52 Days Later

For the past couple weeks, I’ve constantly been asked, “What’s the one thing you learned from #TGAA now that it’s over and done with?” To be honest, I don’t think I can ever sum it up into one lesson. But, now that the dust has settled, I’ve finally had some time to kick back and reflect on all of the things I learned in 14 months on the road. And along the way, there was definitely one constant that followed me through the entire journey:

A love of where you live can greatly improve your love of what you do.

What does that mean exactly? It means in order to sustain your highest level of creativity, you have to be able to leave the office everyday and enjoy wherever it is you’re going. Obviously, you should also love where you work, but I think I spoke to that enough throughout the project.

The most inspiring people I met along my route, were the ones who have an unbridled love for the place they call home; people like Wes from TreehouseNetworkshop or the boys of the Creative Memphis podcast. These are people who could take their talents anywhere and make an impact. Yet, they are where they are not by circumstance, but by choice. These are individuals who act as unofficial ambassadors for their cities, no matter where they are in the world. They’ve built a network of likeminded entrepreneurs, creatives and students, who are working together to spread the good graces of the place they call home and build plenty of new ones. They’re actively involved in the community and always do their damnedest to win over outsiders. To put it simply—they connect people. 

Of course, you don’t have to be a native of said city to have a deep seeded passion for it. Take Alex Kocher for instance. He fell in love with Portland before he moved there and now that he’s planted his roots in the city, it’s as if he’d been there his entire life. In only two year's time, he’s already become fluent in the culture, nightlife and concert calendar. He’s constantly seeking out new ways to become involved and that comes from an unrivaled devotion—one you cannot manufacture, fake or buy.

I’m sure many of you are saying, “that’s all well and good but what does any of that have to do with my creative work?” Well, it’s simple. When you’re happy outside of the office, your enthusiasm has a much better chance of carrying over into the things you do during the 9-5. After all, what better way to tout your love of a city than to help put it on the map with great creative, new clients—and of course—awards?

Hands down, the most impressive shops I came across were the ones filled with these passionate individuals. They teach at local colleges; attend creative showcases; know the latest stats of young professionals in the area; and never make excuses for the place they call home. They all know their cities aren't perfect, but rather than dwell on the blemishes, they focus on the stepping-stones. 

On the flip side, the most unimpressive places I visited were filled with individuals who simply do their job, go home and put life on repeat. They never interact with co-workers outside of the office and many of them don't even live within the city’s limits. They see it as a job and nothing more. I found these locations to be absolutely disheartening, because you could see how much talent is within their walls, yet it's being wasted because the people there simply aren’t happy. I know, because I was in a similar situation not that long ago.

There was a time in my life when I dreaded leaving the office because I wasn’t happy with the place I called home. It was fine for awhile, but little by little it began to follow me through the office doors and then the workdays started to drag and feel like a chore instead of an outlet. The same goes for the city of Cleveland. There was a time when I hated being here. I had believed so many of the talking points that I started buying into them—to me the city looked like the death throws of a once magnificent creature.

Then #TGAA happened and it opened my eyes.

There wasn’t a single city on the journey that lacked a Wes, an Alex, an Andrew or a Billy. I could listen for hours on end as these individuals told me of great restaurants, bourgeoning industries and revitalized art districts; of the entrepreneurs retraining the city's disenfranchised; of business owners buying up land to repurpose it; of activists working tirelessly to save landmarks and buildings. They spoke with such passion and enthusiasm, I couldn’t help but be won over. I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to pick a ‘favorite city’. I was introduced to the special wonders each one held and in a way; they’re all my favorite.

As the months passed by and I continued to listen to these individuals speak, I began to reflect on my own hometown. It made me wonder if perhaps there was more to it than what the news was telling me. So, I did some research and began to uncover a new world I never knew existed. I read up on the revitalization of the Flats and Playhouse Square, I learned about the growing medical industry and the resurgence of the downtown area. I found theater groups, networking events, creative workshops, advertising meet-ups and festivals abound. I started to get the feeling that perhaps Cleveland was the place I loved all along. As time went on, I found myself defending the city more and more. I was quick to share its strengths and happy to invite others to see it first hand. 

I had finally found the passion that I so admired in others. That’s one reason I’ve decided to stay here for now (the others being too personal to share). I want to put my newfound passion to good use and help establish Cleveland as a creative powerhouse. I want to be more involved in the community and make a mark that I simply could not make anywhere else. Will I always call Cleveland home? I doubt it. But, I have a feeling this is where my heart will always remain.

That's it for part 1 of my recap. Part 2 will be posted next week, I believe. 

-Steve-