at the stars — or, at the very least, look out my window and imagine the nearby city lights are stars.
When I decided to move to LA, I was jaded, pompous, and felt unfulfilled by the small town I grew up in. I had an intense drive to see what was beyond the cows, cornfields, and small-town folk. It’s now embarrassing to admit, but my decision to leave — and the few successes I felt following — were enough to give me an arrogance towards the simple life I’d been accustomed to. It was impossible for me to understand why anyone would willingly desire a life that I’d worked so hard to escape.
To me, the opportunities and excitement beyond the small-town lifestyle were limitless, and anyone who voluntarily passed them up was foolish. As I’ve spent more time in the big city, this thought process has radically changed, and, in turn, the further I drift from living the small-town life, the more I see the beauty that life brings.